In a meandering and disjointed speech in the White House Rose Garden Friday morning, President Donald Trump undermined his own argument for declaring a national emergency to divert government funds and begin construction on his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that the situation along the southern border has reached a crisis level, and a wall is urgently needed to stop the flow of drugs and criminals into the United States. But on Friday, Trump also suggested his move is purely political — stating that he opted to declare a national emergency because he wanted to build the wall “much faster” than Congress would allow, and adding that he “didn’t need to do this.”
“I went through Congress and made a deal,” he said. “I got almost $1.4 billion when I wasn’t supposed to get one… I’m not happy with it. I got billions of dollars for other things, port of entries, lots of other things, purchase of drug equipment, more than we were even requesting.”
“On the wall, they skimped,” Trump added. “I can do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I want to do it much faster.”
When CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked the president whether he was “creating a national emergency so you can get your wall,” Trump replied that his question “is a very political question because you have an agenda. You’re CNN. You’re fake news.”
As ThinkProgress previously reported, Trump’s claim that there is a crisis at the border due to increased border crossings is false.
Illegal border crossings have dropped significantly since the early 2000s, from approximately 1.6 million to just 310,000 in 2017. Crossings at the southwest border alone were approximately 304,000, with the remaining 3,600 and 3,000 occurring at the coastal and northern borders, respectively, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Trump’s claim that more criminals are pouring into the country outside of official ports of entry is also false. While CBP arrested approximately 16,831 people convicted of crimes between October 2017 and August 2018, 63 percent were detained at legal ports of entry. Not all of the convictions were violent — the majority, in fact, were for drunk driving or previous attempts at entering the country. Numerous studies have also shown immigrants as a group are far less likely to commit criminal acts than U.S. citizens.
The president’s comments undermining the potential threat to national security did not go unnoticed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is expected to step in to challenge the move with a lawsuit.
“[K]eep talking mr president,” tweeted Omar C. Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants Rights Project.
On Thursday, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said in a statement that the plan to declare a national emergency was a “clear abuse of presidential power — one that sidesteps the role of Congress in the appropriation of funds.”
Trump himself predicted that the declaration would be met with opposition from the courts. In a bizarre tangent during the speech, Trump said he expects that “we will be sued,” before bragging about the litigation process that plagued his administration’s Muslim Ban until the Supreme Court ultimately upheld the policy in 2018.
With the national emergency declaration, the president can now shift more than $3.5 billion in funds for military construction to the border wall, according to White House officials who spoke with The New York Times. In addition to the nearly $1.4 billion that Congress authorized on Thursday, as well as $2.5 billion that can be tapped from counternarcotics programs, Trump will have close to $8 billion to spend on the border wall — much more than the $5.7 billion he could not secure from Congress during the recent partial government shutdown.