National emergencies generally aren't conditional, right?

With the government shutdown temporarily behind us, President Trump is essentially back to where he was in December. The government is open but will run out of funding again in a matter of weeks. He wants the wall/barrier built on the southern border but faces a new Democratic majority in the House that sees granting his request as a political implosion and doesn’t appear ready to give him more than a dollar. So are we doomed to another shutdown after February 15? According to the President, not necessarily. He’s indicating that he may be switching back to his previous position and planning to just declare a national emergency to arrange the funding and get wall construction underway. (Washington Times)

President Trump repeated his vow Friday to declare a national emergency on the southern border if Democrats refuse to grant his request for border wall funding over the next three weeks.

“We’ll work with the Democrats and negotiate and if we can’t do that, then obviously we’ll do the emergency, because that’s what it is,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. “It’s a national emergency.”

The president had appeared close to declaring an emergency at the border several weeks ago during the partial government shutdown. But he backed off the threat, saying it was likely to get tied up in court and he wanted to give Congress a chance to address his border security priorities.

Look, I want the wall built as much as the next person. (Provided the next person actually cares about border security and reducing illegal immigration.) Whether it’s a concrete wall, steel slats or a mountain of concertina wire, provided it initially covers the sections of the border where most illegal aliens sneak across, I’ll be a supporter. This is a project we’re capable of doing and it has the potential to make a substantial difference.

With all of that said, there’s something highly disturbing about the President’s threats to invoke a national emergency just to go around a recalcitrant Congress. We can argue all day about whether or not illegal immigration constitutes a National Emergency if you like. It’s an ambiguous term at best and is traditionally left to the opinion of the president as to what qualifies. There’s clearly an argument that our porous border could qualify.

The first of my two main arguments against Trump taking this path is the way he undermines his own argument and calls the seriousness of his opinion into question by playing this on again, off again gambit. Either the illegal immigration problem at the border is a national emergency or it isn’t. It can’t just be a national emergency if he doesn’t get the construction money he wants. If he’s examined the situation and determined that it meets the definition of a national emergency, just declare it now, let opponents of the plan challenge it in court and let the chips fall where they may. That’s probably what he should have done in December to begin with.

The second aspect of this that gives me pause is that declaring a national emergency at the border will lower the bar as to what qualifies as a national emergency. Others have brought this up before, but it bears repeating. What if President Kamala Harris (God forbid) or some other Democrat decides that gun violence is a national emergency and starts summarily confiscating guns? Perhaps climate change will be the next national emergency. Or the lack of integrated bathroom facilities for transgender Shih Tzus at dog kennels. Where does it stop?

I generally try to avoid slippery slope arguments, but the potential disasters waiting down the line from this one seem obvious. Surely there are some other clever ways to obtain construction funding than this.