Saving Congress

JACOB DENNINGER: Last month, after Congress refused to give President Donald Trump $5.7 billion to build his his border wall, Trump declared a national emergency in an attempt to circumvent Congress to get the money he wanted.

A majority of Congress struck back with a resolution to terminate the national emergency — but Trump vetoed it the next day. Without enough principled Republicans willing to overturn the veto, Trump’s bogus national emergency stood.

What happened to the Republican Party? Conservatives used to believe in limited executive power. Republicans routinely criticized President Obama during his administration, accusing him executive overreach. Yet only 13 out of 197 House Republicans and 12 out of 53 Senate Republicans voted to terminate the national emergency. The rest voted to leave Trump’s abuse of executive authority — an end-run around Congress to get money for his wall — in place.

A few House Republicans actually stuck to their belief in limited executive authority. “If your faithfulness to the Constitution depends on which party controls the White House, then you are not faithful to it,” said Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who voted for the resolution. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky added, “It’s not an emergency when Congress doesn’t spend money how the President wants.”

But most of their colleagues, far too many, showed themselves to be hypocrites.

Republican Hypocrisy

This stunning hypocrisy was pointed out by the group Republicans for the Rule of Law, which ran this ad before the Senate vote to remind Republicans of their past views on expansive executive power. The ad features clips of Republican Senators Ted Cruz (Texas), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) criticizing President Obama’s “executive overreach.”

In one of the clips, Cruz says, “If this president can impose his own immigration laws unilaterally, we stop having a system a constitutional system of checks and balances. It’s the power of a monarch or an emperor.”

“If Republicans were against executive overreach then, they should be against it now,” the ad’s narrator concludes.

Cruz, Cornyn, Enzi, Grassley, and Graham, all voted against terminating the national emergency.

Some Senate Republicans who were considering supporting the resolution to terminate Trump’s national emergency were concerned about the precedent this national emergency sets for the future. These Republicans were worried that if Trump can use a national emergency to build his wall, it would allow future Democratic presidents to use national emergencies to circumvent Congress on issues like climate change.

Cruz was one Senator to articulate this, saying, “I am very worried prudentially about the slippery slope that could occur, emboldening future Democratic presidents to implement radical policies contrary to law and contrary to the constitution.”

Clearly he wasn’t that worried.

But perhaps the greatest example of Republican hypocrisy was Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post weeks before the Senate vote saying that he would vote to terminate the national emergency.

Tillis wrote, “I have grave concerns when our institution looks the other way at the expense of weakening Congress’s power. It is my responsibility to be a steward of the [legislative] branch, to preserve the separation of powers and to curb the kind of executive overreach that Congress has allowed to fester for the better part of the past century. I stood by that principle during the Obama administration, and I stand by it now.”

Except he didn’t. Tillis voted against terminating the national emergency.

Saving Congress

I am genuinely worried about the damage this national emergency declaration will do. No president should be able to go around Congress like this. We are supposed to have separation of powers. The power to legislate and appropriate spending is supposed to lie with Congress. We are supposed to have a constitutional system of checks and balances.

But in order for the system of checks and balances to work, Congress actually needs to act as a check. In order for the separation of powers to work, Congress actually needs to defend its powers from being stolen by the President.

For that to happen, Republicans in both chambers need to stop being hypocrites on executive power. They need to stand up to Trump by overriding his veto and terminating this national emergency, which is really nothing more than an executive power grab in defiance of the Constitution.

It may be difficult for Republicans to stand up to Trump, a president from their own party, and join with Democrats, but a few already have. More need to, because this is more important than our partisan squabbles. This is about defending the constitution and saving Congress.

Jacob Denninger is a Freshman in the College and prospective government major from Massachusetts.

Jeff Cirillo