Capitol Alert

Fact Check: Has Donald Trump convinced his critics there’s an emergency at the border?

President Donald Trump visited California’s southern border on Friday and said some of his critics are finally seeing the light when it comes to the need for more security on the border with Mexico.

“We’re really making progress in letting people know that this is an absolute emergency. I see that some of our biggest opponents over the last two days have been saying, ‘you know what, it really is an emergency,’” Trump said during a televised roundtable at a border patrol station in Calexico, Calif.

“A lot of people aren’t even bringing too many suits anymore, a lot of people who are bringing suits, it’s pretty hard for them to say it’s not an emergency,” he said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom disproved Trump’s claim about lawsuits earlier Friday, leading a coalition of 20 states in filing a motion for preliminary injunction in federal court to stop the Trump administration from using a national emergency declaration to divert government funds for border wall construction.

House Democrats also filed a lawsuit against the president’s emergency declaration Friday, claiming it was unconstitutional.

While there are Democrats who have echoed the Trump administration’s alarm about the surge in Central American asylum seekers trying to enter the country across the southern border, they have been careful not to use the term “emergency,” given the legal implications.

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Jeh Johnson, President Barack Obama’s Homeland Security secretary, has been the most prominent Democrat to acknowledge what he said was a “crisis” at the border, in remarks that have been widely circulated by Republicans and conservative news outlets in recent days.

Asked about border security on MSNBC on March 29, Johnson said, “On Tuesday there were 4,000 apprehensions. I know that 1,000 [apprehensions] overwhelms the system and I cannot begin to imagine what 4,000 a day looks like, so we are truly in a crisis.”

Johnson also made similar comments on NBC and Fox News in the following days.

The president and his fellow Republicans have sought to paint Johnson’s remarks as a sign he agrees with the president on the need to take action at the border.

But Johnson’s extended remarks on the subject present a more nuanced take on the situation at the border than Trump and his supporters have implied.

For one thing, Johnson does not use the term “emergency.” And while the difference between a “crisis” and an “emergency” may seem trivial, it’s an important distinction in the context of the current debate.

The president has claimed that the spike in migrants seeking to cross the border from Mexico constitutes a threat to the country’s “core national security interests” and justifies declaring a national emergency. National emergency powers allow the president to redirect funds Congress has approved for one purpose and put them towards the emergency.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the president’s move an “unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist.”

Johnson disagreed with that assessment, saying on Fox News earlier this week that “there’s very definitely a crisis” at the border, but declined to say whether he agreed that it was an emergency.

And without directly attacking the president, he rebuked Trump’s approach. “People in Washington want quick fixes, they want a legal lever to pull an executive order to sign,” said Johnson, but “There are no simple answers to this problem.”

Added Johnson: “There’s no level of border security you can throw at this problem as long as the underlying conditions in Central America continue to exist.”

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Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and policy for McClatchy’s California readers. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.