Congressional lawmakers are breathing a sigh of relief as President Trump indicated he would sign a spending bill that will keep the government funded until September — but they will have to deal with Trump declaring a national emergency for wall funding too.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump agreed to sign a package of seven spending bills that will fund nine federal departments including Transportation, Agriculture, and Homeland Security, narrowly averting another government shutdown. The president will also declare a national emergency at the same time, McConnell said.
The spending package, which House and Senate negotiators released late Wednesday evening, includes $1.375 billion in funding for physical barriers along the border but no money for a concrete border wall. Instead, the money for barriers will be used for “bollard fencing,” the equivalent of the “steel slats” that Trump has been touting in recent months.
Why is Trump agreeing to sign the spending package and declaring a national emergency?
It’s clear that a government shutdown is a political loser for Trump, after the recent one proved disastrous for his approval ratings — but he also fears criticism from his conservative base, who say he hasn’t done enough to deal with what he says is a crisis at the southern border.
By signing the spending bill, he can prevent another shutdown, but there’s still the question of living up to his campaign promise of building a border wall.
The spending bill, even though it offers some money toward fencing along the southern border, offers far less than the $5.7 billion that Trump has requested for his wall. Republicans, in an effort to spin the deal more positively, have framed the $1.375 billion figure as a “down payment” for wall construction. And Trump is now declaring a national emergency as a way to get the rest of the money he wants, though it’s unclear how high that figure ultimately is.
By declaring a national emergency, Trump will be able to tap into funds otherwise dedicated to disaster relief or military construction projects, and redirect them to border wall construction.
In signing the bill and declaring an emergency, he can say he helped avert a shutdown while also claiming that he won on the wall.
The national emergency move isn’t a clean win for Trump
Trump’s attempts to access funding sources for wall construction via a national emergency declaration are expected to prompt legal challenges and questions regarding whether such an action clashes with Congress’s jurisdiction over appropriations.
Interestingly enough, Democrats could mount a lawsuit against the White House using logic similar to that used by House Republicans in a 2015 lawsuit against the Obama administration, when officials attempted to use federal funds that had not been approved by Congress to pay out insurers under the Affordable Care Act. In that case, a federal judge ruled that Republicans had the grounds to sue the White House because its efforts infringed on Congress’s power of the purse.
Congressional Republicans have also expressed concerns that such a move would set a precedent for Democrats to use national emergencies to fund their policy priorities in the future.
On top of all that, the White House’s potential efforts to take money from projects like disaster relief funding are widely seen as concerning given the need for these funds to help Puerto Rico and California rebuild after devastating hurricanes and wildfires. Congressional Democrats have largely panned this option, and noted that it would only hurt places where a number of recovery efforts were already botched in the first place.
“Stealing from the recovery effort to fund the wall is beyond reprehensible,” Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) tweeted in early January. “As an Appropriator, I’ll do everything in my power to stop it.”
Trump’s interest in potentially stripping these funds for his wall shows just how far he’s willing to go to deliver on his campaign promise.