Trump’s Phony Emergency

Editorial Cartoon

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

When historians look back to President Donald Trump’s performance last week as he announced a national emergency to build his border wall, few will judge it as inspirational. His stream of consciousness, ranging from Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize to disrespect for reporters trying to get honest answers, was about as rational as his decision to declare the emergency in the first place.

The president no doubt was unhappy that once again, Congress failed to give in to his demands for $5.7 billion to complete the wall — an unneeded wall, based on phony statistics, that he had insisted Mexico would pay for. When he ended a record five-week partial shutdown of the government, he said a bipartisan group of senators and representatives would come up with a new plan, but he undermined their work immediately.

The compromise package that resulted provided $1.38 billion for 55 miles of barrier, far less than he had asked for to fulfill a major, misguided campaign pledge. So it was no surprise that when he signed the spending bill averting another embarrassing shutdown, he also downplayed its significance and insisted that only a national emergency could get him the money he needed.

But he undercut his own message about an emergency, openly admitting during his White House monologue that “I didn’t need to do this.” Later, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders tried to clean up after him, again, saying that what Trump meant to say was that he shouldn’t have had to do it.

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Then, to underscore what a dire emergency the nation faces, the president flew off to Mar-a-Lago for a weekend of golf.

He left behind a mess in Washington. His blithe recitation of what is likely to happen in the wake of the emergency declaration may come true: losses in the lower courts, appeals to the Supreme Court, etc. But the harm done by his end run to the constitutionally mandated separation of powers is real, as is the spotlight being shone on Republicans who should proclaim that enough is enough.

Already, a coalition of 16 states have filed a federal lawsuit to block Trump’s border wall plan, claiming that it is unconstitutional for bypassing Congress.

Even Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, who normally toes the Republican line despite the president’s egregious behavior, said Trump went beyond what was needed to skirt congressional refusal to fully fund his wall.

“I know he believes that the situation is an emergency, and I don’t have any argument with that,” Blunt told a radio station in Columbia. “But you do have to let the constitutional process work. … No president has ever tried to do anything like this and call it an emergency.”

And New York Times columnist Ross Douthat — no one’s idea of a member of the radical left, to use Trump’s latest attempt to brand those who oppose his agenda — had this to say about the president’s latest maneuver:

“He’s taking unpopular action that divides his party and unites the opposition, he’s doing so with a combination of brazen hypocrisy and nonsense rhetoric that makes the power grab impossible to cloak, he’s guaranteeing himself an extended legal battle — and he isn’t even accomplishing any obvious goal (there’s a reason real immigration restrictionists are against this plan) except the personal one of saving a tiny bit of face.”

Avoiding another shutdown is good, and the legal battle ahead over the emergency declaration means that the White House isn’t likely to get its way over the border money for a long time, if ever. But the continuing damage done to the legislative process, and the increasingly sharp divisions over the nation’s poisoned political atmosphere, are sad byproducts of a confrontation that never had to happen.

And despite Trump’s insistence that his declaration of an emergency is in the tradition of what presidents have done, this one falls far outside what has come before. If it is allowed to stand, the balance of power that has served this country well since its founding could suffer permanently.

If the president had paid attention to his own government statistics, instead of responding to his political gut, the whole drama could have been avoided. If Republicans really feel that the money for a wall is necessary, why didn’t they approve it when they controlled both houses of Congress? Democrats, who can block the White House agenda in the House and are gearing up for what promises to be a nasty campaign next year, should work hard to heal the widening breach in Washington.

While much of the blame for the impasse over border security rests with Donald Trump, the Democrats in Congress must shoulder some of the responsibility for this pathetic fiasco. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who described the proposed border wall as being “immoral” had herself voted for security barriers numerous times when it appeared before Congress during the Barack Obama administration. Other Democratic leaders through the years have backed similar proposals—including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and even Obama himself when he was in the Senate, along with Hillary Clinton who became the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. It seems hypocritical for Democrats who had supported the wall during prior administrations to suddenly oppose it as “immoral.” Was their motivation for opposing it this time about “morality” or about preventing Trump from a legislative victory? They should be held accountable for this flip-flop.

Neither the president nor Congress deserves a victory lap for this sad state of affairs. The biggest loser from the stubborn refusal to compromise continues to be the American people.