Defiant in the wake of a harsh budget battle with Congress, President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, moving to secure more money for his long-promised wall by exercising a broad interpretation of his presidential powers that is certain to draw stiff legal challenges.
In his emergency proclamation, he painted a dark picture of the border as "a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics" and one that threatens "core national security interests." Overall illegal immigration has dropped significantly during his tenure thus far.
Trump signed the declaration to justify diverting billions of federal dollars from military construction and other purposes after Congress approved only a fraction of the money he had demanded. The standoff over border funding had led to the longest government shutdown in history. To avoid another shutdown, he signed a funding bill Friday that included just $1.4 billion of the $5.7 billion he had demanded for border protection.
The president announced the declaration in a free-wheeling, 50-minute Rose Garden news conference that included a long preamble about his administration's accomplishments. He jousted with reporters and delivered a sing-song prediction about the fate of the order as it winds its way through the legal system before potentially ending up at the Supreme Court.
"Sadly, we'll be sued and sadly it will go through a process and happily we'll win, I think," said Trump.
Within hours of Trump's statement, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it would file suit challenging his emergency powers declaration.
The text of Trump's proclamation furthermore cited an increase in families coming across the border and an inability to detain families during deportation proceedings. The top two Democrats in Congress said they'd use "every remedy available" to oppose what they cast as an unlawful measure.
"Because of the gravity of the current emergency situation, it is necessary for the Armed Forces to provide additional support to address the crisis." Trump said.
"I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster."
Some Republicans had opposed Trump declaring a national emergency, repeatedly warning that it would set a bad precedent and divide the party when Democrats put it up for a vote. While many in the GOP on Friday fell in line behind Trump's decision, others remain opposed.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler called for a hearing on the "serious constitutional and statutory issues" the declaration raises,
Congressional votes in coming weeks on a resolution blocking the emergency declaration were highly likely, but the timing was uncertain. Once a resolution is introduced, leaders by law cannot prevent votes on such a measure, which would need a simple majority to pass each chamber.
The money in the spending bill Trump signed would finance just a quarter of the more than 200 miles (322 kilometers) of barrier he wanted this year.
To bridge the gap, Trump announced that he will be spending roughly $8 billion on border protection — combining the money approved by Congress with funding he plans to repurpose through executive actions, including the national emergency. Money for hundreds of military construction projects around the country was potentially targeted, and Democratic congressional aides were wary that projects sponsored by Democratic lawmakers might be disproportionately hit.