Trump declares national emergency at border

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE on Friday declared a national emergency to bypass Congress and spend roughly $8 billion on barriers along the southern border, a big step toward building his long-promised wall that also comes with significant political and legal risk.

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Trump's move, announced in a rambling, improvised address from the Rose Garden shortly after signing the declaration, will launch a fierce constitutional battle in the courts with lawmakers and outside groups who say the president overstepped his authority.

“I am going to be signing a national emergency,” Trump said after a long introduction that touched on trade, China, Syria and the caravans of immigrants that Trump made a political issue of ahead of last fall's midterm elections.

“It’s a great thing to do because we have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people,” the president said in seeking to justify the need for an emergency declaration.

Trump predicted the move will be challenged in federal court, but said he would eventually prevail.

“I could do the wall over a long period of time. I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster,” Trump said, a concession his critics seized upon to argue an emergency does not exist on the southern border.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiKlobuchar shuts down idea a woman can't beat Trump: 'Pelosi does it every day' Budowsky: Trump destroying GOP in 2018, '19, '20 On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal MORE (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTensions rise in Senate's legislative 'graveyard' 2020 Republicans accuse Schumer of snubbing legislation Schumer: Leadership trying to work out competing surprise medical bill measures MORE (N.Y.), the top two Democrats in Congress, said they would use “every available remedy” to overturn the emergency declaration.

“The president’s unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist does great violence to our Constitution and makes America less safe,” they said in a joint statement. “The president is not above the law. The Congress cannot let the president shred the Constitution.”

Trump is separately set to sign legislation approved by Congress that funds the government and prevents a new shutdown set to begin on Saturday.

But that legislation fell far short of his demands for $5.7 billion in wall funding, with Trump saying he tried his best to work with lawmakers to secure additional border security but “on the wall, they skimped.”

Trump also claimed “I’ve already done a lot of wall for the election — 2020,” even existing construction has repaired and replaced existing barriers instead of building new ones.

Trump plans to redirect $3.6 billion in military construction funding toward the border project, according to White House officials. Trump will also take separate executive action repurposing about $2.5 billion from the Defense Department’s drug-interdiction program and $600 million from the Treasury Department’s asset-forfeiture fund.

Officials said the goal is to ultimately build roughly 234 miles of barriers along the border, including bollard-style wall.

An administration official did not identify which military construction projects would be affected but said funding would be taken from “lower-priority construction projects,” such as funding to fix or repair existing structures, and not from flood-mitigation efforts or projects that would affect military readiness. Disaster-relief funds will also not be touched.

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Lawmakers in both parties have criticized Trump's decision to declare an emergency, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Fireworks on health care expected at Dem debate | Trump FDA pick dodges on vaping ban | Trump to host meeting on youth vaping Friday | AMA calls for immediate vaping ban GOP senator blocks vote on House-passed Violence Against Women Act On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal MORE (R-Ky.) did offer his support.

McConnell on Friday called Trump’s decision “the predictable and understandable consequence of Democrats’ decision to put partisan obstruction ahead of the national interest” and called on lawmakers to approve more border funding.

But House Democrats instead plan to introduce legislation that would block the declaration, which could pass both chambers and reach the president’s desk if Republicans who have criticized Trump’s decision vote for it.

That would force Trump to potentially veto the first piece of legislation as president, a move that could further divide his own party in the lead-up to the 2020 elections.

Democrats and liberal advocacy groups have said they also plan to file lawsuits to stop the move in federal court.

Pelosi, speaking Thursday on the anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., school shootings, said it could lead a new president to declare a national emergency on guns. Such a scenario is exactly what some GOP lawmakers have feared.

"A Democratic president can declare emergencies, as well," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. "So the precedent that the president is setting here is something that should be met with great unease and dismay by the Republicans." 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate passes legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters Senators voice support for Iran protesters but stop short of taking action McConnell urges Trump to voice support for Hong Kong protesters MORE (R-Fla.) made a similar argument, warning on Thursday that “a future president may use this exact same tactic to impose the Green New Deal.”

“I will wait to see what statutory or constitutional power the president relies on to justify such a declaration before making any definitive statement. But I am skeptical it will be something I can support,” he said.

In a call to reporters preceding Trump's announcement, acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyDefense official testifies Ukraine was aware of issues with aid in July Sondland brings impeachment inquiry to White House doorstep Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Senate eyes sending stopgap spending bill back to House | Sondland delivers bombshell impeachment testimony | Pentagon deputy says he didn't try to block official's testimony MORE pushed back against Democrats’ claims Trump’s move would allow a president from their party to declare an emergency over an issue like climate change and gun violence, saying it “actually creates zero precedent” and calling the claim “completely false.”

“This is authority given to the president in law already,” he said. “It's not as if he just didn’t get what he wanted so he's waving a magic wand and taking a bunch of money.”

Trump’s decision to sign the spending bill ends three weeks of uncertainty over whether he would trigger another shutdown over his demand for wall money.

The president reopened closed government agencies on Jan. 25 after a 35-day shutdown that resulted in a major blow to his approval ratings and no financing for a wall.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill spent the ensuing weeks hammering out a proposal that includes $1.375 billion in wall funding, only a fraction of the $5.7 billion Trump demanded.

Trump’s acceptance of the compromise marks a defeat for a president who touted his negotiating skills during the 2016 campaign, and it showed Democrats’ increased leverage under divided government.

The story was updated at 12:50 p.m.