As we continue the longest federal shutdown in history, President Trump seems to waver between demanding Congress meet his demands for a wall and threatening to declare an emergency in order to move funds around to do it anyway.
Let’s remember that no such “emergency” existed when Trump submitted his 2019 budget. Trump’s budget never requested $5.7 billion. His original 2019 budget specified: “$1.6 billion for new border wall in locations identified by the Border Patrol as necessary to obtain operational control of the border and impede illegal crossings.” Congress offered $1.3 billion.
Congress in essence already decided not to spend money above and beyond $1.3 billion on the wall, but rather on other worthwhile projects. That’s what the legislative process does — prioritizes. And that power to pick and choose, to elevate one need over another, was expressly given to Congress in the Constitution. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) should understand that’s why declaring an emergency when there is no emergency is an affront to our constitutional democracy and system of separation of powers.
Trump — while saying for all the world he’s not going to act “so fast” on an emergency declaration (you can’t make this up) — has reportedly sent his staff scrounging for money they could take from real victims of natural disasters to use to build a wall in his non-emergency emergency.
The Los Angeles Times, reporting from a state ravaged by fires and then mudslides, explained:
President Trump was considering declaring a national emergency to get the money he wants for a border wall, perhaps by diverting funds designated for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects in California and Puerto Rico. …
[California projects] include raising the height of Folsom Dam on the American River in Northern California, protecting Lake Isabella in Kern County from leaking as a result of earthquakes, enlarging the Tule River and Lake Success in the Central Valley and building shoreline protections in south San Francisco.
“Each of these flood-control projects are specifically designed to save the lives of millions of Americans,” [Democratic Rep. John] Garamendi said. “If it’s not done this year, or next year, will it make a difference? Maybe not, or maybe it will make all the difference.”
Needless to say, both Democratic and Republican House members strongly object to taking funds to protect people from actual disasters.
There is nothing like the loss of funds for your state’s safety to remind you that a wall on the southern border isn’t worth $5.7 billion.
There may be other such projects in Texas, which hasn’t fully recovered from Hurricane Harvey. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who appeared at the border with Trump for his dog-and-pony show, announced, "I will tell you that I will oppose any reprogramming of Harvey disaster funds. We worked very hard to make sure that the victims of Hurricane Harvey — their concerns are addressed and Texas is able to rebuild. And I think we are all together on that.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who also tagged along for Trump’s photo op, wasn’t going to be any less resolute. “On Air Force One we actually had a fairly extended discussion with the president yesterday about Hurricane Harvey relief, about the need to continue that funding to make sure it comes through,” he said. “So I think some of these reports are overstated. I don’t believe we’re going to see that money jeopardized in any way.”
Hmm, so no declaration of emergency is going to fly if the money comes from their state. Instead of Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) we have Not Out of My Back Yard (NOMBY?).
Over to Florida, which was racked by Hurricanes Maria and Irma. The Miami Herald reports that part of that pot of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers money includes $802 million for Florida projects, “the largest chunk of which was $514 million to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.” Well, Republicans, including newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Marco Rubio and congressmen such as Mario Diaz-Balart, were having none of that.
The Herald reported:
“The [disaster] funds are flowing to Florida, and they’re flowing to our district,” said Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a member of the House committee responsible for federal spending who represents part of the Naples area that saw heavy damage during Irma. “I would argue that it’s never fast enough, but the funds are flowing in our district. They’re going to all the cities, they’re going to all the municipalities. Florida’s got the money.” …
“We have people counting on that,” DeSantis told reporters in Tallahassee. “If they backfill it immediately after the government opens, that’s fine, but I don’t want that to be where that money is not available for us.”
DeSantis’ comments Friday struck a different tone than when he was asked about the shutdown on Thursday — before news broke that Florida’s hurricane funding could be sacrificed for the border wall.
What a difference a day makes. It seems when their own constituents are at risk, members of Congress rediscover their constitutional obligations and aren’t going to stand for robbing Florida/California/Texas to pay for Trump’s vanity project. That’s a good, albeit belated, realization.
But here’s the thing: There are some elected Republicans (Trump cares nothing about Democrats, so forget them for the moment) in every state who are going to object to Trump snatching money from them. I suppose as bad as the border may be (and we’ve discussed that crossings have been dramatically reduced over the past 10 to 15 years), it’s not nearly so acute a problem as states' actual disaster recovery and prevention. That is true even in Texas, which has the most to gain from border security.
Furthermore, by indulging Trump, the Senate hurts its own base. “Out of the 10 states with the most affected federal employees per 10,000, six voted for Trump — Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Idaho and West Virginia,” Axios reports. Trump and the Senate are “hurting some of the people who put him into office.”
The Senate and House Republicans should understand there is no way out of the box canyon they’ve ridden into, even by a magical “emergency declaration.” Their own states already suffer from the shutdown and will be on the chopping block if Trump snatches money from their projects. If Trump tries it, Senate Republicans' constituents will want to know why they didn’t stick up for them rather than enable the president’s wall fantasy. The Senate can prevent further harm to voters, head off a constitutional crisis and ensure their states won’t be robbed of recovery money with votes on the House bills and, if needed, a veto override. It’s time to do their jobs and stop sparing Trump from doing his.