Trump declares emergency for US-Mexico border wall, House panel launches probe

The Republican president’s move, circumventing Congress, seeks to make good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge to build a border wall. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Trump declares emergency for US-Mexico border wall, House panel launches probe

  • The Republican president’s move, circumventing Congress, seeks to make good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge to build a border wall
  • Within hours, the action was challenged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texas landowners

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the US-Mexico border without congressional approval, an action Democrats vowed to challenge as a violation of the US Constitution.

The Republican president’s move, circumventing Congress, seeks to make good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge to build a border wall that Trump insists is necessary to curtail illegal immigration he blames for bringing crime and drugs into the United States.

Within hours, the action was challenged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texas landowners, saying that Trump’s declaration violates the US Constitution and that the planned wall would infringe on their property rights.

Both California and New York said that they, too, planned to file lawsuits.

Hours after Trump’s announcement, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee said it had launched an investigation into the emergency declaration.

In a letter to Trump, committee Democrats asked him to make available for a hearing White House and Justice Department officials involved in the action. They also requested legal documents on the decision that led to the declaration, setting a deadline of next Friday.

“We believe your declaration of an emergency shows a reckless disregard for the separation of powers and your own responsibilities under our constitutional system,” said the letter, signed by Chairman Jerrold Nadler and other top Democrats on the panel.

Trump on Friday also signed a bipartisan government spending bill that would prevent another partial government shutdown by funding several agencies that otherwise would have closed on Saturday.

The funding bill represented a legislative defeat for him since it contains no money for his proposed wall — the focus of weeks of conflict between Trump and Democrats in Congress.

Trump made no mention of the bill in rambling comments to reporters in the White House’s Rose Garden.

He had demanded that Congress provide him with $5.7 billion in wall funding as part of legislation to fund the agencies. That triggered a historic, 35-day government shutdown in December and January that hurt the US economy and his opinion poll numbers.

By reorienting his quest for wall funding toward a legally uncertain strategy based on declaring a national emergency, Trump risks plunging into a lengthy legislative and legal battle with Democrats and dividing his fellow Republicans — many of whom expressed grave reservations on Friday about the president’s action.

Fifteen Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate introduced legislation on Thursday to prevent Trump from invoking emergency powers to transfer funds to his wall from accounts Congress has already committed to other projects.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer swiftly responded to Trump’s declaration.

“The president’s actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution,” they said in a statement. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”

Members of the migrant caravan that has made its way from central America to the US-Mexico border

The first legal challenge, filed in federal court in Washington, came from three Texas landowners along the Rio Grande river claiming they were informed the US government would seek to build a border wall on their properties if money for the project were available in 2019.

The lawsuit, filed on their behalf by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, also named the Frontera Audubon Society as a plaintiff whose “members’ ability to observe wildlife will be impaired” by construction of a border wall and resulting habitat damage.

The suit contests Trump’s assertion of a national emergency at the border to justify the president’s action.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, describing the supposed border crisis touted by Trump as “made-up,” and New York state’s Democratic attorney general, Letitia James, both said they planned to challenge Trump in court.

Trump acknowledged his order would face a lengthy court fight.

“I expect to be sued. I shouldn’t be sued. ... We’ll win in the Supreme Court,” he predicted.

Trump may have also undermined his administration’s argument about the urgency of the situation when he told reporters, “I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.”

In their letter to Trump, House Judiciary Democrats said that language had left them “troubled.”

Both the House and the Senate could pass a resolution terminating the emergency by majority vote. However, any such measure would then go to Trump, who would likely veto it. Overriding the veto would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

Although Trump says a wall is needed to curb illegal immigrants and illicit drugs coming across the border, statistics show that illegal immigration via the border is at a 20-year low and that many drug shipments come through legal ports of entry.

Confronted with those statistics by reporters at the Rose Garden event, Trump said they were “wrong.”

Also present were a half-dozen women holding poster-sized pictures of family members killed by illegal immigrants. Trump noted their presence in announcing the emergency declaration.

He estimated his emergency declaration could free up as much as $8 billion to pay for part of the wall. Estimates of its total cost run as high as $23 billion.

As a candidate, Trump repeatedly promised Mexico would pay for the wall. It was one of his biggest applause lines at his campaign rallies. Mexico firmly refused to pay, and now Trump wants US taxpayers to cover the costs.


US Navy sends two ships through strategic Taiwan Strait

Updated 2 min 1 sec ago
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US Navy sends two ships through strategic Taiwan Strait

  • Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship
  • The transit was carried out by the destroyer Preble and the Navy oil tanker Walter S. Diehl

WASHINGTON: The US military said it sent two Navy ships through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, its latest transit through the sensitive waterway and a move likely to anger Beijing at a time of tense relations between the world’s two biggest economies.
Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship, which also include a bitter trade war, US sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom-of-navigation patrols. The voyage will be viewed by self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from the Trump administration amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.
The transit was carried out by the destroyer Preble and the Navy oil tanker Walter S. Diehl, a US military spokesman told Reuters.
“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said in a statement.
Doss said all interactions were safe and professional.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the two US ships had sailed north through the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s armed forces monitored the transit and nothing out of the ordinary happened, it added.
There was no immediate reaction from China.
US warships have sailed through the Taiwan Strait at least once a month since the start of this year. The United States restarted such missions on a regular basis last July.
The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide the island with the means to defend itself and is its main source of arms.
The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taipei more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.
China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, which it considers a wayward province of “one China” and sacred Chinese territory, to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if needed.
Beijing said a recent Taiwan Strait passage by a French warship, first reported by Reuters, was illegal.
China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle Taiwan on exercises in the past few years and worked to isolate it internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.
The US Defense Intelligence Agency released a report earlier this year describing Taiwan as the “primary driver” for China’s military modernization, which it said had made major advances in recent years.
China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle Taiwan on exercises in the past few years and worked to isolate it internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.
On Sunday, the Preble sailed near the disputed Scarborough Shoal claimed by China in the South China Sea, angering Beijing.
The state-run China Daily said in an editorial on Wednesday that China has shown “utmost restraint in responding to the incitements by the US.”
“With tensions between the two countries already rife, there is no guarantee that the presence of US warships on China’s doorstep will not spark direct confrontation between the two militaries,” the official newspaper said.