You thought the shutdown was unpopular? You ain't seen nuthin yet.The president’s decision to officially declare an emergency — to pretend to build an unbuildable border wall — is not only an act of constitutional vandalism. It is also an act of cowardice, a way to avoid the wrath of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the far-right commentariat.
It is an end run around Congress and, as such, constitutes a violation of his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” — which gives Congress, not the president, the authority to decide how public money is spent. It does not give Trump the right to fund projects that Congress will not approve. Authoritarian leaders do that sort of thing. The puffed-up wannabe strongman now living in the White House is giving it a try.
Trump had two years in which Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate — and could not persuade Congress to give him funding for a wall. He decided to make it an issue only after Democrats won the power to say no. The president’s negotiating strategy — pitching tantrums, walking away from the table, venting on Twitter, provoking the longest partial government shutdown in history — was never going to work. You might think he would have learned something about how Washington works by now, but you would be wrong.
Because there obviously is no legitimate emergency, Trump’s declaration — and the shifting of resources from duly authorized projects to the wall — will surely be challenged in court. It is possible, if not likely, that any actual construction will be held up indefinitely.
Indeed, legal briefs arguing against Trump’s action practically write themselves. An emergency, by definition, is urgent. The 9/11 terrorist attacks, for example, clearly qualified as a national emergency. But Trump has been talking about issuing an emergency declaration to build the wall for a couple of months. If such action wasn’t necessary in December, some judge will surely ask, then why now?
Money for the wall will have to be taken from other projects, all of which have constituencies in Congress and among the public. Ranchers and others whose land would have to be taken by eminent domain for the wall will be up in arms.
Politically, Trump carelessly put Republican senators in a tough spot. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) may have the House pass a resolution of disapproval, which the Senate would be compelled to take up. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his caucus would have to decide whether to support a presidential power grab they know is unwise — or oppose Trump and risk the ire of the GOP base.
Granted, this hasn't happened yet. But Trump has painted himself into another corner. It's coming.