On Feb. 26, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to block President Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” on the border with Mexico by a vote of 245 to 182. The votes fell mostly along party lines, with only 13 Republicans voting for the measure.
Mr. Trump’s declaration on Feb. 14 came after months of wrangling with congressional Democrats, who have not approved the whole $5.7 billion he requested for a wall along the southern border. (He also failed to secure this funding in his first two years as president, when the Republicans controlled both branches of Congress.) According to S&P Global Ratings, the U.S. economy lost approximately $6 billion during the 35-day partial government shutdown resulting from this standoff in December and January, the longest in U.S. history.
But according to the plain meaning of the words, there is no “national emergency” at the border. Late last year, the Pew Research Center released a report indicating that illegal immigration is at a 10-year low. And despite Mr. Trump’s frequent horror stories of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, research shows that immigrants, whether documented or not, commit crimes at lower rates than do U.S. citizens.
As Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute recently noted, “Congress reserves for itself the ability to complain about the abuse of its constitutional authority while happily giving it away when that is politically or ideologically advantageous.” House Republican support for this emergency declaration, for example, stands in stark contrast to the skepticism Republicans expressed toward President Obama’s efforts to expand executive branch powers. During the Obama administration congressional Republicans lamented what some called an imperial presidency, denouncing executive orders on matters like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Above all, Mr. Trump’s action is dangerous because it is based on fear.
Mr. Trump, too, was a staunch critic of the Obama administration’s overuse of executive orders. The editors of America also criticized Mr. Obama, as well as former President George W. Bush, for overstepping the bounds of acceptable executive conduct. More recently, America’s editors have criticized Congress for repeatedly approaching the brink of a government shutdown in order to get anything done.
The president’s emergency declaration is only the latest attempt to bypass the ordinary means of governing. Congress should act decisively to defend its constitutional prerogatives and judgment. At press time, four Republican senators—Rand Paul of Kentucky, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Thom Tillis of North Carolina—had announced that they will vote for a resolution blocking the emergency declaration, which should be enough for it to pass, though not enough to override Mr. Trump’s likely veto. But many more should join them.
Above all, Mr. Trump’s action is dangerous because it is based on fear. The president campaigned by appealing to nativist fears among his political base; this so-called emergency is an attempt to govern by the same means. Instead of defending it for a short-term political advantage, Republicans in Congress should reject this emergency declaration as a degradation of constitutional order and a petulant refusal to accept reasonable legislative compromise.
There is no new threat at the southern border. But in Washington the country faces ongoing confusion and dissembling that, if not addressed, will inevitably lead to a genuine constitutional emergency for the nation.