WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency on the border with Mexico to tap into billions of dollars in federal money to build a wall after Congress denied his full funding request, spurring a political and legal confrontation.
Later in the day, Trump averted another shutdown by signing a $329 billion bipartisan compromise appropriations bill before seven departments and several other agencies were set to run out of money at midnight Friday.
“I’m going to be signing a national emergency,” said Trump as he spoke in the Rose Garden, calling it a “great thing” as he seeks to go around Congress to get the $5.7 billion he demanded for a wall and to fulfill a campaign promise that has defined his immigration policy.
“What we really want to do is simple,” Trump said in the rambling address attended by parents of children killed by undocumented immigrants. “We want to stop drugs from coming into our country. We want to stop criminals and gangs from coming into our country.”
Trump said executive actions, including the national emergency declaration, will free up about $8 billion to build hundreds of miles of walls, and defended his decision from criticism by both Democrats and some Republicans that it was a power grab and setting a bad precedent.
Trump’s move will take away about $6.6 billion from Pentagon and Treasury drug and construction funds and shift the funds to wall building. He also will use the $1.4 billion for border fencing that Congress approved, a senior administration official said.
“I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this,” Trump said, undercutting the urgency of the national emergency he had just declared. “But I'd rather do it much faster.”
He also said he expected a legal challenge that he predicted he would ultimately win in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The consumer rights think tank Public Citizen said Friday that it had filed a lawsuit to block the emergency declaration. The ACLU announced it would file a lawsuit next week.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a statement issued while Trump was speaking, said they would battle the president over the national emergency declaration.
“The president's actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse,” Pelosi and Schumer said. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”
Pelosi and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also have warned that future presidents may cite his declaration as a precedent to issue their own to go around Congress in a policy dispute.
Trump said other presidents have issued emergency declarations without controversy. A total of 30, including three issued by Trump, are still in effect, according to a Congressional Research Service report, though none of them before has sought to reprogram billions of dollars.
Democrats urged Republicans to join them in their challenge to Trump — an invitation that will be tested as House Democrats seek to terminate the declaration under the provisions of the National Emergencies Act of 1976 that Trump invoked in issuing it.
The act allows a joint resolution by the House and Senate, and a presidential signature, to terminate a declaration. If the president vetoes the resolution, Congress can vote to overturn it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) both already have said they would back the president’s action.
On Friday, McConnell called Trump’s declaration “the predictable and understandable consequence of Democrats’ decision to put partisan obstruction ahead of the national interest."
A senior administration official said the goal is to build 234 miles of wall with the $8 billion, with locations to be determined by Homeland Security officials.
Trump will use executive actions to reprogram $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund and up to $2.5 billion from the Defense Department's counter-drug program, White House officials said. He will use his national emergency declaration to shift up to $3.6 billion from Defense military construction projects.
“We had certain funds that are being used at the discretion of the generals and discretion of the military that haven’t been used yet,” Trump said. He said some generals said a wall was a better use for the money and said the projects that would lose funds are “not too important.”