Missoula demonstrators join national march against president’s “emergency” declaration

Joan Hess-Homeier, left, and Emily and Robert Schultz protest President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency outside the Missoula County Courthouse on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

A handful of Missoula residents gathered outside the county courthouse on Monday to protest President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, a move they contend usurped the role of Congress and should be challenged.

While the Missoula event never saw more than a few people present at any given time, the national march was expected to draw tens of thousands to the streets in an organized push for Congress to take action.

“I feel like this is a trumped-up emergency, so to speak,” said Joan Hess-Homeier. “If the Republicans wanted to do this, they should have done it in the two years they had the majority in Congress.”

Last week, Trump signed a bipartisan spending package that included a compromise on border security. He then declared a national emergency to access an additional $6 billion in taxpayer money to pay for 230 miles of barrier along the Mexican border.

Trump’s actions are an attempt to circumvent the powers of Congress, lawmakers from both parties have stated, and it will likely be challenged on a number of levels.

“It should be resisted on a constitutional basis,” said Hess-Homeier. “He doesn’t have a right to appropriate money. That’s Congress’s power.”

Sen. Jon Tester was among a select panel of lawmakers who helped craft last week’s spending package, which included funding for border security and additional barriers. All three members of Montana’s congressional delegation approved the deal, averting another government shutdown.

“The president’s emergency declaration is a divisive and dangerous move that flies in the face of the Constitution,” Tester said in a statement. “Montanans expect their lawmakers to work together to pass laws that keep our government running — and that’s what we did. The president’s defiance of those laws to raid our military construction resources will come at the expense of our state’s defense installations and threatens the checks and balances at the heart of our democracy.”

Those who turned out Monday in Missoula encouraged the state’s elected officials to defend what they see agree is a constitutional violation.

“I think he’s usurping Congress to get funding,” said Robert Schultz. “It’s totally out of control. The Republican Senate in particular is giving up on the country. They’re selling us out.”

The White House has defended the president’s move, saying the emergency is real. Sen. Steve Daines, who visited the border last week, said he “witnessed illegal immigrants crossing the barrier-less border in the early hours of the morning.”

In contrast, Tester has said illegal contraband isn’t coming into the U.S. via backpacks across the fence but in cars and trucks at established crossings. It’s a point on which Hess-Homeier said she agrees.

“Technology is more important to border security than a border wall is,” she said. “Most of the drugs are coming in over the border sites, the entry ways. I feel like Trump is going to bankrupt our government, just like he’s bankrupt his businesses four times.”

Erwin Curry, who organized Monday’s demonstration, expressed concern over the president’s mental health and stability.

“I’m concerned about the erratic behavior of the president and the way the media isn’t taking his mental illness seriously,” said Curry. “He doesn’t understand the co-equal branches of government, and I don’t think he wants to understand it. That’s another problem – his authoritarianism. I like a democracy.”