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What does Trump’s national emergency mean?

President Donald Trump followed through on his promise to declare a “national emergency” in order to bypass Congress and secure funding for the construction of a border wall. In building a border wall, the president likely hopes to rally support from his base and paint over his defeated government shutdown maneuver. His move to declare a national emergency has been widely criticized as an indefensible overreach of executive power. What does it mean for President Trump to have done this?

What a national emergency actually means is difficult to define. The National Emergencies Act, passed by Congress in 1976, permits the president to declare a national emergency if when they deem it appropriate. The act offers no specific definition of what constitutes an emergency. It allows the president to declare one entirely at their own discretion.

By law, declaring an emergency allows the president access to specialized laws that allow him new powers, some of which have funds the president would otherwise not have access to.

Emergency powers lapse within a year unless the president renews them. A national emergency can be renewed indefinitely. This has been done frequently by past presidents. Since 1976, 58 national emergencies have been declared. 31 are still in effect.

Clinton declared 17 emergencies, George W. Bush 12, and Obama 13. The majority of emergencies declared have been economic sanctions against foreign actors whose activities are perceived to pose a national threat.

However, a few have involved non-economic crises. Clinton declared a national emergency during the 1996 Cuba embargo. Obama declared one during the N1H1 flu epidemic. The national emergency instituted by George W. Bush following the September 11th attacks is still in effect, eighteen years later.

National emergencies are declared by executive order. Executive orders dictate how federal agencies spend available resources, but do not in themselves create new laws. National emergencies, however, make available powers contained in over 100 other laws.

Of the statutory powers Trump now has access to, he will likely use two to strong-arm the wall’s construction. The statutes make available funds set aside for military construction projects, or allow for money intended for use in civil projects supporting the military and national defense to be repurposed.

Trump’s national emergency can be challenged in court by anyone affected by its declaration. Lawsuits against Trump’s national emergency are guaranteed. Normally, national emergencies declared by presidents are supported by Congress, but it is theoretically possible for Congress to draft a resolution to terminate the emergency.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to do just that, forcing Senate Majority Mitch McConnell to present the resolution for termination to the Republican majority Senate, placing them in a difficult position. On the one hand, supporting the emergency and the Republican power grab will bolster their reputations if all goes to plan. On the other hand, doing so will set a dangerous precedent for a Democratic president to use against them in the future.

Such a resolution can be vetoed by Trump unless it receives a supermajority vote. This is not likely considering the Republican Senate majority is at most conflicted about Trump’s strategy. Few have opposed the national emergency vocally.

Though not without precedent, Trump’s declaration of a national emergency is an extreme overreach of executive power. Bypassing the legislative branch of government to defy internal opposition and using military funds to complete a controversial and costly federal construction project is no insignificant act. It is a signal from Trump, to the nation and to the world, that he does not respect democracy. If his national emergency goes unchecked, he will continue to act as a strongman, push harder, and expand his executive powers. In the ongoing erosion of democratic freedoms, America has crossed yet another dangerous threshold.

Source: The Washington Post

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