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Constitutional crisis the only emergency

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Sixteen states celebrated Presidents Day on Monday by filing lawsuits against President Donald Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” on Saturday to justify spending up to $8 billion on a massive wall along the southern border that Congress refuses to fund.

The ironic timing of their action underscores the fact that the real national emergency in this country is a rogue president who has no respect for the U.S. Constitution he swore an oath to uphold and defend.

Last Friday, Congress passed a bipartisan appropriations bill to avert a midnight shutdown of the government similar to the 35-day shutdown Trump caused last December before Christmas because Congress would not give him $5.7 billion to fund a border wall.

The initial shutdown was a disaster politically for the president and his Republican allies and financially for more than 800,000 government workers who were either furloughed or forced to work unpaid. Trump, under pressure, reluctantly reopened the government and Congress spent three weeks negotiating the funding bill and the amount of money within that bill appropriate for border security.

Congressional budget negotiators ultimately came up with $1.6 billion to build or repair 55 miles of border wall, and that money was part of the funding bill Trump signed on Friday. These additional miles of wall brought the total of wall or fencing along America’s southern border to more than 770 miles, which expert say is more than enough to meet the need for security under current conditions.

But Trump had promised his shrinking base a much longer — and dramatically more expensive — border wall, and Saturday he said that what Congress would not provide, he would simply take from other legally appropriated funds meant for other projects. He said he would take as much as $8 billion to build his wall, including as much as $3.5 billion earmarked for rebuilding the American military worn down by years of war.

Trump, a serial liar of epic proportions with more than 8,000 falsehoods to his discredit, claims the U.S. is being overrun by immigrants and asylum-seekers along the southern border, resulting in exploding crime rates and massive amounts of drugs being smuggled into the country to cause America’s opioid drug crisis. That’s the basis for his wall.

Facts, however, don’t support his claims. Trump’s own administration reports that immigration is at its lowest point in years, that crime attributed to immigrants is lower than crime committed by native-born Americans, and that the drugs are being smuggled into the country by air or car through legal points of entry, not elsewhere. And areas where barriers are useful, experts say, already have them.

These aren’t partisan arguments; they are nonpartisan facts, a reality in stark contrast to the conservative fearmongering intended to scare American voters in supporting a boondoggle of immense proportions. Fortunately, polls show a vast majority of Americans are not fooled and do not want Trump’s wall of shame.

Even Trump, in his announcement and subsequent interviews, undercuts his own claims of an emergency. A national emergency is something so catastrophic or huge it requires an immediate action in response — a natural disaster, for instance, or military invasion. Trump announced “he didn’t need” to declare an emergency, just wanted the money to build walls faster. And if there was a real “crisis” at the border, putting up barriers requiring years to build is not exactly a timely emergency response.

The real national emergency is a constitutional crisis where the president is using a pretext to wrest away from Congress its role and authority in appropriating funds. The executive branch is only allowed to spend what Congress gives it to spend, with limited flexibility within set parameters. Presidents are not given blank checks to spend as they please, especially when Congress has specifically not approved what they want to do.

Trump is end-running Congress in a way that tremendously undercuts the constitutional boundaries our government depends upon, and causing harm to states where money has been legally appropriated. That’s why the states are filing lawsuits, why Congress is likely to pass resolutions of disapproval and why the courts have good reason to void Trump’s fake emergency money grabs.

The rule of law, the institutions we have created and the norms of political behavior are the foundation of our ability to govern ourselves. Partisan politics from anyone, and from Trump right now, can never be allowed to destroy that foundation and the American experiment it protects.

Ken Ripley is a resident of Spring Hope and The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.