President Donald Trump announced Friday that he would declare a national emergency to get his wall built on the southern border. But his decision to take executive action flies in the face of what he said as a candidate in 2016, when he assured people he would not be “opening our borders or closing our orders based on executive orders.”
During a January 2016 Fox News interview, Trump said:
All I’m saying is I’ll make great deals and we’ll get them done and we don’t have use to executive orders and all the stuff that Obama is using which at some point, I would imagine the courts are going to overrule in one form or another. But we’re not going to be opening our borders or closing our orders based on executive orders. We’re going to do it. We will get along well.
After a months-long fight with Congress over whether he would receive funding for his proposed border wall, Trump announced at the White House on Friday, “So we’re going to be signing today and registering national emergency and it’s a great thing to do. Because we have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people and it’s unacceptable.”
Vice President Mike Pence, before he joined Trump’s ticket, also warned against the same kind of executive overreach. “It would be a profound mistake for the president of the United States to overturn American immigration law with the stroke of a pen,” he said on a panel at the 2014 Republican Governor’s Association conference, as Republican strategist Bill Kristol recently pointed out.
Mike Pence: The president usurping power and end-running Congress is "a profound mistake." pic.twitter.com/GjDbHDvh0u
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) February 15, 2019
“Issues of this magnitude should always be resolved with the consent of the governed,” Pence said on the November 2014 panel, which occurred shortly after Republicans took over the Senate in the midterm elections. “Signing an executive order, giving a speech, barnstorming around the country defending that executive order is not leadership, and I would implore the president to reconsider this path and to demonstrate the kind of leadership that the American people long to see, and that is that this administration would sit down with this newly-minted Republican Congress and find genuine common ground, border security, there’s a series of piece-by-piece reforms that I believe could be advanced in this Congress that would be in the long-term interest of the American people on this issue.”
Trump also warned Republicans in 2014 to not allow President Barack Obama to “subvert the Constitution of the US for his own benefit & because he is unable to negotiate with Congress.”
Repubs must not allow Pres Obama to subvert the Constitution of the US for his own benefit & because he is unable to negotiate w/ Congress.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2014
Pence and Trump were likely criticizing Obama’s comprehensive immigration reform, through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) programs — which gave certain undocumented immigrants temporary work authorization relief.
While DAPA was later blocked in court, DACA simply allows the federal government to assist undocumented immigrants who who came to the country as children. Attempting to deport this group of immigrants would cost billions and dock the economy by as much as $280 billion. (Trump formally ended DACA in September 2017, and a series of legal challenges since then mean that previous DACA recipients can still get protections, but no new applications are being accepted to the program at this time.)
Trump’s executive action to declare a national emergency on Friday, however, is fundamentally different from Obama’s immigration reform. It would take billions of dollars from the Defense Department to construct a hundreds-of-miles-long edifice on the southern border to solve a problem that his own Pentagon has confirmed is not a national emergency. Past national emergency declarations have not re-appropriated money, which is the job of Congress, according to the Constitution.
Many other Republican lawmakers have been extremely skeptical of the strategic and legal underpinning of Trump’s rationale for declaring a national emergency.
In fact, in 2014, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said, “failing to get your way in Congress doesn’t mean the president can simply override the Congress with a stroke of his pen.”
During Friday’s White House announcement, Trump took questions from reporters, and NBC’s Peter Alexander asked him about his past criticism of Obama’s use of executive orders to make immigration policy. Trump dodged the question in a meandering response which made the case that he had both received more than and less than what he wanted for the wall from Congress in the budget deal. “I didn’t need to do this,” he said of declaring a national emergency. “I would rather do it much faster.”
Trump began his campaign for the wall by saying he would use his business acumen to convince Mexico to pay for the wall up front, He then shifted to saying he’d extract the funding from them via tariffs and remittances, then said the United States would spend a down payment to construct it and have Mexico pay America back, then said it would pay for itself through vague economic benefits, then went to Congress to have them fund it, and now, at long last, he’s going to attempt to grab the money from taxpayers by declaring a national emergency to use already-allocated Pentagon funding to build it.