Donald Trump commands the loyalty of more than 33 percent of the House of Representatives. For this reason, the situation at America’s southern border is officially a “national emergency.”
Late last year, the president took the federal government hostage, in a bid to coerce Congress into passing a multibillion-dollar appropriation for his border wall. Congress refused to pay his ransom. So Trump announced that the situation at America’s border constituted a “national emergency” — and that he therefore had the authority to use his office’s emergency powers to redirect funds away from Pentagon projects, and into building his monument to American xenophobia. Weeks later, both chambers of Congress passed a resolution rejecting Trump’s declaration. The president vetoed it.
On Tuesday, a large majority of House members voted to override this veto — but not the two-thirds majority necessary for defeating it. Democrats had tried to get their Republican colleagues to break ranks by publicizing various military projects that might lose funding, should Trump’s plan go through. But only 14 GOP House members backed the override effort Tuesday, just one more than had voted for the original resolution.
Nevertheless, Trump remains a long way from fulfilling his signature campaign promise. While the president has overcome a legislative challenge to his power grab, judicial ones remain. A variety of states and organizations are challenging the constitutional validity of the order. And even if Trump’s plan survives those challenges, he will likely still face the difficulty of winning eminent-domain lawsuits in order to secure control of the borderlands where he wishes to build his wall.
Thus, it’s quite possible that Trump’s order will do little, save for emboldening the next Democratic president to push back the boundaries of executive authority. As the genuine international emergency of climate change deepens — and our veto-point-laden legislative system grows evermore anachronistic — Democratic presidents will likely use aggressive reinterpretations of existing statutes in order to combat ecological crisis. With his emergency declaration, Trump has provided his successors with a model, and precedent, from such subversions of congressional authority.