What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The unstoppable force declares a national emergency to go around it.
That option appears to be President Donald Trump’s endgame to resolve the current standoff over the border wall. His demand that lawmakers provide $5.7 billion for a concrete barrier along the nation’s southern border led to a partial government shutdown that is now in its twentieth day. More than 800,000 federal workers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, are now furloughed or working unpaid, causing food safety inspections, airport security, and much more to slow to a crawl.
Now that Trump has backed himself into a political corner, an emergency declaration seems like the least humiliating way for him to reopen the federal government without bending on his central campaign promise. “Probably I will do it,” he told reporters on Thursday morning outside the White House. “I would almost say definitely. If we don’t make a deal, I would say it would be very surprising to me that I would not declare a national emergency.”
What would that entail? The legal mechanics are pretty straightforward, though a court battle would certainly follow. Two provisions in federal law could give Trump the off-ramp he seeks. One allows him to order the Army Corps of Engineers to work on construction projects deemed “essential to the national defense” during a declared emergency, while another allows the president to spend defense-related funds on those projects without a specific appropriation from Congress. In essence, Trump would be robbing the Pentagon to pay for the wall.
Given Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, many Americans are understandably worried about the consequences of his declaring a national emergency to satisfy a short-term