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Political Editors / Jan. 11, 2019

‘National Emergency’ Threat Puts Pressure on Dems

The president continues to float invoking his national-emergency powers to fund the border wall.

As the partial government shutdown concludes its third week and shows no signs of ending, President Donald Trump has sought to turn up the pressure on Democrats by threatening to bypass Congress entirely to fund construction of a border wall. On Wednesday, Trump said of his repeated threats, “I have the absolute right to [declare a] national emergency if I want. My threshold will be if I can’t make a deal with people that are unreasonable.”

On Thursday, Trump doubled down, saying, “If we don’t make a deal, I would say it would be very surprising to me that I would not declare a national emergency and just fund [the wall] through the various mechanisms.”

It has become clear that the possibility of the president invoking his power to declare a national emergency was not merely an off-the-cuff remark but is rather a calculated threat. In his Oval Office address, Trump appealed to Democrats to work toward a bipartisan solution to the border crisis. But this message was really aimed at the American people, whom Trump wants asking: If we have a border crisis that the president is eager to address, why are Democrats standing in the way?

While many presume that Democrats have the upper hand when it comes to government shutdown showdowns, this time it may be Democrats feeling the heat. Most government shutdowns in the past have been blamed on Republicans, primarily because it was the GOP attempting to refuse funding for something Democrats insisted was essential. Here we are witnessing the reverse — it is Democrats who are on the defensive, trying to block funding for a needed government program. And $5 billion is such a small amount when compared to other budgeted items, such as the $10.6 billion being sent to Mexico for its own immigration enforcement, that the party of Big Government will have a difficult time defending their stinginess.

Trump’s power to bypass Congress is up for debate, and conservatives are divided as to whether he should even attempt it. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) believes Trump has the authority and should use it: “Speaker Pelosi’s refusal to negotiate on Wall/Barrier funding — even if the government were to be reopened — virtually ends congressional path to fund Wall/Barrier. Time for President [Trump] to use emergency powers to build Wall/Barrier.”

However, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) offered a very insightful warning: “If today, the national emergency is border security … tomorrow the national emergency might be climate change.” In other words, Trump invoking the power to declare a national emergency here may be setting a dangerous precedent.

The longer this shutdown drags on, the more Democrats rather than Republicans will be feeling the pressure to compromise. That’s especially true as Trump continues to declare that this is an issue of national security for which he has the power to bypass Congress to address, all while insisting he would much rather have Congress on board.

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