Lindsey Graham: There's no path to a deal on the wall in Congress. Time to declare a national emergency.

Wasn’t it yesterday that this guy was telling reporters that he wasn’t sure if an emergency declaration would even be legal? He’s *that* sure a day later? Sure enough to recommend that the president take a step as fateful as this?

Pelosi said earlier today that she thought Trump would face opposition from Republicans if he went the national emergency route. Apparently she’s been in a coma since 2015.

He won’t ever phrase it this way but this is him admitting that Trump’s shutdown fight was completely pointless. I can grudgingly understand why he wants an emergency declaration at this stage: It’s the only face-saving way to end the standoff, and the standoff has been about nothing more or less than “face” all along. Trump foolishly thought Pelosi might blink, she wouldn’t, so now he needs to re-open the government without admitting defeat. The declaration lets him do that. But if we’re going to go this route, Graham should at least note how ill-conceived the strategy was and how terrible the precedent is of using emergency powers to resolve legislative/executive stalemates on policy.

He won’t, though. Because Graham’s never been squeamish about setting horrible authoritarian precedents in the name of national security.

Anyway, plans are being made:

The White House has begun laying the groundwork for a declaration of national emergency to build President Trump’s border wall, including searching for unused money in the Army Corps of Engineers budget, two people with knowledge of the preparations said Thursday.

Trump has urged the Army Corps to determine how fast contracts could be signed and whether construction could begin within 45 days, according to one of these people, an official familiar with the deliberations who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe them.

The administration is specifically eyeing a disaster spending bill passed by Congress last year that includes $13.9 billion in funding that has been allocated but not actually spent for a variety of projects, according to the second person, a congressional aide who also requested anonymity.

That $13.9 billion was set aside for things like post-storm reconstruction of Puerto Rico and flood prevention in California, in case you’re wondering how Democrats will use this to attack Trump going forward. Some Dems seem pretty chipper about it, though, like Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau:

A Democratic president could have tried to use emergency powers to do any or all of that whether or not Trump uses them for the wall. But they couldn’t have done it without strong, credible criticism from the right about executive overreach in the fight for public opinion. That’s gone now. The left has the green light.

CNNer Juliette Kayyem thinks Trump’s “emergency” construction will be far more modest in practice, if only because court challenges will prove too daunting otherwise. ABC reported a few days ago that “the current executive action under consideration as clearing the way for the construction of roughly 115 miles of new border wall strictly on land owned by DoD, which would make up roughly 5 percent of the more than 2,000-mile border.” So he might only build on federally owned land, at least to start?

It’ll take awhile to get started on building those 115 miles of wall and even longer to finish building them. And Trump’s unlikely to lose a court battle over his authority to command construction on natsec grounds on land managed by the Pentagon. For years to come he’ll be able to point to those 115 miles and say, truthfully, “The wall is being built!” It’ll be 1/20th of what he promised, but as long as he can tweet photos of steel slats going up he’ll be able to say in 2020, vaguely plausibly, that he kept his big campaign promise. Kayyem might be right that that’s how this ends. In the meantime:

Right. The evidence of a true national emergency is so thin here that he’ll probably lose in court on that point. But he won’t lose face because he didn’t blink in the staredown with Pelosi and didn’t compromise on his wall demand. That’s what the standoff was about — proving commitment to the cause, not actually, you know, realizing the goals which the cause was ostensibly organized to achieve. An emergency declaration does that, if nothing else.

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David Strom 8:41 PM on January 30, 2023