US President Donald Trump is set to call a national emergency. Picture: Nicholas Kamm / AFP
US President Donald Trump is set to call a national emergency. Picture: Nicholas Kamm / AFP

Trump to declare national emergency

It's official. Donald Trump will declare a national emergency over the US-Mexico border crisis to score the $US5.8 billion he wants to build his wall.

The White House has confirmed the President will make the official declaration as he signs the government funding bill, which just passed the US Senate.

"President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action - including a national emergency - to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

"The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country."

A national emergency is an official declaration issued by the President to give himself special power to deal with a crisis.

In this case, it will allow Mr Trump to use defence funds to pay for the wall - which he's long campaigned for to reduce immigration numbers - without needing congressional approval.

He said that the move would give him power to divert money from other budget projects into wall building.

The Senate has approved the bipartisan spending deal by a massive 83-16 margin.

The deal will not provide the full $US5.8 billion Mr Trump is after, but contains $US1.3 billion for additional border security. The bill will now go to the House.

DEMOCRATS ISSUE FURIOUS RESPONSE

A number of Republicans opposed Mr Trump's threatened move to declare a national emergency, fearing it would set a precedent for a future Democrat president to use on conservatives down the track.

And in a furious response, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has hinted at exactly that.

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Ms Pelosi warned Republicans a future Democratic president could declare gun violence a national emergency.

"If the president can declare an emergency on something he has created as an emergency, an illusion that he wants to convey, just think about what a president with different values can present to the American people," she said.

"You want to talk about a national emergency? Let's talk about today," she added, referring to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that saw 17 people killed exactly a year ago.

Ms Pelosi said the shooting was "another manifestation of the epidemic of gun violence in America".

"That's a national emergency. Why don't you declare that a emergency Mr President? I wish you would. But a Democratic president can do that. A Democratic president can declare emergencies as well," she said.

 

Ms Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer later issued a joint statement about the planned declaration, describing it as "lawless", a "gross abuse of power" and "desperate".

"Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall," the statement said.

"It is yet another demonstration of President Trump's naked contempt for the rule of law. This is not an emergency, and the president's fearmongering doesn't make it one.

"He couldn't convince Mexico, the American people or their elected representatives to pay for his ineffective and expensive wall, so now he's trying an end-run around Congress in a desperate attempt to put taxpayers on the hook for it.

"The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities."

A number of high-profile Democrats have echoed their remarks.

Senator Kamala Harris, who is running for president in the 2020 election, described Mr Trump's wall as a "vanity project" and said declaring a national emergency was "ridiculous".

 

 

Senator Elizabeth Warren, another 2020 contender, similarly said Mr Trump's "ridiculous" wall is "not an emergency", citing gun violence and climate change as issues that would be worthy of one.

 

Asked whether the Democrats would file a legal challenge, Ms Pelosi said she was certainly considering it.

"I may. That's an option," she said. "We will review our options. We will prepare to respond appropriately to it."

Ms Sanders said the Trump administration was "very prepared" for a legal challenge, adding that there "shouldn't be" one. "The President's doing his job," she said. "Congress should do theirs."

 

 

 

HOW COMMON ARE NATIONAL EMERGENCIES?

Mr Trump has made numerous threats to call a national emergency in recent months.

The President has the power to declare such an emergency, but by definition, it refers to any occasion in which "federal assistance is needed to supplement state and local efforts and capabilities to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States".

With Democrats controlling the lower house now, the move could bring about a constitutional crisis.

Mr Trump has previously tried to make the move sound quite ordinary.

"You know, we already have national emergencies out there. You know, President Obama, President Clinton, President Bush - they've declared many national - this is not unique. They've declared many national emergencies. Many, many," he said earlier this week.

But the emergency action Mr Trump has announced is a rare one.

The presidents he cites did not use emergency powers to pay for projects that Congress wouldn't support.

Emergency declarations by Mr Obama, Mr Bush and Mr Clinton were overwhelmingly for the purpose of addressing crises that emerged abroad.

Many, for example, blocked foreign interests or terrorist-linked entities from access to funds.

Some prohibited certain imports from or investments to countries associated with human rights abuses.

"It's extremely rare for a president to declare a national emergency in a bid to fund domestic construction projects, particularly one that Congress has explicitly refused to fund," said Andrew Boyle, an attorney in the national security program at the Brennan Centre for Justice. "The ones that former presidents declared are of a different sort."

With Congress unwilling to give Mr Trump anything close to the $US5.7 billion he wants to build a portion of the border wall, the White House has made clear that he would seek money from other sources, whether with an emergency declaration or by other means.

Altogether, Mr Clinton declared 17 national emergencies, Mr Bush, 13, and Mr Obama, 12, according to a list compiled by the Brennan Centre.

- with AP