Just ahead of a series of votes on a "compromise" border deal in the U.S. Senate and House on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that President Donald Trump plans to sign the legislation to avert another government shutdown but will also declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"President Trump's act is a shameful repudiation of the values at the heart of our democracy."
—Abigail Dillen, EarthjusticeMcConnell said that he would support the bill that was negotiated with Democratic leaders—which will provide $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fences in Southern Texas and boost the budget of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by over $500 million—as well as the the emergency declaration.
.@senatemajldr: "I've just had an opportunity to speak with President Trump…he's prepared to sign the bill. He will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time." pic.twitter.com/iukGKjmoZ8
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 14, 2019
When Trump first floated the idea of a national emergency last year, legal scholars immediately and forcefully denounced the threat, arguing that such a move would be "constitutionally illegitimate."
While White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed McConnell's announcement with a statement posted to Twitter, critics turned to social media to echo the past warnings from legal experts that declaring a national emergency to circumvent lawmakers and fund the border wall would be an abuse of presidential power:
If the president can declare a national emergency to circumvent laws he doesn't like, it's very hard to see what the limits are. And if you have a president as authoritarian as Trump is, that is a truly frightening prospect. pic.twitter.com/qqKsx3Yemt
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) February 14, 2019
McConnell says that Trump will declare a national emergency to build his wall. That would be illegal.
— CAP Action (@CAPAction) February 14, 2019
Denouncing Trump's pursuit of funding for "a racist and needless wall, against the backdrop of Congress' express refusal to fund such a barrier," Public Citizen president Robert Weissman, in a statement, warned that an emergency declaration "will constitute an outrageous abuse of power—perhaps the most dangerous yet by the unstable and increasingly autocratic President Trump."
Weissman expressed worry that such a move "could justify almost limitless abuses of presidential and military power, including far-reaching clampdowns on civil rights." He also promised the watchdog group would file suit over the "illegal maneuver" and "mobilize our members and join with others in demanding that Congress pass a resolution of disapproval to overturn the national emergency declaration."
"Unfortunately, this president continues to operate as if the rule of law, checks and balances, and the will of the people do not matter," Abigail Dillen, president of the environmental legal firm Earthjustice, said in a statement. "President Trump's act is a shameful repudiation of the values at the heart of our democracy."
"The federal government has already waived dozens of laws to build destructive, polluting, and unnecessary border barriers, and now, this administration is shoving aside the constitution to try to build a symbol of hate," Dillen noted. "The president's cynical political spectacle is creating enormous suffering for thousands of real people whose lives are at stake. We must stand in solidarity with border communities. And we must be prepared to use the full power of the law to do so."
This post has been updated with comment from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Public Citizen, CAP Action, and Earthjustice.