February 15, 2019 / 6:15 PM / in a year

Breakingviews - Trump wall non-deal requires scraping for funds

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at El Paso County Coliseum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Donald Trump has started another war of sorts – this time at home. Congress rejected the U.S. president’s demands to fund a southern border barrier, so on Friday he declared a national emergency, a move that will face an array of legal challenges. It’s a messy non-deal considering Trump turned down a compromise providing $25 billion for his wall in 2018.

The wall on the border with Mexico was a centerpiece of Trump’s campaign and he has been searching for the money since he took office. Last March, Democrats were willing to cover the entire cost. But the president rejected the idea of providing a path to citizenship for 1.8 million so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to America as children, which was part of that deal.

Then in December his failure to get Congress to approve $5.7 billion in funding led to a 35-day partial government shutdown. To avoid another closure, Congress on Thursday approved a spending bill that included $1.4 billion for border security. Trump will sign that bill but also declared a national emergency. That in theory will allow him to divert some $6.7 billion from the Defense Department’s anti-narcotics programs and other sources.

Democratic congressional leaders called the move lawless and an abuse of presidential power, and some Republicans worry about the precedent, too. Furthermore, the emergency designation is questionable. For one thing, most illegal drugs come through legal ports of entry, which a wall wouldn’t stop. For another, the long-running political saga is hardly consistent with the implied urgency of Trump’s action.

Trump, whose name is on a book called “The Art of the Deal,” has had a tough time negotiating in other areas, like trade. He alienated Canada and Mexico by threatening to rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement, eventually finalizing a new deal with only minor changes. The administration’s tough stance and the imposition of tariffs on trade with China could also lead to a deal that lacks substantive changes from the situation before Trump took office.

In the meantime small businesses, consumers and corporations have been hurt by the additional costs and disrupted supply chains. The wall effort will surely create legal and political disruption, too. Trump’s dealmaking is looking far from artful.


Reuters Breakingviews is the world's leading source of agenda-setting financial insight. As the Reuters brand for financial commentary, we dissect the big business and economic stories as they break around the world every day. A global team of about 30 correspondents in New York, London, Hong Kong and other major cities provides expert analysis in real time.

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