State of the Union: Will Trump Declare a National Emergency?

Feb. 5, 2019

State of the Union: Will Trump Declare a National Emergency?

When President Donald Trump gives his State of the Union address tonight, overshadowing his speech will be the recent 35-day partial government shutdown, which affected 800,000 federal workers, closed national parks, threatened airport security and more. Trump has hinted that to get what he wants but didn’t get through a shutdown – a border wall – he will declare a national emergency as soon as tonight. 
Such a move wouldn’t be surprising from a president who shut down the government over the issue. But it would be an unprecedented power grab.

Below are key points to remember about the shutdown and a national emergency declaration, should Trump make it. We also provide information about trade and medicine prices, two other issues Trump is likely to highlight tonight. Please reach out to our experts if you have questions.

Also, watch @Public_Citizen for live commentary during the speech. 


Trump’s delusional quest for a wall would devastate communities and disrupt the lives of millions of Americans if the president were to circumvent Congress and autocratically declare a faux national emergency during or after the State of the Union address. If Trump declares a national emergency about a fake problem, to deploy the military on American soil and contravene the explicit decision of Congress over appropriations of taxpayer money, there is no limit to what future fake emergencies he might declare. In such a scenario, it is easy to imagine him declaring a national emergency to suppress protests and domestic dissent. 

Robert Weissman, president, Public Citizen

Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs, Public Citizen


The current continuing resolution to keep the government running expires on Feb. 15, and Trump will certainly layout the requirements for his signature. 

Robert Weissman, president, Public Citizen

Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs, Public Citizen


Access to Affordable Medicines

• Trump promised to overhaul the medication market, including bringing prices “way, way down.” 
• Instead, he took a backdoor approach by encouraging manufacturers to pass discounts to patients and going after pharmacy benefits managers.
• Trump should get tough on pharma directly and allow competition from generics companies, which would lower costs for patients. 
• Trump’s revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) grants big pharmaceutical corporations new powers to block generic competition and, if approved as is, would lock in high medicine prices. 
• Trump also has promised to deliver on a solution to the opioid crisis, but his administration has given little help.
• The White House and its agencies have approved for market use lethal, highly addictive medication.

Peter Maybarduk, director, Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program

Robert Weissman, president, Public Citizen;

Steven Knievel, advocate, Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program


• Trump has discussed trade at length and has defined it as one of his core issues.
• However, the president has failed to keep his campaign promises of preventing outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs and turning around U.S. trade deficits.
• The president also has supported terms in the revised NAFTA that would lock in high U.S. medicine prices and reduce foreign and generic competition. 
• If Trump works with Democrats to improve the NAFTA deal he recently signed, to remove the Big Pharma giveaways and strengthen labor and environmental terms, the congressional battle over Trump’s revised NAFTA could be the rare moment of bipartisan agreement.
• Trump also has falsely stated that “NAFTA 2.0” will fund his border wall, directly contrasting his demands for congressional funding. 

Lori Wallach, director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch