Yesterday I pointed out that California Gov. Gavin Newsom is defying Trump and is pulling National Guard troops from dog-and-pony show border duty, in order to serve other, far more useful purposes. The Trump regime's retaliation today was lightning-swift: California will now foot the bill for Trump's wall as we head towards another Friday shutdown deadline.
The White House is firming up plans to redirect unspent federal dollars as a way of funding President Donald Trump’s border wall without taking the dramatic step of invoking a national emergency.
Done by executive order, this plan would allow the White House to shift money from different budgetary accounts without congressional approval, circumventing Democrats who refuse to give Trump anything like the $5.7 billion he has demanded. Nor would it require a controversial emergency declaration.
The emerging consensus among acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and top budget officials is to shift money from two Army Corps of Engineers’ flood control projects in Northern California, as well as from disaster relief funds intended for California and Puerto Rico. The plan will also tap unspent Department of Defense funds for military construction, like family housing or infrastructure for military bases, according to three sources familiar with the negotiations.
“There are certain sums of money that are available to the president, to any president,” Mulvaney said on “Meet the Press” Sunday. “So you comb through the law at the president's request ... And there's pots of money where presidents, all presidents, have access to without a national emergency.”
But the strategy is far from a cure-all for a president with no good options, and it has already sparked debate within the White House. Moving funds by executive order is virtually certain to draw instant court challenges, with opponents, including some powerful members of Congress, arguing the president is encroaching on the legislative branch’s constitutional power to appropriate funds.
Some Trump officials, including those aligned with senior adviser Stephen Miller, have argued internally that the gambit might be even more vulnerable to court challenges than a national emergency declaration. And in a sign of the political fallout, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee has argued that tapping military construction money would hurt the armed forces’ potential readiness.
Until now, Trump officials had focused on the drawbacks of a possible national emergency declaration. But as the alternative option of moving money by executive order has come into clearer relief ahead of a Feb. 15 deadline for a spending deal with Congress that could avert a new government shutdown, so have the risks of that alternative option.
“It will create a firestorm, once you start taking money that congressmen think is in their districts,” said Jim Dyer, a former staff director for the House Appropriations Committee. “You will cause yourself a problem if that money was directed away from any type of project or activity because I guarantee it has some constituency on Capitol Hill.”
It's funny that Republicans in Congress are uneasy about Trump doing this. He all but promised to make California and Puerto Rico lose federal disaster funding and in fact Trump has threatened California multiple times before when Jerry Brown brought up the subject of removing National Guard troops from the border late last year, and Brown folded his hand. But Newsom giving Trump the finger this week apparently had made up Trump's mind for him.
Trump's empty threats may not be so empty after all, but the question is will the Roberts Court let him get away with it?
We may find out.