Peter Baker, Associated Press, February 15, 2019
President Trump formally declared a national emergency at the border on Friday to access billions of dollars to build a border wall that Congress refused to give him, transforming a highly charged policy dispute into a fundamental confrontation over separation of powers.
In a televised announcement in the Rose Garden, Mr. Trump said he was signing the declaration to protect the country from the flow of drugs, criminals and illegal immigrants coming across the southwestern border from Mexico, which he characterized as a profound threat to national security.
The declaration will enable Mr. Trump to divert $3.6 billion budgeted for military construction projects to the border wall, White House officials said. Mr. Trump will also use more traditional presidential budgetary discretion to tap $2.5 billion from counternarcotics programs and $600 million from a Treasury Department asset forfeiture fund.
Combined with the $1.375 billion authorized for fencing in a spending package passed by Congress on Thursday night, Mr. Trump would then have about $8 billion in all to advance construction of new barriers and repairs or replacement of existing barriers along the border this year, significantly more than the $5.7 billion that Congress refused to give him.
The president’s decision, previewed on Thursday, triggered instant condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans, who called it an abuse of power. House Democrats plan to introduce legislation to block the president’s move, which could pass both houses if it wins the votes of the half-dozen Republican senators who have criticized the declaration. That would put the president in the position of issuing the first veto of his presidency.
Presidents have declared national emergencies under a 1970s-era law 58 times and 31 of those emergencies remain active. But most of them dealt with foreign crises and involved freezing property or taking other actions against national adversaries, not redirecting money without explicit congressional authorization.
White House officials cited only two times that such emergency declarations were used by presidents to spend money without legislative approval — once by President George Bush in November 1990 during the run-up to the Persian Gulf War and again by his son, President George W. Bush, in 2001 after the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
In Mr. Trump’s case, he is defining a longstanding situation at the border as an emergency even though illegal crossings have actually fallen in recent years. And unlike either of the Bushes, he is taking action after failing to persuade lawmakers to go along through the regular process.