2 Takes, 1 Issue: Trump’s national emergency is symbolic but sets a dangerous precedent

President Donald J. Trump speaks to members of the public and media Oct. 11, 2017, in an aircraft hangar at the 193rd Special Operations Wing, Middletown, Pennsylvania. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Tony Harp/Released)

On Feb. 15, 2019, President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in the United States to further his agenda for the border wall. On Feb. 28, President Trump confirmed that should Congress pass the resolution voiding his declaration of a national emergency, he would veto the resolution.

In order for Congress to say no to the national emergency, a simple majority is needed. This means assuming all left-leaning members of Congress vote to end it, only four Republican senators would need to flip on President Trump.

On Sunday, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) became the fourth Republican senator to declare that he would flip – giving the Democrats the weight they need to vote no on the president’s use of emergency powers.

“I stand with the president often, and I do so with a loud voice,” Mr. Paul wrote in an opinion piece published late Sunday on Fox News’s website.

“Today, I think he’s wrong, not on policy, but in seeking to expand the powers of the presidency beyond their constitutional limits,” wrote Paul. “ I cannot support the use of emergency powers to get more funding [for a wall along the border with Mexico], so I will be voting to disapprove of his declaration when it comes before the Senate.”

Although it is already abundantly clear that President Trump will still initiate the national emergency, the question remains: will we actually see the wall?

It is unclear from a legal standpoint how far President Trump can stretch his executive powers – and he is known to play with the truth of the matter.

According to USA Today, the best conclusion says no, President Trump will not be successful at constructing a wall despite the national emergency.

“Poorly drafted laws give the president a wide range of easily abused emergency powers. Even if he can declare a “national emergency,” however, that does not mean he can use it to pay for and build a wall,” reported the Atlantic.

This is justified through specific reference to statutes in the Constitution.

Section 2808 states that, during a “national emergency” that “requires the use of the armed forces,” the president can reallocate defense funds to “undertake military construction projects … that are necessary to support such use of the armed forces.” No threat posed by undocumented immigration “requires the use of the armed forces,” and it is hard to see why a wall is “necessary to support such use.”

Source: USA Today

To this end, assuming Trump is not granted incredible executive leeway to mobilize the government in any way he sees fit, the political action of declaring a national emergency is nothing but symbolic. This still carries significance as much of the executive is symbolic in terms of tradition and precedent, but it should be made clear that the capability for the national emergency to create material violence is minimal.

The precedent Trump is setting with his current actions is no different than what some of the most successful Republican politicians have done up to this point – create catchy phrases to attach to policy initiatives which boil down the issues to easily consumable bites of rhetoric.

The terms “climate change” and “war on terror” are products of this method as well – “national emergency” is no different.

The fear that the words provoke is intended to spur voter interest and passion, leading them down a course of action conducive to solving whatever problem it is they posit to be at the heart of whatever problem they have identified.

The effort President Trump has exerted in pushing his wall is valiant. Unfortunately, the results of democracy are predicated on the will of the constituency, not necessarily the single-sighted desires of the president.

Democracy structurally excludes these sorts of authoritative decrees as they are a threat to the fluid movement of the U.S. government. Not to say the government is moving fluidly now, but choking the democratic processes by using executive orders and veto powers is not a safe precedent to set for presidents to come.

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