President Trump, furious over the Congressional spending compromise that includes no money for his proposed border wall, has indicated that he’ll sign the bill — but that he’s also going to pull the trigger on the other option he’s been threatening for months: The declaration of a “national emergency” in order to take funds already allocated for other legitimate emergencies and spend that money on the wall instead.
Politicians and pundits alike have derided the idea of the national emergency, pointing out that by definition, an emergency isn’t something you have a choice over whether to declare it or not. And what Trump’s childish measure will do is effectively rob the federal funds that were supposed to go to assistance in Puerto Rico for hurricane recovery efforts and to California for relief from the wildfires that killed more people last year than any in the state’s history and drove thousands and thousands from their homes.
That’s disgusting, but this is no longer something in consideration — the White House announced today that Trump will be declaring the emergency after weeks and weeks of mulling it over:
Statement on Government Funding Bill: pic.twitter.com/DrNv9D4rEi
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) February 14, 2019
In fact, as I write this, the Senate has just passed the spending bill, which means the declaration could come as soon as today.
But perhaps something the President has overlooked — something Republicans in the Senate could have helpfully reminded him of — is that taking a drastic action that sets a precedent for the future can backfire spectacularly. GOP leaders have long resisted the “nuclear option” in the Senate, the override of the filibuster, because they know that one day the Democrats will be back in control of that chamber and they certainly don’t want Democrats to have the power to pass anything they like with a simple 50+1 majority.
That apparently is not a concern for Trump, but maybe it should be. Using the emergency declaration to secure funds for something that hasn’t been authorized or appropriated for by Congress could open that action up to use by future Democratic presidents, and the efforts that would likely follow are anathema to Republicans.
How would it work?
Say Trump follows through with this today and takes money from disaster relief efforts to build his vanity wall — which hasn’t even been approved by Congress. Then say that in 2020, Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren beat Trump in the presidential election and decided to use the same tactic. They certainly wouldn’t be extending the wall.
Harris could potentially determine that state-by-state laws restricting abortion services had created an “emergency” for women in America and use un-allocated money intended for other purposes to instead fund centralized Planned Parenthood clinics, or to begin a nationalized health care system under which that care would be covered.. Warren could decide that state laws amounting to voter suppression against low-income, minority, and elderly voters constituted an “emergency” and use funds like that to overhaul ID programs, subsidize employers for a federal voting holiday for their employees, or otherwise drive more people to the polls.
Either of those measures would be so insanely popular and effective that it would be all but impossible to ever reverse them. And if you give permanence to universal health care or increased voter turnout, you’ll never see another Republican president again.
In short, Trump might actually survive legal challenges to this emergency declaration and get money for the wall he promised his racist base. But in doing so, he might destroy the Republican Party once and for all.
Featured image via screen capture