A history of 'National Emergencies' in the U.S.

The beginning of 2019 has seen President Trump declare the fourth and fifth national emergencies of his presidency- a ‘National Emergency Concerning the Southern Border of the United States’ and a national emergency to protect US computer networks from “foreign adversaries.” As the impact of these national emergencies continues to develop, WikiTribune takes a look at the history of national emergencies under the 1976 ‘National Emergencies Act.’

What is a National Emergency?

A national emergency can be called by the President in response to when ‘the nation is threatened by crisis, exigency, or emergency.’ This allows the President access to powers he is not normally able to use, as a result of access to potentially 136 statutory powers.

The ‘National Emergencies Act‘ (NEA) was passed in 1976 and set a framework for when and how national emergencies could be declared. Prior to this the President could be allowed, by Congressional acts, the authority to behave beyond the normal limit of their powers, such as those granted by Harry S. Truman during the national emergency declared due to the Korean War. A Senate special committee formed in 1973 found that of the 470 provisions of emergency powers under federal law that had been granted, 4 were still in effect.

The 1976 act established as a result of these findings means that the President cannot declare a state of emergency without identifying which measures are being enacted, and identify the statutory base for each emergency power intended to be used.

Initially, Emergency declarations were to expire automatically after 1-year unless extended by the sitting President, but could be terminated early by either Congress or the President. Under the act, each house of Congress is also required to meet every 6 months to consider a vote to end each state of emergency, however this has never occurred. The President must extend each Emergency Act annually if it to remain in effect.

Since the establishment of the NEA, 61 states of emergency have been called, with 33 still ongoing. This includes the first ever under the NEA, called by President Jimmy Carter during the Iran Hostage crisis in 1979. This blocked the Iranian government property from entering the US, and has been renewed by all presidents annually since then.

Of the national emergencies declared prior to President Trump’s May 2019 deceleration, 44 have resulted in sanctions, 7 involved trade regulations, 3 involving weapons restrictions, 2 have resulted in military action, and 1 each regarding a health care waiver, legal protections and maritime regulations.

Donald J. Trump
President Trump has now called 5 national emergencies under the National Emergency Act so far during his presidency.
The first was on 20th December 2017, when Mr. Trump sanctioned 13 individuals for human rights abuses.
A second national emergency was called on 12th of September 2018, sanctioning those interfering with or attempting to influence the results of US elections.
The President called his third national emergency under the act on 27th November 2018. He used this to impose sanctions on the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega due to “its use of indiscriminate violence and repressive tactics against civilians, as well as its corruption leading to the destabilization of Nicaragua’s economy.”

The current President declared his 4th emergency on February 15 2019, largely to achieve $US 8 billion in funding for the border wall, with this declaration being the first since 9/11 to involve the military. A resolution rejecting his declaration of a national emergency at the border with Mexico passed both Houses of Congress, but resulted in Mr. Trump using the first veto of his presidency to override this. The declaration has also faced legal challenges by 16 states, who stated the declaration was “unconstitutional and unlawful.”

President Trump declared a national emergency for the 5th time on May 15 2019, releasing a statement titled “Message to the Congress on Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain.” The President’s executive order bars U.S. companies from using telecommunication equipment made by foreign firms believed to pose a national threat. It doesn not specifically name any foreign companies, but is believed to be largely aimed at Chinese company Huawei.

The President also intended to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, but it was deemed to be a Public Health Emergency by the White house.

Barack Obama
The 44th President of the United States declared 13 emergencies under the NEA, with 11 still in place. The first declared by President Obama was in response to the H1N1 (“Swine Flu”) pandemic in 2009. Obama’s other emergency acts still in place include sanctions against individuals contributing to the crisis in Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

George W. Bush
The younger President Bush enacted 12 emergencies measures during his presidency. This included the 14th September, 2001 measures in response to the attack on the World Trade Centre buildings. His final emergency measure was in response to the perceived threat to the US of the North Korean nuclear program. 10 of the 43rd Presidents national emergency powers remain in place.

Bill Clinton
President Clinton enacted 17 national emergencies under the NEA. These included several imposing sanctions on several former members of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, as well as against terrorist organizations in the Middle East. The powers related to 6 of these emergencies still remain in place.

George H. W. Bush
The 41st President of the US declared 4 national emergencies, of which none remain in place. George H.W. Bush declared emergencies regarding chemical and biological weapons proliferation and in regards to Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government.

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan declared 6 national emergencies, none of which are still in place. These included national emergencies in response to events in South Africa, Nicaragua, Panama and Libya that were deemed a risk to the US.

Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter called 2 national emergencies during his Presidency- the first in 1979 resulting in the sanctions on Iran that remain in place to this current day, and the second in 1980 seeing further sanctions on Iran.


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