Our view: Don’t de­clare na­tional ‘emer­gency’ to end shut­down

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS -

Through­out Don­ald Trump’s suc­cess­ful run for pres­i­dent, he re­peat­edly promised to build a “big and beau­ti­ful wall” across the south­ern bor­der that Mex­ico would pay for.

The pledge en­thralled his chant­ing rally-go­ers and be­came his sig­na­ture cam­paign prom­ise.

Then it be­came his al­ba­tross. Mex­i­can lead­ers made it clear they have no in­ten­tion of pay­ing for Trump’s wall. That left the pres­i­dent in the po­si­tion of hav­ing to se­cure fund­ing from U.S. tax­pay­ers — and to spin an ev­er­shift­ing se­ries of non­sen­si­cal sce­nar­ios for how Mex­ico would in­di­rectly re­im­burse Amer­ica, the most re­cent in­volv­ing a yet-to-be-rat­i­fied trade deal.

Even dur­ing two years of Repub­li­cans con­trol­ling the White House and both cham­bers of Con­gress, Trump couldn’t get ma­jor ap­pro­pri­a­tions for his wall (or fence or steel slats or phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers or what­ever he called it at any given mo­ment).

And even when Democrats dan­gled

$25 bil­lion for the wall if he agreed to a cit­i­zen­ship path for hun­dreds of thou­sands of “Dream­ers,” un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who ar­rived as chil­dren, the sup­pos­edly master deal­maker couldn’t get it done.

And now, with Democrats in con­trol of the House, he can’t get it done even by forc­ing the long­est par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down in U.S. his­tory, one that has left 800,000 fed­eral work­ers un­paid and the econ­omy los­ing an es­ti­mated $1.2 bil­lion a week.

What next? Trump is con­sid­er­ing declar­ing a “na­tional emer­gency” at the south­ern bor­der, in­vok­ing a 1976 law that other pres­i­dents have used to help the coun­try in times of dire need.

This ap­proach has its ap­peal: Gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees would pre­sum­ably go back to work de­spite the po­lit­i­cal im­passe. It of­fers both Trump and Con­gress a way out of the the box they’ve cre­ated while the courts sort out the le­gal­ity of such a dec­la­ra­tion.

But a na­tional emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion would be a mis­guided and de­struc­tive over­reach of ex­ec­u­tive power:

❚ It stretches the def­i­ni­tion of emer­gency. To be sure, drug traf­fick­ing and an in­flux of Cen­tral Amer­i­can fam­i­lies seek­ing asy­lum are sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems. But they fall short of ma­jor na­tional se­cu­rity crises, and walls — though hardly the “im­moral­ity” cited by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — are at best a small part of the so­lu­tions.

Ar­rests for il­le­gal bor­der-cross­ing are down about 80 per­cent since 2000. More un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants en­ter Amer­ica le­gally through ports of en­try and over­stay visas than sneak across the bor­der. And there’s no proof, ac­cord­ing to the State Depart­ment, that even one ter­ror­ist has en­tered the United States across the south­ern bor­der through 2017.

❚ It would be a dan­ger­ous prece­dent. Repub­li­cans must surely know they won’t con­trol the White House for­ever. Don’t they re­mem­ber de­nounc­ing “King Obama” for his ex­ec­u­tive over­reach on im­mi­gra­tion? Would they re­ally want a fu­ture Demo­cratic pres­i­dent at­tempt­ing to by­pass the will of Con­gress by declar­ing na­tional emer­gen­cies on gun vi­o­lence, cli­mate change or health care?

❚ It would di­vert money from other im­por­tant projects. The wall would have to be paid for by re­al­lo­cat­ing mil­i­tary con­struc­tion fund­ing ap­proved by Con­gress but not yet spent.

The longer the shut­down goes on, the more it looks like the big­ger emer­gency is the po­lit­i­cal one caused by Don­ald Trump’s in­abil­ity to ful­fill an ill­con­sid­ered cam­paign prom­ise. The way out of this morass is through bi­par­ti­san com­pro­mise, not by bend­ing the law or the Con­sti­tu­tion.


Protest in Bos­ton on Fri­day.

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