If POTUS declares an 'emergency', can Congress compel the presidential cabinet members to justify it

A commenter on a Politico article made the claim that if Trump declares an emergency, his “cabinet officers will get hauled in front of Congress and will have to testify under oath as to why it’s a national emergency, and they’ll either have to tell the truth or perjure themselves.”

Is this the case? Can Congress compel the members of the cabinet to testify (under penalty of perjury) about the/their rationale for the POTUS declaring an ‘emergency’?

Congress can compel the testimony of cabinet officers on any topic they want. There is nothing particular to an emergency declaration that has anything to do with that.

Thank you.

Is the ‘justification’ provided by the Cabinet then weighed or judged by Congress? In other words, is it simply an exercise in dissimulation or can Congress take concrete actions if it feels the rationale is . . . lacking?

(As I said in another thread, I’ll note that I am Canadian to avoid embarrassment if the answers to my questions are obvious or self-evident to some)

It will be for the Supreme Court to rule on whether it stands. There’s a summary from WaPo here:


The large majority of the president’s powers are delegated to him by Congress through statutes. In fact, the presidency really has very few inherent Constitutional powers.

The power of the president to declare national emergencies actually comes from the aptly-named National Emergencies Act of 1976. That Act was primarily to clean up a smorgasboard of different statutory emergency powers that the presidency had accumulated over the decades. But it also formalized the procedure for declaring and justifying national emergencies.

The Act basically says that the president can use emergency powers when he makes a declaration that a national emergency exists and informs Congress. The declaration remains in effect until:

  • The president declares the emergency to be over,
  • One year passes and the president does not renew the declaration, or
  • Congress terminates the declaration via joint resolution

So if they are so inclined, the Congress could demand that the president, though his subordinates, explain and justify the decision to declare a national emergency, and then they could choose to find those explanations lacking.

Very interesting link, thanks. From that article, it sounded, though, as if the better case would be made by the President. If so, any and all earlier Cabinet explanations and semantic acrobatics would, in the end, be irrelevant.

Ah, indeed. Thanks.

The key phrase in your response being ‘if they are so inclined’. That was actually gonna be part II of my OP, i.e. would Congress have to be united to take action. Looks like it.

They would have to be quite united indeed. A joint resolution requires presidential assent, so in theory it could be vetoed. Congress would need a 2/3 majority in both houses to override that veto.


What does that mean?

Very illuminating. If the President declaring the emergency isn’t in office to renew it, then his successor would have to renew, right? Does the SOE have to be renewed annually or just once?

Obviously I’m thinking about the Wall. If Trump dies or is removed from office, Pence would renew. But legal challenges (determining who actually owns certain parcels of the land, landowners taking issue with eminent domain, etc.) may well delay construction of the Wall by a couple years or longer. If it’s not completed by 2021 and a new president is elected who declares the SOE over, what happens? If contracts have been signed and construction begun, does construction halt?

And semi-related, in an SOE, does there still have to be a bidding process, or can the president decide who gets the contract?

Each one has to be renewed every 12 months, including when a presidential transition occurs.

That’s hard to say and really depends on exactly how the whole thing is done, legally. My understanding is that Trump has proposed using an emergency declaration to simply move money from the DoD budget to fund wall-building. If a subsequent administration didn’t like that, they could immediately revoke the emergency declaration, but as for what happens to the contractors working on the thing, I have no idea.

Good question. My guess is it depends on what specific emergency powers the president is using. Bids can be fast-tracked in certain cases (especially for DOD contracts during a war, for example) but I don’t know if anything like that applies for civil construction contracts.

Standard boilerplate in Canadian government contracts stipulates that all contracted services are subject to Parliament making the required funding available. I would be surprised if similar wording was not standard for US government contracts as well. (I would also not be surprised if Trump directly ordered it to be left out of the contracts he and his buddies were profiting from.)

Its not like an emergency declaration is a new shiny toy that is rarely played with.
“There are 31 active national emergencies — including three that have been declared under Trump, and one that dates back to Jimmy Carter’s administration in the late 1970s.”
They have to have been renewed annually to still be in effect. Many seem to be “don’t play with that despot or his henchmen” type orders.


I don’t know why the officials would have to lie. All they have to say is that the President decided there is an emergency. Do they agree? Yes. Why? Because the President says so. Any further questions?

Part of our Government problem is that Congress is asked to answer questions where there is a) no answer, and b) where there is no question.
Remember high gas prices? Congress has investigated that many times.

As for Trump officials and the wall, the only necessary answer is Trump says so. Not even Trump claims to need a reason to declare an emergency. Why should his cabinet have to have one?

As was stated, of course they can call them to testify. But attaching any practical significance to this, or ‘under penalty of perjury’ seems to imply the strange new definition of fact (as in many media ‘fact checkers’) as applying to opinions ‘all reasonable people’ (in one ideological bubble or another) agree with.

The cabinet official simply comes before Congress, gets berated by the opposition party, and thrown softball questions by his own party, as he or she explains the administration’s justification for calling the situation an ‘emergency’. Then the various biased media outlets run selective clips showing how the cabinet member was ‘caught in lies’, or else lionize his or her performance, fawn over the theatrics of the opposition party questioners, or condemn them as theatrical, nobody’s mind is changed, and the polarized circus goes on to its next act.

The minute a State of Emergency is declared, the House will pass a Resolution ending it. This will go to the Senate where, by law, they have I believe 18 days to bring it to a floor vote. It can’t be buried in committee and the Majority Leader can’t refuse to call a vote. If it passes the Senate, then it’s on to Trump’s desk. If he vetoes it, then they have to over-ride. But there is nothing that says the House can’t pass another one immediately, ad infinitum.