Friday News Roundup — January 11, 2019: Shutdown Concerns & Emergency Declarations; Germany, France, EU Solidarity and UN Security Council Reform; and Stories You May Have Missed

Many across the country returned to work this week after the holiday break, but 800,000 federal workers continued their furlough due to the ongoing government shutdown, while the Trump administration has sent conflicting messages about the plan to remove U.S. troops from Syria. In this week’s roundup, Dan looks at President Trump’s prime-time address, his contentious meeting with congressional leaders, and his repeated threats to declare a national emergency in order to divert funds toward the construction of the border wall; Michael analyzes a new treaty between France and Germany and what it means for Angela Merkel’s legacy.

We would also like to welcome the newest member of our policy team, Chris Condon, who has joined the CSPC as a Research Consultant. He will be contributing to our news roundups from now on, and we are excited to have him on board!

Presidential Emergency Powers & The Border Shutdown Endgame

Installation of Fencing on the U.S.-Mexico Border (CBP Photo)

Both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have remained dug-in over the partial government shutdown and the Trump administration’s request for for funding to build a barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border. On Tuesday night, President Trump requested, and received, airtime on all major networks to make his first televised Oval Office address to describe the situation on the southern border, the humanitarian crisis caused by migration from Central America, and the dangers that illegal immigrants pose to society. Democratic leaders Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer gave their response. After a brief meeting on Wednesday, where the President reportedly walked out of the meeting, it appears that there is little ground for compromise as the government shutdown reaches its third full week.

With 800,000 U.S. government workers about to go without a paycheck, the effects of the shutdown aren’t just limited to the “Beltway bubble.” States have had to pick up the tab for WIC nutrition assistance for low-income families by using previously allocated funds. Slowdowns at airport checkpoints have been reported as unpaid TSA workers call in sick. Air traffic controllers are continuing to work with little-to-no support staff while badly needed maintenance and modernization of air traffic control systems is put on hold. Rubbing salt in the wound, some have received pay stubs marked “$0.00.” A range of markets are also impacted as the shutdown has frozen FHA mortgage applications and the SEC’s processing of public offerings. As food safety inspections have been cut back, it is worth remembering that more Americans die from foodborne illness each year than crimes committed by illegal immigrants.

With wall-to-wall coverage of the shutdown negotiations, it’s easy to forget that this came about, before the holidays, when President Trump turned his back on a deal reached by the Senate to keep the government open while negotiations continued on border security funding due to criticism from right-wing media commentators. The shutdown coverage has also superseded the coverage of the sudden announcement regarding Syria and subsequent resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis; any news about the Mueller investigation; and the back-and-forth between the U.S. and China on trade.

While there was some speculation that Tuesday night’s address would include an emergency declaration, the White House held back from taking that step. However, on Thursday afternoon, administration officials, including Vice President Pence, have been appearing to at least set the stage for such a declaration. House Democrats are now moving separate funding bills through Congress to force Republicans to take on-the-record votes about keeping segments of government open, which are being blocked in the Senate by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It remains to be seen how long Republicans can stay unified behind the White House.

If the president were to invoke emergency powers, it might be a path out of the shutdown, but one that would have significant institutional ramifications. Beyond the immediate impact of this shutdown, which will soon be the longest in U.S. history, economic experts have looked at how a shutdown that lasts “months or even years” — as the President has threatened — could cause a massive shock to the U.S. economy as hundreds of thousands of people go without pay, airports seize up, food and rental assistance ends, stock market IPOs are cancelled, and federal courts slow to to a crawl.

The 1976 National Emergencies Act codified a range of circumstances in which the president could declare a national emergency. Under that law, a state of emergency can be declared for up to one year, and can be renewed for an additional year, indefinitely. In fact, the emergency declared by the Carter administration to freeze Iranian assets following the 1979 revolution and embassy takeover remains in effect to this day, along with 30 other states of emergency. Many of these have been related to international incidents, outbreaks of disease, or other exogenous circumstances — not a disagreement between the White House and Congress on a political debate over public policy.

An emergency declaration by President Trump might allow for a decoupling of the border security issue from the partial government shutdown, creating space for a reopening of government while the declaration is challenged in the courts. The burden would then fall on the Defense Department — which has already begun to evaluate options related to border barrier construction. Furthermore, the impact on border security would be delayed, as the courts would likely stay any action due to legal challenges, not to mention the time it would take to procure the land, carry out any eminent domain, and procure the materials for any barrier.

Such a declaration would also throw down the gauntlet to Congress and stir members on both sides of the aisle who would be concerned about a presidential power grab — especially an end-around on the enumerated Article I allocation of the purse to the House of Representatives. For those in the Republican Party who want to see the president create such a forceful precedent, they must also remember that their party will not always be in control of the White House. How might they think of President Trump’s emergency declaration if it allows a future Democratic president to declare an emergency allowing the seizure of a collapsing financial institutions, control of the internet following a data breach at a tech giant, or even actions regarding utilities and energy companies with climate change as the justification?

An emergency declaration could be the short-term fix, but without a forceful response to Congress about this abrogation of its authority — either via court challenge or a rewriting of the National Emergencies Act — the longer-term damage to checks and balances must be considered.

France and Germany Agree to Deepen Ties to Strengthen EU

Chancellor Merkel and President Macron at a World War I Remembrance Ceremony

On Tuesday, Germany and France announced that they had agreed to terms to an enhanced treaty that would further bind the two former adversaries together. Set to be signed in the German city of Aachen (generally known in English by its French language name Aix-la-Chapelle), on January 22, the new treaty seeks to solidify the Franco-German entente that serves as the heart of the European Union. It calls for the reduction or elimination of economic and regulatory barriers to cross-border integration; closer collaboration in law enforcement, intelligence sharing, and defense planning; and civil society and cultural exchanges. In the treaty, France also commits itself to backing a long-standing German foreign policy goal: a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Several political trends in the region made the emphasis on Franco-German solidarity more important. The EU seems particularly fragile at the moment as the United Kingdom marches towards an uncertain Brexit future and the populist governments of Italy, Hungary, and Poland are defined by their euroskepticism. While facing this internal threat to the legitimacy of the Union, both France and Germany recognize the renewed threats of Russian ambition and American indifference to continental affairs. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced her intention to retire from the chancellorship, which will bring an end to her tenure as the primus inter pares of EU leaders (and, some have argued, de facto leader of the free world now that President Trump has shown little interest in carrying the mantle). Freed from the constraints of electoral politics, Merkel is focused on protecting her legacy of European integration.

The responses to the announcement on the nationalist right have been predictably breathless. The Sun, the conservative tabloid in the UK, called it “the latest step towards an EU superstate” and quoted unnamed critics who referred to the treaty as a “juggernaut capable of crushing dissent beneath its wheels.” Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini — fresh off of offering his support to the “yellow vest” rioters in France — construed the agreement as an intentional slight against Italy. Breitbart News showed little subtlety in referring to the agreement a “Franco-German Axis” and the leader of Germany’s far-right AfD party called it an “erosion of our national sovereignty.”

One compromise that Germany made to get France to agree to the deal was abandoning its attempt to transform France’s permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council into a European Union seat. In November, German Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz called a joint EU seat a “bold and smart goal” and suggested that France could choose the EU’s ambassador to the UN as a way to get buy-in from the Élysée Palace. The French foreign ministry quickly stamped out this speculation and the Aachen Treaty will reiterate France’s support for a permanent seat for Germany (in addition to the existing permanent members: the US, China, Russia, France, and the UK).

Germany has long sought a permanent seat on the Security Council, which reflects the geopolitical realities of the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Calls for Security Council reform are common in the UN, with approximately 188 of the 193 member states suggesting that additional countries should be added to the body, and 5 arguing that some reform is important as long as it does not affect the status of the existing permanent members by, for example, diluting their veto power. When the UN General Assembly discusses Security Council reform, Germany is a member of the so-called “Group of Four” along with Japan, Brazil, and India, who argue that, in order to better reflect current geopolitical realities, the Council’s permanent membership needs to be increased by (quelle surprise) four. They are opposed by a group calling themselves “Uniting for Consensus” that includes South Korea (who opposes Japan’s membership), Argentina (who opposes Brazil’s membership), Pakistan (who opposes India’s membership), and Italy (who opposes Germany’s membership). The group as a whole is opposed to realpolitik uses of power at the UN; they just want to make sure that no new centers of privilege are embedded in the Security Council.

The Africa Group believes that there should be more seats — at least two permanent and two more rotating — for African countries. A group of the least developed nations argues that there should be a seat reserved for the least developed nations. The Caribbean Community wants a special seat for island nations. Iran and North Korea think that the Security Council is too focused on the wrong parts of the international system. All of these countries lay out their demands as non-negotiable and call on other groups to show more flexibility. I am making none of this up.

France has long supported Germany’s ascension to permanent membership on the Security Council because, with the relationship between the two countries as close as it is, it would enhance French and Western influence in the body. Enshrining it in the new Aachen Treaty does not substantially change anyone’s position on this question, but it further underscores the view that Paris and Berlin see themselves as the essential core of the European project. Now with the EU increasingly under strain, Merkel and Macron are making the subtext of their relationship text in the hope of protecting it after Merkel’s term ends; Britain Brexits; and the balance of influence among Brussels, Washington, and Moscow continues to shift.

News You May Have Missed

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Gabon Bids Adieu to Attempted Coup

Congolese Election Results Prompt International Brow-Furrowing

Kim and Xi Show Solidarity in Beijing

Norwegian Airliner Remains Grounded in Iran due to Sanctions

President Trump Seeks to Encourage Settlement between Serbia and Kosovo

British Pensioner Continues His Vigil over Memorial to World War II U.S. Airmen

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