Conservative Columnist: Republicans Have a Duty to Vote Down Trump's 'Emergency' Declaration

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Posted: Feb 21, 2019 2:15 PM
Conservative Columnist: Republicans Have a Duty to Vote Down Trump's 'Emergency' Declaration

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is expected to vote tomorrow on a resolution to cancel President Trump's national emergency declaration.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote a letter to members from both parties, urging a bipartisan vote to "terminate" the president's action, and she'll likely get one.  Some GOP representatives are likely to join the Democratic majority in this endeavor, which would sent the legislation over to the Senate -- where, by law, it (a) must be voted upon, and (b) is not subject to a filibuster.  Given the number of upper chamber Republicans who have publicly opposed Trump's move, it very much looks like the resolution could end up on the president's desk.  Conservative Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, who has not been a reflexive Trump hater (and who offered this smart plan for how Trump could wring more wall money from Democrats later this year), urges Republicans in Congress to vote with Democrats in this instance.  Trump has put them in a bad position, he argues, and now principle must prevail:

the smart move for Trump would have been to pocket that $1.38 billion and bolster it with an additional $3.1 billion he could arguably use without a declaration of a national emergency — by reprogramming $600 million from the Treasury Department’s drug forfeiture fund and $2.5 billion from the Defense Department’s drug interdiction program. That would have given him $4.48 billion in wall funding — nearly the full amount he was demanding from Congress. Then, in December, he could demand more money with leverage over Democrats when an automatic sequester kicks in, forcing $55 billion in across-the-board cuts to domestic discretionary spending unless Trump agrees to raise spending caps.  Instead, Trump has made the wrong move once again — declaring a national emergency, despite warnings from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republicans that it could provoke a backlash from within his own party. His order will face an immediate court challenge, which means he won’t be able to spend the emergency funds anytime soon, if at all. And if he prevails in court, it will be a disaster for the cause of limited government. If Trump can declare a national emergency to build a border wall Congress refused to fund, then the power of the president to override Congress’s power of the purse will be virtually unlimited. 

That last point is precisely why I wrote that I hope the president would not prevail in court.  I shudder to imagine how President Kamala Harris would abuse this precedent, and Democrats are already previewing how they'd exploit expanded unilateralism.  Previous Congressional abdications make it a near-cinch that Trump has the power to declare the emergency that he has -- other presidents have done so repeatedly, for basically any reason.  Whether he will be permitted to use that emergency to move money around in order to fund his pet project, even after Congress delivered a very specific verdict on the issue after a protracted public debate, is the bigger question.  That same Congress could try to cancel Trump's action, but the likelihood that either house would muster a veto-proof majority (Trump advisers said he's prepared to issue his first veto if the cancellation resolution passes) is extremely slim.  

Thiessen writes that GOP fears of 'embarrassing' Trump by defying him  should not overwhelm more pressing constitutional priorities: "Trump’s defenders will argue that Republicans should not deliver such a rebuke to their president. In fact, the opposite is true: It is Trump who should not be forcing Republicans to choose between fidelity to their president and fidelity to the Constitution. And if forced to choose, they must choose the Constitution."  I agree, but I'm under no illusions that the demands of partisanship will recede in this instance.  Republicans will mostly vote to protect the Republican president, just as Democrats (who almost always waved pompoms for Obama's glaring abuses) would do the same.  One factor that Republicans should consider, though, is public opinion.  Voters hated the shutdown, which hurt Trump, and they're not fans of the "emergency" gambit either:

Sixty percent think his decision should be challenged in the courts, including 60 percent of independents; 58 percent do not think there is a national emergency at the border. (84 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Trump supporters think there is. Democrats and independents don't.); 57 percent think Trump is misusing his presidential power. (89 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents think he is, while 80 percent of Republicans don't); 54 percent say this decision makes them less likely to vote for Trump in 2020...

Team Trump views things differently.  According to NPR's chief White House correspondent Mara Liasson (who joined Benson & Harf this week), Trump's aides believe that staying true to the president's base is an overriding concern.  They believe he's set up a win/win: Either his position will win in court, or it will get shot down, allowing the president to highlight the issue of judges ahead of his re-election, all while insisting that he did everything he could to keep building the wall.  I'm not sure I'm persuaded by that calculus, but I do contend that the negative polling on this -- while problematic, in light of the president's need to expand his support -- is less dire than it may seem.  Why?  Our rapid news cycles and short attention spans will soon shuffle us away from this episode; we'll be shouting over the next controversy before we know it, leaving previous hot topics like this one in the dust.  Also, if the Left keeps overreaching, and the Democrats park themselves way out on a left-wing limb, Trump may be able to overcome his own popularity struggles and saw them off:


He just isn't making things any easier on himself, as is his habit.