The Alarming Scope of the President’s Emergency Powers

from The Atlantic

In the weeks leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, President Donald Trump reached deep into his arsenal to try to deliver votes to Republicans.

Most of his weapons were rhetorical, featuring a mix of lies and false inducements—claims that every congressional Democrat had signed on to an “open borders” bill (none had), that liberals were fomenting violent “mobs” (they weren’t), that a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class would somehow pass while Congress was out of session (it didn’t). But a few involved the aggressive use—and threatened misuse—of presidential authority: He sent thousands of active-duty soldiers to the southern border to terrorize a distant caravan of desperate Central American migrants, announced plans to end the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship by executive order, and tweeted that law enforcement had been “strongly notified” to be on the lookout for “ILLEGAL VOTING.”

These measures failed to carry the day, and Trump will likely conclude that they were too timid. How much further might he go in 2020, when his own name is on the ballot—or sooner than that, if he’s facing impeachment by a House under Democratic control?

More is at stake here than the outcome of one or even two elections. Trump has long signaled his disdain for the concepts of limited presidential power and democratic rule. During his 2016 campaign, he praised murderous dictators. He declared that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, would be in jail if he were president, goading crowds into frenzied chants of “Lock her up.” He hinted that he might not accept an electoral loss. As democracies around the world slide into autocracy, and nationalism and antidemocratic sentiment are on vivid display among segments of the American populace, Trump’s evident hostility to key elements of liberal democracy cannot be dismissed as mere bluster.

It would be nice to think that America is protected from the worst excesses of Trump’s impulses by its democratic laws and institutions. After all, Trump can do only so much without bumping up against the limits set by the Constitution and Congress and enforced by the courts. Those who see Trump as a threat to democracy comfort themselves with the belief that these limits will hold him in check.

But will they? Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest.

This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down.

More here.

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10 Responses to The Alarming Scope of the President’s Emergency Powers

  1. Trevaughn Laney March 1, 2019 at 4:45 pm #

    The power that a president has seems to be more than what we thought it was and from the article it seems that the constraints that are put on the president power are arbitrary. In the article it claims that the president can send troops anywhere he wants with “Just a flick of a pen”, But although the president is the commander and chief of the military, that doesn’t mean the troops will obey him and being a former soldier of the united states Army I can say that the soldiers take orders “for the most part” without question but, if the order that is given is inhumane or would cause lives to be taken for a pointless reason than it will not happen. From a civilian’s point of view the military does jobs without thinking but in the eyes of a soldier we’re not taking orders from the president, we are taking orders from the generals who decide to on whether or not to listen to the president. On multiple occasions the individuals above us who gave orders that were pointless and dangerous (stupid) and we didn’t do it. I’m not saying that the president can’t make give an order but there is no guarantee that the military will do it. I think this concept will be applied if the president abuses his authority too much. Basically, there is always another way to handle the presidents seemingly limitless power. On a side note for our president, he is inspiring people to get out and vote more with all of the things he is saying and doing. In my personal opinion I don’t think he a bad person but more of someone who has an idea that he is trying to accomplish but that idea is just a bad one that he is trying to complete by any means necessary. The things he says is outrageous, but I’ve personally never heard him say anything directly racist, but he does make jokes that are racially implied. Personally, I don’t have any feelings towards him because in my eyes he’s being himself by saying some of the most absurd things and sometimes they are funny. In the past we have had presidents who don’t show any personality but the one time we do get one he just so happens to be “in my opinion” a horrible president. I believe congress has this under control and will find a way to control or eliminate this problem and the truth is there is nothing the people can do except vote.

  2. Santiago Gomez March 1, 2019 at 5:11 pm #

    With the topic of National Emergency emerging from the Oval Office of the White House. President Trump has created a controversy on whether what is considered a national emergency. As the article mentions he has a broad scope of the emergency powers. He can call a national emergency on whatever an issue occurs. As we know he called a national emergency to fund and build the wall as soon as possible. He claims the country as an illegal immigration problem that must be fixed only with this solution. The International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which was passed in 1977 allows the president to deal with any national threat or economic issue. But will calling a national emergency to build the wall really shows how far he will go? Sure, seems like it. Will creating an argument that the United States as a national security threat to illegal immigrants coming from the Mexican/American border really help his case? Probably. But it is so problematic that I feel he makes the comparison to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The article mentions that he has the power to kill off the internet and have control over it. In my honest opinion, I think this will never happen in any presidency, because of the advancement of technology. We now use the internet to express our First Amendment rights and taking control of the internet or any internet-based platform. Will truly silence the American people and God knows what could happen next.

  3. Doran Abdi March 1, 2019 at 8:20 pm #

    While this article raises many good points on possibilities of the president having too many possible autocratic powers, I do not think that the U.S. Government will find itself in a position in the near future in which the president has overstepped his checks and balances. While the president does have many powers that were imposed through the Constitution, majority of his powers do not go unchecked or advised by the legislative branch. So, while, the idea of the President of the United States having a few unchecked powers may scare many, it is important to note that there still is a massive give and take within all three branches of the U.S. Government. It is also important for the people of America to not be brainwashed into the ideologies of these politicians and to attempt to maintain a rational and open-minded way of thinking. For example, for many of the powers that are listed in this article, there would be a large outrage and protest from the people if the president were to enact many of these untouched powers. While the president does have the rights to do something like “seizing the control of the internet” or deploying troops, it is still in the rights of all Americans to voice their opinions through the use of protest and use their voting power as the people to stop a possible irrational action from the president. As long as the majority of America can maintain a rational outlook on the actions from the U.S. Government and not be persuaded into thinking what many politicians want us to think, the people of America can control the government from getting too far gone from what the standards of our government are supposed to follow. A good example of this would be the new motion from the federal government claiming a current national security threat on our nation. While some may be persuaded into thinking that our country is truly in a desperate state of danger from the current state of border security, many can still recognize this as a political strategy for the president to give a sense of desperation towards the people in his effort to build a wall at the federal southern border (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2018/10/31/shep_smith_there_is_no_invasion_no_one_is_coming_to_get_you_theres_nothing_at_all_to_worry_about.html) . So, as long as the majority of the people of America can maintain a rational way of thinking regarding the state of politics, I find that the use of the president’s powers can always be checked in some sort of form.

  4. Melissa Caniz March 2, 2019 at 10:27 am #

    With midterms elections coming up, Donald Trump has infested the nation with so many lies to get votes to the Republican party. Our former president has issued a national emergency, which is a decision that is entirely within his discretion which he is able to set aside many of the legal limits on his authority. The question in place leads to what extent does his limits reach as a president of the United. Will he abuse his power to satisfy his self-interest? Allowing the president to declare “national emergency” opens 100 special provisions that become available to him to execute. Giving the president this extraordinary power at hand, the nation assumes that the president will act in the country’s best interest, but that may not always be the case. Emergency powers are meant to give the government a temporary boost until the state of emergency passes or if there is time to change the law through normal legislative processes. Our nation grants the president with an excess to use his executive power without restraints compare to other countries. For example, other modern constitutions of other countries specify when and how a state of emergency may be declared and which rights may be suspended. Compared to the United States, the U.S constitution includes no comprehensive separate regime for emergencies. Over the course of history, we have seen presidents who have used constitutional powers when taking drastic actions that were not authorized or in some cases banned by Congress. For example, George W. Bush’s programs of warrantless wiretapping and torture after 9/11 terrorist attacks was a burden but Bush acted accordingly to his self-interest to defend our country, not that I’m agreeing to his actions. A legal regime for emergencies with ambiguous constitutional limits combined with a rich well of statutory emergency powers would seem to provide the right algorithm for a dangerous intrusion on American civil liberties. With the nation being in a state of emergency the president is granted the power to engage in any conduct that would be illegal during ordinary times. During a declared war or national emergency,” the president can unilaterally suspend the law that bars government testing of biological and chemical agents on unwitting human subjects. The president is given the right to take control of “any facility or station for wire communication,” meaning the president can seize control of the internet traffic and exclude any internet website that does not favor him in any way. These are only a couple of the powers that are given to the executive branch when the nation is under national emergency, what the president can do with these powers is totally up to him and we can only hope that he acts in the best interest of our nation rather than satisfy his self-interest upon immigrants and the border wall.

  5. Rayzan Alarashi March 4, 2019 at 9:41 pm #

    Throughout the reign of Trumps presidency, we have seen more disputes among political parties than ever before. It was known before he even took office that Trump was not a favorite of the American people. Some hated him for his past actions and personal views, and others for his lack of regards for all people, a quality that any presidential candidate should possess. Since his time in office, Trump has taken actions that have significantly increased the American people’s hatred of him. It first began with Trumps Muslim ban in America, in which he banned Muslims from a list of several countries from entering the United States. Backed by no probable reason, this ban raised extreme tension in the U.S. and showed us only the beginning of how far Trump was willing to go in order to get his way. Not long after this controversy, Trump once again began remarks that not only stereotyped Mexican immigrants but were outwardly racist. He claimed on several occasions on how they brought violence into our country and were also rapists. These remarks initially began in his campaign and continued up until now due to the issue we are dealing with over the border. During his early campaigning, Trump was determined, if elected, to build a wall at the U.S. Mexico border. Now as president, he is proving that in no way was he joking one bit, even going as far as declaring a National emergency just several weeks ago. This national emergency was merely due to his arguments with congress over whether he was allowed to build the wall or not. Following this event, many started to become more aware of certain presidential authorities that may seem too powerful to put in the hands of one person. Such powers are outlined in an article written by The Atlantic, “The Alarming Scope of the Presidents Emergency Powers”. It is by all means justified for an individual to be worried that Trump may have too much power, but many of the things outlined in this article seem too impractical to worry about. For one, even though President Trump may have the power to mediate the internet or have a “kill switch” does not mean he will use these powers at any point. Living in the 21st century, controlling the internet is most likely among the last things Trump would want to do especially since he knows how much feud that would cause in the American people. Many of the other powers outlined in this essay are powers that all presidents have had, and for the most part exercised accordingly. Only on certain occasions such as war or terrorism have these powers been used unjustly such as torturing’s that took place post 9/11 or even internment camps that held Japanese citizens during WWII. With a system of checks and balances like we’ve always had, we should not worry so much about which powers Trump has that he could potentially abuse, but instead focus our attention to current issues happening now.

  6. Horace Bryce Jr March 7, 2019 at 9:30 pm #

    Donald Trump is the embodiment of everything that restrains in the Land of the Free aka America from actually being for or “great again.” With bigot, racist, radical and inconsistent diplomatic tendencies, it is safe to say that Donald Trump is not the candidate that America needs. Out of all of these horrible traits the worst is his tendency to look for loopholes that benefit him, totally disregarding the other party, leaving a history of turmoil in not only business endeavors but now his presidential one.Donald is an extremely self interested man who evades trouble by finding some type of loophole in which to squeeze through. The loophole being presented in the following statement:
    “The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—he is able to set aside many of the legal limits on his authority.”
    Many people who hold democracy close to heart fear that a national emergency would give Trump the unprecedented power he so badly craves because “more than 100 special provisions become available to him.” Trump declared a “national emergency just several weeks ago. Many believe that it is due to congress not giving him the purse power to build the wall. I happen to think that he declared a national emergency as an attempt to hinder the investigation the FBI is doing on him in relation to his relationship with Russia. Not only that but I believe that he is working with Russia in order to obtain the power Putin has in Russia in America.Trump is “dangerously suited to be a leader bent on amassing or retaining power.” Ultimately, the national emergency is the first of many cards he will use to evade the law and achieve unlimited presidential power. This is hinted at with his praising of murderous dictators and his speeches that can be compared to Neo-Nazi rallies. Trumps speeches goad crowds into frenzied chants that promote racism and hatred. A tactic Hitler used to rise to power.
    There are tons of articles that inquire into whether on not Trump is secretly working on behalf of Russia. One even making it to the NY Times provided in the following link: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/11/us/politics/fbi-trump-russia-inquiry.html
    In this article Trump is being investigated on allegations that he had been “knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.” Then going into how it has long been publicly known that Russia influenced that 2016 election in favor of President Trump. The one asking all the questions was the FBI director James B. Comey, who Trump quickly fired. Then taking to Twitter in a response Times post on the investigation stating, ” Wow, just learned in the Failing New York Times that the corrupt former leaders of the FBI, almost all fired or forced to leave the agency for some very bad reasons, opened up an investigation on me, for no reason & with no proof, after I fired Lyin’ James Comey, a total sleaze!” He then starts calling New channels “Fake News.” Discrediting the truth is necessary in order maintain a lie. American politics recently found out that there is a Trump Tower in Moscow, the exact place where the Kremlin, that they had no idea about. If this does not speak to his clearly friendly relation with Putin and Russia noting will. No evidence has emerged publicly that Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials but there is speculation that he had taken extensive steps to conceal from other high-ranking officials his conversations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia over the past two years. I think speculation is enough to deem him a threat to national security.
    The emergency power is a tactic Trump is using to accumulate power. It can bve considered a loophole because the “U.S. Constitution itself includes no comprehensive separate regime for emergencies.”

  7. Ethan Bazan March 13, 2019 at 1:36 pm #

    Being the president of the United States comes with a substantial amount of power, protected under the limits of the constitution. The question to come is to what limit of power does a president of the United State have? The article claims that the president can go as far as to send troops anywhere he wants with “Just a flick of a pen”; as well as even sign executive orders that could change the constitution. Currently, the president of the United States is Donald Trump. With a bunch of promises Trump made during his campaign to his supports, Trump will do as much to accomplish everything he said. However, those promises involve outrages and dividing ideas that encourage his supporters to support him. With the 2020 Presidential election around the corner, it won’t be surprising for Trump to keep up these rhetorics to regain the people that voted for him once. As the article claimed, Trump will keep on the mix of lies and exaggerates the truth of things that aren’t in his favor. For Trump to keep his supporters faithful to him, Trump has to keep his promises. Therefore the question is to what extent will Trump use his power to accomplish his promises? In the first month of his presidency, Trump used his power to sign what was called the “Muslim Ban”. This unconstitutional action banned Muslims from a list of countries from coming into the United States. With the amount of power Trump has as president he was able to legally sign the executive order. These actions showed the beginning of how far Trump could go to accomplish his dividing, outrages, and unconstitutional promises that got him elected. However, the best thing about the United States is that no one is above the law, not even the president. While the president does have many authorities through the Constitution, it still has to be advised by the legislative branch. With Trump’s rhetoric “Build a Wall”, a foolish promise during his campaign, is an issue that he declared a national emergency in the southern border to build a wall. Through the lies, exaggerations, and fear-mongering tactics Trump persuaded his base that we need “strong border security”. While in reality, most of Trump’s idea of crossing illegally or crimes in the southern border was either exaggeration from the truth or lies. However, to keep his promise he went as far to shut down the government for a record of thirty-five days. Despite the shutdown, the government Trump even ended up declaring a national emergency to build a wall. This is a perfect example of the overall meaning of what the article states. Hence, the president of the United States has a substantial amount of power, and as the article states “our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab”; therefore, will a president of the United States ever take advantage of the all the power he has?

  8. Nicholas Meyerback March 20, 2019 at 12:50 am #

    U.S presidents have extra-constitutional powers and unique abilities during times of crisis. The problem is that they have too much power that can easily be abused.

    A state of emergency can be anything from an international conflict to a natural disaster to a national epidemic. Emergency powers are justified by the perception that the president will act in the best interest of the nation. Rationale behind the powers granted to presidents during this time is that it is easier for them to coordinate solutions and action. It is no secret that congressional action is slow because of partisanship. If congress was left to make every decision during times of emergencies it would simply take too long with political bickering. However, this doesn’t mean that the president is always the best entity to make decisions. Even with the advisement of the cabinet, the executive branch is prone to mistakes and likely to abuse power.

    This phenomenon has only intensified as the conflicts faced by The United States have become more serious and the powers of the president have only expanded. Such abuse of power was exemplified by FDR during World War Two. FDR overstepped his power with executive order 9066. The order relocated hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans into temporary internment camps. This was surrounded by suspicion of coastal Japanese Americans spying on or plotting against the American government. Executive order 9066 would otherwise have been quickly shot down as a violation of individual constitutional rights.

    Another case of executive exploitation is when President Bush used the September 11th attacks as an excuse to mobilize army reserves, sending them to Iraq although terrorists were more prevalent in destabilized countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. Bush abused his power and hemorrhaged the military budget while sacrificing the lives of hundreds of Americans without good reason.

    In both cases the president justified his response by the fact that the nation was under attack, despite the irrationality of the action. This is extremely problematic because the executive branch can essentially use fear to distract the nation from discriminatory and unnecessary activities. Many would claim that Trump’s recent effort to declare a state of emergency is another example of presidential misuse of privilege. Trump has overblown the immigration “crisis” for his own manipulation. Trump has exaggerated the issue by focusing on crimes committed by illegal immigrants and the flow of narcotics entering the nation at the border. Trump’s unequivocal goal is to seek the power necessary to bypass congress and build his border wall via emergency powers.

    Luckily, most Americans can see through this and congress has moved to block the initiative. This is a step in the right direction in limiting the power of the executive. Unfortunately, congress cannot undue the harm done by past presidents who took advantage of their hegemony.

  9. Josh Shupper April 1, 2019 at 7:01 pm #

    When I think of the President, I think of someone who leads the country in a respectable manner. The President also has the most power out of anyone, and it is up to that individual to do what is best for the country and to not abuse his/her power as President. I thought that the President does a lot of things, but no where near the powers of what the President has as mentioned in the article. Honestly, it feels a little bit shocking that President Trump could get into serious trouble by doing controversial things in society. However, that has already been the case. The article goes into the different things that Trump could do should something unusual occur like a war or some sort of severe natural disaster that affect millions in the United States. One of the things that Trump could do is to put tanks out on the street. This kind of reminds me of a movie called Red Dawn with Chris Hemsworth and Josh Peck. Basically, the city of Spokane, Washington is taken over by the North Koreans and a bunch of kids led by Hemsworth try to stop the North Koreans and save Spokane from the invaders. I remember there being tanks roaming the streets shown in multiple scenes from the film. When I think of the United States of America, that is one of the things that does not come to mind. The US is known as the Land of the free and home of the Brave. To see that, it is kind of shocking and unusual. That is something that I would not envision ever happening in my life, but with the world today, it could very well happen. The US and North Korea have had some stuff happen between the two, and anything can happen at anytime. One other thing that the article mentioned is the internet kill switch. The fact that the President has the power to slow down internet traffic is scary. He can fiddle around with the internet and can block certain content, specifically content that bash him, from the internet. He can have the content on the internet in his favor, which seems unfair to anyone else who posts things on the internet. Hopefully this will not happen. But I have definitely learned something from the article: The President is more powerful than you think.

  10. Niall El-Adawy May 2, 2019 at 12:02 am #

    This article is simply startling. I remember I used to hear about all of the empty threats that President Trump made earlier in his presidency and finding relief in the thought that most of what he said wouldn’t pass through Congress; reading this article has shifted my viewpoint on the issue completely. An especially disturbing fact that the article pointed out how capable Trump is of seizing power. Upon declaring a national state of emergency, 100 actions that are usually not legal for the president to engage in, become legal. Actions such as deploying troops within the country to resolve domestic unrest and disabling electronics and communication within the country as well. The article mentions Trump making a dash for power if he feels he is losing the election and has his back against the wall when he runs for his second term. Truthfully, it doesn’t seem like a far stretch. it is apparent by now that Trump enjoys the power he possesses, but will he go down without a fight? Unlikely. There is one thing to be learned from this article: the President is capable of much more than the people think he is, and him acting upon that fact is not far from likely.

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