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Calling It "Gross Abuse of Power," Democrats Vow to Move Swiftly to Nullify Trump's National Emergency Declaration

"The only emergency facing the American people right now is the president's intent to subvert the separation of powers and the rule of law."

U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion at the US Border Patrol Station in McAllen, Texas, US, January 10, 2019 (Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters)

Bypassing Congress, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency Friday morning to access funding for "his racist and wasteful wall"—a move Democrats decried as a "gross abuse of power" and vowed to quickly nullify.

"The only emergency facing the American people right now is the president's intent to subvert the separation of powers and the rule of law," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement announcing his support for a joint resolution to terminate such a declaration.

Trump made the announcement from the White House Rose Garden in a typically rambling speech in which he falsely asserted that there is a "national security crisis at our southern border" and an "invasion of drugs and criminals." He'll use the declaration, along with the $1.375 billion Congress agreed to Thursday, to square away roughly $8 billion for the xenophobic barrier. 

"We won't stand for this," responded fellow Democratic Judiciary Committee member Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), writing on Twitter, "A national emergency declaration for a non-emergency is not legal."

In his statement, which was issued ahead of the expected announcement, Nadler refuted Trump's characterization of a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, said Trump was given no directive to construct "a medieval border wall," and argued that the president has no legal authority to pursue an emergency declaration given the situation.

"Congress entrusted the president with authority to reallocate funds during unforeseen and urgent situations, such as wars and natural disasters," Nadler said. "No sensible person believes there is an emergency at the southern border. Illegal immigration is at record lows, and families with children who lawfully seek asylum are not foreign invaders."

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"Moreover," Nadler continued, "the law that the president reportedly plans to invoke applies only in situations where the military must be called upon for national defense purposes. But the military is prohibited from enforcing the nation's immigration laws—and the president cannot deploy the military in a transparent attempt to create the appearance of an emergency where none exists. The only emergency facing the American people right now is the president's intent to subvert the separation of powers and the rule of law."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said she and fellow Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro (Texas) would introduce a bill to halt the declaration, while the top two Democrats in Congress—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.)—vowed to take action "in the Congress, in the courts, and in the public" to stop the Trump's declaration.

Progressive advocacy groups, meanwhile, are gearing up for their own responses.

Trump himself acknowledged that there would be a likely legal challenge, but Public Citizen president Robert Weissman warned, "Although we think the law and Constitution is on our side, we can't count on the courts to act quickly or ultimately to restrain Trump."

"If the president can merely cry 'emergency' to override national law and contravene explicit congressional action—particularly when the claimed emergency is transparently fraudulent—then it is hard to know what limits exist on presidential power," Weissman wrote. "What's to stop the president from declaring an emergency and limiting the right to protest? To round up people of color en masse to combat purported gang activity? To deploy the military on the streets to maintain order? To censor social media and Internet conversations?"

"If the slide to authoritarianism and tyranny is to be averted, he will need to be restrained—in the first place by the Congress and, if not, hopefully the courts, but ultimately by the American people," he added. "It is imperative that Congress must act to stop Trump, and We the People must make Congress do that."

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