As the partial shutdown of the federal government has entered its third week over the staunch refusal of Democrats to grant funding to President Donald Trump for his oft-promised border wall, the possibility has been floated that Trump may eventually bypass Congress to get the funds via the declaration of a “national emergency.”
Declaring a “national emergency” on the southern U.S. border would activate certain presidential authorities as specified in the National Emergencies Act of 1974, and would allow the president the flexibility to shift previously appropriated funds from other departments and agencies toward the construction of a border wall.
Of course, most Democrats cried foul at the notion and dismissed Trump’s authority to do so as non-existent, and such a move would inevitably draw immediate legal challenges, but Trump would actually be on solid legal footing. He also would not be the only president to make use of the National Emergencies Act to do what Congress can’t or won’t do.
Somewhat surprisingly, CNN actually helped make the case for Trump with an article that listed all of the national emergencies that have been declared since the law took effect during former President Jimmy Carter’s administration, and included an informative graph which displayed both already ended and currently ongoing national emergencies, as well as when each declaration began.
As it turns out, there are currently 31 ongoing national emergencies over which the president wields certain authorities, the first of which has been in existence since 1979 and is one of only two emergencies declared by Carter.
There were a total of six national emergencies during former President Ronald Reagan’s tenure, as well as four more during the administration of former President George H.W. Bush, all of which have ended.
Former President Bill Clinton declared 17 national emergencies — six of which remain in effect — while former President George W. Bush declared 12 national emergencies, of which 10 remain ongoing.
Then we get to former President Barack Obama, who declared 13 national emergencies, 11 of which continue to this day. Thus far, President Trump has declared three active and ongoing national emergencies.
Presidents declaring national emergencies is not some extraordinary or unusual thing, and Trump is fully within his rights under the law to do so if necessary.
Interestingly, it is the nature of the declared emergencies — particularly with regard to Trump and Obama — that can be somewhat gleaned from the accompanying list of titles for the 31 active national emergencies.
First, let’s look at the subjects of Trump’s three national emergencies, which block the property of individuals involved in “serious human rights abuses and corruption,” impose sanctions on those who interfere in U.S. elections, and block the property of individuals destabilizing Nicaragua. Two of those are focused on protecting America and American citizens and institutions, while one is focused on a foreign nation.
Of Obama’s 11 continuing national emergencies, nine of them were focused exclusively on foreign nations, while only one seemed focused on protecting America — a declaration aimed at punishing individuals “engaging in significant malicious cyber-enabled activities.”
All of the rest of Obama’s national emergencies were focused on blocking property or prohibiting transactions/travel for individuals engaged in various activities in — by order of the date of enactment — Somalia, Libya, transnational criminal organizations, Yemen, Ukraine, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Venezuela and Burundi.
Obama utilized his Congressional-authorized national emergency powers to deal with problems in foreign nations, the bulk of which have proven ineffective and wasteful in terms of time and money.
Trump, on the other hand, has hinted that he would use the national emergency powers to better defend our own nation, which most certainly is not a waste of time or money or effort.
Trump wants to use his presidential powers to help better the United States of America by making it a more secure place, while Obama used his powers to try and help the situations in foreign nations. The glaring difference between those priorities is quite telling — as is the staunch opposition to Trump’s doing so by Obama’s fellow Democrats.
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