Staff Editorial

National emergency? Consider the effects

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a televised address to the nation from his desk in the Oval Office, about immigration and the southern U.S. border, on the 18th day of a partial government shutdown at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a televised address to the nation from his desk in the Oval Office, about immigration and the southern U.S. border, on the 18th day of a partial government shutdown at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

President Donald Trump addressed the nation for the first time from the Oval Office on Tuesday night, and Republican members of the Iowa Congressional Delegation seem poised to buy into Trump’s narrative of a national crisis at the southern border. We urge them to think it through.

“Make no mistake: we have a humanitarian crisis,” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst said as part of a statement following Trump’s national address.

“The humanitarian and security crises at our border has gone on for too long,” began U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s statement.

Ignoring that the humanitarian woes faced by migrants and refugees who seek asylum are nothing new, and that many have been made infinitely worse by policies undertaken by the Trump administration, we wonder whether these members of the Iowa delegation are ready to allow an American president to invoke the special powers included within a declaration of a national emergency. We’re left to wonder whether they think the ramifications of using the “military version of eminent domain” are acceptable precedent when clearly invoked to allow the White House to accomplish its vision of a border wall, repeatedly denied by Congress — the current split-governance Congress and one that operated for two years under Republican rule.

“Absolutely, we can call a national emergency because of the security of our country. Absolutely,” Trump said. “I haven’t done it. I may do it. We can call a national emergency and build (the wall) very quickly. It’s another way of doing it.”

As for the privately owned property that stands in the way? “What we’re doing with eminent domain is, in many cases we’ll make a deal up front, and we’ve already done that — the secretary has done a lot of that — and if we can’t make a deal, we take the land and we pay them through the process, which goes actually fairly quickly and we’re generous, but we take the land.”

Federal law does permit the military “to acquire by condemnation any interest in land” needed for “the site, construction, or operation of fortifications, coast defenses, or military training camps” as well as construction of munitions and power plants.

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This was tested during the Korean War when President Harry Truman tried to take control of steel factories to stop workers from striking. At that time, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the executive branch overstepped its authority, saying the situation was “a job for the Nation’s lawmakers, not for its military authorities.”

Whether the current court would decide similarly is an open question, and a matter of ongoing debate that Iowa Republicans should be especially hesitant to feed.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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