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Congress Reckons with Trump’s National Emergency Declaration

“A problem is not the same thing as an emergency,” said Brennan Center’s Elizabeth Goitein in a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

February 28, 2019

The Brennan Center’s Elizabeth Goitein urged members of Congress on Thursday to pass “common-sense reforms” to help prevent presidential emergency powers from being abused. This followed a House vote earlier this week to repudiate President Trump’s border wall emergency.

Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, testified in a hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee that focused on the laws governing national emergencies. Last December, Goitein wrote a seminal piece examining the legal framework for national emergencies in The Atlantic magazine.

In her testimony on Thursday, Goitein pushed for Congress to clarify its definition of a national emergency as an unexpected event that threatens pressing national interests, such as health or safety of Americans. She also suggested that an emergency declared by the president should end after a short, defined period of time, such as 30 days, unless Congress votes to continue it.

Earlier, on Tuesday, the House voted 245–182 to block Trump’s national emergency declaration, a move the president chose to make after Congress refused to provide funding for a wall on the southern border. It marked the first time Congress has voted on whether to annul an emergency declaration. The Senate is next to consider blocking the declaration, although it is unlikely that there will be a two-thirds majority in either chamber of Congress to override Trump’s expected veto.

(Image: Chip Somodevilla/Staff)