The White House on Sunday defended President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to thwart illegal immigration even though he said he didn’t need to do it.
“He could choose to ignore this crisis, but he chose not to,” Trump adviser Stephen Miller, an immigration hardliner, told Fox News Sunday.
Miller assailed former Republican President George W. Bush for an “astonishing betrayal” of the U.S. nearly two decades ago when four times as many illegal migrants were entering the United States as now. But Miller said the “bottom line” is that “you cannot conceive of a strong nation without a secure border.”
He said Trump’s action is “defending our own borders.” He illegal immigration “is a threat in our country.”
Miller said Trump’s actions were justified under a 1976 law giving presidents authority to declare national emergencies, although none of the 59 declared since then has involved instances when a president has attempted to override congressional refusal to approve funding for a specific proposal.
Trump declared the national emergency on Friday to circumvent Congress, which had refused his request for $5.7 billion in wall funding, even as it approved $1.375 billion for barriers along about 90 kilometers of the 3,200-kilometer border. Trump plans to tap more than $8 billion in government funds authorized for other projects the build the wall, although lawsuits challenging the action are already being filed to block his transfer of money.
Miller said more than 320 kilometers of the border wall would be built by the end of September 2020, just weeks before Trump stands for re-election to a second four-year term.
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he thinks he has “a lot of discretion” in deciding which funds previously allocated for defense needs can instead be used to build a border wall. “You can trust the numbers in terms of the potential. Then you gotta marry it up with where the money would be spent.” But he said money designated for military housing would not be spent on the wall.
Trump said he declared the national emergency because he was unhappy with the amount of money Congress authorized.
“I want to do it faster,” he said. “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.”
Trump’s staunchest critics, including Democrats who have announced they are running against him next year and other lawmakers, have attacked his national emergency declaration as an end-run around the constitutional provision that U.S. funding authorization lies with Congress and noted that he said that he did not need to take action.
Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN, “If we give away, if we surrender the power of the purse… there will be little check and no balance left. It’ll not be a separation of powers anymore, just a separation of parties.”
Journalist Bob Woodward, who chronicled the first year of the Trump presidency in a best-selling book called “Fear,” told Fox News he believes Trump made the national emergency declaration because “he looks strong. He looks tough to lots of people.”
Trump centered much of his successful 2016 campaign for the White House on a vow to build the wall and make Mexico pay for it. He long since abandoned direct payment from Mexico, when its leaders rejected the idea, and instead sought congressional approval of the U.S. taxpayer funding.