On CBS' Sunday Morning broadcast today, conservative commentator Norman Ornstein warned that if the president succeeds with his emergency declaration to divert money approved by Congress for other purposes to build his wall, he is launching an unprecedented attack on fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
Ornstein is a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington,DC, and a contributing editor for the Atlantic. His commentary is worth your time. It is reprinted here:
In a rambling announcement on Friday, President Donald Trump said that despite signing the compromise funding bill, he would still declare a state of emergency to build his border wall.
A president invoking emergency powers is not new. Over the past 100 years, presidents have done so dozens of times, from FDR (to prevent a run on banks), to George W. Bush (allowing warrantless wiretaps after 9/11), to Barack Obama (on the swine flu epidemic). Thirty still remain technically in effect.
Even where presidents overreached, like Harry Truman slapped down by the Supreme Court after seizing steel mills during the Korean War, they had valid laws to rely on, and urgent reasons to act.
This is different. In his answers Friday to reporters' questions, Trump gave away the game:
"I could do the wall over a longer period of time," he said. "I didn't need to do this. But I would rather do it much faster."
This is not trivial. If the president can succeed with this voluntary state of emergency, he is setting the table for something much more dangerous.
Emergency powers are sweeping; a president may seize property, institute martial law, control all transportation and communication, and much more.
All these emergency powers are there under an assumption that a president puts the nation's interest first, and respects the other branches of government and the rule of law. What if we have a president who does not fit that description?
There are guardrails in place. Congress can pass a joint resolution erasing an emergency declaration that will no doubt be vetoed by President Trump, and to override that veto will take at least a third of Republicans, who have shown no interest in checking this president.
Then we have the judiciary. Trump says he expects the Supreme Court to rescue him. If the five Republican-appointed justices uphold this order, they are saying, in effect, that presidential power is unlimited, there is no Article 1 of the Constitution establishing the powers of Congress, making Congress meaningless.
Pay attention: Our fundamental freedoms could be at stake.
Trump's declaration, which came after Congress gave him only $1.375 billion for his wall, not the $5.6 billion he had demanded, is already being challenged by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
In addition, Democrats are compiling a comprehensive list of projects that will not be completed because of Trump's power grab, many of them in the states and districts of Republican Congressmen and Senators. That should rally additional opposition to Trump's move and increase support for an expected Congressional resolution of disapproval.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), an influential senior appropriator, said Trump’s emergency declaration was “unnecessary, unwise and inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution.”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a member of the Judiciary and Armed Services committees, warned that Trump was setting a horrible precedent that the next Democratic president could use to ram through “left-wing” policies.
What if a Democratic president decided in 2020 to declare a national emergency over climate change and ordered sweeping actions against polluting industry, or decided to declare such an emergency because of mass shootings and took unilateral action against guns?
OK, Trump, set the precedent. See what it gets you.