Mike Littwin: Breaking new ground, Trump declares a national emergency by conceding there is no national emergency
Fair and Unbalanced
I know it seems early in the game, but the argument over whether there is a real national emergency on the southern border — hint: there isn’t — is already over.
Done. Finished. Finito.
Don’t take my word or the word of any number of experts. For once, and this is the real shocker, you can take Donald Trump’s word.
In a rare moment of Trumpian candor, Trump told the truth about his bogus emergency declaration — with the surprising reveal that there is no emergency at all. In telling the truth, he didn’t just undercut his declaration. He put a knife through the heart of it. He basically conceded that he was, uh, appropriating $7 billion that Congress had appropriated for other uses, much of it from the Pentagon. And he was doing this because Congress — a co-equal branch of government, which constitutionally controls the purse — had overwhelmingly voted that he couldn’t.
That’s the emergency in total. Congress wouldn’t give him his wall, and so, ignoring the Constitution and a bunch of other norms, he just decided to take the money and run. He said he expected to be sued. He said he expected Congress to try to stop him. None of it mattered to him in the least. It was just another day in Trumpworld, although with not quite as much executive time, but with the usual number of lies.
Here’s how it played out. Trump came to the Rose Garden to announce his emergency declaration. Generally when when you have an emergency to announce, you start with the actual emergency, particularly if it’s an emergency that could well lead to a constitutional crisis.
But, no. First Trump talked about China. Then about Great Britain. Then about North Korea. Then about the economy and then about Wall Street and then how “we have all the records.” He talked about everything but his latest physical.
Then, finally, eventually, he got around to the bogus emergency declaration. It’s like calling 911 and first discussing with the operator how your garden is doing, then the funny thing your kid said that morning, before, you know, reporting that your house is burning down.
I’ll just let Trump talk here, in his typical can-you-believe-I’m-the-freaking-president ramble, so you can get the full flavor:
“We’re going to be signing today and registering national emergency. And it’s a great thing to do, because we have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people, and it’s unacceptable. And by signing the national emergency, something signed many times by other presidents, many, many times, President Obama, in fact, we may be using one of the national emergencies that he signed having to do with cartels, criminal cartels. It’s a very good emergency that he signed. … And what we really want to do is simple. It’s not like it is complicated. It’s very simple. We want to stop drugs from coming into our country. We want to stop criminals and gangs from coming into our country. Nobody has done the job that we have ever done.”
And then we get to the money shot: “I can do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. I would rather do it much faster.”
I didn’t need to do this. I would rather do it much faster.
Tell me, where do you see emergency there? The law, we’re told, is not entirely clear on this, but can you have an emergency when we’ve been arguing about the border for decades and when the number of people illegally crossing the border is at its lowest point in 40 years? More to the point, can you declare an emergency when there is no emergency and even if there were one, Trump’s wall would in no way resolve it?
The only emergency is that we have Trump as president. It’s an ongoing emergency. Let me tell you how desperate the situation is: I’m going to quote a tweet from Ann Coulter to describe it.
I really am. I hate to do it, but she’s got it right when she says “the goal of a national emergency for Trump is to scare the stupidest people in his base for two more years.”
She later tweeted that the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter was the 25th Amendment. This is Ann Coulter. Come on.
Trump already tried a record-breaking government shutdown, and when that failed, he went for a Constitution-breaking money grab. Any Republican who now votes to sustain this latest piece of Trump madness — and the votes are coming, as the Democratic House will surely vote to overrule Trump’s declaration and the Senate will, according to the rules of the National Emergencies Act of 1976, have to follow — has basically forfeited whatever legitimacy he or she has ever claimed.
We can start with Mitch McConnell, who told Trump he would support his declaration if only Trump wouldn’t shut down the government again on McConnell’s watch. This is what you call a party-over-country move, which is the hallmark of McConnell’s sad tenure as majority leader.
Meanwhile Cory Gardner, who wants you to think he is upset by the Trump moves, says he is “reviewing” the matter, which is Cory-speak for “I just announced my support for this clown and now you’re asking me to say out loud that he’s an authoritarian, Constitution-defying head case.”
Noted presidential historian Douglas Brinkley stopped just short of calling Trump a head case. He prefers “wild-eyed imperial presidency.”
This is where we are. Trump declares a bogus emergency in order to raid the Pentagon to pay for an unneeded wall that he once promised Mexico would pay for. Congress could stop him, but would need to come up with a veto-proof vote to do it. In any case, the money for the wall will likely be tied up in court for months. Eventually the Supreme Court justices will probably get a chance to stop Trump. The fact that we have no idea whether they would says everything you need to say about the situation.
The situation is, of course, dire. Trump admits he didn’t need to do this, but at this point in his presidency, even his most devoted followers won’t believe him.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in the Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com