The Wall Street Journal: Trump’s Emergency Exit

Posted on March 12, 2019

The Wall Street Journal: Trump’s Emergency Exit

By Editorial Board

The Senate will vote on a resolution to override President Trump’s emergency declaration as early as Thursday, and rarely has there been a clearer case of needless self-harm. Mr. Trump should listen to the Senate Republicans offering him a safe emergency exit.

On Tuesday Vice President Mike Pence met with several GOP Senators ahead of a vote on the override resolution that passed the House with ease. As many as 10 to 15 GOP Senators may vote to override.

Republican Senators up for re-election in tough states are in an impossible position. Susan Collins of Maine and Thom Tillis of North Carolina are both up in 2020, and they’re voting to rebuke the President. Martha McSally has to fight for her seat in Arizona in 2020, and to win she’ll need a coalition of Trump voters and the President’s skeptics. No matter how she votes she isolates potential supporters. Ditto for Cory Gardner of Colorado.

And for what? The President doesn’t need to invoke a national emergency to build his wall along the southern border. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has pointed out that the White House already has funds at its disposal without declaring an emergency.

Consider: The President wants $5.7 billion for the wall. Congress provided $1.375 billion in appropriations. The President plans to tap $601 million from a forfeiture fund at the Treasury Department that can be used for general law enforcement purposes. Mr. Trump also plans to use $2.5 billion from Defense Department accounts that deal with drug smuggling, though Sen. Alexander notes that the law allows him to tap up to $4 billion.

In other words, if the President moved $3.7 from the Pentagon drug account, he’d reach his $5.7 billion goal without needing to pilfer $3.6 billion from military construction. The White House noted this in a fact sheet last month but declared an emergency anyway. The irony is that the President can’t possibly spend all this money on wall construction before the fall’s budget negotiations for fiscal 2020, when he can work on winning more funding.

Mr. Trump could rescind the order and say he’ll spend the money available under the law first, and reconsider if facts warrant. This would keep the money out of the courts. The President would also be better positioned to win the 2020 defense spending he wants if he isn’t raiding the military to pay for the wall. In his budget proposal this week, Mr. Trump asked Congress to backfill the money he is taking from military construction. House Democrats have no incentive to cooperate.

The alternative is a divisive vote that Mr. Trump is sure to lose and a bipartisan resolution he’ll have to veto. And that’s for starters. The National Emergencies Act allows a vote in Congress every six months until an emergency is terminated. Democrats have found a gift that will keep on giving.

Some Republicans are proposing fixes to the National Emergencies Act, which would be welcome. A proposal from Mike Lee of Utah would let the President declare an emergency as he can now, but after 30 days Congress would have to vote to continue it.

Republican Senators don’t want a pointless showdown with Mr. Trump, but they can’t avoid one if the White House won’t change course. Mr. Trump should declare victory on wall funding for this year and live to fight next year.