The House of Representatives is expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution ending the bogus state of emergency President Trump declared in order to to speed construction of his “big, beautiful wall” on the southern border. The measure is sure to pass the Democratic-controlled House, but it won’t get much farther unless it receives strong support from members of Trump’s party too. Republicans who style themselves as “constitutional conservatives” or who simply want to protect their institution against encroachment need to vote with Democrats to rein in their overreaching president.
Introduced by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), the one-sentence-long resolution would stop Trump from rerouting billions of dollars from previously approved military construction projects to the wall. Congress gave the president the power in 1976 to declare emergencies, but it also retained the power to end them rapidly if it saw fit.
Presidents have declared dozens of emergencies since then, mainly in response to problems overseas, and Congress has never voted to terminate any of them. But never before has a president declared a state of emergency when there isn’t one, just so he could spend money that Congress has explicitly chosen not to appropriate. That’s exactly what Trump did, characterizing the influx of families seeking asylum at the border as a “national security crisis,” then using emergency powers to grab the money that Congress had denied him for his wall.
With detentions at the border down 75% from 2000, Trump cannot credibly claim that the United States is being “invaded” from the south. Congressional negotiators agreed to pour more money into various border security measures, but simply refused to put up more for a wall than lawmakers did last year — about $1.4 billion. After all, Trump promised that the wall would be financed by Mexico, not American taxpayers.
There could be no clearer usurpation of Congress’ power of the purse than this. It’s worth remembering that when the Obama administration used money Congress approved for one type of health-insurance subsidy to finance a second type as well, House Republicans accused it of violating the Constitution, and a federal judge agreed. The only difference here is that Trump used an emergency declaration to give his move a thin veneer of legality.
At this point, though, few Republicans have been willing to stand up to Trump and defend Congress’ prerogatives — not just on this issue, but on trade issues, war powers and other matters within the legislative branch’s control. As of early Monday, Castro’s resolution to terminate the state of emergency had attracted only one maverick Republican co-sponsor — Justin Amash of Michigan — alongside 224 Democrats. Far more Republicans will have to get on board to get the resolution through the GOP-controlled Senate and override a certain presidential veto.