The White House’s announcement Thursday that President Trump would claim emergency powers to build his border wall without congressional approval was a way out of the political crisis he created over shutting down the government. But while the move means the country will avoid another protracted shutdown, legal specialists warned that the long-term costs to American democracy could be steep.
As a matter of political reality, such a declaration permits Mr. Trump to keep the government open without losing face with his core supporters by surrendering to congressional Democrats on his signature issue. As a matter of legal reality, the proposal is likely to be bogged down in a court challenge, leaving any actual construction work based on emergency powers spending an uncertain and, at best, distant prospect.
But no matter what else happens, Mr. Trump’s willingness to invoke emergency powers to circumvent Congress is likely to go down as an extraordinary violation of constitutional norms — setting a precedent that future presidents of both parties may emulate to unilaterally achieve their own policy goals.