March 28th, 2019

6 things to know about Trump’s national emergency

PoliticsSocial StudiesU.S.U.S. history

Directions: Read the summaries, watch the videos and answer the discussion questions below. If strapped for time, choose the video and questions that are most pertinent to your class. Times marked below.


1. The Democratic-controlled House fell short Tuesday in its effort to override President Donald Trump’s first veto, handing him a victory in his effort to spend billions more for constructing barriers along the Southwest border than Congress has approved.

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On Tuesday, March 26th, the House of Representatives failed to override Trump’s veto of a bill to block his national emergency declaration. The 248 lawmakers voting to override fell 38 short of a required two-thirds majority. The declaration still faces legal challenges. Meanwhile, members of both parties denounced Pentagon plans to allocate military funds to pay for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.


2. Okay, back up a bit. What’s the national emergency about again? On February 15, 2019, Trump declared a national emergency in an effort to secure funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.


In early February, the longest government shutdown in U.S. history ended when Trump signed a bill by Congress which provided $1.5 billion for a barrier along the southern border. The president, who has been pushing for $5.7 billion dollars for a border wall, declared a national emergency to circumvent Congress’ approval for more funding. Click here to learn more about previous national emergencies.


3. The Trump administration is using data to validate claims that there is an emergency at the border, but members of Congress from both parties as well as immigration and public policy experts disagree.


According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), there has been an increase in the number of drug seizures since 2017, but the 2018 Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) report reveals that much of the heroin, cocaine and Fentanyl passed through legal ports of entry, not through illegal border crossings. There has also been a persistent decline in the number of arrests of people trying to cross the border without authorization  since 1997, according to U.S. Border Control. Click here to learn more about the numbers.


4. On February 26, 2019, the House of Representatives passed a resolution of disapproval of the President’s emergency declaration. Watch these varying viewpoints expressed during a House committee hearing by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I.


Under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, Congress was given a legislative check, allowing it to take up a resolution to end a presidential national emergency. 

As for Trump’s current national emergency declaration, the House voted 245 to 182 to end the emergency. A total of 13 Republicans voted with the House majority Democrats for the resolution.


5. The Senate held their vote on the resolution to end the national emergency on Thursday, March 14th. It passed. (Note: a resolution has to pass both houses of Congress in order for the president to sign it into law.) Trump then vetoed the legislation. 

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The National Emergencies Act requires the Senate to vote on the measure within 18 calendar days. The vote scheduled for next week is expected to pass the Republican controlled-Senate. If the resolution is passed it will be the first time in U.S. history that Congress has attempted to check a president’s power to declare a national emergency. Click here to learn more about why Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, planned to vote in favor of the resolution to terminate the national emergency.


6. The President had the opportunity to veto the resolution, if it passed both houses, which is what he did.


President Trump had stated that he will use his veto power to shoot down the resolution. If the resolution is vetoed, it will go back to Congress where it will need a supermajority of votes to pass: a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate is 67 out of 100 senators; a two-thirds supermajority in the House is 290 out of 435 representatives. It did not get the votes; therefore, the national emergency declaration was upheld.


Discussion questions:


1. Essential question: Why did President Trump veto Congress’ resolution blocking his national emergency?


2. Why did President Trump declare a national emergency? What constitutes a national emergency, according to the National Emergencies Act of 1976?


3. Why did the House of Representatives fail to override Trump’s veto?


4. What does it mean if President Trump vetoes the resolution? Where is the administration currently looking for funding to build the wall?


5. Media literacy: If Republicans are for tighter border security including the addition of a border wall, why are some voting with Democrats to end the national emergency?


Sasha Strong contributed today’s “Top 5” and Extra’s Vic Pasquantonio edited. Sasha is the Gwen Ifill fellow with PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs and is earning her Master’s in journalism at Georgetown University. She is from Durham, North Carolina. 


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