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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)