President Donald Trump inadvertently admitted the emergency declaration he’s considering about the situation on the southern border is all about politics on Wednesday, saying it’s “the people that are unreasonable” who will determine if he declares one.
Asked by a reporter why he didn’t declare a national emergency during his Oval Office speech on Tuesday night, Trump said, “because I think we might work a deal, and if we don’t, I may go that route.”
“I have the absolute right to do national emergency if I want,” Trump added.
The reporter followed up by asking the president what his “threshold” will be to declare one. But instead of citing the possibility that conditions could deteriorate at the southern border, Trump cited political considerations — rather than anything that’s happening on the ground.
“My threshold will be if I can’t make a deal with people that are unreasonable,” Trump said, alluding to Democrats who thus far have shown no sign of caving to his demand that more than $5 billion in wall funding be included in a government funding bill.
TRUMP: I have the absolute right to do national emergency if I want.— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) January 9, 2019
REPORTER: What’s your threshold for when you might make that decision?
TRUMP: My threshold will be if I can’t make a deal with people that are unreasonable.pic.twitter.com/8LwEQIIwji
Trump also didn’t do himself any favors during a press gaggle following a lunch meeting with Republican senators, when he again framed his emergency declaration decision in political terms.
Trump says he "may do" national emergency, then immediately undercuts his case for declaring one: "If Chuck & Nancy... if they don't agree to the fact that our country really has problems w/crime, with drugs, with a lot of other things...it's a bad issue for the Democrats." pic.twitter.com/ohNbGAwGyj— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 9, 2019
Trump has been floating a national emergency declaration, something he has broad legal authority to do, since this weekend. As the partial government shutdown is soon to become one of the longest in history, Trump said on Wednesday he’s still hopeful that funding for his border wall will be secured through a deal of some sort with congressional Democrats, but he left the door open to declaring a national emergency if that doesn’t happen.
While nobody doubts that the president has the power to declare a national emergency, whether he could use one to bypass Congress and build a wall along the southern border is a dicier question.
As Vox’s Emily Stewart detailed in her explainer about national emergencies, Trump would surely face stiff legal challenges if he goes this route. And the fact he admitted that his considerations are all about politics won’t help his case.
Ultimately, as my colleague Dara Lind has written, the idea that there is currently a “crisis” at the border is largely manufactured by the Trump administration. To the extent there is one, it’s largely a result of administration policies like “metering” asylum seekers or holding children in Border Patrol custody for days — issues that won’t be addressed by spending billions of dollars to build just over 200 miles of wall.
Still, hearing the president admit that he’s considering a national emergency for purely political reasons on camera during a White House event reflects how much Trump is making it up as he goes — sometimes to his own detriment.