Mellman: Awash in data
The national emergency will haunt Republicans come election season
On Thursday, Congress passed a bipartisan spending bill, and in doing so averted another government shutdown. Indeed, this was an important and necessary display of the power of compromise and working across the aisle. In a slight to President Trump, the border compromise component of the legislation, tucked into nearly $49 million allotted to the Homeland Security Department, included less than $1.4 billion for 55 miles of new fencing along the southern border with Mexico. This figure was far and away from the initial hardline demand from President Trump for $5.7 billion in funding for 234 miles of steel wall along the southern border.
On Friday, however, just after signing the bipartisan spending bill into law, President Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border in order to get the remaining billions of dollars in federal funds in order to build his proposed wall. This includes money that would be diverted from military construction projects and counter narcotics programs, as well as millions from an asset forfeiture fund within the Treasury Department.
This national emergency declaration by President Trump is nothing less than the blatant overextension of executive power. It is illustrative of how discouragingly far American politics has fallen and will only hurt him politically. President Trump has been dangling the threat of using a national security declaration in front of Congress ever since early January, despite many top Republicans trying to convince him against doing this.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he was for "avoiding the president feeling he should declare a national emergency." But McConnell has now said that he will support the declaration. Democrats have never supported the idea, but now that the declaration has come to fruition, opposition is even fiercer. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the move a "power grab," and said President Trump had "gone outside the bounds of the law to get what he achieved in the constitutional legislative process."
Indeed, Democrats in Congress are considering legislative measures and legal challenges to the national emergency declaration. However, there are roadblocks on both of these pathways. Any legislation introduced by House Democrats to curtail the national emergency declaration for border wall funding would almost certainly receive a veto from President Trump, even if the legislation had enough support to pass Senate Republicans.
Democratic leaders have already indicated that they would challenge the issue in court. Indeed, President Trump will also confront legal challenges from third parties, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which has already announced its intentions to sue his administration. Ultimately, this latest move by President Trump reveals that he is solely concerned with pandering to his base, regardless of however his actions might affect his popularity with the rest of electorate or with members of his own party.
Out of this wall controversy, President Trump has managed to forge an approach that at least maintains that he is making good on his campaign promise to build the wall, regardless of how the looming challenges will play out. Though this move is palatable to his base, a CNN poll this month reveals that his national emergency declaration is considerably unpopular with a majority of the electorate. Indeed, 66 percent of respondents said that a national emergency declaration is the wrong move for this issue.
Indeed, if President Trump continues this approach of governing for his base, and his base only, his chances of reelection in 2020 will surely be diminished. Aside from the political ramifications, his national emergency declaration to build a wall on the southern border also sets a disturbing precedent for future presidents to be able to make similar declarations to deliver their own campaign promises or to reach difficult political goals.
"A Democratic president can declare emergencies as well," Speaker Pelosi cautioned on Thursday. "The precedent that the president is setting here is something that should be met with great unease and dismay by the Republicans." Indeed, Republicans who have said they will now support the declaration are at the edge of a slippery slope, as a future Democratic president might use this action to justify declaring national emergencies over different progressive issues such as gun control or climate change.
Ultimately, this is not a nation that governs based off the declaration of one individual. President Trump doing so arguably paves the way for this to become an acceptable style of governance, thus destroying hundreds of years of constitutional precedent and putting entire democracy at risk.
Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is also a Fox News contributor and the author of several books, including "Putin's Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence."