Our “Art of the Deal” president appears to have caved on the Southern border wall, and, thankfully, may accept a compromise that will avert another government shutdown on Friday.
Lawmakers from both parties have presented Donald Trump with a package that funds ways to secure the U.S.-Mexico border — including nearly $1.4 billion for 55 miles of fencing. While it is not the $5.7 billion he wanted for a wall, and not the 200 miles he sought to cover, it’s a start.
At this point, Trump could accept the deal and move on, reject it and declare a national emergency, or accept the deal and still declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress and tap into various pots of government money to fund his wall.
This is all risky, of course. An emergency is usually reserved for something unpredicted or a sudden crisis, such as tsunami or a terrorist attack. And the situation on the Southern border is something Americans have known about for decades. If Trump goes with the national emergency, citizens will have a few questions:
Where’s the money coming from? Trump could cobble together funds from various sources, including the budgets of the Pentagon, Homeland Security and Treasury, for instance. Often the military has money in reserve to respond to, say, a bridge collapse or a need to call up the National Guard. Still we must answer:
Who will build the wall? The Army Corps of Engineers, which erects dams during floods and helps manage our way out of true emergencies. But the corps would take years to get approvals and to agree to work off existing prototypes.
Who will stop this project? Probably the courts, as they have stopped other Trump measures like bans on immigrants or restrictions on so-called Dreamers. In addition, expect lawsuits from people who own land on the border that the government may seek under eminent domain. Expect environmentalists to sue as Trump will seek to end-run regulations. And expect Democrats in Congress to take legislative action to stop the transfer of funds.
If you think things in Washington are ugly now, just wait. Trump will soon hit new walls of opposition — the 2020 presidential race.
Tara D. Sonenshine is former U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. She advises students at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.