I’m imagining Andrew McCabe watching this clip, having just spent a day being told that the 25th Amendment should be reserved for cases of mental incompetence, and thinking, “Exactly.”
We don’t need to get into why this is a damaging thing for him to admit, right? We all graduated from fourth grade. Suffice it to say, George Conway’s probably correct that “I didn’t need to do this” will be the first line of every complaint filed in court against Trump’s emergency declaration.
"I could do the wall over a longer period of time," Pres. Trump says.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 15, 2019
There are two ways a court might attack his new executive order. One is on the law, imposing some sort of constitutional limit on the president’s power to declare emergencies when it’s clear that Congress opposes him doing so. The other is on the facts, i.e. even assuming for argument’s sake that the president can declare an emergency over Congress’s objection, the particular facts in this case don’t support the finding that an emergency exists. Courts prefer not to issue sweeping rulings about constitutional powers if they can avoid it, so now that Trump’s handed them a handy factual argument against his case — by his own admission the situation at the border wasn’t so urgent that he had no choice but to act when he did — they’ll probably rule against him on those grounds instead of on separation-of-powers grounds.
But we’ll see. Philip Klein thinks Trump’s point about speed in the clip can be used to bolster his emergency case. If it wasn’t an emergency, he wouldn’t be in a hurry, right? I think that’s undermined by the part where Trump says he “didn’t need to do this” but certainly Klein’s take is how the DOJ will try to spin the comment.
Why did Trump declare an emergency, anyway, when he might have achieved the same thing by using other forms of executive action and thereby avoided an attempt by Congress to override his declaration? This line from WaPo stopped me cold: “Yet for Trump, the negotiations were never really about figuring out how to win. They were about figuring out how to lose — and how to cast his ultimate defeat as victory instead.” I think that’s right. And if the point ultimately was more about saving face than securing a meaningful policy win, an emergency declaration does make more sense. It’s bold (“Trump liked the idea of declaring a national emergency because it’s the maximalist, most dramatic option,” notes Axios) and it reflects the right’s belief that illegal immigration is a genuine national crisis. Trump was afraid of looking weak in front of his base if he declined to choose the emergency route, notes a different WaPo story. Might as well go big. It’s not like the pipsqueaks in the Senate are going to vote to stop him.
There’s one glaring problem with an emergency decree, though, that Nate Silver noticed:
Silver’s been beating the drum for weeks now that Trump’s “all base, all the time” strategy is wrecking his chances of reelection. The reason is that the middle is the only slice of the electorate whose views of him ever change. The right loves him unconditionally and supports everything he does. (Sorry, Ann.) The left hates him just as unwaveringly. Follow the link to Silver’s post and you’ll find a table demonstrating just how rigid Trump’s approval was among Republicans and Democrats even during the shutdown. The only group where the needle ever moves is independents. If he can figure out a way to win more of them over, he’s suddenly in good shape for 2020. If instead he keeps doubling down on ideas that the right loves but which indies dislike, like an emergency decree to build the wall, he could be cooked. If righties outnumbered lefties in the electorate, victory might be a simple matter of turning out the base. But they don’t and it isn’t, as the midterms just proved. And no matter who Trump faces next year, that person’s bound to be a less juicy target for political attacks than Hillary Clinton was.
You don’t need to take it from Silver, though:
Trump's 'base-only' strategy can't win him MI, PA, WI again. D's now equally (or more) energized. Key swing demo in 2020 are the "ambivalent" voters who hated both Trump & Clinton in 2016.https://t.co/RP2sHXLG2O
— amy walter (@amyewalter) February 15, 2019
Follow the link in her tweet and read Walter’s piece about what Trump is up against in the midwest. The secret to his success in 2016, she notes, was much stronger enthusiasm among his fans than among Hillary’s plus feelings of ambivalence towards *both* nominees among less partisan voters. That enthusiasm gap will close next year thanks to Democrats’ eagerness to defeat him, though, and unpopular measures like an emergency decree for the wall do him no favors among the “ambivalent” segment. He’s governing as though his approval rating were 55 percent instead of 43. That’s the only explanation for why he’d wait until after his party lost total control of Congress to pick a fight on the wall, force an unpopular shutdown over it, prolong the political agony by giving Congress a few weeks to negotiate a deal that was bound to disappoint, and now finally resolve the standoff with an even more unpopular emergency decree. Even as a base strategy it’s failed. Some border hawks like Coulter are irate that he agreed to sign such a weak bill and some conservatives are irate at how he’s stepping on separation of powers. What a fiasco.
And the fact that it would end in a fiasco, if perhaps not this precise fiasco, was foreseeable from the start.
Here’s Trump giving Coulter the “Ann who?” treatment even though she helped write his immigration plan as a candidate. By the way, a bill is already brewing in the House that would overturn Trump’s emergency declaration. Guess who’s behind it.
Trump "doesn't even know" Coulter pic.twitter.com/dklyAItV1G
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) February 15, 2019