So Trump is calling a national emergency to get the military to build his border wall for him.

There seems to be little the Congress or anybody else can do to step him.

So my question is .... why didn't he just do that before?? It's been 2+years of border wall negotiations. If he could bypass it so easily, why wait until now?

In fact, doing it as soon as possible would also lend more weight to the idea that it is an emergency, no?

I have heard people saying it's a "measure of last resort" .... but why?.

closed as off-topic by user4012, Sjoerd, Martin Schröder, JJJ, zibadawa timmy Feb 17 at 1:10

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  • "Questions asking for the internal motivations of people, how specific individuals would behave in hypothetical situations or predictions for future events are off-topic, because answers would be based on speculation and their correctness could not be verified with sources available to the public." – user4012, Sjoerd, Martin Schröder, JJJ, zibadawa timmy
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    Your question is asking users to speculate about Trump's motivations. – TheLeopard Feb 16 at 18:31
  • An emergency allows Trump to use funds from other, existing programs. Presumably he would rather use the regular budget process to create a new program.
  • It remains to be seen if the action was legal. There are already some court challenges and more will surely follow. A defeat in the supreme court could do political damage.
  • If it was legal to use an emergency this way, doing it now sets a precedent that may be used by future Democratic presidents to bypass a Republican congress.
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    That third point really hits the 'why is this a measure of last resort?' part IMO. It's a very questionable precedent to set because while a wall is hardly the end of the world, a president being able to declare an 'emergency' on a whim to subvert the normal democratic process could easily be used for pretty much anything a future president (from either party) might want to achieve, given that apparently there is no solid definition of what constitutes an 'emergency'. – Joey Sabey Feb 16 at 23:05
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    A defeat in SCOTUS doesn’t just do political damage: by clarifying the limits of executive power, it will surely also hamper future administrations in their attempts to declare emergencies (whether legitimate or otherwise). – eggyal Feb 16 at 23:28
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    @eggyal That's a very important point. Many Presidents have opted against taking certain courses of action specifically because a defeat at the SCOTUS could curtail or enlarge far more of what they, other Presidents, and even Congress itself could do than just that one action. Similarly for governors (and state supreme courts, if not SCOTUS), Congress, legislatures, etc. This case could conceivably have substantial impacts on how Congress can delegate powers, how the Executive can use allocated funds, and exactly what the President can do to circumvent Congress. – zibadawa timmy Feb 17 at 1:08

Two reasons why the emergency is a last ditch strategy come to my mind immediately.

  1. In declaring an emergency, the best Trump can do is redirect funds from certain existing appropriations. Here is an analysis from USA Today of what he will taking the money from. If he had succeed in pressuring Congress to act, they could have appropriated new funds without necessarily cutting those existing programs.

  2. The emergency declaration may not work. Congress can try to revoke the emergency, and more importantly, it's unclear if Trump's declaration will hold up in court. Here is a relevant piece from the Washington Post.


Because declaring a national emergency is by definition out of the ordinary. If Trump could have gotten Congress to approve money for his wall, then however unpopular the decision it would still have been "business as usual". By (groundlessly) declaring a national emergency, he lays himself open to all sorts of repercussions, from court challenges to primary challengers to it being pretty obvious grounds for impeachment.

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    “pretty obvious grounds for impeachment” Can you clarify further? – BalinKingOfMoria Feb 16 at 21:27
  • @BalinKingOfMoria: Falsely declaring a state of emergency when no actual emergency exists in order to misappropriate funds for a pet project would seem to fall under "high crimes and misdemeanors", wouldn't it? Specifically embezzlement. – jamesqf Feb 17 at 4:50
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    @jamesqf, not exactly embezzlement unless his companies build the wall. The point is that Congress should make this judgement call unless it is a genuine emergency. – o.m. Feb 17 at 5:25
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    @o.m: IANAL, so perhaps there's a better word to describe the act of taking funds that Congress has allocated to specific purposes, and using a trumped-up (if you'll excuse the unavoidable pun :-)) "emergency" to spend them on something that is mostly ego-gratification after Congress has specifically refused to spend money on it. – jamesqf Feb 17 at 22:19

The previous Republican-controlled Congress failed to approve funding for his wall. So, for Trump to have been able to secure funding for his wall would have required quite some pressure on Republican Representatives and Senators at the cost of undermining his political support base. Bypassing the Republican-controlled Congress by declaring a national emergency would politically have been even worse.

So, it's not an accident that Trump decided push ahead with securing funding for his wall after the Democrats took over control of the House. The failure to get the funding he needed, the consequences of the government shutdown, the problematic aspects of declaring a national emergency to get more funding, can now all be blamed on the Democrats now. While what Trump says about the Democrats may not be all that accurate, what matters is that there is now a target that he can point his finger to.

  • @NateEldredge Indeed, I've corrected the text. – Count Iblis Feb 16 at 23:46

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