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Donald Trump to declare 'national emergency' to build US -Mexico border wall after Congress swats him down: All you need to know

New York: No surprises here. US president Donald Trump is making it official that every time he can’t round up all his toys and walk away is an 'emergency'. Trump has decided to invoke the power of his bully pulpit to declare a national emergency that will allow him to build his promised US-Mexico border wall after the US Senate okayed a border security compromise Thursday that ignores most of Trump's wall demands but will do enough to prevent a new government shutdown.

The Senate approved the border security deal by a lopsided 83-16 tally. Swallowing this deal would mark a major concession by Trump, who has spent months calling the situation at the southern border a national security crisis. Trump's own Justice Department (DOJ) has warned that the courts are likely to block any national emergency declaration to build a wall along the southern border.

 Donald Trump to declare national emergency to build US -Mexico border wall after Congress swats him down: All you need to know

File photo of US president Donald Trump. Reuters

The political logic of Trump's 'emergency' plan is clear - it's the only way to prove his commitment to his most loyal voters. In the process, Trump is creating a bypass around Congress' power to appropriate funds, an explicit defiance that is absent from nearly all other emergencies declared by US presidents. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 was passed in response to the Watergate scandal and presumes the White House acts in good faith. The way the Act is written, Trump has broad leeway to declare an emergency whether one exists or not. At last count, 31 “emergencies” are in effect, past presidents have invoked emergencies more than 40 times and Trump himself has declared three so far including one about sanctions on Russia for interference in the 2016 election.

“If you’re up against a concrete wall, go through it, go around it, get to the other side somehow. I have so many people I’ve seen over the years, who, if they had fought just a little harder, would have accomplished their goals. So, don’t give up!”, Trump says in a 2004 video that’s come back to the headlines.

For Trump, signing this bill is what defeat looks like and he has to do something - anything - to soothe his voter base. A national emergency has been a long time coming and Trump, left with no wiggle room at all, will gladly lean in. On the Trump continuum, an emergency lines up neatly with all the other dots which speak to an America that he believes must be in a constant state of dread about immigrant invasions. If Trump does sign off on an emergency measure, he can shift money from nooks and crannies in the federal budget into his wall project. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed that Trump would take "other executive action, including a national emergency." "The president is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country."

Trump has repeatedly vowed Mexico would pay for the wall, a suggestion that country has spurned using the choicest vernacular abuse. His descriptions of the wall's size have fluctuated, at times saying it would cover 1,000 of the 2,000-mile boundary. "Give him a bamboo curtain and tell him it's a wall and he'll take it and spin it into a triumph, saying to his base that it's the exact thing he wanted", joke US political analysts.

The numbers
Trump had demanded $5.7 billion to start building more than 200 miles of wall. The bipartisan agreement provides under $1.4 billion — enough for just 55 miles of new barriers and fencing. Notably, the word "wall" — which fueled many a chant at Trump campaign events and then his rallies as president — does not appear once in the compromise legislation's 1,768 pages. "Barriers" and "fencing" are the nouns of choice.

Opposition says "lawless act"
Congress' Democratic leaders, Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the House and Chuck Schumer in the Senate, quickly branded a possible emergency declaration "a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall." Meeting with reporters, House Speaker Pelosi, warned that legal action aimed at blocking Trump's emergency declaration was an option, but she stopped short of saying it would definitely occur.

What led to this?
The low point was the historically long 35-day partial federal shutdown, which Trump sparked during the Christmas season and was in full force when Democrats took control of the House, compelling him to share power for the first time. Trump yielded on the shutdown 25 January after public opinion turned against him and congressional Republicans. He didn't win a single nickel of the $5.7 billion he'd demanded for his wall but caused missed paychecks for legions of federal workers and contractors and lost government services for countless others. It was a political fiasco for Trump and an early triumph for Pelosi.

What next?
An emergency declaration and other assertions of executive power to access money are expected to prompt lawsuits and potential votes in Congress aimed at blocking Trump from diverting money, which could conceivably reach billions of dollars. White House aides and congressional Republicans have suggested Trump might tap funds targeted for military construction, disaster relief and counterdrug efforts.

Border pact squeezes funding for ICE
The pact would also squeeze funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or the much dreaded ICE, in an attempt to pressure the agency to gradually detain fewer immigrants. To the dismay of Democrats, it would still leave an agency many of them consider abusive holding thousands more immigrants than it did last year. In recent weeks, a massive multi city raid by ICE ended up with at least 136 Indian students taken into custody for being enrolled in a "fake" university set up by ICE as a trap.

(With Agency inputs)

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Updated Date: Feb 15, 2019 06:00:40 IST

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