Donald Trump walked into the Rose Garden on Friday morning, and, as expected, abused the National Emergency Act to appropriate funds for a wall along the southern border. What many probably didn’t expect was a speech so bumbling, random, and scattered that it made the average Donald Trump speech play like Shakespeare.
Mexico wouldn’t pay for his wall. Congress wouldn’t pay for his wall. So the “great dealmaker” simply determined to steal the money from other projects—including those genuinely effective in reducing the flow of drugs into the United States.
Protect Democracy is standing by to file a lawsuit to halt Trump’s theft of $6.7 billion dollars. Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro is ready with a resolution to end Trump’s declaration in Congress. One or both of these may fail, and NBC reports that Trump is prepared to veto anything that reaches his desk. But there’s little doubt that court actions will keep Trump’s attempt tied up for months and prevent any actual construction on the border. In fact, it may well confuse the situation enough that the fencing authorized by Congress in legislation is also put on hold.
To get his money, Trump will take money from the Department of Defense from funds that were requested by the Pentagon and approved by Congress. These are funds that were earmarked not just for addressing emergencies, but for building military infrastructure. Trump is essentially stealing classrooms and homes from military families, taking hospital beds away from veterans. And he’s taking money from proven, effective programs to interdict drugs to fund a boondoggle that every expert agrees will not address the issue. What’s very likely to happen is that Trump will not get his wall, but that effective programs will be wrecked in the process.
The National Emergency Act was intended to deal with emergencies. As in situations that hit so fast, such as the events on 9/11, that some response is required before Congress can convene. What the authors of the act never even contemplated was a situation in which the executive branch might use the National Emergency Act to simply overrule the outcome of negotiations within the legislative branch.
By declaring a “border security emergency” after weeks of negotiations carried out expressly to address the issue of border security, Trump hasn’t just stolen the funds for his pet project: He has signaled to the Congress that any negotiation, on any topic, is pointless. Why attempt to reach any form of compromise when Trump is simply going to declare that he wins, even when he doesn’t?
And it’s not just Trump at fault. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s surrender of legislative branch authority is worthy of the term despicable. From the moment he took control of the Senate, it has seemed that McConnell has been poking around the edges of destroying the legislative process. Now he’s simply come at it with an axe. That McConnell agreed to support Trump in declaring a national emergency in order to gain his signature on the bill doesn’t make things better. It simply highlights how McConnell was willing to surrender the last vestige of Senate independence for a scrawl he knew in advance was worthless. That McConnell was hoping to dodge blame for a second shutdown by forever altering the balance of the government is intolerable. That he might have agreed to everything in the hopes that the judiciary would save the day certainly doesn’t make things any better, especially when McConnell has made it his ambition to fill the judiciary with exactly the sort of people who will not stop this farce.
Donald Trump’s actions are a unilateral attempt to violate the boundaries of Constitutional authority assigned to congress and the executive. Mitch McConnell has chosen to aid him in that action rather than protecting the institution he is supposed to lead.
The only thing that Democrats can do at this point is to fire back. Nancy Pelosi can immediately bring a vote in the House that would require an end to the emergency declaration. That bill would then be taken up in the Senate where—assuming the rule of law still counts for something—McConnell could not stop it from getting a vote.
Such a joint resolution passed by one House shall be referred to the appropriate committee of the other House and shall be reported out by such committee together within its recommendations within fifteen calendar days.
Would Republicans vote to overrule Trump’s declaration? Probably not. If every Republican who has said that using the National Emergency Act in this situation was either a mistake, or flat out unconstitutional, voted to sustain the resolution, the vote would be nearly unanimous. But Republicans have demonstrated that they have no stomach for crossing Trump in an actual vote. However, a vote would force them to reveal, one by one, their feckless agreement to abdicate the role of Congress. It would make them sign their names to an abandonment of constitutional authority—one that may not create a genuine wall, but will result in lasting damage.
What Trump reveals in declaring an emergency is that he’s a petulant autocrat guilty of every excess the Republicans ever accused any past president of, times a factor of … many. What McConnell reveals in agreeing to this arrangement is his absolute disdain for the institution he nominally leads.
Should anyone ever get a fancy to build a monument to Mitch McConnell, it shouldn’t be anywhere in Kentucky. It should be at Appomattox Court House—the in place for people who both surrender and are traitors to their nation. If that seems too on the nose, Mt. Pleasant might do.
A resolution to end the emergency is almost certain to fail in the Senate. Even if it were to squeeze through, it would be subject to Trump’s veto. But that doesn’t diminish the necessity of pushing the resolution through the House and making every Republican senator put his name to the degradation of their chamber.
In the meantime, it will a chance to test whether there remain enough federal judges who have not been slammed through the system by Trump and McConnell to hold this coup from the top in check. Hopefully, there are few still out there who like beer better than the Constitution to put the brakes on this catastrophe, at least until 2020, when the real crisis can be addressed.