President Trump on Friday announced that he is declaring a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, and he will redirect up to $8 billion in federal money to build a border barrier to keep foreigners from illegally entering the country.
While Democrats are expected to fight the move — and likely will seek to halt the plan via court or congressional action — Trump declared that, as president, he has unilateral authority to redirect federal funds in order to stem a crisis.
The National Emergencies Act of 1976 says the president "has available certain powers that may be exercised in the event that the nation is threatened by crisis, exigency, or emergency circumstances (other than natural disasters, war, or near-war situations)," the Congressional Research Service says.
A senior White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity said such emergencies have been declared 58 times, and 31 are still in effect. The money for the border barrier is simply being "reprogrammed to other uses."
As for whether Trump's move opens a Pandora's box, the official said, "It actually creates no precedent." While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has asserted that such an emergency declaration would make it possible for a Democratic president to declare gun violence a "national emergency," the official said, "that is totally false."
The official said the newly redirected money will allow Trump to move forward on his plan to build 234 miles of border barrier — the full length Trump initially proposed. "We think that is vital to secure the border."
The money Trump plans to use for his border barrier, which he has been promising since his campaign days, includes $1.375 billion that is included in a spending bill he will sign in the Rose Garden ceremony; $600 million from the Treasury Department’s drug Forfeiture Fund, money seized by the U.S. government; $2.5 billion from a Defense Department drug interdiction program; and $3.5 billion from a military construction budget, the official said.
And the official said the nearly $8 billion to be drawn from other government accounts may grow. "We continue to look for pots of money that can be used."
Asked whether Trump's move is an "end run" around Congress, the official said: "Yes, this does technically go beyond the appropriations bill." But the official said that while Trump is going "outside of the ordinary process," that's exactly why the emergency power exists.
The White House on Thursday confirmed that the president will sign an emergency order allowing him to make the move. "President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border. The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country," Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.
Pelosi called the move an "end-run around the will of the people," adding, "We will review our options, we'll be prepared to respond appropriately to it."
"It’s important to note that when President Trump declares this emergency, first of all, it’s not an emergency," Pelosi said. "The precedent that the president is setting here is something that should be met with great unease and dismay by the Republicans."
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday he is "going to support the national emergency declaration," although Congress has no say in the matter anyway.