White House Proposes $4.7 Trillion Budget for Fiscal 2020

Trump’s outline would sharply cut spending on safety-net programs

The Trump administration proposed a $4.7 trillion budget that would sharply reduce spending on safety-net programs, while effectively exempting the Pentagon from strict spending caps set to take effect in fiscal year 2020.

The president’s plan would widen the federal budget deficit to $1.1 trillion in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, and would propose to eliminate the deficit by 2034, in part by assuming the economy grows much faster than many independent forecasters expect.

How the Border Wall, Trump’s Signature Campaign Promise, Turned Into a National Emergency

The president’s declaration comes after divisions and competing priorities in the White House allowed the barrier project to languish

President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S. southern border comes after two years of political neglect of his signature campaign promise, lost amid competing priorities and divisions within his administration, according to current and former White House officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers.

Mr. Trump on Friday said the move would allow him to supplement the $1.38 billion allotted for border barriers in the spending package approved by Congress—far short of the $5.7 billion Mr. Trump wanted. “We’re talking about an invasion of our country,” Mr. Trump said speaking from the Rose Garden in urgent terms familiar during his campaign.

The wall’s reemergence as a top priority within the White House came after the Republican Party’s loss of the House in November’s midterm election, and after goading from conservative media kept Mr. Trump focused on the border wall, current and former White House officials said.

It wasn’t until December, as some government offices entered a 35-day shutdown amid the fight over wall funding, that Mr. Trump assembled a team of advisers devoted to getting it built. They turned out to be a divided group.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, pushed for a broader deal with Democrats to provide protections for some immigrants living in the U.S. without permission, while Vice President Mike Pence sought to limit the scope of the negotiations. Mr. Kushner cautioned the president about issuing a national emergency order; Mick Mulvaney, newly installed as acting chief of staff, pressed for it.

Mr. Trump’s first-term wins had clear leaders: Former economic adviser Gary Cohn delivered on tax cuts. Former White House counsel Don McGahn shepherded two Supreme Court nominations onto the High Court, and Mr. Kushner is credited with pushing a criminal-justice overhaul that reduced prison sentences on some drug convictions.

The wall project had no such director. Last summer, a White House official seeking a senior aide in charge of the border wall was sent to Doug Fears, a deputy to national security adviser John Bolton. Mr. Fears, a rear admiral in the U.S. Coast Guard, is neither a senior administration official nor in charge of border-wall issues, a spokesman said.

By then, frustration was setting in with the president, and in August, he asked Mr. Mulvaney about declaring a national emergency. “You know, that makes a lot of sense,” Mr. Mulvaney told him. The then-budget director started working on plans, which were only finalized last week, according to a senior White House official.

“Easy”

As a candidate in 2016, Mr. Trump described building the wall as a simple job. He tied it to his identity as a builder, a career that dates to the 1960s when he joined his father’s real-estate company. As the author of “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump put his reputation as a negotiator on the line.

As Mr. Trump prepares for re-election—and for voters to scrutinize his record as president—he has adjusted his message. “If you think it’s easy with these people, it’s not easy,” Mr. Trump said, referring to Congress, during a rally last summer in West Virginia.
.. Another early advocate of the wall was Stephen K. Bannon, the Trump campaign’s chief executive who became Mr. Trump’s top strategist and senior counselor. The promise to build a wall “and eventually make Mexico pay for it” was written on a dry erase board in Mr. Bannon’s West Wing office, competing for attention among other campaign promises. It was one of more than four dozen pledges on the white board, organized by policy area.

On another office wall, Mr. Bannon listed the goals for Mr. Trump’s first 100 days in office, listed on 36 pages of computer paper taped together. The legislative agenda included the “End Illegal Immigration Act,” proposed legislation that would have made the wall a priority. It was never introduced.

The project was made tougher without a supportive constituency in Washington to pressure lawmakers. Labor unions don’t view the border wall as a job stimulus, and business didn’t see clear benefits to the bottom line.

“The mistake they made was not coming in right away and coming up with a plan,” said Tom Davis, a Republican former House lawmaker. “You wonder why they didn’t try to jam this through when Republicans controlled the House because it’s a lot more complicated now trying to convince Nancy Pelosi.”

In the first weeks of the Trump administration, Mr. Kushner raised tensions inside the West Wing when he entertained suggestions by Democratic lawmakers to secure wall money in exchange for supporting protections for immigrants protected under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

Mr. Kushner and Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, also left some West Wing aides with the impression that the president should put the wall on hold while renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

.. Messers. Kushner and Cohn later suggested outfitting the wall with solar panels, and possibly selling the energy to Mexico. The president loved the idea so much he adopted it as his own.
.. Advisers suggested that Mexico would indirectly pay for the wall through a renegotiated Nafta. The revised trade deal, which hasn’t been approved by Congress, includes no language about a border wall.

In March, Congress completed a $1.3 trillion spending package, but included just $1.6 billion for a border barrier, with most of the money intended to replace existing fencing. It banned the money from being spent on concrete slabs or any other of the wall prototypes the White House was considering.

Upset there wasn’t more money for the wall, Mr. Trump threatened to veto it. At an emergency meeting at the White House with his staff and Republican leaders, Mr. Trump learned that the spending bill incorporated all of the border wall money that was requested in the White House budget proposal.

“Who the f— put that in my request?” Mr. Trump shouted.

Mr. Trump directed his fury at Marc Short, then his legislative affairs director, while John Kelly, the former chief of staff was silent. Mr. Kelly was the Department of Homeland Security secretary when the agency made the request for border funds the year before.

Mr. Mulvaney, who assembled the White House’s budget proposal, privately encouraged the president to veto it and suggested Mr. Trump blame then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, who should have sought more wall money.

Mr. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Mr. Trump they would push for more wall money in the next round of spending bills at the end of the year. During the fall, Mr. Trump was energized by crowds chanting “built the wall” during his many midterm-election rallies.

Soon after the November election, it became clear to the White House that lawmakers weren’t interested in a fight over border-wall money. Mr. Trump decided to carry out his threat to close what he could of the U.S. government.

During the shutdown last month, Mr. Trump complained to conservative allies that Mr. Ryan should have pushed harder for wall funds. Last weekend, the president complained about it again during a meeting with a Republican member of the committee that negotiated the latest deal.

“Mr. President,” the Republican lawmaker said, “we gave you everything you asked for.”

How to screw up an emergency declaration in 10 easy steps

None other than Ann Coulter declared on Friday, “The only national emergency is that our president is an idiot.” She has a point. The president’s declaration, in the words of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), amounts to “a power grab by a disappointed President, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process.”

Even the best-executed power grab would have been difficult to defend in court. There is no emergency (border crossings are down), the illegal drug problem (despite Trump’s contradicting his own administration) isn’t primarily a border problem, and the humanitarian problem that does exist (families fleeing Central America to request asylum) won’t be solved by a wall.

Nevertheless, in 10 steps, Trump irretrievably ruined whatever legal case he would have had.

  1. First, he did not address the issue when the Republican Party held majorities in both the House and Senate, when, for example, he had the ability to push through measures on reconciliation.
  2. Second, he rejected a deal for $25 billion in border security in exchange for legalization of “dreamers,” which doesn’t sound like the sort of thing you’d do in a real emergency.
  3. Third, he signed a continuing resolution that kept the government running until Dec. 8, 2018. Again, you wouldn’t agree to that in the face of a real emergency.
  4. Fourth, Congress passed another continuing resolution to keep the government open until Dec. 21, 2018.
  5. Fifth, the president provoked a 35-day shutdown that ended with a three-week continuing resolution. Again, this doesn’t give off an emergency “vibe.”
  6. Sixth, as appropriators negotiate, the president repeatedly threatens to us emergency powers until Congress gives him what he wants. The critical precondition for an emergency declaration is lack of congressional compliance.
  7. Seventh, appropriators reach agreement — and Trump signs it.
  8. Eighth, there is no report or analysis demonstrating why Congress’s response is inadequate. Instead, Trump declares an emergency on the same day as the signing, a transparent effort to eclipse his utter failure to deliver on a campaign promise.
  9. Ninth, at a bizarre Rose Garden press conference on Friday, Trump declared, “I didn’t need to do this. . . . I just want to do it faster.” It is difficult to imagine a more damaging confession that the emergency is figment of Trump’s frail ego and thirst to avoid disappointing his base.
  10. Tenth, Trump tells a set of ridiculous lies to justify his border wall. For example, he denies replete evidence from his own administration that the vast amount of illegal drugs come through ports of entry and claims that El Paso had an epidemic crime rate before barriers were built. (But now that the city has barriers and is so safe, why the need for the concrete wall?)

    According to Trump, he’s received legal advice that his emergency power grab is likely to be enjoined. Well, even Trump’s lawyers figured that out. However, Trump’s irrational, desperate and incoherent approach has not merely damaged his chances of surviving a court challenge. He has made it infinitely harder for Republicans to defend him and vote against a resolution reversing the declaration. Trump told them there was no emergency

Trump Pulls Back From Declaring a National Emergency to Fund a Wall

WASHINGTON — President Trump has stepped back from declaring a national emergency to pay for a border wall, under pressure from congressional Republicans, his own lawyers and advisers, who say using it as a way out of the government shutdown does not justify the precedent it would set and the legal questions it could raise.

If today the national emergency is border security, tomorrow the national emergency might be climate change,” Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the idea’s critics, said this week. Another Republican, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, told an interviewer that declaring a national emergency should be reserved for “the most extreme circumstances.”

.. “What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,” he told reporters gathered in the Cabinet Room as the shutdown approached its fourth week. Minutes later he contradicted himself, saying that he would declare a state of emergency if he had to.

.. Instead, Mr. Trump would use his authority to transfer funds to the wall that were appropriated by Congress for other purposes. Toward that end, the Army Corps of Engineers has been directed to study whether it can divert about $13.9 million in emergency aide set aside for Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and California. And with the money secured, the president could drop his opposition to the appropriations bills whose passage would end the shutdown.

.. Former White House aides, who noted that Mr. Trump did not focus on the wall during the first two years of his presidency, said the optics of fighting for the wall were more important to the president than erecting it.

.. But opposition has come from many Republican quarters. Some conservatives see it as an unacceptable extension of executive power. Kellyanne Conway, a White House aide, has said it would essentially give Congress a pass. Representative Mike Simpson, Republican of Idaho and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said it was not clear to him that an emergency declaration would even lead to the prompt reopening of the government.

Trump Heading to Texas Border Town to Press His Case for a Wall

In a meeting with network anchors on Tuesday ahead of his address to the nation, the president dismissed his trip to McAllen, a border community where crime is near a 30-year low, as a “photo op” that he was doing because his top communications advisers counseled him to do.

In Texas, he is expected to meet with Border Patrol officials who are being forced to work without pay because of the funding impasse.

The president has said he has reserved the option of declaring a national emergency to fund construction for the wall, perhaps the central promise that he made to his political base during his campaign, and bypassing a legislative solution.

The White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, is to accompany the president to Texas, according to a White House official who declined to be identified to discuss internal matters. Mr. Cipollone would be among those who would presumably provide a legal rationale should Mr. Trump declare an emergency.

.. “I didn’t say they’re going to write me a check for $10 billion or $20 billion,” Mr. Trump said on Thursday. “If Congress approves this trade bill, they’ll pay for the wall many times over. When I say Mexico’s going to pay for the wall, that’s what I mean.”

The new trade deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, does not stipulate that Mexico provide funds for the wall, and has not been approved by Congress.

.. The head of the Army Corps of Engineers traveled with Mr. Trump to Texas on Thursday. Redirecting funds from the Army’s construction agency to build the wall is one option Mr. Trump could use in a national emergency.

Mr. Trump said he had the legal authority to make the declaration. “This is a thing that the lawyers tell me is 100 percent,” Mr. Trump said.

If the president were to declare a national emergency, which some legal experts say is within his authority, it is sure to stoke debate in Congress.

To bolster his campaign for the wall, the president has also scheduled an interview with the Fox host Sean Hannity, who will broadcast his show Thursday night from McAllen. Mr. Hannity is one of the president’s highest-profile supporters and is highly influential among his political base.

No, Trump Cannot Declare an ‘Emergency’ to Build His Wall

If he did, and used soldiers to build it, they would all be committing a federal crime.

President Trump on Friday said that he was considering the declaration of a “national emergency” along the border with Mexico, which he apparently believes would allow him to divert funds from the military budget to pay for a wall, and to use military personnel to build it.

While it is hard to know exactly what the president has in mind, or whether he has any conception about what it would entail, one thing is clear: Not only would such an action be illegal, but if members of the armed forces obeyed his command, they would be committing a federal crime.

Begin with the basics. From the founding onward, the American constitutional tradition has profoundly opposed the president’s use of the military to enforce domestic law. A key provision, rooted in an 1878 statute and added to the law in 1956, declares that whoever “willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force” to execute a law domestically “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years” — except when “expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress.”

Another provision, grounded in a statute from 1807 and added to the law in 1981, requires the secretary of defense to “ensure that any activity (including the provision of any equipment or facility or the assignment or detail of any personnel)” must “not include or permit direct participation by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law.”

In response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, Congress created an express exception to the rules, and authorized the military to play a backup role in “major public emergencies.” But in 2008 Congress and President Bush repealed this sweeping exception. Is President Trump aware of this express repudiation of the power which he is threatening to invoke?

The statute books do contain a series of carefully crafted exceptions to the general rule. Most relevantly, Congress has granted the Coast Guard broad powers to enforce the law within the domestic waters of the United States. But there is no similar provision granting the other military services a comparable power to “search, seize and arrest” along the Mexican border. Given Congress’s decision of 2008, this silence speaks louder than words. Similarly, the current military appropriations bill fails to exempt military professionals from criminal punishment for violating the law in their use of available funds.

It is, I suppose, possible to imagine a situation in which the president might take advantage of the most recent exception, enacted in 2011, which authorized the military detention of suspected terrorists associated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban. But despite President Trump’s unsupported claims about “terrorists” trying to cross the border, it is an unconscionable stretch to use this proviso to support using the military for operations against the desperate refugees from Central America seeking asylum in our country.

It is even less plausible for the president to suspend these restrictions under the National Emergencies Act of 1976. From the Great Depression through the Cold War, presidents systematically abused emergency powers granted them by Congress in some 470 statutes, culminating in the Watergate fiasco. In response, the first section of the 1976 act terminated all existing emergencies and created a framework of checks and balances on the president’s arbitrary will.

If President Trump declared an emergency, Section Five of the act gives the House of Representatives the right to repudiate it immediately, then pass their resolution to the Senate — which is explicitly required to conduct a floor vote within 15 days. Since President Trump’s “emergency” declaration would be a direct response to his failure to convince Congress that national security requires his wall, it is hard to believe that a majority of the Senate, if forced to vote, would accept his show of contempt for their authority.

The Supreme Court’s 1953 decision in Youngstown v. Sawyer would be critical in Congressional consideration of such a decision. In a canonical opinion by Justice Robert Jackson, the court invalidated President Truman’s attempt in 1952 to use his powers as commander in chief to nationalize steel mills in the face of labor strikes. The decision imposed fundamental constitutional limits on the president’s power to claim that a national emergency — in this case, the Korean War — allowed him to override express provisions preventing him from using those powers domestically.