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Dems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle
Democrats are up in arms over President Trump's declaration of a national emergency at the southern border, but they also see political gold in his highly controversial power play.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is raising money off Trump's executive action, while early polls indicate Trump's decision is broadly unpopular with voters nationwide.
Republicans are battling among themselves over whether to allow the president's declaration to stand. And Democrats hope the public perception that Trump overplayed his hand will carry into the high stakes 2020 elections.
"Hard-working Americans are tired of failure and dysfunction from Washington Republicans - that's why they overwhelmingly voted them out of office in 2018 and will reject them again in 2020," Jared Smith, spokesman for the Democrats' campaign arm, said Tuesday.
The Democrats' strategy of highlighting the emergency declaration carries its own risks. Republicans, polls show, are overwhelmingly supportive of Trump's move to use the emergency declaration to free up funds for his long-sought border wall. It's an issue he is sure to tap to compel those voters to the polls next year.
Yet many Republicans on Capitol Hill had initially warned Trump against taking the drastic step of sidestepping Congress to secure funding, and the GOP is now divided over the appropriate response - a fight that's sure to prove a painful headache for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who had opposed the emergency declaration weeks ago.
Those Republican divisions have been closely watched, even before Trump announced his go-it-alone approach from the Rose Garden on Friday, and Democrats think that discord only bolsters their case that Trump is abusing executive powers simply to make good on his central campaign promise.
Democrats are ready to pounce, eyeing a number of tactics - including legislation and lawsuits - designed to block any new wall construction using funds designated for other programs already approved by Congress. Yet Democratic leaders appear to be in no rush to respond formally and are content to remain in the background, at least temporarily, while Republicans wage a very public fight over the wisdom of Trump's approach.
"This will further stress and undermine our institutions of government," former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a Hispanic American and key GOP voice on immigration issues, told The Hill. "It is another indicator of the troubling political crisis our country is experiencing."
A poll out Tuesday revealed that while most Republicans back Trump's emergency declaration, the executive move is not very popular overall.
More than 60 percent of respondents disapprove of the unilateral action to build the border wall, while 36 percent approve, according to an NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll.
In a sign that the declaration excites both Trump's base and the Democratic opposition, 85 percent of polled Republicans said they support the president while 84 percent of Democrats said they disapprove. Sixty-three percent of polled independents said they oppose the president's plan, highlighting trouble he might have in next year's general election.
And there are more headwinds for Trump: 58 percent of respondents said there is no national emergency at the border; 57 percent said Trump is abusing his executive powers; and 60 percent said his decision should be challenged in the courts.
Trump and his supporters have defended the emergency declaration, arguing that waves of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border threaten public safety - leaving the president little choice but to act.
"We have to stop drugs and crime and criminals and human trafficking, and we have to stop all of those things that a strong wall will stop," Trump said Tuesday at the White House, during an event highlighting his space policies. "If our nation doesn't have borders, we don't have too much of a nation."
Democrats reject those arguments, and over Presidents Day weekend many voiced their opposition on Twitter and at campaign rallies to ramp up the pressure on the GOP.
Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, who represents a congressional district in Nevada with a large Hispanic population, tweeted: "The #FakeTrumpEmergency clearly violates our system of checks and balances. I hope the @HouseGOP and @SenateGOP will join us in fighting Trump's grotesque abuse of power."
And at a rally in snowy Cambridge, Mass., freshman Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) also slammed what Democrats are dubbing the "fake Trump emergency."
"The real emergency is the humanitarian crisis at our border. The real emergency is that Flint still doesn't have clean water. The real emergency is that Puerto Rico is still in the dark. ... The real emergency is the existential threat to our very existence and that is climate change," Pressley said as she spoke into a bullhorn. "This is a fake emergency; this is constitutional vandalism. This is an overreach, an over-authority and an abuse of power. And we will do everything to stop it."
In recent days, both Pelosi's reelection campaign and leadership PAC have sent emails urging supporters to open up their wallets to help Democrats in Congress block Trump's emergency action.
"Last week's declaration is an abuse of power - a lawless, desperate attempt to distract people from Trump's failure to deliver on his core campaign promise to get Mexico to pay for his ridiculous border wall," Pelosi wrote Tuesday in a fundraising email from her "PAC to the Future."
"Trump is trying an end-run around Congress to get his way," she wrote. "We will do everything in our power to stop him. We need you on board. Help strengthen our grassroots network to oppose Trump and hold him accountable for his failures."
Democrats are promising a legislative response, which is likely to come soon.
Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are drafting a resolution that would block Trump's declaration before it gets off the ground. The nascent proposal has already attracted 83 co-sponsors, Castro's office said Tuesday, though the timing of its release remains unclear amid the weeklong congressional recess.
States and outside groups are showing more urgency. A coalition of 16 states filed a legal challenge Monday against Trump's declaration, arguing it violates the clear-cut separation of powers and Congress's control over federal spending, as enumerated by the Constitution.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a similar suit on Tuesday.
Critics on Capitol Hill and elsewhere are using Trump's own remarks as proof that the declaration aims to resolve a crisis that doesn't exist.
"I didn't need to do this," the president said Friday, off the cuff, "but I'd rather do it much faster."
Pelosi wasted little time lambasting those comments.
"Clearest sign that @realDonaldTrump's #FakeTrumpEmergency is not legitimate?" she tweeted Friday. "The President himself says he didn't need to declare a national emergency."