The upcoming Senate vote over whether President Donald Trump’s 2020 prospects and big, beautiful metal slats were reason enough to declare a national emergency is not, as some see it, “a referendum on the president himself.” If only.
Nor will this be an up-or-down vote on border security, or on national security more broadly, though 58 former top advisers from both parties have said there is “no factual basis” behind his declaration.
Instead, it is a referendum on the doctrine of separation of powers laid out in the U.S. Constitution. When the House voted on Tuesday, only 13 Republicans joined Democrats in voting to protect that key to our democracy.
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To allow a president, any president, to snatch the power of the purse away from Congress ought to be unthinkable, and until now, it has been. That’s right: No other president has declared a national emergency to get funding already expressly denied by Congress.
Not so long ago, congressional Republicans cared so much for the Constitution that they kept pocket versions of that document close to their hearts. That’s gone out of style now, for reasons that become clearer by the day.
But senators, every one of you who does not vote in disapproval of this Congress-canceling action and yet keeps that tiny democratic totem at home in a drawer somewhere, alongside your collection of commemorative coins and mementos of regular order, you already know this: If you don’t honor the genius of Hamilton and Madison, history will hold you liable.
And if you don’t conserve our institutions, what’s conservative about that?
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, you were right to try to warn the president against this extreme action in the first place.
Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, you were right to have expressed concerns about this power grab, as Blunt was.
But that’s not the same, as we know, as standing up when it matters, when the votes are cast.
And though there are almost certainly not enough congressional constitutionalists — two-thirds in both chambers — to override a presidential veto, this matter could hardly matter more.
“As a U.S. senator,” wrote your fellow Republican Thom Tillis, of North Carolina, “I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress. As a conservative, I cannot endorse a precedent that I know future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.”
You know he’s correct, and not only because you’ll regret it politically.
No, this isn’t even a choice between principles and party. Someday soon, the GOP will need to be able to look back and say that even at some cost, you upheld the Constitution instead of only talking about it.