Why you should care
Because the wall is a symbolic fight that will live on after the shutdown.
The question is not whether we’re in a national emergency, but which one to pick.
Washington is now in the grips of a debate about whether President Donald Trump will declare a national emergency at the southern border in order to start construction of a wall, and what happens then. Regardless of the merits of a wall — which has become a symbol for Trump’s presidency itself — most people believe declaring a national emergency to build one constitutes a substantial stretching of a 1974 law designed to give the president extraordinary powers in case of a fast-moving crisis, and courts are unlikely to grant his wish.
But in teasing the idea, Trump has once again successfully tapped into the depth of America’s id: We are in an emergency. All the time.
One of the most compelling stories of the week that did not involve the government shutdown, now the longest in U.S. history, involved an obscure Democratic consulting firm that raked in $35 million during the 2018 cycle. Mothership Strategies’ fundraising method of choice, according to The Washington Post, was screaming emails such as “Trump is INCHES away from firing Robert Mueller.” Plenty of recipients responded with cash.
Congress has made a show of working through weekends during past shutdowns … but most senators skipped town Thursday, and the House peaced out on Friday.
To many on the left, we’ve been in a rolling national emergency since November 8, 2016. Much of the Twitter and cable news industrial complex is devoted to hysterical shouting, starting with the president’s morning tweets. It made Trump’s performance in his first-ever nationally televised Oval Office address on Tuesday jarring by comparison, given its comparative low energy, to borrow a term. Still, the president used the word crisis six times in 9.5 minutes, as he and his top aides tried to build the case in public that now — at last — we’re in an emergency that warrants drastic measures.
You might not know it, but we are already, legally speaking, living in emergency-drenched times. There are 31 national emergencies on the books, never repealed, dating back to the 1979 Iranian revolution. Typically they deal with sanctions against rogue nations and actors. Fear not, those miscreants who are meddling with democracy in Belarus remain on the list, more than a dozen years after George W. Bush declared them a crisis. What’s one more emergency?
For one, it allows an exit ramp from the shutdown emergency, which grows worse by the day as government employees — including those minding the border emergency — go without pay. Joshua trees were cut down at an unmanned Joshua Tree National Park. Farmers are missing subsidy checks. Miami International Airport shut down one of its terminals.
The Trump administration has tried to mitigate the damage by saying tax refunds will be paid and food stamps will be issued if this carries on, as both sides see little reason to budge. Congress has made a show of working through weekends during past shutdowns, such as the 16-day impasse in 2013, but most senators skipped town Thursday, and the House peaced out on Friday. Why hang around if no one’s really negotiating anyway? And besides, the legislative branch was already funded, so members and staff are being paid all this time and might feel a little less urgency.
An emergency declaration doesn’t mean Trump gets his Great Wall, by any stretch. The shutdown will end, and Trump will go to court to defend his plans to swipe money from elsewhere (likely ongoing Army Corps of Engineers projects). And millions of Americans will be urged to DONATE NOW to STOP or START the wall, depending on their political persuasion. Follow the money.