Jennifer Rubin: An ‘emergency’ power grab would only add to Trump’s problems

President Donald Trump speaks on the South Lawn of the White House as he walks to Marine One, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, in Washington. Trump is en route to Camp David. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump cannot keep digging. He insisted on a wall the country didn't want in a way the country objected to (by shutdown) when he could not control Congress. It didn't take a political genius to predict Trump was going to lose. For the first time in his presidency, however, moving the goalposts doesn't alleviate the problem. He has switched from concrete to steel slats (doesn't "The Art of the Deal" say anything about negotiating against yourself?), but the answer is still no. He's trapped, waiting for a political miracle or for Congress to bail him out.

Trump cannot admit error, but he imagines himself a master persuader. He'll go on TV, that's the ticket! But to do what?

The Washington Post reports he's potentially laying the groundwork for an unprecedented power grab:

"Trump administration officials made an urgent case Monday that the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border has reached a crisis level, laying the groundwork for President Trump to possibly declare a national emergency that would empower him to construct a border wall without congressional approval.

"With the federal government partially shut down amid his stalemate with Congress, Trump will attempt to bolster the administration's position Tuesday by delivering a prime-time televised address to the nation from the Oval Office - the first of his presidency. He will then travel Thursday to visit the nation's southern border."

Of course, there is no emergency, or even a crisis. The building of a wall would have no effect whatsoever on asylum seekers who present themselves at the border (or the steel slats). There is little doubt that courts would intervene to halt his effort to displace Congress's appropriation power. Trump would lose and possibly receive a tongue-lashing from one or more federal courts (as happened when he tried to unilaterally change the asylum rules).

That's not the worst of it, however. He has blamed courts in the past when his unconstitutional schemes have failed. Worse for Trump is that it will do nothing to slow the mutiny in progress - and perhaps accelerate it.

Politico reports:

"The House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a Democratic bill designed to fund the IRS and several other agencies, the first of four bills Democrats hope will peel off Trump's GOP support in the House. ... A senior House GOP aide said [House Minority Leader Kevin] McCarthy and his top lieutenants believe 15 to 25 Republicans will vote with Democrats this week, possibly even more."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will press ahead whether or not Trump declares an emergency. The prospect of a humiliating defeat, a rebuff from his own party, should frighten Trump. Once the aura of authority is pricked, Trump's power over his party will deflate. From then on, he will find it hard to hold his troops in line for much of anything else.

Indeed, a power grab to supplant Congress might be just the thing to push Republicans in the Senate over the edge and to convince even normally sympathetic House Republicans that Trump has gone too far.

Democrats, instead of inveighing against the immoral wall, would be smart to inveigh against a “tyrant,” a “gross violation of his oath of office,” a “unconstitutional power grab” and whatever other phrases are likely to set off alarm bells among conservatives who know only too well a Republican’s phony border crisis today can become a Democrat’s phony environmental or health crisis tomorrow. We really do reach a potential unraveling of our constitutional system of checks and balances.

Trump has another problem: If he tries to divert $5 billion from the defense budget, he might see massive resistance and more resignations from top military officials. Trump, you should remember, is looking to abscond with precious resources dedicated to national security. His military will object; Democrats (and maybe some Republicans) will rightly claim that he is not fulfilling his obligations as commander in chief.

In short, Trump's stubbornness and shortsightedness, his determination to play only to his base when he faces popular opposition, and a Democratic House under the leadership of a skilled politician (who simply tells Trump "no" over and over) might be his downfall. At this point, he would be well advised to fold quickly - before his House support vanishes.

Oh, and when we finally get the special counsel's report and Congress considers remedies (impeachment, indictment, demands to resign), an outrageous ploy to cook up a phony excuse to defy our system of checks and balances will be added to the mix. This wholly concocted crisis and illegitimate power play might become the basis for a stand-alone article of impeachment, or more likely, motivation for Republicans to dump the increasingly erratic, impulsive and authoritarian president.

Jennifer Rubin | The Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.