Washington (CNN)The legal confrontation over Donald Trump’s immigration national emergency is becoming the most important test yet of his vision of an unfettered presidency immune to norms that check executive power.
The President hit back Tuesday after 16 states filed a lawsuit to stop his declaration aimed at redirecting funds already allocated by Congress for different purposes to build his border wall. The structure was the ideological anchor of his campaigns, rooted in claims that an “invasion” of undocumented migrants and criminals is swamping America.
“As I predicted, 16 states, led mostly by Open Border Democrats and the Radical Left, have filed a lawsuit in, of course, the 9th Circuit! California, the state that has wasted billions of dollars on their out of control Fast Train, with no hope of completion, seems in charge!” Trump tweeted.
The new legal fight has revived questions about Trump’s expansive view of his own power and his frequent attempts to evade legal, political and constitutional restraints on his actions that add up to a more untethered notion of the presidency than most of his modern predecessors.
A profound question when Trump entered the Oval Office was whether his unruly, improvisational nature would be tamed by the magnitude of his new responsibilities and codes of presidential behavior framed over more than two centuries.
Or would Trump, a rambunctious, ego-driven outsider who never follows the rules, change the office itself by establishing precedents that his successors would eventually use to justify their own flexing of presidential power?
It’s too early to assess Trump’s long-term impact on the office of the presidency, a judgment that will be shaped by how his rule ends, after one or two terms, and the final conclusions of the Russia investigation.
But two tumultuous years, and six consequential weeks early in 2019, suggest that many of the normal codes and conventions that governed the presidency for decades are suspended in the time of Trump.
He has lived up to his promise to his voters to disrupt the Washington establishment and the Western global consensus. Now, thwarted by a new Democratic House and the arcane checks and balances of the Senate, Trump is claiming new executive power to reconcile his hardline vows on immigration.
Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to fund his border wall represents one of the boldest grabs for presidential authority in generations and caps what is now a lengthening record of contempt for the regular political order.
His straining against norms is not confined to his duels with Congress.
Trump’s verbal torching of the institutions of his own government like the Justice Department and the FBI appears to be becoming more intense as Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe grinds on.
One of Trump’s most enduring strategies is his willingness to stake out easily disprovable positions if they support his political goals — another way that he is unencumbered by the constraints of many of his predecessors. In a new manifestation of his resistance to objective fact, he is now openly trashing the data collected by his own agencies when it doesn’t support his hunches on what he claims is an “invasion” of undocumented migrants.
He’s even insisting he’s already building his border wall — reflecting the potential political price he may pay for failing to honor his top 2016 promise.
“I use many stats. I use many stats,” Trump told a reporter who challenged him with official government data on drug trafficking last week. “Let me tell you, you have stats that are far worse than the ones that I use.”