President Trump’s planned declaration of a national emergency on the southern border today is exactly the sort of thing that prompted many conservatives to oppose his presidency. In declaring a national emergency based on Congress’s failure to take action to the president’s liking, Trump sets a horrible precedent that will probably fail to get the wall built and will certainly come back to haunt Republicans.
To begin with, there is no national security emergency. Illegal border crossings are near a 50-year low even though the arrests of families at the border have increased in recent months. Contrary to Trump Administration claims, there is also no wave of violent crime associated with immigrants, either legal or illegal. Statistically speaking, border counties are some of the safest counties in the country.
If illegal immigration didn’t constitute a national security emergency when the number of illegal border crossings was five times the number that we have today and it wasn’t an emergency in the wake of the September 11 attacks, it is difficult to see how it is an emergency today at much lower levels after 18 years in which no illegal immigrant has been connected to a terrorist attack and more than six times as many suspected terrorists were caught crossing the Canadian border than entering from Mexico.
In fact, illegal immigration wasn’t considered a national emergency for the first two years of President Trump’s presidency. In January 2018, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered $25 billion for a border barrier, much more than Trump hopes to get from his emergency declaration, but President Trump didn’t accept the deal. If illegal immigration was a national emergency all along, then why didn’t Trump jump at Schumer’s deal? For that matter, why didn’t Trump declare a national emergency two months ago prior to the government shutdown? What changed?
The answer is that Trump was beaten by the Democrats and needs to shore up his base. The crisis is not that illegals are threatening the security of the nation, but that Trump’s poor legislative abilities are threatening his approval rating among Republicans.
Unfortunately, Trump’s emergency declaration is an ill-conceived plan that is borne of desperation and is certain to blow up in his face. As with the shutdown, the president is attempting to use an unpopular strategy to enact an unpopular policy. By two-to-one margins, voters oppose an emergency declaration. With the beginning of the 2020 primary season only a year away, the move may spark enough division among Republicans to encourage a primary challenge against Trump. It may also kill Trump’s chances of winning enough moderates and independents to secure a second term.
The move is also unlikely to result in construction of the wall. The president isn’t allowed to declare a national emergency to bypass Congress when legislators choose not to act on longstanding problems. Trump’s decree will be challenged in court and is likely to be overturned.
The worst part of the national emergency declaration is the precedent that it sets. President Trump got his ideas on the use of executive powers from Barack Obama but Trump is pushing the envelope of the imperial presidency even further. The next Democrat is also likely to push the boundaries even more and dare Congress to stop him.
There are many “national emergencies” that Democrats could choose to act upon. They could use executive powers to tackle climate change, assault weapons, the national debt, racism, and who knows what. If the guiding principle is not the Constitution but the ability to rhetorically turn a problem into a crisis, the opportunities for executive action are limited only by Democratic imaginations.
As with President Obama, Donald Trump’s abuses of his executive authority are more of a crisis than the problems that he purports to address. It is past time for Congress to rein in the presidency and put limits on the power of the chief executive to act unilaterally. If Congress doesn’t limit President’s Trump’s abuses of power, it will be up to the voters to do so.
Originally published on the Resurgent