By Wang Peng Source: China.org.cn Published: 2019-2-15
U.S. President Donald Trump plans to declare a national emergency to find the extra funds needed to build his long-promised "Mexico Border Wall," which, as American media is predicting, creates the prospect of a new court battle.
Whether to declare a national emergency after the Democrats, now controlling the House of Representatives, refused to cave in to his demand for US$5.7 billion in funding for the wall, is a tough question, creating a fierce dispute that has caused a 35-day government shutdown, longest in American history.
Previously, Trump was seen as making every effort to sign a bipartisan bill on spending and border security in order to avert another government shutdown. Therefore, the authenticity of the planned national emergency, and the real motive of the President in taking such a drastic action, is being questioned by outside observers, even though the information came from the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.
Provoking a state of "national emergency" may offer Trump the opportunity to raise more funding from the military budget to build the wall in the wider border area. As the White House spokesperson has stated, the move provides Trump with a way to carry out his original promise during the presidential election campaign in 2016 as a necessary measure to deal with the deteriorating "humanitarian crisis" and "national security threat" on the U.S.-Mexico border.
So far, there is no indication of compromise. The Democrats have made it clear they will oppose Trump's announcement of a "national emergency." According to reports, they have vowed to respond appropriately to any declaration, saying it would be a "lawless act."
The Republican-controlled Senate was expected to vote on the new budget on the afternoon of February 14, followed by the House of Representatives. Assuming it passed Congressional scrutiny, Trump was planning to add his signature so it could take effect on Friday night to avoid further prolongation of the U.S. federal government shutdown.
The function and effort of "national emergency"
What will happen once a "national emergency" is declared in America?
According to Federal law, there are a number of powers available to the President in response to a "crisis, exigency, or emergency circumstances threatening the nation." Therefore, Trump can do so at will after such a declaration via a document prepared for the Congress.
Specifically, a "national emergency" declaration allows the President to meet the problems of "governing effectively" in times of serious crisis. This allows him to "seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens." In the current case, the declaration gives the President the power to redirect federal funds from elsewhere to pay for his "Great Wall."
However, what should be noticed is that such "magic tricks" cannot be used too often. Actually, the "national emergency" declaration as a particular step in the U.S. administrative process is quite rare in history; each time, the President who made the call must have ample reasons to explain and legitimize his behavior to the Senate, the House, and to the public.
The bone of contention and questions from outside
The bill is certainly the key point in this dramatic story, allowing Trump to keep the government running past a midnight Friday deadline (February 15). What is behind the bill is a huge and expensive physical barrier separating the U.S. from Mexico and designed to halt illegal immigration from the south.
Another issue is whether Trump has the power to declare an emergency at whim? Theoretically speaking, during this complicated process, Trump must firstly say "there is an emergency" and then prove that "this call is the right thing the nation/people need."
Trump is in urgent need of funds and labor support; this is beyond doubt. However, what Congress and the American public have to ask is: "Where's the urgency?" In other words, as the Democrats have ironically commented: If the President has waited so long to call this emergency, and the country had to go through a government shutdown over this, why has it suddenly become an "emergency"? So, how is the President going to prove this and convince the people?
In addition, the sources of the funding that Trump aims to acquire is also questionable. For in the last resort, Trump seems to have a "Plan B": Failing to persuade Congress to support him, he may turn to the Department of Defense to provide presently unallocated funds from its budget.
Anyway, Trump's "legal war" against every section has escalated inevitably: Started by the tough and long lasting "Trump's Russian-spy scandal" by the FBI at the very beginning, to the numerous debates in Senate, "ambush attacks" in the courts, or his setbacks in the House of Representatives during the past two years, we now have this new battle over the structure many believe is unworkable.
"Good Luck, Mr. President!" – a message from Congress without Love on Valentine's Day.
Wang Peng is an associate research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.