Declaration of National Embarrassment

After a month-long shutdown and three nail-biting weeks of negotiations on a new budget, Congress finally agreed upon a deal to fund the entirety of the government. Not everyone got what they wanted – Democrats had to walk back requested restrictions on ICE detentions, and Republicans did not get the full $5.7 billion in wall funding they were seeking – but such is the nature of government. In a democracy, we must combine conflicting and competing ideologies into a system that will work for everyone. And in the end, the compromise bill promised many programs that everyone can rally behind.

Government employees will see a 1.9% pay increase, the least the government could do after the shutdown. FEMA’s budget will increase, along with that of the Justice Department, State Department, Census Bureau, and NASA. There is also funding – billions of dollars – included for preventing and treating HIV, AIDS, and other dangerous diseases. As for the border – the reason why we are in this mess – the budget will include bipartisan-supported funding for equipment to scan for drugs at ports of entry and increase the number of border patrol agents. These policies helped the bill pass 83 to 16 in the Senate and 300 to 128 in the House. After months of conflict and disagreement, this bipartisan budget is a victory. Or, at least, it should have been, until the President ruined it for all by declaring a national emergency to pay for a border wall.

National emergencies are declared when there is a dire existential threat to the security of the country. They are not uncommon – President Clinton declared 17, President Bush declared 12, and President Obama declared 13. Many of these are in response to diseases or natural disasters or, in the case of 9/11, a large-scale terrorist attack. These are urgent matters that need to be dealt with immediately – matters on which the country cannot wait for Congress to act. They are why the concept of a national emergency was created in the first place; yet, for some reason, the President has declared one now.

The situation on the border is not a national security crisis. The President claims that the U.S. is seeing record numbers of illegal border crossings. That is a flat out lie – an “alternative fact,” as his administration might want to put it. Border patrol apprehensions have decreased dramatically over the past two decades, from 1.6 million in 2000 to less than 400,000 for the past several years. The President has also been proudly claiming that El Paso, a city on the border of Mexico, has benefited greatly from a border wall. Another lie. Contrary to his claim, El Paso has had lower crime compared to cities of similar size every year since 1985. Violent crimes also dropped significantly from 780 crimes per 100,000 residents in 2000 to 394 in 2006. Those numbers have held steady since 2006, even though a border wall was not erected until 2010. Then there is the President’s claim that Democrats are lying about how the majority of illegal drugs pass through ports of entry. I would love to see the evidence that the Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Agency have apparently overlooked when they report that 80-90% of drugs enter the U.S. through legal ports of entry. No, the real crisis is not on the border, but in Washington.

For the past two years, the President has been trying to secure funding for a border wall. He has failed because the project is too expensive, too logistically challenging, and would be ineffective in stopping the number of migrants coming from Latin America. It’s also unpopular. Less than half of Americans want to build a southern border wall, and even in a Republican-controlled Congress, the President was unable to secure the funding for said wall. Both sides had to compromise on the budget in order to ensure the government would remain open. Yet when the President does not get what he wants, he refuses to compromise and instead circumvents Congress. I’ve always been hesitant to call the President’s antics temper tantrums; this behavior, however, warrants the label. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are calling his declaration unconstitutional, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) are all against it. If that’s what the Republicans are thinking, you can imagine the Democratic response. The only people who are supporting this move are the President’s most fervent supporters and those who lack the will to defy him – I can only imagine what they would think if a Democratic president declared a national emergency to ban assault weapons or expand Medicare to all Americans. Democrats are already moving to stem the President’s actions – California is suing the Trump administration, and the Democratic leadership is not mincing words. It is time the Republican leadership steps up, realizes what an affront to democracy this declaration is, and calls out the President for acting like a petulant child.