Happy Valentine’s Day. Your gift is a national emergency.
The new Attorney-General was sworn into office. The former FBI director said the Justice Department tried to remove the US President from office. Everyone skittered around buying flowers and chocolates.
As far as Thursdays go in Washington, February 14 was nothing to sneeze at.
And then the White House confirmed Donald Trump was set to sign a bill to avert another government shutdown AND declare a national emergency at the same time.
This could be a precedent-setting moment in US politics.
Expect a constitutional clash over which branch of government really has the “power of the purse”, which may well end up in the Supreme Court.
Remember when we talked about Mr Trump having his cake and eating it?
He’s helping avert another unpopular shutdown while refusing to give up on his border wall, which remains underfunded in the legislation.
What even is an ’emergency declaration’?
“First of all it’s not an emergency,” Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi responded, confirming Democrats may mount a legal challenge against the declaration.
And she said Mr Trump may have opened a Pandora’s box Republicans would live to rue.
“Just think of what a president with different values can present to the American people,” she said, referencing gun violence on the first anniversary of the Parkland high school shooting.
“Why don’t you declare that emergency, Mr President? I wish you would.”
In short, a 1974 act gives the president special powers to declare a national emergency and to redirect funds to deal with conflict, natural disasters and disease outbreaks.
None of that is unusual.
However in this case, Mr Trump is expected to argue illegal immigration constitutes a national emergency, allowing him to shift funding and resources from the likes of the Department of Defense to fund the wall.
Any legal challenge will test whether the situation on the border, which Mr Trump describes as a crisis, meets the “national emergency” criteria.
In fact, illegal cross-border migration fell to its lowest level ever in 2017, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Numbers in 2018 rose slightly but were still at the fifth-lowest level in 46 years.
The data also indicates if there is a crisis, it’s to do with the way illegal immigration from places like Honduras and Guatemala is handled.
Democrats will say it’s overreach while Republicans may shrug it off
“We’ll be reviewing our options,” Ms Pelosi said when pressed on the matter of bringing a legal challenge.
The judicial question could go all the way to the Supreme Court.
Congress does have the power to terminate an emergency declaration, and House Democrats have suggested they’d do just that.
But both chambers of Congress would need to approve the measure.
If the House passed a resolution, the Republican-controlled Senate would be forced into a tricky position.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who announced the news on the Senate floor, said he’d support Mr Trump’s emergency declaration.
Republicans have advised him against the move in the past.
Though this time around, some appear to be shrugging it off.
This may be because polling shows 64 per cent of Republican voters support an emergency declaration.
“Most Americans [66 per cent] are opposed to using a national emergency in order to build a border wall, but Republicans [64 per cent] — particularly conservatives [72 per cent] — are largely in favour of the President taking that action.”
Make no mistake, Mr Trump’s loyalists will be ecstatic about this and will interpret it as the President bulldozing opposition to deliver on a core promise.
That’s why they voted for him.
Back up a second, how did we get here?
Plainly this was front of mind when Mr Trump tweeted earlier today.
“Funding bill,” he wrote, without any other context, words, images or clues to how the heck he felt about it.
He deleted the tweet within a matter of seconds, alighting the internet with theories:
Among them was the silly-but-plausible idea he’d mistaken the social media site for a search engine.
“It’s not Google pops,” tweeted one wag.
Perhaps he was looking for a handy infographic summary. After all, the bill is 1,159 pages long, and Mr Trump doesn’t like to read.
He does like exclamation marks.
It’s also possible Mr Trump was turning to Twitter to learn how the bill was being praised, criticised and otherwise tossed about on the testy sea of 280-character takes.
He does like to test the market after all.
What’s most notable about the funding bill is the $US4 billion ($5.6 billion) that’s not there.
And that’s why the President has responded the way he has.
If he’d accepted it in isolation, even to avoid a shutdown, that would have looked weak.
The original 35-day shutdown was sparked by Mr Trump’s demand for $US5.7 billion ($8.03 billion) to build 320 kilometres of a “big beautiful wall”.
The bipartisan compromise contains $US1.375 billion for 88km of steel-post fencing.
To be clear, the legislation enacts pretty much the same deal the Democrats offered two months ago, when they pushed to avoid doing 800,000 federal and contract workers out of their pay cheques.
Actually, if you look at funding alone, it’s less than the deal the Democrats offered two months ago.
And it’s substantially less than the $US2.5 billion they offered during the shutdown.
It’s hard to call that a master class on deal-making.
A Fox News poll showed Ms Pelosi victorious over Mr Trump when it came to which leader looked stronger after the recent government shutdown.
Only 35 per cent said the President came out looking stronger.
Funding deal and emergency declaration combo a sucker punch
In Mr Trump’s mind he gets to avoid an unpopular shutdown, appeases his base and gets the wall.
If legal challenges stop it now, he’ll just blame the Democrats.
“Happy Valentine’s Day! All we need is love and chocolates, right?” Ms Pelosi said.
Something tells us the President has other things in mind.
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