TFK Explains: National Emergencies

February 1, 2019
At the White House on February 15, 2019, President Trump declares a national emergency.
CHIP SOMODEVILLA—GETTY IMAGES

President Donald Trump declares a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border.

What is a national emergency?

In 1976, Congress passed the National Emergencies Act. It allows the president to declare a national emergency if he or she thinks there is a threat to the country’s security. These declarations give presidents special powers to deal with a crisis.

Why did President Trump declare a national emergency?

At a press conference, Trump said, “[We need to] confront the national security crisis on our southern border.” He wants money to build a border wall. On February 14, Congress passed a bill. It included about $1.4 billion for border barriers. Trump wanted $5.7 billion. By declaring an emergency, he could use money meant for other projects to build the wall. “I didn’t need to do this,” Trump said. He could have waited to get funding. “But I’d rather do it much faster.”

What can Congress do?

Many Congress members fear that Trump is setting a bad example. They worry that future presidents will declare national emergencies to get around the government’s system of checks and balances.

Congress could pass a resolution. It would reject the president’s emergency declaration. Trump would likely veto the resolution. Congress could then override the veto. But that won’t happen if most Republicans support the president.

What other challenges does the president face?

A group of 16 states filed a lawsuit. It aims to block the president’s emergency declaration. The states say there is no actual emergency. They say Trump cannot take money from other projects in order to pay for a border wall. Texas landowners and environmentalists are also suing the president. So are wildlife protection organizations. Democrats in Congress may also sue.

The legal process could take a long time. Construction of the wall will probably not begin until the court cases are decided.

Have other presidents declared national emergencies?

Yes. Since 1979, presidents have declared 59 national emergencies.

Of those, 31 are still in effect. President George W. Bush declared an emergency after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. But President Trump’s declaration is different from those made in the past. It is the first to use emergency powers to get funding Congress has refused to provide.

© 2020 TIME USA, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Powered by WordPress.com VIP