President Trump declared a national emergency on the southern border Friday, saying he’ll defy Congress to divert about $6.5 billion in unspent federal funds to build more border walls that lawmakers have refused to authorize.
“We’re going to confront the national security crisis at our southern border,” the president said. “We’re talking about an invasion of our country.”
He called the declaration “a great thing to do.”
In a Rose Garden event, the president signed a spending bill to keep the government open, a measure that provides nearly $1.4 billion for border barriers.
But after months of bitter debate with Democrats and a 35-day government shutdown over border security, Mr. Trump said the bill doesn’t go far enough to address the crisis of illegal immigration and drug smuggling on the border with Mexico. The deal includes a record $23 billion for border security measures.
“It’s so much money, I don’t know what to do with it,” the president said. “But on the wall, they skimped.”
Democrats said the president undercut his own argument about an emergency when he declared, “I could do the wall over a longer period of time, I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it faster. I want to get it done faster, that’s all.”
In a surprising admission, the president acknowledged that he should have tried to get more wall funding when Republicans controlled the House during the first two years of his presidency.
“I was a little new to the job … some people didn’t step up,” he said, an apparent reference to former Republican Speaker Paul D. Ryan. “I’m learning.”
He said other presidents have signed national emergency declarations dozens of times “for far less important things.”
Democrats vowed to block Mr. Trump’s move in court and with legislation, saying he’s exceeding his authority and forcing a constitutional crisis. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the president’s move an “unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist,” and said it violates Congress’ exclusive power of the purse.
“The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the courts, and in the public, using every remedy available,” she said. “This is plainly a power grab by a disappointed president, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process.”
But Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said the president “possesses full legal authority to declare this emergency, and he is not alone in his commitment to keeping Americans and migrants safe.”
Some Republican lawmakers also fear the move sets a dangerous precedent and will worsen spending disputes between the administration and Congress.
Mr. Trump said in an exasperated seen-it-before tone that he expects to get sued in federal court.
“We’ll be sued, and we’ll possibly get another bad ruling … and we’ll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we’ll get a fair shake,” he said. “Sadly we’ll be sued, and sadly it will go through a process, and happily we’ll win, I think.”
Asked if he was violating the Constitution, the president replied, “The courts will determine that. I expect to be sued. I think that we will be very successful in court.”
The president intends to draw $3.6 billion from military construction accounts, the portion of funding that requires a national emergency declaration. Mr. Trump also is moving $2.5 billion from military counter-narcotics programs, and $600 million from a Treasury Department forfeiture program that collects money from drug lords and other criminals.
The moves would give the president about $8 billion for wall funding, more than the $5.7 billion he sought in December.
The president noted that his first two budgets provided a total of $1.416 trillion for the “depleted” military, and said the money he is taking from the Pentagon for the wall is “a very, very small amount that we’re asking for.”
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