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The Political and Practical Nightmare that Lies Ahead for Donald Trump

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | February 15, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | February 15, 2019 |


Later this morning, President Trump is expected to sign the budget deal passed by the House and Senate to avoid another shutdown, a deal that does not give the President any funding for a wall (though, it does give him money for 55 miles of fence). While signing the legislation, Trump also intends to declare a national emergency in order to circumvent Congress and divert government funds appropriated to California and Puerto Rico for disaster relief to build his wall.

The Washington Post has the blow-by-blow on the deal, but the gist of it is this: It nearly fell apart again yesterday because Trump is a big baby and he didn’t want to admit defeat. He only agreed to sign it once the White House counsel’s office assured him that it would not preclude him from declaring a national emergency. At that point — because Trump had backed off the agreement several times, already — Mitch McConnell took to the floor and announced that Trump would sign the bill and declare a national emergency in order to lock Trump into the decision.

Of course, Mitch McConnell has repeatedly said privately that declaring a national emergency would be a political nightmare for Trump, but the alternative for the Republicans was another government shutdown. Meanwhile, despite getting zero dollars for a wall, Trump will try to spin this as a victory. In fact, earlier this week, the Democrats — working from a position of power — lowered their lowball offer, and Republicans had no choice but to take it. There is no victory here for Republicans, as most Congressional Republicans will tell you.

What does this national emergency business mean? Politically, it is fraught, because a number of Republicans do not agree with it (like Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, etc.), and it’s likely that Congress will try and pass a bill to override the declaration. That bill would easily pass the House, and it’s likely that there are enough Republican defectors for it to pass the Senate, as well. Ultimately, it won’t matter because Trump can still veto it, but it looks bad for the President to veto a bill passed in both chambers — one controlled by his own party — designed to curtail his power.

In more practical terms, the emergency declaration will undoubtedly spend a long-time wrapped up in legal challenges, in which case the Democrats will hope that a new Democratic President is elected before the clock runs out, or that Trump ultimately loses in the Supreme Court. However, in the unlikely event that Trump does win that legal challenge, it will set a precedent for future Democratic Presidents to declare national emergencies where there are actual emergencies, like climate change, guns, and the opioid crisis. If Trump’s national emergency can pass muster for this non-emergency, the threshold will be low enough so that — should there be another major school shooting — a Democratic President could easily declare a national emergency.

On the other hand, it would also free up the President to, say, declare a national emergency to end childhood vaccinations, as Darla Shine, the wife of Trump’s White House Communications advisor Bill Shine, seems to be suggesting in the wake of another measles outbreak on the West coast thanks to anti-vaxxers.

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The upside for Democrats notwithstanding, I’d prefer that the Supreme Court bat this one down and continue to let Congress appropriate money, as the Constitution stipulates.

Meanwhile, I saw some Republican politician on Twitter say that, if Trump declares a national emergency, he guarantees that he’ll get a primary challenge next year. So … about that.

(Weld, for the record, was a Massachusetts Republican, which is to say, an Arkansas Democrat).

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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