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Trump declares emergency along southern border, but admits ‘I didn’t need to do this’

Trump's decision to declare a national emergency is a controversial move designed to secure billions of dollars Congress didn't authorize him to spend for a proposed wall.

U.S. President Donald Trump declares a national emergency to build his promised border wall during a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on Feb. 15, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
U.S. President Donald Trump declares a national emergency to build his promised border wall during a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on Feb. 15, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)Read moreTNS

President Donald Trump said he signed an order declaring a national emergency at the southern border on Friday, in a rambling speech at the White House that touched on everything from trade negotiations with China to the state of the U.S. economy.

Trump’s decision to declare an emergency at the border — where arrests are down dramatically compared to 10 to 15 years ago — is a controversial move designed to secure billions of dollars Congress didn’t authorize him to spend for a proposed wall.

“It’s a great thing to do,” Trump said during a speech at the White House televised live on broadcast and cable television. “Because we have an invasion of drugs, an invasion of gangs, and it’s unacceptable.”

According to multiple reports, Trump plans to use his emergency declaration to unilaterally acquire more than $5.7 billion from other agencies — including the Department of Defense — and use it to begin construction of his proposed border wall.

The idea has drawn criticism from both parties, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who said in a statement Thursday that “no crisis justifies violating the Constitution."

“If there is one principle that has been enshrined in the Constitution since the 18th century, it’s that Congress has the power of the purse,” CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Tobin said. “This is a wildly dramatic expansion of presidential power.”

Trump alluded to the controversy over the declaration during his speech, noting he expected to be “sued” over the move. He also appeared to undermine his own case that there is an emergency at the southern border by declaring he “didn’t need to do this."

“I could do the wall over a longer period of time," Trump admitted. “I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster."

Trump made the declaration prior to signing a bipartisan spending bill that passed through both the House and Senate with overwhelming majorities on Thursday. That bill, which will fund several federal departments through Sept. 30 and prevent another partial government shutdown, only includes roughly $1.375 billion for about 55 miles of border fencing.

Here’s how the day played out:

After declaring emergency, Trump traveling to Mar-a-Lago

After declaring a national emergency at the southern border, Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will travel to south Florida to spend the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort, according to the president’s public schedule.

The president and the first lady are scheduled to depart from Joint Base Andrews on Air Force One at 4:20 p.m. They are expected to arrive at Mar-a-Lago around 7 p.m.

Trump officially signs spending bill

Trump has officially signed the bipartisan spending bill into law, averting another partial government shutdown that would have impacted more than 800,000 federal workers and cut off funding for nine federal agencies.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters the president signed the legislation into law around 2 p.m. No reporters were present.

» READ MORE: Budget deal signed by Trump includes $6M for Delaware River protection

Top Republican blames Democrats for Trump’s declaration

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who had previously opposed a national emergency declaration, blamed Trump’s decision on Democrats unwilling to fully fund his proposed border wall.

“President Trump’s decision to announce emergency action is the predictable and understandable consequence of Democrats’ decision to put partisan obstruction ahead of the national interest,” McConnell said in a statement. “I urge my Democratic colleagues to quickly get serious, put partisanship aside, and work with the president and our homeland security experts to provide the funding needed to secure our borders as we begin the next round of appropriations.”

Some fact-checks of Trump’s comments

Top Democrats call Trump’s declaration ‘unlawful’

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Trump’s declaration of an emergency to seize funds to build a wall along the southern border “unlawful" in a joint statement following the president’s Rose Garden event.

“This is plainly a power grab by a disappointed President, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process,” Pelosi and Schumer said in the statement, noting they would defend their constitutional authority using “every remedy available.”

Pelosi and Schumer also called on Republicans in Congress to join them and “honor the Constitution by defending our system of checks and balances.”

Did Trump undermine his own argument about an emergency?

Trump appeared to undermine his own case there is an emergency at the southern border in an answer to NBC News White House correspondent Pete Alexander.

“I could do the wall over a longer period of time," Trump admitted. “I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster."

“That answer will complicate his legal case,” Alexander wrote on Twitter.

Trump: Pundits like Sean Hannity ‘don’t decide policy’

Trump denied that conservative pundits like Fox News Sean Hannity and syndicated talk show host Rush Limbaugh — who have pressed the president to declare an emergency at the border — influenced his decision making.

“They don’t decide policy,” Trump told reporters.

Trump also cited Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham as supporters, but criticized conservative columnist Ann Coulter for going “off the reservation.”

Trump: We’ll use funds from some military projects that ‘didn’t sound too important’

When asked to address concerns that he would be taking money away from the military to fund construction of his border wall, Trump told reporters that the projects he’s planning to take money from “didn’t sound too important to me.”

The White House has not released details about which specific programs it plans to divert funds from.

What Trump’s media allies on Fox News and elsewhere are saying

Fox News host Sean Hannity, who has reportedly been advising the president on his border strategy, has been pushing Trump to declare an national emergency since interviewing the president from the border earlier this month, during the 35-day partial government shutdown.

“This is the time. That is a necessity,” Hannity said on his Fox News show earlier this week.

But the move hasn’t pleased all of his media supporters. Columnist Ann Coulter wrote on Twitter that the emergency declaration was nothing more than a cynical political play to Trump’s conservative supporters.

Here’s a round-up of other reactions from a handful of conservative media pundits:

  1. Fox News host Greg Gutfeld: “Let’s dismiss this idea that declaring a national emergency is a big deal. We do it all the time.”

  2. Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “The president’s instincts on this have always been right. Truthful, pragmatic thinking."

  3. Fox News host Pete Hegseth: “I wasn’t for a national emergency a while ago either. But once you see the obstruction and the resistance — he tried. This makes sense.” 

  4. Fox News contributor Ed Rollins (to Fox Business host Lou Dobbs): “It’s very important for the president to do this. It’s important for the American public to have that wall. The president’s lived up to his promises again.”

  5. Radio talk host Erick Erickson: “The President should not declare an emergency just because he did not get his way with Congress. This is a terrible precedent.”

Democrat warns Trump over tapping military funds

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), an Iraq war veteran, took to Twitter to criticize Trump’s reported plan to tap about $3.6 billion from a military construction fund to provide part of the funds he needs to build his wall along the southern border.

Todd Harrison, a military budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told NPR that seizing money allocated to the military to build houses and improve bases could be controversial.

“You can use military construction funding under a national emergency, but it actually stipulates that that has to be for a military purpose and it would be hard to justify this, I think, is a military purpose,” Harrison said on Morning Edition Friday. “So if [Trump] did that, he’s likely to end up with a court challenge which could forestall the whole thing for months or even years.”

Democrats will try to overturn Trump’s emergency declaration

After the House voted overwhelmingly to pass a bipartisan spending deal, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.) told the Washington Post Democrats were likely to introduce a joint resolution disapproving of Trump’s declaration of an emergency.

"This is a gross abuse of presidential power," Nadler told the Post. "This is an attempt to overturn the basic constitutional doctrine of separation of powers. Congress has the power of the purse. It cannot be tolerated."

It’s unclear when the resolution will be introduced. But it would easily pass in the Democrat-controlled House, and would force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., K.Y.) to put the resolution to a vote, where it could narrowly pass and force Trump to issue the first veto of his administration.

» READ MORE: Trump declares a national emergency over a non-existent crisis. Here are 4 emergencies that we actually face. | Editorial

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