WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump would be taking an extraordinary step by declaring a national emergency to steer money to his promised border wall. He’s making it sound quite ordinary.
“You know, we already have national emergencies out there. You know, President Obama, President Clinton, President Bush — they’ve declared many national — this is not unique. They’ve declared many national emergencies. Many, many.” — remarks at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday
The emergency action Trump has been contemplating would be rare. The presidents he cites did not use emergency powers to pay for projects that Congress wouldn’t support.
Emergency declarations by Obama, Bush and Clinton were overwhelmingly for the purpose of addressing crises that emerged abroad. Many blocked foreign interests or terrorist-linked entities from access to funds. Some prohibited certain imports from or investments to countries associated with human rights abuses.
“It’s extremely rare for a president to declare a national emergency in a bid to fund domestic construction projects, particularly one that Congress has explicitly refused to fund,” said Andrew Boyle, an attorney in the national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The ones that former presidents declared are of a different sort.”
With Congress unwilling to give Trump anything close to the $5.7 billion he wants to build a portion of the border wall, the White House has made clear that he would seek money from other sources, whether with an emergency declaration or by other means.
Altogether, Clinton declared 17 national emergencies, Bush, 13, and Obama, 12, according to a list compiled by the Brennan Center .
The Brennan Center has tracked 58 emergency declarations back to 1978, of which 31 remain in effect.
Obama’s emergency declarations were aimed at blocking property of “certain persons” involved in crises abroad — Ukraine, Burundi, Venezuela, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Yemen, and Libya, among other countries. He also used the declarations to punish the Russian government and transnational organizations.
His only declaration not centered on foreign interests came in 2009, when he declared a national emergency to deal with the H1N1 flu pandemic.
Bush and Clinton were similarly focused on foreign crises in their declarations. Clinton used one to prohibit transactions with the Taliban in 1999; Bush issued several in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Associated Press researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.