Historian Douglas Brinkley: National Emergency Another 'Unprecedented' Trump MomentPlay
The declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday to secure funding for a southern border wall represents "another one of those unprecedented Donald Trump moments," historian Douglas Brinkley says.
In the past, presidents like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt used emergency powers during wartime. But Trump's use of those powers to build a wall and fulfill a long-held campaign promise represents something altogether different, Brinkley tells Here & Now's Robin Young.
"Donald Trump simply got shot down in Congress, and wants to grab money and move it into a different kitty. The power of the purse belongs to Congress, not the White House," Brinkley says. "If he's lucky, it'll get to the Supreme Court, and there he might have a chance. But it's a lot of gambling and he's eating up a lot of oxygen on doing this sort of unprecedented end-run of Congress and the Constitution."
"Donald Trump loves the word power, the idea power, he likes mobilizing and marshaling his own power. The problem is he has really no sense of American history or Constitutional law."Douglas Brinkley
The White House, when asked if it could cite other occasions when national emergencies have been used by presidents to spend money without legislative approval, found just two examples: President George H.W. Bush in 1990 at the start of the Gulf War, and then later by his son President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Brinkley says the issue of Trump's emergency declaration ultimately comes down to power.
"Donald Trump loves the word power, the idea power, he likes mobilizing and marshaling his own power," Brinkley says. "The problem is he has really no sense of American history or Constitutional law. His whole business career has been as a gut player — that's done him well, you just make a decision. He sees this right now as a political problem."
Many have pointed to border security as a focus of the Trump administration insofar as the issue will resurface on the 2020 campaign trail, with the president positioning himself to once again make immigration a focal point of his platform. Brinkley says he sees such political maneuvering as a negative for the country more broadly.
"At least this way, [Trump] presents himself as a fighter on border security and he lives for another day, most likely in 2020, where I think this issue's going to be front and center yet again," Brinkley says. "They'll look for cases of a crime made by ... somebody from Central America on American soil, and try to use that as the law-and-order, control-our-own-borders message of the Trump re-election campaign."
Alex Ashlock produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.
This segment aired on February 18, 2019.