Border wall “emergency” a misuse of presidential powers, say Chapman Profs

A portion of the southern wall that borders Tijuana. © Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

UPDATE: President Donald Trump vetoed the proposed resolution on Friday. The House of Representatives will vote to override the veto on March 26.

A resolution to overturn the president’s national emergency declaration passed the House of Representatives and the Senate by a 59-41 vote on Thursday. Twelve Republicans voted alongside the Democratic senators including Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Marco Rubio of Florida.

With the question of President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration up in the air, Chapman professors acknowledge that his efforts in securing funds for his multi-billion dollar border wall could wind up backfiring.

“Trump clearly believes that he needs to deliver this to his base to have any chance of winning reelection,” assistant political science professor John Compton wrote in an email. “But the Democrats also view it as a winning issue for them – one that will get their voters to the polls as well.”

“A national emergency [on immigration] establishes a terrible precedent,” said political science professor Fred Smoller. “It’s unprecedented” and “subverts the legislative process,” Smoller said.

Trump declared a national emergency on Feb. 15, hoping to siphon federal funds from other programs to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. He believes a wall is the best way to stop the tide of Central American refugees – many of them women and children – fleeing desperate conditions in the Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and seeking sanctuary in the U.S. His opponents argue that changing international policy and providing aid to solve conflicts in their countries of origin would be a better and more effective solution.

The “national emergency” declaration has prompted 16 states to sue President Trump for abusing his presidential power. Led by California, states such as New York, Hawaii, Virginia, and Colorado believe the declaration is unconstitutional and detrimental to military projects.

“Congress has enacted legislation authorizing the President to declare emergencies, and to spend money to address them, so it’s not clear that the President is directly usurping…congressional authority,” Compton said.

“It could be argued that legislation that delegates sweeping emergency spending powers to the President is itself a violation of the separation of powers, in the sense that Congress cannot delegate its spending authority to the executive branch,” he added.

With over $6 billion worth of vulnerable funds at risk, military construction projects and drug trafficking prevention efforts would feel the greatest impact, according to court documents.

In the past, states of emergency have been declared after major events such as the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Sanctions, a form of emergency power, have been issued as a result of tense international relations such as on those who threatened Yemen’s stability and placed on foreign interference in the United States elections.

“A national emergency [declaration]” in this case, may be an effect “of an untethered presidency,” Smoller said.

The action may impact the president’s future re-electability and have an effect on the credibility of the office of the president, he added.

Nor is the move winning us many allies.

“It will hurt our relations with Mexico and may result in less goodwill towards us from that and other countries,” wrote Gordon Babst, associate professor of political science.

Since Trump’s emergency declaration, 6 in 10 Americans disapprove of his decision, according to a poll by NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist.

“This situation offers a great lesson in how the political situation actually works” Compton wrote.

“The question then becomes: what can Congress do if it believes the President is abusing the authority it has delegated?,” he added.

President Trump is expected to veto the measure, according to media reports. The legislation would then require a two-thirds vote from both chambers of Congress to override the presidential veto.

Jennifer Sauceda and Brandon Winchester

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