President Trump first said he might declare a national emergency on the grounds that we need a border wall to save our country from sliding into chaos over a month ago. This emergency was so urgent that he acted on this threat of a declaration promptly thereafter.

Oh, wait, that’s not what happened at all. Trump dragged out his first government shutdown in hopes of getting his wall, but that failed, and he caved, agreeing to reopen the government for three weeks, while a conference committee tried to work out a long-term funding deal. That went on for two weeks, until Republicans reached a deal in which they effectively told Trump the jig is up and it’s time to surrender. Trump seemed inclined to sign that and even suggested he’d just keep on saying the wall was getting built and that he was winning.

But then right-wing media called him weak, and Trump apparently realized he could no longer paper over his humiliating loss with lies. Which is why Trump will now finally make good on his threat:

President Trump is prepared to sign a massive spending and border security deal, while at the same time declaring a national emergency to get more money to build his border wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday.
McConnell made the announcement on the Senate floor, and told senators to prepare to vote shortly on the legislation that would stave off a government shutdown Friday at midnight.
“The president will sign the bill. We’ll be voting on it shortly,” McConnell said.
McConnell also said he’d told the president he would support the emergency declaration, which would allow the president to circumvent Congress and use the military to build his wall. McConnell has voiced opposition for weeks to the idea of Trump declaring a national emergency.

The White House, in a statement, confirmed that Trump will sign the new government funding bill. Trump will then “take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border,” said press secretary Sarah Sanders, lying in the face of America about the nonexistent national security “crisis.”

McConnell’s declaration that he will support the president’s national emergency is remarkable in its cravenness, since it comes after McConnell and Senate Republicans warned Trump for weeks against it. But this also provides a big opening for House Democrats.

It goes like this: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can hold a vote passing a resolution terminating Trump’s national emergency, and that will initiate a process that, under the National Emergencies Act, will compel a vote on the resolution by the GOP-controlled Senate. One expert recently told this blog that under the law, such a vote would end up taking place within around five weeks.

At a presser just now, Pelosi said that she might take this route. My presumption is that this hedge is largely because Trump has not actually declared the emergency yet. But regardless, there is a very strong case for Pelosi doing this. Now that McConnell has confirmed that he will back Trump, this means that most Senate Republicans will all but certainly do the same. But Pelosi should do all she can to force every Senate Republican to go on record on this matter.

Trump’s national emergency will face obstacles

Trump plainly believes declaring a national emergency will make him look like he’s acting decisively and taking control of events in the eyes of his base. But peel back the layers, and it’s clear that he’ll still face many obstacles.

First, there will be court challenges to the national emergency itself, and as Elizabeth Goitein has shown, the mere fact that Trump has delayed so long will undermine his legal argument, because it undercuts the notion that there actually is an emergency (which there isn’t).

Trump’s hesitation “belies his claim that there is an emergency at the border,” Goitein writes. “Presidents don’t dawdle in the face of real emergencies.” Now look again at the timeline I laid out above: Trump has “dawdled” for well over a month.

What’s more, by agreeing to allow conference negotiations to proceed to a deal, Trump may have further undermined his political and possibly his legal case. The more times that Congress “votes against providing the funding the president has asked for,” Goitein notes, “the clearer it becomes that an emergency declaration in this case would be designed as an end run around the Constitution.” Now it will come after a bipartisan conference committee denied Trump his wall funding, and after Congress passed that funding, which is still expected.

On top of that, even if Trump does prevail in the courts, he will then face still more litigation from landowners, as Charlie Savage recently detailed. One expert told Savage that all these legal battles won’t be resolved until 2020 at the earliest, and if Trump loses reelection, a new Democratic president can halt the project before it really starts.

And even if he were to win on all those fronts, it’s still not clear how much money Trump could round up. It’s likely that all that would result is some more of the same bollard fencing that’s been built for years, in targeted areas, since that’s what Customs and Border Protection has declared is its preferred form of barrier. It’s simply amazing that Trump is willing to put the country through all of this just for that rinky-dink outcome, which won’t look anything like his wall even if it does happen, solely because he worries about how his base perceives him.

This must embolden Democrats

And on that score, if Trump does go through with this, taking to new levels his bad faith, lying and seething contempt for our institutions and for his own institutional obligations to genuinely act in the national interest, it will become harder for House Democrats to adopt a cautious approach to things like getting Trump’s tax returns. The Democratic base and activist groups will renew the pressure on lawmakers to move on that, and they’ll have a pretty good argument, too, given that Trump’s degradations are escalating.

In the background is the fact that, with the House under Democratic control, Trump is facing mounting investigations into his corruption and misconduct, even as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe appears to be advancing into late stages. The walls of accountability are closing in, which means he needs (or thinks he needs) his wall more than ever to keep his base energized behind him as the going gets tougher.

Yet the reality that he won’t realize his wall is becoming too overwhelmingly obvious to make disappear in his usual fog of bluster and lies. And as Trump’s misconduct mounts, this time in service of the wall that will never happen, it will only make the wheels of accountability turn faster and the reckoning grow nearer.

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