Newsletter: President Trump is the national emergency


Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion

Threatening to declare an emergency is akin to scheduling an unexpected event, so by definition a promised emergency cannot actually be a true crisis. But that isn’t to say a bogus emergency declaration cannot itself spark another crisis, and that’s exactly what President Trump has done.

The president says the United State is in an official state of emergency because of border crossings from Mexico and will try to redirect money already allocated by Congress so he can build his wall. Any normal public servant can recognize how fundamentally undemocratic this is, which is why the president can only declare national emergencies, and therefore assume extraordinary power, when the machinery of representative government is truly ill-equipped to respond to a crisis.

But Trump did not declare a national emergency because of a crisis; he did it to overcome a political defeat, a move that the L.A. Times editorial board says is a gross abuse of power:

Over weeks of negotiations stretching back into 2018, the Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress grappled with congressional Democrats over how to address the growth in asylum arrivals and other border concerns. The spending bill that Trump is due to sign into law raises spending on border security to $22.54 billion — more than the budgets for disaster relief, the federal courts or the Environmental Protection Agency, to cite just a few examples.

The measure is a compromise that reflects bipartisan support for improved border security, as well as the two parties’ different priorities. In addition to providing money for fencing, it increases the number of detention beds for deportable immigrants, expands immigration courts, adds hundreds of Border Patrol agents, supplies more money for drones and other border-surveillance technology, ramps up drug interdiction efforts at ports of entry, overhauls how Immigration and Customs Enforcement manages the cases under its purview, and addresses a number of complaints from Democrats about the treatment of detainees.

Under the Constitution, it’s up to Congress to decide how federal dollars are spent. It’s telling that Trump couldn’t persuade lawmakers to give him more money for his wall, even by shutting much of the federal government down for a record 35 days. He simply doesn’t have the votes for the project, which isn’t surprising, given that polls show most Americans don’t support it.

Instead of taking his lumps and trying to make a better case for funding the wall next year, however, Trump is trying to circumvent Congress through a spurious emergency declaration. His supporters note how previous presidents have used executive orders to take steps Congress did not take; for example, President Truman ordered the armed forces to desegregate in 1948 after Congress failed to do so, and President Obama created a program allowing “Dreamers” to seek temporary legal status after a comprehensive immigration reform bill stalled (a move that Trump has derided as unlawful). But there’s a world of difference between using executive orders to accomplish things Congress could not, and declaring an emergency to overturn a decision Congress made. Administration officials have noted that Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush both used emergency declarations to shift military construction funds, but that was in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — not caravans of migrants.

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Constitutional crisis or not, Trump played the Democrats for suckers. The president’s emergency declaration is a gross abuse of power, yes, but Trump just found a way to essentially write himself a check even if months of negotiations in Congress fail to produce the results he wants. L.A. Times

Bogus emergency declarations are what dictators do. Ferdinand Marcos crippled the oldest democracy in Southeast Asia when he staged a crisis in the Philippines in 1972 and assumed total control of the government. What happened before that emergency declaration — a stinging defeat in his country’s legislative election, the belief that God had anointed him, and grave warnings about perils facing the country — bears a resemblance to Trump today. L.A. Times

Remember when Los Angeles wanted Amazon’s HQ2? Perhaps New York, which was “awarded” a share of the online retail behemoth’s second headquarters before it lost it, is suffering so L.A. doesn’t have to. The lesson: This is “yet another indication that the dulcet attractions of tech have lost their charm for many and that the business — which has been this country’s most innovative and promising and often its most inspirational — is just that: a business, like any other, out for itself and itself alone, and most definitely not changing the world for the better.” New York Times

What does Gov. Gavin Newsom really think of high-speed rail? He seemed pretty bearish about it during his State of the State address, saying he could not see a way for the train to link San Francisco and Los Angeles. Now he says he supports the bullet train, a position where the editorial board would like him to remain. L.A. Times

If you’re able, get vaccinated. This bears repeating: “Despite overwhelming evidence that vaccinations are safe and protect against dangerous disease, small groups of Americans, on both the left and right, have chosen to reject vaccines for themselves and their children. Their decisions have consequences.” L.A. Times