The debate over whether US President Donald Trump was justified in calling a national emergency has been a hotly-contested one.
But Mr Trump may have just settled the discussion himself — by publicly stating it wasn’t actually necessary to do so.
“I didn’t need to do this,” he told reporters shortly before signing a proclamation to declare the emergency.
He was responding to a question from NBC’s Peter Alexander, who noted Mr Trump criticised former president Barack Obama in 2014 for using executive orders to enact his immigration agenda.
“I could do the wall over a longer period of time,” Mr Trump said in response. “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.”
The candid contradiction isn’t merely a “gotcha!” moment. It could actually be used against the President in a legal sense by those seeking to challenge his grounds to call a national emergency over the border.
According to USA Today, legal proceedings have already been filed in response to the declaration by two separate watchdog groups.
Under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, presidents have the broad authority to declare a national emergency and bypass Congress.
But according to legal experts, Mr Trump now has to justify the declaration by proving it is “essential to the national defence” by pointing out which of the more than 120 statutes are actually triggered by a national emergency.
University of Alabama law professor Joyce Alene described his statement as “a gift to all the lawyers preparing to sue him”.
Trump, questioned by @PeterAlexander, concedes there’s no national emergency to justify building his wall. “I didn’t need to do this.” “I just want to do it faster.” A gift to all the lawyers preparing to sue him.
— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) February 15, 2019
Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe said it was quite likely Mr Trump’s words would be used against him.
“He’s certainly made it easier to challenge what he’s doing,” he told MSNBC’s Katy Tur. “You can be sure that’s going to be in every one of the challenges that is brought against him.”
He also compared the declaration unfavourably with previous national emergency calls, concluding “the only emergency is that he was basically a bad negotiator”.
“There have been emergencies in the past — real ones — like the threatened strikes that were going to prevent military equipment from getting to our troops in Korea,” Prof Tribe said. “When Truman tried to deal with that by seizing the steel mills the Supreme Court told him no, that he needs congressional authorisation.
“This time, not only does (President Trump) have direct congressional authorisation, but Congress rebuffed his request, and under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, no emergency has ever been used to spend money that Congress was asked to allow the president to spend and refused to allow him to spend.”
DEMOCRATS VOW TO FIGHT BACK
The Democrats have already vowed to take legal action, declaring they will use “every remedy available” to oppose Mr Trump’s declaration.
“Mr. President, how can this possibly be an national emergency if you’re saying you don’t need to do it? Unreal,” wrote Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Twitter.
“I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather to do it much faster.” —President @realDonaldTrump
Mr. President, how can this possibly be an national emergency if you’re saying you don’t need to do it?
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) February 15, 2019
The President’s unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist does great violence to our Constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently needed defense funds for the security of our military and our nation.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) February 15, 2019
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would take action “in the Congress, in the courts and in the public”.
“The Congress cannot let the President shred the constitution,” Ms Pelosi said.
“Donald Trump’s unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist does great violence to our constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently-needed defence funds for the security of our military and our nation.”
The White House has defended Mr Trump’s move and his choice of words, insisting the emergency is real.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller said Mr Trump meant he was “not going to ignore the border emergency”.
“What the President was saying is that like past presidents, he could choose to ignore this crisis, choose to ignore this emergency as others have,” he said. “That’s not what he’s going to do.”
He also said there had been an “increasing number of people crossing” and “a huge increase in drug deaths” since George W. Bush was president.
When asked to justify government statistics that show attempted crossings are at their lowest level in nearly 40 years, Mr Miller replied: “You don’t know what you don’t know, and you don’t catch what you don’t catch. But as a matter of national security, you cannot have uncontrolled, unsecured areas of the border where people can pour in undetected.”
Mr Trump evidently isn’t worried about being sued. “Sadly, we’ll be sued, and sadly, it will go through a process, and happily we’ll win,” he said.
The border wall has been a key pledge of Mr Trump’s since his first presidential campaign.
In his State of the Union address last week, Mr Trump doubled down on his push for funding, stating: “Now is the time for the Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.”