Arkansas governor calls Trump’s border emergency declaration ‘worrisome’


Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday he was concerned about the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to grab funding for a border wall, bypassing the will of Congress.

“If you’re reprogramming money, taking money from one purpose Congress designated it to another purpose that Congress did not designate it, then that to me is worrisome from a constitutional perspective,” Hutchinson, a former Republican member of Congress, said.

Speaking at POLITICO’s State Solutions Conference, Hutchinson said drugs and undocumented immigrants coming across the southern border did constitute an emergency, but he did not frame the issue in the same terms as Trump.

The president has long used the notion of influxes of narcotics and human trafficking across the border to justify the construction of a physical barrier along the southern border. Trump’s own administration and numerous studies, however, have shown that most illegal traffic occurs at ports of entry and that a physical wall may have a marginal impact.

After a protracted showdown with Democrats in Congress that included feuding arguments, petty letters and the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Trump declared a national emergency last week to squeeze out funding for the wall. The emergency declaration prompted immediate pushback over its constitutionality: Trump’s critics argue using funds explicitly rejected for a given purpose impedes on Congress’ role controlling the nation’s purse strings. The White House retorts it is using money under its purview.

Hutchinson said it would be “much more defensible, much more constitutionally in line” for Trump to declare a national emergency if it were only a matter of Congress not putting adequate money toward border security. But the fact that Congress has explicitly rejected the more-than-$5 billion in funding Trump requested for the wall complicates the matter.

Hutchinson, a Bush-era head of the Drug Enforcement Agency and under secretary of homeland security for border and transportation security, said large groups of migrants coming from Central America did constitute both a humanitarian and national security crisis. He said under the George W. Bush administration, illegal border crossings also constituted an emergency, even though it was not formally declared.

In the early 2000s, border apprehensions were considerably higher than current rates, and Hutchinson credits the decline to smarter surveillance and increasing the number of border patrol agents. He did not mention how effective a physical wall would be in curbing illegal crossings.

“It is a matter of recognizing it’s a matter of national security — border security is — but secondly you’ve got to address it in the right way to make progress and put the resources there,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson also said Friday that he admired some of Trump’s other achievements, including his appointments to the Supreme Court and the devolution of federal regulations to the states. Still, Hutchinson said he had disagreements with Trump’s style and rhetoric, though he conceded Trump has used it to effectively connect with his base.

“We need to be careful what we say,” the governor said.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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