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‘I didn’t need to do this’: Trump just kneecapped his own case for a ‘national emergency’

President Trump on Feb. 15 said he “didn’t need” to declare a national emergency, but that he did it to build a southern border wall “faster.” (Video: Reuters)

The idea that the situation at the border is truly a “national emergency” already strained credulity. And at Friday’s news conference, President Trump might have just erased any doubt about his true motivation.

In the Rose Garden, Trump issued the national emergency declaration he has been threatening for more than a month. In the process, he basically admitted he doesn’t even really see the situation at the border as an emergency.

The key quote came when the Q&A portion started. Trump was challenged by NBC’s Peter Alexander on why he couldn’t bend Congress to his will — as he previously said a president should be able to do — rather than take unilateral action.

“I didn’t need to do this,” Trump said. “But I’d rather do it much faster.”

Trump then blamed 2020 politics for Democrats not supporting wall and repeated: "I just want to do it faster.”

If it’s truly an emergency, how can you say you didn’t need to declare an emergency? Trump basically admitted that this was a choice for him — a matter of expediency, quite literally — and not something required by events on the ground.

This isn’t the first time Trump has suggested this is a strategy of choice rather than an imperative to act. He repeatedly held the idea of a national emergency out there as an alternative if Congress didn’t fund the wall over more than a month, in fact, when an emergency was already supposedly playing out at the border. That’s a lot of lost time in dealing with a supposed crisis.

Trump said conservative pundits don’t decide policy — then praised his favorite talk-show hosts

There were other points in the news conference where Trump made clear his view of the border is skewed. He repeatedly disagreed with data, even data produced by his own administration, about what’s happening on the border.

He called reports showing the vast majority of drugs come through ports of entry, where a wall wouldn’t matter, a “lie.” Of data that show undocumented immigrants commit less crime than native-born Americans, Trump told the reporter, “You don’t really believe that stat, do you?” Of data showing the number of drug deaths in the United States, Trump read it and said the number was “ridiculously low.”

Trump has previously exaggerated or misstated such facts, but he has yet to be confronted about it because he rarely answers questions. And on Friday, he made clear he simply doesn’t believe them — that his own view of what’s happening on the border is not based upon his own administration’s and other authoritative data.

None of this might ultimately matter in the legal fight to come. Presidents have certain authorities, and the courts (potentially the Supreme Court, in this case) seem more likely to deal with the law and facts on the ground rather than Trump’s comments about all of it. We’ll see if Trump’s expressed motivations have any bearing; they may not.

But politically speaking, Trump just made it much more difficult for his supporters to agree with him that this is truly an emergency — which was already pretty difficult.

More reading:

Democrats will fight Trump’s national emergency with this obscure, nearly 67-year-old legal precedent

Trump invokes emergency powers to build border wall. Here’s how other world leaders use them.

What exactly is a national emergency? Here’s what that means and what happens next.

Trump’s bewildering national emergency press conference, annotated