Donald Trump used the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to declare a national emergency in search of funding to build his southern border wall. This action was a blatant attempt to circumvent the Constitutional authority of Congress to appropriate funding; funding which Congress has vehemently denied him.
The National Emergencies Act was intended to grant the President of the United States authority to address national emergencies that are immediate in nature and time is of the essence. In other words, there is no time to go through the regular Congressional process.
Building a border wall from “sea to shining sea” cannot rationally be considered an emergency of this type. Abuse of authority, then, is a more apt description of this effort by Trump.
Whether the challenges to Trump’s abuse of power succeed in court remains to be seen. While Trump’s effort to circumvent Congress to secure funding for his wall is obviously not based on a true national emergency, the term “emergency” is not clearly defined in the Act.
That does present a bit of a problem but is not determinative. The Constitution is and should always be the last word as I believe it will be in this case.
The Constitution is quite clear that government funding responsibility is fully granted to Congress and, I suspect, the courts will not look kindly on any attempt to circumvent that authority with a declaration of a national emergency for a border wall that will take years, if not decades, to build.
Furthermore, since Trump believes there is, in his own words, “a lot of money” available in the Department of Defense to reallocate towards his wall, another question facing Congress is whether they allocated too much funding for the Department of Defense in the first place.
I specifically posed to Trump this question: “Which Defense Department projects or programs will go unfunded if money is reprogrammed for your wall under a declaration of a national emergency?” To that question, he responded there is “a lot of money.”
Really? Maybe, just maybe, funding not very necessary. Maybe, just maybe, then, some of that excess funding could have been better used to address the myriad of real needs facing this country such as our crumbling infrastructure as just one example.
The precedent of a president declaring a concocted national emergency for the sole purpose of finding funding that Congress would not grant is one that should be of great concern even to Trump’s Congressional Republican enablers.
Real national emergencies such as the epidemic of mass shootings that have plagued this country for decades or the national emergency that the impact of climate change has on this and future generations are both very real and need to be addressed in spite of Congressional inaction.
Will this misuse of executive authority serve as a precedent for future Democratic presidents to use to address both climate change and mass shootings in spite of Congressional inaction? I sure hope so. That would be the only positive outcome of this abuse of presidential power and assault on Constitutional authority.
The presidency of Trump has brought to light the need for Congress to be a great deal more specific in any legislation it enacts from here on out.
While able to rely on a common understanding of the language within the law in the past, in the age of Trump one must now look to loopholes created by broad language that would be seized upon by the likes of a Trump-like president who will utilize those loopholes to pursue a purely personal agenda. While common sense dictates the difference between a true national emergency and a fabricated one, in the world of Trump a detailed definition is sorely needed.
Similarly, while it was accepted protocol that candidates for the office of president would release their tax returns that protocol must now be captured in law in the age of Trump.
Recently Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long announced his resignation. Although Long was embroiled in a bit of a controversy over the last year or so, the timing of his resignation raised some interest for me.
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act established the Disaster Relief Fund to be used by FEMA to direct, coordinate, manage and fund eligible response and recovery efforts associated with domestic major disasters and emergencies that overwhelm state resources.
Contrary to the widespread misunderstanding that FEMA serves as first respondents at the federal level, the reality is that FEMA is not nearly staffed for that role and, rather, coordinates and funds the assets of other federal agencies and departments such as the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services to respond to legitimate national disasters. Funding for the use of these federal government agency assets to respond to such disasters as Hurricane Maria or the California wildfires comes directly from the Disaster Relief Fund.
Is it possible, or even likely, that Trump sought to access the Disaster Relief Fund to find funding for his wall? More than likely. Is it also possible, even likely, that if Trump had sought access to the Disaster Relief Fund for this fabricated emergency that FEMA Administrator Long would have, just like any other responsible and reputable FEMA Administrator, stepped down rather than acquiesce to this misuse of the Disaster Relief Fund? Definitely.
The irony, of course, is that there is a real national disaster and that national tragedy is the Trump presidency. If the Disaster Relief Fund could be used to address that emergency, I would be one hundred percent in support of its use.