Last month, the notorious 35-day government shutdown ended. The reason the shutdown took place is because President Donald Trump refused to sign off on a congressional budget because senators and representatives refused to allocate funds to his border wall.
To end the shutdown, Trump signed a three-week budget before finally signing off on a spending bill passed by Congress, providing a small amount of funding for the border, clarifying it could be used for fencing along the border, not a wall.
Frustrated by this, Trump declared a state of emergency around the issue of undocumented immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border to circumvent the restriction on his budget implemented by Congress while simultaneously setting a dangerous precedent for the future of presidential powers.
The presidential power to declare a state of emergency allows the president to shift funds from any branch in the federal government to be used where the president sees fit.
While this power makes for a good safeguard, in this instance its usage by Trump is nothing more than a petty way to undermine Congress.
The issue around undocumented immigrants along the southern border is hardly a national emergency. This is evident when observing the sixteen U.S. states suing the presidential administration, as mentioned in a Deutsche Welle article Feb. 19.
Each state is suing the administration claiming Congress is in control of funding, and the border issue isn’t a national emergency.
A USA Today article reported that The American Civil Liberties Union, representing the environmental organization Sierra Club, is also suing Trump’s administration, claiming there is no real national emergency.
Regardless of the outcome of the several lawsuits against the Trump administration, Trump’s rash and, sadly, unsurprisingly immature decision is a substantial expansion of presidential powers in two ways: power against Congress and power to exercise the usage of the National Emergencies Act for scenarios previously left as unspokenly taboo.
First, Trump’s usage of the National Emergencies Act to declare a state of emergency in order to receive funding for his border wall creates a new means for the president to undermine Congress.
In this case, the president is undermining Congress by allocating funds toward a program he wants despite Congress's attempts to stop it. In the future, this could be utilized by presidents to undermine Congress for their own political agendas.
Future presidents could also use this to undermine programs funded by Congress.
In a world where Congress passes legislation funding a program and overrides a presidential veto on it, the president can then cancel out this check and balance. The veto could now serve as a “soft” veto, or a first attempt by the president to stop the legislation.
If that veto fails due to a congressional override, the president then could implement a “hard” veto, declaring a state of emergency to shift the funds Congress just allocated away from the newly funded program.
Second, future presidents on both sides of the political spectrum will have more freedom to issue a state of emergency over their partisan issues. For the democrats, this could be over issues such as gun control, health care or climate change. For the republicans, abortion, future immigration issues and other issues that rest at the core of the Republican Party.
Trump’s effort to appeal to his voters through undermining Congress with a state of emergency is dubious and has caused yet another dangerous increase to the arsenal of powers at the disposal of U.S. presidents moving forward.