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Trump just signed a border security deal and declared a national emergency

Here’s why he’s doing both at the same time.

Donald Trump Holds MAGA Rally In El Paso To Discuss Border Security
US President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the El Paso County Coliseum on February 11, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. 
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

President Donald Trump has officially signed a spending bill that will keep the government funded until September, while also declaring a national emergency in order to obtain funding for his border wall.

Trump on Friday signed a package of seven spending bills that will fund nine federal departments including Transportation, Agriculture, and Homeland Security, narrowly averting another government shutdown. He also moved ahead with a national emergency declaration, a move that will enable him to tap into money from other military construction projects in order to fund a wall.

“We’re going to confront the national emergency along the southern border, not just because it’s a campaign promise,” Trump said, acknowledging that his effort would be met with a swift legal challenge.

The spending package, which House and Senate negotiators released late Wednesday evening, includes $1.375 billion in funding for physical barriers along the border but no money for a concrete border wall. Instead, the money for barriers will be used for “bollard fencing,” the equivalent of the “steel slats” that Trump has been touting in recent months.

Why is Trump agreeing to sign the spending package and declaring a national emergency?

It’s clear that a government shutdown is a political loser for Trump, after the recent one proved disastrous for his approval ratings — but he also fears criticism from his conservative base, who say he hasn’t done enough to deal with what he says is a crisis at the southern border.

By signing the spending bill and declaring a national emergency, he can prevent another shutdown, while also claiming to live up to his campaign promise of building a border wall.

The spending bill, even though it offers some money toward fencing along the southern border, offers far less than the $5.7 billion that Trump has requested for his wall. Republicans, in an effort to spin the deal more positively, have framed the $1.375 billion figure as a “down payment” for wall construction. And Trump is now declaring a national emergency as a way to get another $6.5 billion for the project.

Via the national emergency declaration, Trump will be able to tap into funds otherwise dedicated to drug interdiction and military construction projects, and redirect them to border wall construction.

The national emergency move isn’t a clean win for Trump

Trump’s attempts to access funding sources for wall construction via a national emergency declaration are expected to prompt legal challenges and questions regarding whether such an action clashes with Congress’s jurisdiction over appropriations.

Interestingly enough, Democrats could mount a lawsuit against the White House using logic similar to that used by House Republicans in a 2015 lawsuit against the Obama administration, when officials attempted to use federal funds that had not been approved by Congress to pay out insurers under the Affordable Care Act. In that case, a federal judge ruled that Republicans had the grounds to sue the White House because its efforts infringed on Congress’s power of the purse.

Congressional Republicans have also expressed concerns that such a move would set a precedent for Democrats to use national emergencies to fund their policy priorities in the future.

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