Presidents have ways to get things done that speakers of the House don’t, a lesson that Nancy Pelosi is just now learning.
Donald Trump put her in her place Thursday with his announcement that he will sign the spending bill he doesn’t like to avoid another government shutdown, but at the price of declaring a national emergency to raid other sources of income for building his barrier on the border.
It’s no good getting mad, a famous Irish aphorism goes, when the better idea is getting even. Mr. Trump’s scheme to get $5.7 billion to build his wall with a declaration of national emergency, understandable after dealing with Mrs. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, two official and certified pains in the arse, is nevertheless a bad idea. Worse, it’s an unnecessary bad idea, and it has all the markings not of a national emergency, but of a national fit. Sometimes a president has to throw a fit, but this is not one of those times.
If the heck on the border is a national emergency now, it was a national emergency a month ago, a year ago. Why didn’t he call it then instead of letting the emergency fester? Despite the urge, particularly in Washington and other seats of government bureaucracies, to level and abuse the language, words have meanings. Fort Sumter was a national emergency. Pearl Harbor was a national emergency. President Hillary Clinton would have been a national emergency. A leaky border is obviously not in that category.
The Democrats, on the other hand, are having a party emergency, and there’s no obvious way out. Mr. Trump is having a terrific fortnight, beginning with his boffo State of the Union speech. Such speeches are usually such soporifics that presidents can give them in their sleep, and often do. We only remember the intemperate moments, such as when a Supreme Court justice mouths the words on camera telling a president he’s lying.
But not this time, not by Donald Trump. The president played the presidential president, striking notes of unity and compromise and making his usual tormentors, including the bank of shrews decked out in virginal summer white, stand and applaud with everybody else. His ratings went through the roof. Nancy and Chuck gagged on their decaffeinated herbal tea on reading the early public-opinion polls the next morning.
The good news for the president gets better. Suspicions are growing under the Capitol dome that Robert Mueller, the special counsel assigned to find evidence that Mr. Trump and Vladimir Putin cooked up a scheme over a bottle of Smirnoff to steal the 2016 presidential election, has drilled to a dry hole and is working now to figure out how to say so without saying so. He has been at the job for more than two years, spending enough of the taxpayers’ money to pay for a mile or two of Mr. Trump’s wall on the Mexican border. Inquiring minds want to know what he has found, or if not, why not?
All the while the Democratic Party is working on an implosion of its prospects for 2020, enlivened by an off-the-midway blackface concert by the famous Virginia Minstrels, demonstrating that the party is going nuts everywhere. The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, with ladies in the lead, proposes as its best new idea a trillions-dollar scheme to rebuild every one of the billions and billions of buildings in the land to make them “energy efficient.” One of the two new Muslim congressladies is searching for a solution to what she regards as “the Jewish problem.” She keeps insulting Jews (and everybody else) and her subsequent insipid apologies, offered under maximum pressure applied by Nancy Pelosi, only makes things worse. The congresswoman is either a bigot or industrial-strength dumb. Or both.
The Donald couldn’t have asked for a better break of events. He got more than one, but now he’s about to step on his necktie. He can make a credible and believable claim of winning his tug of war with Chuck and Nancy, who boasted that he would never get a dime — or a penny or nickel or “smidgen” — to build his wall, and if the spending agreement holds he’ll get $1.4 billion, which is not the $5.7 billion he asked for, but it’s not a dime, a nickel or a penny, either, nor even a smidgen.
Republican senators will join Democrats in decrying a declaration of a national emergency, and none of them are weak sisters. John Cornyn of Texas calls such a declaration “a dangerous step,” Marco Rubio of Florida calls it “not a good precedent,” and Chuck Grassley of Iowa calls himself a skeptic, too.
The president should call it a win and take a victory lap. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and his barrier on the border doesn’t have to be, either.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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