As talks between the Trump administration and Democratic congressional leaders over funding for a border wall continue to lead to nowhere, the president reportedly is considering taking the extreme step of declaring a national emergency.
Such a move, in theory, would permit the president to use military funding and resources for the project, which would essentially mandate the president to declare some sort of national crisis.
“We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly,” Trump said on Friday during a press conference in the Rose Garden.
Trump apparently is being encouraged to take this drastic step by extremists on the far right.
“I may declare a national emergency dependent on what’s going to happen on the next few days,” Trump reaffirmed on Sunday, before heading to a policy retreat with staffers at Camp David.
In reality, even if a national emergency were declared, the “wall,” in whatever form, would not be built “very quickly,” as the president has claimed. Rather, it likely would be fiercely debated in Congress, and quite possibly could be illegal. The move also would be challenged in courts.
But it wouldn’t be entirely out of character for Trump to ignore this and declare a national emergency anyway, because it could be viewed as his only way out of the ongoing fiasco without admitting defeat.
The craziest part: There is increasing evidence that Trump’s border wall—which he repeatedly insisted during the presidential campaign would be paid for by Mexico—isn’t even a real thing. Last weekend, former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly admitted in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that officials had known early on in the administration that the “wall” isn’t really a wall.
“The president still says ‘wall’ — oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing,’ now he’s tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it,” Kellly said.
Now, The New York Times is reporting that the “wall” actually was a mnemonic device invented by campaign aides to remind an “undisciplined candidate” to rile his base up on the immigration issue. As president, Trump now finds himself ensnared in a trap of his own making, and he’s taken the federal government hostage over it because he refuses to back down.
“How do we get him to continue to talk about immigration?” former Trump political adviser Sam Nunberg asked Roger J. Stone Jr. during the lead up to the campaign, according to the Times. “We’re going to get him to talk about he’s going to build a wall.”
Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have so far refused to commit even a dime of the $5.7 billion Trump is seeking for his “wall,” offering instead $1.3 billion for border security in general, which includes partial border fencing. It is a number that Republican lawmakers already had approved in previously proposed legislation that was rejected by the president. Vice President Mike Pence reportedly has tried to negotiate a lower figure of $2.5 billion, but that went nowhere.
With a government shutdown now entering its third week, Trump is running out of options—hence, talk of a national emergency declaration.
But according to Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman, that idea will never fly because it’s illegal.
“While it is hard to know exactly what the president has in mind, or whether he has any conception about what it would entail, one thing is clear: Not only would such an action be illegal, but if members of the armed forces obeyed his command, they would be committing a federal crime,” Ackerman wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times.
Ackerman predicted that if Trump did issue such an order, he probably would do so via Twitter.
He added: “What this all adds up to is a potential crisis much graver than whatever immigration emergencies the president has in mind: A legally ignorant president forcing our troops to choose between his commands and the rule of law in a petty political struggle over a domestic political question.”
So, can we talk about impeachment yet?