WASHINGTON – Americans furious with President Donald Trump’s latest gambit for financing his long-promised border wall vented their frustrations Monday, gathering at protests across the country to denounce the president’s “fake emergency” and to demand that Congress stand up to his administration.
In Washington’s Lafayette Square, directly across the street from the White House, several hundred protesters brandished placards and chanted slogans as they used the President’s Day holiday to drive home their dismay – both with the commander-in-chief and Capitol Hill.
On Friday, Trump – desperate to secure billions in funding for a wall he initially promised Mexico would pay for – declared a national emergency at the southern border, giving him access to nearly US$7 billion in additional funding, including from the Department of Defense.
“It’s the first emergency I’ve ever heard of where you can plan for it three weeks in advance. It’s the first I’ve ever heard of where someone who called the emergency can leave to go golfing,” said Elizabeth Beavers, associate policy director with the progressive grassroots advocacy group Indivisible.
“I actually do think we have quite an emergency, and I think it lives over here,” she said, gesturing across Pennsylvania Avenue. “Donald Trump is the national-security crisis. He is the national emergency.”
Two years into an almost non-stop barrage of what’s-next revelations from perhaps the most unpredictable president in U.S. history, Trump was the main target of Monday’s ire: T-shirts emblazoned with “Impeach 45,” cardboard signs reading “Abuse of Power,” a placard designed in the image of Pink Floyd’s seminal 1979 album “The Wall” describing the president as “Comfortably Dumb.”
But many are also looking further up the street at Capitol Hill, where a newly elected Democrat majority in the House of Representatives is under mounting pressure to do more to hold Trump to account.
“For a really long time, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have gotten a little too comfortable letting presidents do things in the name of national security, without stepping up to assert their power and their privilege to dial that in,” said Beaver.
“We demand that Congress not sit idly by while a racist, xenophobic, unnecessary wall and deportation force is put forward in the name of our security. We reject that completely and we demand that Congress do the same.”
Trump made the declaration Friday as an end-run around Congress, which has provided $1.4 billion in border-security money – well short of his original demand for $5.7 billion for a physical barrier along the border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants, drugs and crime.
Democrats and some Republicans have denounced the move as a violation of the constitution and a flagrant abuse of executive power. The American Civil Liberties Union, the government of California and others have already promised swift legal action to fight Trump’s decision. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill plan a resolution to repeal it, although it’s likely to face a presidential veto.
Monday’s protests, co-ordinated by the non-profit advocacy group MoveOn.org, attracted more than 50,000 protesters to over 275 gatherings in cities and towns across the U.S., including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Houston, organizers said.
“The president, as it’s envisioned in our constitution, is a custodian for our democracy. … He serves we the people, not his own interests,” MoveOn congressional liaison Reggie Hubbard told Monday’s gathering.
“This president has consistently shown he has no regard for civil rights or the constitution. He shut down this government for a month to strong-arm us into building this racist wall, and what does he have to show for it? He dropped points in the polls.”
Trump, who has said he expects his declaration to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, appeared to undercut the sense of urgency by admitting he could take more time to build the wall.
“I didn’t need to do this but I’d rather do it much faster,” he acknowledged during Friday’s rollicking Rose Garden news conference.
Those comments have been misconstrued, presidential adviser Stephen Miller said Sunday in a Fox News interview.
“What the president was saying is, 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.”
California and 15 other states – including Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico – filed a lawsuit Monday against the declaration. Gov. Jared Polis and Attorney General Phil Weiser, both Democrats, said in a statement that the wall project could divert tens of millions of dollars from military construction projects in Colorado.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, decried the president’s actions at a peaceful rally attended by a few hundred people outside Los Angeles City Hall. Police kept the crowd separate from a handful of pro-Trump counter-protesters who waved flags and wore red “Make America Great Again” hats.
A large crowd also gathered outside the Federal Building in San Francisco. One demonstrator carried a sign that read: “Step 1: Declare a national emergency. Step 2: Play golf. Step 3: Watch SNL.”
A crowd of more than 100 protesters gathered in frigid weather at the state capitol in Denver roared with approval when Weiser told them his office was joining the multistate lawsuit, Denverite reported .
“There is zero real-world basis for the emergency declaration, and there will be no wall,” New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said in a statement.
– With files from The Associated PressNews from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2019