Georgia officials on Monday scrambled for more information about President Donald Trump’s recent move to declare a national emergency and whether it could be used to divert money from the state’s military construction projects to pay for a wall on the southern border.
The president’s announcement prompted praise from many local Republican officials, who commended Trump for taking a necessary step to secure the border, as well as dozens of activists to demonstrate in Atlanta.
Assembling in front of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s downtown offices, the protesters — they numbered more than 100 around noon — cheered when Sean Young, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, announced the ACLU would file a lawsuit seeking to block Trump’s actions this week.
More than 240 similar protests involving 10,000 demonstrators were planned for locations across the nation on Presidents Day, according to the liberal political group MoveOn.org.
“The president’s declaration last week of a fake ‘national emergency’ to build his childish medieval wall threatens the rule of law and makes our country look more like a tinpot dictatorship than an actual republic,” said Young, wielding a bullhorn.
“Basically, the president is throwing a temper tantrum because Congress and the American people won’t give him what he wants,” Young said. “But that’s not how the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution work.”
On Friday, Trump announced he would declare an emergency after Congress cleared a spending bill with only about one-quarter of the $5.7 billion in wall funding that he had originally sought.
In justifying his actions, the president said, “We’re talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs.”
‘Lower priority’ projects
Administration officials said the emergency declaration would enable Trump to circumvent Congress and tap $600 million in Treasury Department asset forfeiture funds and $2.5 billion in counternarcotics program money. The White House also said it was working closely with the Pentagon to identify $3.6 billion in “lower priority, unawarded” military construction projects previously appropriated by Congress.
The U.S. House Appropriations Committee on Monday estimated that Trump could divert money from military construction projects worth nearly $15.7 billion across the globe, including more than $234 million in Georgia. Several construction projects related to Fort Gordon’s cybersecurity mission could be affected, as well as a reserve training facility planned for Fort Benning.
Spokesmen for the military bases did not respond to a request for comment Monday. Neither did some of the bases’ larger outside booster groups.
Local Republican lawmakers have tread carefully in the days following Trump’s announcement.
Many fought hard for military spending in Georgia, but those members are also keenly aware of Trump’s overwhelming popularity among their own political base. That makes publicly crossing the White House a nonstarter, even though some view themselves as strict constitutionalists and have privately expressed uneasiness with the historical precedent that an emergency designation would set.
“I have a lot of trouble with any one person having that much power without a check and a balance, even in a crisis,” Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in January. A spokeswoman on Monday said the three-term Republican will “carefully review additional details” regarding the emergency, as did a representative for his Georgia colleague, David Perdue.
Several other local Republicans have yet to weigh in on the emergency. Others backed the president, saying he was doing what needed to be done after being stonewalled by Congress.
“While I prefer legislative solutions to executive actions to address the pressing issues of our time, the president has now been forced into declaring a national emergency,” U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, wrote in an op-ed in USA Today.
“I support President Trump using constitutional executive action to build the wall and keep our country safe, and I regret that Congress is putting him in this position,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger.
Local legislators could be put in an even bigger bind in the weeks ahead, when Democrats say they will force a vote on a resolution of disapproval in both chambers of Congress. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, but officials would still be forced to go on the record on the issue.
‘Fight of our lives’
Local Democrats vowed to fight the president through legal and legislative channels. U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, promised to use his seniority on the House Appropriations Committee to “challenge this reckless decision.”
“If there were a true emergency at our southern border, the president would have declared this along time ago,” he said.
Many of the protesters on Monday agreed with him.
Joan Immerman, a retired school counselor from Dunwoody, showed up for the demonstration with signs declaring: “No tax money for medieval wall!! Phony national emergency. Trump is the national emergency!!!”
“We are in the fight of our lives,” she said moments before the demonstration began, noting her grandparents immigrated to America from Ukraine and Poland. “I am saddened by the current administration.”
William Marshall, a salon owner from Atlanta, carried a sign declaring: “Wall off Trump.”
“It is totally absurd,” Marshall, a field organizer for Black Lives Matter and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said of Trump’s emergency declaration. “It’s amazing that this country got to this point. I cannot believe we have come this far back.”
Monday’s event also drew a counterprotester. Scott Clouse of Dallas, Ga., carried a bright red “Make America Great Again” sign and donned a matching red Trump baseball cap. He shouted “Build the Wall!”
Julie Brown — an insurance agent from Bogart, near Athens, who voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election — did not attend the protest. But she said during a telephone interview Monday that she supports the president’s decision to declare a state of emergency.
“It had to be done. I wish he did not have to declare an emergency. I wish they had done it through normal channels,” she said, adding “all the Democrats have always supported a wall until it was Trump’s idea. I wish they would have worked with him to give him what he needed.”
“I think he has laid out very logically and rationally, and it makes sense, that we have to have the wall for security,” Brown said. “And I am behind him all the way.”
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