clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Trump has divided conservatives with the border security deal and national emergency declaration

Conservatives once railed against Obama’s use of executive power. Now, they’re split on Trump’s.

President Trump answers questions in the Rose Garden after declaring a national emergency on the US-Mexico border, on February 15, 2019.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency at the southern border to divert defense spending to build his border wall has split the conservative base.

Among the critics are one-time die-hard Trump supporters who think he’s accepting a raw deal on border security. The congressional spending deal puts $1.3 billion toward Trump’s border wall, limits the kinds of structures that could be built, and aims to reduce the number of detention beds available to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

They see Trump’s national emergency declaration as a political cover-up for a failure to negotiate with a divided Congress. Take Fox News personalities Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, who urged Trump to not sign the spending bill:

Others unhappy with Trump’s decision, however, include a contingent of conservatives — some who have long spoken against him — who think the Republican president is doing exactly what they railed against as an unprecedented abuse of executive power under President Barack Obama.

Rick Wilson, a conservative political strategist, captured this dynamic, warning his colleagues of the precedent Trump’s declaration could set.

Behind the scenes, Republican lawmakers have shared these concerns. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who now supports Trump’s emergency declaration on the border, two weeks ago said Congress would work to avoid a national emergency declaration, reportedly privately advising Trump against it.

But these same lawmakers have largely pushed aside this nervousness to support their president. Most of Trump’s defenders on Capitol Hill, like conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, have spent the last week saying “executive action” is the only way forward for Trump to get what he wants on immigration.

“Conservatives won’t be happy unless he takes other executive action,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) said of the compromise border security spending deal.

To best understand how much of a reversal this is for people like Meadows, read this 2014 statement from Meadows’s office after Obama announced an expansion for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program:

For six years President Obama has failed to lead on any meaningful immigration reform. Now, following a sweeping Republican victory on Election Day and just over a month before a new Republican Senate majority will take over, President Obama has announced a blatantly unconstitutional move to grant amnesty to at least 5 million illegal immigrants by executive order.

For years, President Obama has chastised Republicans, used immigrants as props for political purposes, and time and again deflected responsibility from his own party’s failure to act on immigration reform. Keep in mind that for the first two years of Obama’s presidency, Democrats controlled the House, Senate and White House -- yet he failed to pass immigration reform.

But that’s politics.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.