by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
North Carolina Sen Thom Tillis is catching heat from some Republican voters for his decision to oppose President Trump’s emergency declaration linked to southern border security. Tillis’ stance aligns closely with the one put forward by editors in the latest print issue of National Review.
We oppose the president’s decision to declare an emergency and repurpose billions of dollars of defense spending to the border, purportedly to support the military, not because we are confident it will be ultimately blocked by the courts, but regardless of whether it will ultimately be blocked by the courts. Even if the president technically has this authority, using it explicitly to bypass the congressional spending power is an abuse of it.
The laws that the president will use were clearly written with some dire national-security event in mind that would make it impossible for the president to go to Congress with the necessary dispatch. We believe there is a crisis at the border, but obviously nothing of this nature, as witnessed by the years-long attempt by the president to get Congress to fund his border wall, including the latest drawn-out political confrontation and negotiation. The president isn’t acting unilaterally because he can’t go to Congress, but because he has done so and he did not fully get what he wanted.
There is much angst about the precedent that Trump is creating. We share it, even if it is rich coming from Democrats who didn’t raise any objection to Barack Obama’s “pen and phone” governance. Obama rewrote our immigration laws on his own to impose his unilateral amnesties. At least Trump has colorable statutory authority for his move; Obama had none.
Ultimately, if Congress wants to reassert its prerogatives, it can’t leave statutes on the table that can easily be exploited by the executive, and it must object to executive overreach even when it suits its partisan purposes.