WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to secure funding to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, a move that is certain to provoke a constitutional legal challenge.
In a speech at the Rose Garden at the White House, Trump said, “we are talking about an invasion of our country.” He cited the flow of illegal drug and human traffickers, as well as gangs, at the border. Fact checking organizations have challenged his claims.
He said many other presidents have taken similar steps under less dire circumstances, even as critics say his move could lead to a constitutional showdown over the separation of powers between the presidency and Congress.
His speech was carried across cable news networks and the broadcast networks interrupted their programming to air much of it.
On Thursday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell announced that Trump would declare an emergency, and it triggered immediate vows from Democratic lawmakers and state attorneys general that they are likely to challenge the move in court. Even some congressional Republicans have expressed their misgivings, saying it would set a precedent for future presidents to bypass Congress.
Trump predicted that the emergency declaration would get tied up in courts, but that he ultimately would prevail.
“We will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued, and they will sue us in the 9th Circuit, even though it shouldn’t be there, and we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling, and then we’ll end up in the Supreme Court,” he said. “And hopefully we will get a fair shake and we will win in the Supreme Court.”
Opponents of his decision are likely to also argue that the national emergency isn’t really an emergency at all, as Trump could have made such a declaration earlier in his term. On Friday, he even said he could have secured money to build the wall over a longer period. “I didn’t need to do this. But I would rather do it much faster,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seized on the remark. “He admits it’s a #FakeTrumpEmergency,” she wrote on her political Twitter account. She also said his declaration, “if unchecked, would fundamentally alter the balance of powers, inconsistent with our Founders’ vision.”
Trump appeared to have prepared remarks at the lectern, but he spoke off script for most of his speech and later in answering questions from reporters. There was no Teleprompter set up at the ceremony.
The president’s decision to declare an emergency came after a bipartisan conference committee reached a deal to fund the government through Sept. 30 that included money for border fencing that was well short of what the White House requested. Trump is expected to sign the funding bill, but said he was “not happy” with the nearly $1.4 billion it provides for construction of a physical barrier along the border.
Trump plans to tap about $8 billion for the construction of the physical barrier, which he has described most recently as a metal structure with see-through slats. That figure includes $1.4 billion allocated in the government funding bill, but additional money will come from funds from Defense Department counter-drug activities, the Treasury forfeiture account, and military construction. The emergency declaration was required to move about $3.6 billion from military construction accounts, according to a senior administration official.
The official noted that presidents have declared emergencies 58 times since 1976, and 31 of those emergencies are still in effect.
One of Trump’s central campaign promises was that he would build a wall and get the government of Mexico to pay for it. Mexican leaders have so far rejected that idea.
Among those in the crowd for Trump’s announcement was William Barr, who was sworn in on Thursday as the new attorney general. The Justice Department will be tasked with providing the legal rationale for the emergency declaration.
Also present were about a dozen Angel Moms, holding pictures of relatives who are victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.
PolitiFact reported that Trump’s claims that there was an “invasion” of drugs and gangs at the border “inflates data and leaves out key facts and context.” While illicit drugs are coming through, most comes through ports of entry, such as heroin smuggled in private vehicles. PolitiFact also reported that the Border Patrol has been apprehending far fewer people than they did in the early 2000s. There has been a uptick in the number of families from Central America arriving at the border, but they are often seeking asylum.