Public Citizen: Trump’s National Emergency Declaration Paves Way for Sweeping Authoritarianism

FEBRUARY 15, 2019

With one day left to pass a government spending bill before today’s midnight deadline to avert another government shutdown, both the House and Senate passed the measure Thursday that came out of the bipartisan conference committee earlier this week. The bill includes nearly $1.4 billion to build 55 miles of new border barriers out of steel, far less than the $5.7 billion requested by President Trump. Democrats quickly condemned the news, and consumer rights nonprofit Public Citizen vowed legal action against him. We speak with Public Citizen President Robert Weissman.

Mexico border wall: Trump faces fight in the courts

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President Trump faces legal challenges to his decision to use emergency powers to build a wall on the US border with Mexico.

California and New York said they would take legal action to challenge his move to bypass Congress and secure funding for the project.

Building the wall was a key pledge of Mr Trump’s campaign.

Democrats said it was a “gross abuse of power” and vowed to contest it “using every remedy available”.

On Friday, Mr Trump signed the emergency declaration along with a spending bill aimed at preventing a repeat of a recent government shutdown.

Declaring an emergency could give him access to billions of dollars. Mr Trump announced the plan after Congress refused funding for the wall.

Within hours, the first legal challenge against the declaration of national emergency was launched.

A liberal advocacy group, Public Citizen, sued on behalf of a nature reserve and three Texas landowners who have been told the wall may be constructed on their properties.

How have Democrats responded?

Governor Gavin Newsom of California dismissed the president’s decision as “political theatre”.

“He’s been embarrassed, and his base needs to be fed,” he told reporters.

“Fortunately, Donald Trump is not the last word. The courts will be the last word,” he added.

New York state’s Democratic attorney general, Letitia James, said the state would not “stand for this abuse of power and will fight back with every legal tool at our disposal.”

Activist group Rise And Resist in New York City put out a call for a demonstration at the Trump Hotel in Columbus CircleDemocrats have described the national emergency as “made up”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it would file a lawsuit in the coming days to curb “this blatantly illegal executive action”.

On Friday the two most senior Democrats – House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democrat leader Chuck Schumer – said they would challenge the “power grab by a disappointed president” in Congress and in the courts.

Ms Pelosi also seized on a remark by Mr Trump in response to a question from a reporter, in which he said he “didn’t need to do this”.

Analysts suggest that this remark could undermine Mr Trump’s case that the country is facing an emergency.

What did Mr Trump say?

Making the announcement in the White House Rose Garden, the president said the emergency would allow him to get almost $8bn for the wall.

This is still considerably short of the estimated $23bn cost of the wall along almost 2,000 miles (3,200km) of border.

Mr Trump accepted that he would be sued for the move, and predicted that the emergency order would lead to legal action which was likely to end up in the Supreme Court.

Senator McConnell supports the president; Speaker Pelosi warns it sets a dangerous precedent

“We’re going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border,” he said.

“Everyone knows that walls work.”

Later, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, told reporters that Mr Trump’s move “creates zero precedent”.

“This is authority given to the president in law already. It’s not as if he just didn’t get what he wanted so he’s waving a magic wand and taking a bunch of money,” he said.

Presentational grey line

Dangerous precedent

By Jon Sopel, BBC North America editor

The trouble with going nuclear is there is fall-out. This has been presented as a predictably partisan issue.

On one side of the wall, Republicans; on the other side Democrats. But by going nuclear the president has made it more complicated than that. There are a lot of Republicans – in the Senate and in the House – deeply uneasy about what Mr Trump is doing.

Why? Because the constitutional arrangement of the US is that Congress – not the president – controls the purse strings and allocates funds.

This is a major land grab by the president. It undermines their position and sets a very dangerous precedent.

Presentational grey line

Can Congress stop Trump’s emergency move?

The National Emergencies Act contains a clause that allows Congress to terminate the emergency status if both houses vote for it – and the president does not veto.

With a comfortable majority in the House, Democrats could pass such a resolution to the Senate. The Republicans control the Senate, but a number of Republican senators have been vocal in their unease about the president invoking a national emergency.

Chart: Apprehensions on the US-Mexico border were at their lowest in 2017 since 2000

The dissenting Republicans include 2012 presidential contender and new senator for Utah Mitt Romney, Florida senator Marco Rubio, and the senator from Maine Susan Collins, who said the move was of “dubious constitutionality”.

The resolution would however still require Mr Trump’s signature to pass, allowing him to veto it. A supermajority in both houses of Congress is needed to overturn a presidential veto.

What is a national emergency?

The National Emergencies Act is intended for times of national crisis. Mr Trump has claimed that there is a migration crisis at the nation’s southern border – a claim strongly refuted by migration experts.

The largest number of illegal migrants settling in the US each year is those who stay in the country after their visas expire.

Declaring a national emergency would give the president access to special powers that effectively allow him to bypass the usual political process, and he would be able to divert money from existing military or disaster relief budgets to pay for the wall.

Chart: There are 31 ongoing national emergencies

Emergency declarations by previous presidents have been overwhelmingly used for addressing foreign policy crises – including blocking terrorism-linked entities from accessing funds or prohibiting investment in nations associated with human rights abuses.

Where will the money come from?

On Friday, Mr Mulvaney said the $8bn would be made up of:

  • $1.4bn from the agreed budget
  • $600m from cash and assets seized from drug traffickers
  • $2.5bn from a defence department anti-drug trafficking fund
  • $3.5bn reallocated from military construction projects

The latter is the biggest amount and the relevant statute allows a president to divert funds for projects that “require use of the armed forces”. This is almost certain to bring a legal challenge.

A congressional aide told ABC News projects that could be cancelled include constructions at Guantanamo Bay, a military school in Japan and special forces facilities in North Carolina.

Poor living conditions for military families have become a concern but a Pentagon spokesman, Bill Speaks, insisted “military family-housing projects will not be affected”.

Trump officials also said that projects affecting force-readiness would not be compromised.

Mr Trump said military officials had told him the wall was more important and that what he was told would be cut “didn’t sound too important to me”.

FBI: Spike in US hate crimes for third year in a row: Three Years of Hate in the land of the Free.

a memorial for the Jews killed in Pittsburgh 11 worshippers were killed in the deadliest attack against Jews in US history

Hate crimes in the US rose by 17% in 2017, the third straight year that incidents of bias-motivated attacks have grown, according to the FBI.

Law enforcement agencies reported 7,175 hate crimes last year compared with 6,121 in 2016.

The rise in hate crimes is attributed to an increase of about 1,000 police departments that are now choosing to report these incidents, the FBI says.

The report found the surge especially affected black and Jewish Americans.

Of the reported attacks in 2017, 2,013 were aimed at African Americans and 938 were against Jewish Americans.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker called the report a “call to action” and condemned the offences as “despicable violations of our core values as Americans”.

What did the report find?

According to the report, 59.6% of incidents were motivated by bias against race, ethnicity or ancestry.

Crimes motivated by a victim’s religion constituted 20.6% of attacks, and crimes against a person’s sexual orientation made up 15.8%.

The FBI definition of a hate crime is a “criminal offence against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity”.

The 2017 data notes that about 5,000 of the crimes were directed against people through intimidation or assault.

Around 3,000 were targeted at property, which includes vandalism or burglary.

Crimes against Sikhs, Hindus and Arabs were not counted prior to 2015.

BBC spoke to a Muslim-American couple targeted by an abusive caller

Crimes against Jewish Americans saw a notable increase of 37% over 2016.

Jews have long been the highest targeted religion, as the acting attorney general noted in his statement.

The new report comes a month after 11 Jews were killed by a gunman that burst into their synagogue in Pittsburgh as they prayed, marking the deadliest attack against Jews in US history. The suspect was charged with dozens of federal hate crimes.

Crimes against African Americans constituted 2,013 crimes, marking a 16% increase over the previous year.

Muslim individuals were the target of 18.7% of religiously motivated hate crimes, which was a drop of 6% from 2016.

What is the reaction?

Civil rights advocates say the numbers are vastly under-reported because of individual victims that choose not to come forward, and some police agencies that do not keep accurate statistics or do not contribute them to the study.

Jonathan Greenblatt of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, said the report “provides further evidence that more must be done to address the divisive climate of hate in America.

Pittsburgh survivor Rabbi Doris Dyen: ‘I’m broken and I can’t pray’

“That begins with leaders from all walks of life and from all sectors of society forcefully condemning anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate whenever it occurs.”

Civil rights organisation the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) said the findings were “shocking” and “requires Congress’s full attention”.

The Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil liberties organisation, expressed alarm at the “increase of bigotry and hate”.

“This is the third year where we witness an increase in reported incidents of hate targeted at our most vulnerable populations. Between 2016 and 2017, CAIR-Chicago has received a 50% increase in reported incidents of discrimination,” said Deputy Director Sufyan Sohel in a statement.

“We can do better. We must do better.”

In his statement, Mr Whitaker said: “The Department of Justice’s top priority is to reduce violent crime in America, and hate crimes are violent crimes.”

He shot at a mosque – and his life changed

“The American people can be assured that this department has already taken significant and aggressive actions against these crimes and that we will vigorously and effectively defend their rights,” he continued.

Hundreds of journalists condemn Trump’s ‘sustained’ media attacks

More than 200 journalists, mostly retired and semi-retired, released an open letter decrying Trump’s press attack.

On Thursday morning, Trump renewed his attacks on the press, taking to Twitter in an apparent attempt to blame the media for the spate of suspected bombs [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
On Thursday morning, Trump renewed his attacks on the press, taking to Twitter in an apparent attempt to blame the media for the spate of suspected bombs [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

More than 200 journalists, most of them retired or semi-retired, accused US President Donald Trump of a “sustained pattern” of attacking media in an open letter published a day after a spate of suspected pipe bombs were sent to CNN and several prominent Trump critics.

“Trump’s condoning of political violence is part of a sustained pattern of attack on a free press – which includes labeling any reportage he doesn’t like as ‘fake news’ and barring reporters and news organisations whom he wishes to punish from press briefings and events,” stated the letter, which was published on Thursday morning.

Lambasting Trump’s recent praise for a violent assault on a Guardian journalist, the letter went on to accuse Trump of undermining media freedoms and inciting violence against the press.

Among the signatories were former press workers for CNN, ABC and Los Angeles Times.

Starting with a suspected explosive device sent to the home of liberal billionaire philanthropist and financier George Soros, at least 10 packages containing pipe bombs have been mailed to prominent critics of Trump this week.

Other packages were addressed to former US President Barack Obama, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, US Congresswoman Maxine Waters, actor Robert Deniro and former CIA director John Brennan in care of CNN, among others.

The incident comes just two weeks before midterm elections, which are expected to be a referendum on Trump’s performance.

Blaming the press

On Thursday morning, Trump renewed his attacks on the press, taking to Twitter in an apparent attempt to blame the media for the spate of suspected bombs.

“A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” he tweeted.

“It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”

His comments were met with derision from CNN President Jeff Zucker, who charged the Trump administration with “a total and complete lack of understanding … about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media”.

Bill de Blasio, New York City’s mayor, described the string of packages as an “act of terror”.

“Don’t encourage violence, don’t encourage hatred, don’t encourage attacks on media,” he added without naming Trump.

“Unfortunately this atmosphere of hatred is contributing to the choices people are making to turn to violence.”

But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended Trump’s comments on Thursday morning. “Day in, day out, there is a negative tone,” Sanders told press outside the White House.

“You guys continue to focus only on the negative and there is a role to play.”

Since coming to office, Trump has been widely criticised by rights groups and press freedom organisations for his frequent criticism of the media.

After five press workers were killed by a shotgun-wielding man in Maryland in June, the US became the second most dangerous country for journalists during the first half of 2018, according to International News Safety Institute.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS