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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks on border security during a Rose Garden event at the White House February 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump is expected to declare a national emergency to free up federal funding to build a wall along the southern border. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Why We Must Stop an Unstable Trump and His Dangerous National Emergency Declaration

The United States is a constitutional democracy, not a monarchy.

Robert Weissman

Today's presidential declaration of a national emergency is an outrageous abuse of power – perhaps the most dangerous yet by the unstable and increasingly autocratic President Donald Trump. If this invocation of emergency on false pretenses is tolerated, it could justify almost limitless abuses of presidential and military power, including far-reaching clampdowns on civil rights.

This unlawful and unconstitutional action is going to be challenged in court, including by Public Citizen. On behalf of several Texas landowners and a Texas environmental organization that will experience firsthand the immediate impact of Trump’s illegal emergency declaration, we will sue to challenge his unconstitutional attempt to circumvent the legislative process.

"If the Republican, Democratic and Independent members of the U.S. Congress are to uphold their oath of office, they must act immediately to overturn Trump's emergency declaration."

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.

The United States is a constitutional democracy, not a monarchy. If the Republican, Democratic and Independent members of the U.S. Congress are to uphold their oath of office, they must act immediately to overturn Trump's emergency declaration. Under the National Emergencies Act, the Congress can override the president's emergency declaration. The House of Representatives is very likely to pass such a resolution; and if it does, then the Senate must take it up. With several Republican senators having stated their opposition to the emergency declaration, there is a real chance it can pass, with enough public pressure.

There is no serious claim to be made of an emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border to justify construction of a wall. Every halfhearted and palpably fabricated rationale to justify claims of emergency has been thoroughly and embarrassingly debunked: Unauthorized immigration is not surging, there is no terrorist invasion from Mexico, illegal drug traffic is channeled through legal ports of entry, not open border areas. The only crisis at the border is the buildup in Mexico of families seeking asylum in the United States – but those people are seeking legal entry into the United States, and the crisis is due to the Trump administration's refusal to afford them humane treatment.

No, Trump's emergency declaration has nothing to do with any emergency. It is due entirely to his political problem of being unable to secure congressional appropriations to construct a racist and needless wall.

The danger of Trump's action to America is not limited to the outrage of wasting taxpayer money or the immorality of building a wall that is designed only to symbolize disdain for and antagonism to people of color seeking refuge in our country.

"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."

Trump has declared an emergency to circumvent an explicit congressional decision not to fund the wall and to redirect funds in a way that would be illegal in the absence of an emergency declaration (and which we believe is illegal even with the emergency declaration).

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. 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?

Prior presidents have, for the most part, exercised self-restraint against use and misuse of emergency powers. But this president does not know the meaning of self-restraint. 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.

It is imperative that Congress must act to stop Trump, and We the People must make Congress do that.


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Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen. Weissman was formerly director of Essential Action, editor of Multinational Monitor, a magazine that tracks corporate actions worldwide, and a public interest attorney at the Center for Study of Responsive Law. He was a leader in organizing the 2000 IMF and World Bank protests in D.C. and helped make HIV drugs available to the developing world.

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