Donald Trump has declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the US-Mexico border without congressional approval, an action Democrats vowed to challenge as a violation of the US Constitution.
The Republican president’s move to circumvent Congress represented a new approach to making good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge to halt the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country, whom the president says bring crime and drugs.
He also later signed a bipartisan government spending bill Congress approved on Thursday that would prevent another partial government shutdown by funding several agencies that otherwise would have closed on Saturday.
Mr Trump made no direct mention in rambling Rose Garden comments of the funding bill. It represents a legislative defeat for him since it contains no money for his proposed wall - the focus of weeks of conflict between him and Democrats in Congress.
He had demanded that Congress provide him with billions in wall funding as part of legislation to fund the agencies. That triggered a historic, 35-day December-January government shutdown that hurt the US economy and his opinion poll numbers.
By reorienting his quest for wall funding toward a legally uncertain strategy based on declaring a national emergency, Mr Trump risks plunging into a lengthy legislative and legal battle with Democrats and dividing his fellow Republicans.
At least 15 Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate introduced legislation on Thursday to prevent Mr Trump from invoking emergency powers to transfer funds to his wall from accounts Congress has already committed to other projects.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer swiftly responded to Trump’s declaration.
“The president’s actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution,” they said in a statement. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”
Reuters contributed to this report. Check out The Independent's live coverage of the president's national emergency declaration below:
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The Senate passed the government funding and border security bill 83 to 16 yesterday following weeks of bipartisan negotiations. The House of Representatives followed suit with a 300-128 vote in favour and Mr Trump is expected to sign off on it on Friday.
Under the terms of the agreement thrashed out earlier this week between Republicans and Democrats, the president would receive just under $1.4bn (£1.1bn) in federal funding for his proposed Mexico border wall, well short of the $5.7bn (£4.4bn) he originally demanded.
That would buy just 55 miles of wall on the southwestern border, a far cry from the 2,000-mile partition from sea to shining sea the president has long promised.
However, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told the Senate on Thursday the Oval Office had another plan to secure wall funding.
“I just had an opportunity to speak with President Trump and he’s prepared to sign the bill. He will also be signing a national emergency declaration at the same time,” Mr McConnell said.
In response to the news, speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said that a national emergency to build the border wall amounts to an “end run” around Congress and that Mr Trump had created the crisis he claims is ongoing at the border.
Ms Pelosi confirmed that Democrats could challenge the president in court if he declares the national emergency and suggested there are other emergencies like gun violence more pressing than the situation at the border.
"Congress will defend our constitutional authorities," she said in a joint statement with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer.
Mr Trump has repeatedly rallied against the "bad hombres" he says are arriving undocumented from Central America and flooding the southern states with gang violence and illegal drugs, even demonising an impoverished migrant caravan attempting to cross Mexico in search of a better life in the US.
Here's the official word from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
So what exactly does it mean to declare a national emergency?
The National Emergencies Act, passed in 1976, empowers the president to bypass Congress and take any executive action he sees fit (within legal bounds) in the event of a crisis.
Precisely what that constitutes is vague, however. George W Bush declared one in the aftermath of 9/11, for instance, when the US believed the possibility of further Islamist terror attacks represented a clear and present danger. But there is no legal definition of a crisis, no ratification process by Congress and no judicial review.
To declare a national emergency on the Mexican border in 2019 on the basis of illegal immigration, when most illegal immigrants to the US are there because they have overstayed the terms of their visas rather than by sneaking across the southern border on foot, is certainly unorthodox.
According to the statute, if the president declares an emergency requiring the use of the armed forces, his secretary of defence "may undertake military construction projects, and may authorise the Secretaries of the military departments to undertake military construction projects, not otherwise authorised by law that are necessary to support such use of the armed forces".
Pentagon officials are currently analysing their 2019 construction budget to determine how many much money would be available to use for the wall should Mr Trump opt for that path.
The act does contains a clause that allows Congress to terminate the emergency status if both the House of Representatives and the Senate vote for it, although that has never been attempted. The former is controlled by the Democrats since November’s midterms, but the Republicans hold on to the Senate. However, Mr Trump’s party are by no means united on the need for a wall.
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer yesterday branded the president's probable next step a "tremendous mistake", "a lawless act" and "a gross abuse of power".
"Absolutely it’s an abuse of power for the president to declare a national emergency when none exists and to use it to try to get around the democratic process. But we are in a situation where our legal system for emergency powers almost invites that kind of abuse."
So says Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Programme at the Brennan Centre for Justice, who warned President Trump might take this tack in an article for The Atlantic in December.
Holly Baxter of The Independent here on why calling a national emergency would be the most selfish thing Donald Trump has ever done.
Now that really is saying something.
Opinion: Calling a national emergency would be the most selfish thing Donald Trump has ever doneLuckily, the combined forces of anti-ICE, soft-socialist Democrats compassionate about immigration and anti-tax, libertarian Republicans horrified by the idea of what could be levelled on US taxpayers still might end the dream of a Mexican border wall
Arizona congressman Ruben Gallego absolutely lighting one up.
If you're struggling to keep up with the latest blasts from Hurricane Donald (not to mention Brexit), you might have missed the fact that William Barr was confirmed as the new US attorney-general yesterday.
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