Republicans Face A Choice: Do They Support The Constitution, Or Trump?
Republicans face a choice in the coming days. Do they support the Constitution, or do they support Donald Trump? You can count on them making the wrong choice.
The Editors at The New York Times argue that Republicans have a choice between their supposed loyalty to the Constitution and their devotion to the cult of Donald Trump:
Congress has the power to effectively override an emergency declaration through a resolution of disapproval. On Wednesday, Ms. Pelosi sent Democratic and Republican members a “Dear Colleague” letter urging support for such as move. “We have a solemn responsibility to uphold the Constitution, and defend our system of checks and balances against the President’s assault,” she wrote.
House Republicans once cared passionately about checks and balances, and frequently accused President Barack Obama of abusing his authority. In 2016, one of the “Big Ideas” in the conference’s “Better Way Agenda” was a pledge to end presidential overreach: “Our President has been acting more like a monarch than an elected official. That stops now.”
Mr. Obama did extend emergency declarations for several uncontroversial foreign policy matters and use executive orders (lawfully) to achieve policy goals. But he never invoked emergency authority to divert money after Congress refused to fund a pet project.
For some reason, the Republicans have been far less vocal about their high-minded principles with Mr. Trump in the White House. Of the more than 225 co-sponsors who had signed on to the disapproval resolution as of Friday, only one was a Republican, Representative Justin Amash of Michigan.
In the Senate, plenty of Republicans remain skittish about executive overreach. Several have publicly expressed disapproval of Mr. Trump’s faux-mergency, ranging from the ultraconservative Mike Lee to the more moderate Susan Collins, from the freshman Mitt Romney to the old-timer Chuck Grassley. “I don’t like this,” Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski told The Associated Press. ”I think it takes us down a road and with a precedent that, if it’s allowed, that we may come to regret.” Kentucky’s Rand Paul declared that “extraconstitutional executive actions are wrong, no matter which party does them.”
For the joint resolution to clear the Senate, only four Republicans need to join Democrats to assert that the president cannot thumb his nose at Congress whenever it suits him. But despite all the hand wringing, thus far, only one has said she will: Ms. Collins, who recently told reporters, “If it’s a clean disapproval resolution, I will support it.”
Some Republicans dislike what Mr. Trump has done but have convinced themselves that there’s no point in voting for the resolution since the president will surely veto it. Others rationalize that the emergency declaration, while outrageous, may be technically legal, and thus should be left to the courts to sort out. Some Republicans are toying with the idea of voting against the resolution but then introducing new legislation to reform the underlying National Emergencies Act.
These are all dodges — ways to make Republicans feel better about not pushing back — and they can provide only false comfort. As he has shown time and again, Mr. Trump is a bully, and he likes to push boundaries. Let him take your lunch money today, and tomorrow he will kick you out of your treehouse.
Republican lawmakers swore an oath to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution and to well and faithfully discharge the duties of their office. Here’s their chance.
Over at The Daily Beast, Matt K. Lewis makes much the same argument, arguing that the vote on the President’s assertion of emergency powers to go behind the back of a Congress that declined to give him what he wants on a funding issue is a litmus test for Republicans who have to decide if they’re with Trump or with the Constitution, and Max Boot in The Washington Post argues that Trump’s emergency declaration is an affront to everything Republicans and conservatives have claimed to believe in:
Trump’s action is an affront to all that Republicans stand for. They claim to be pro-military, but Trump’s action would take money away from the defense budget. They claim to be pro-property rights, but Trump’s action would result in the taking of private property along the border. And they claim to be constitutional conservatives, but Trump’s action is an obvious violation of Article I of the Constitution: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”
Republicans condemned President Barack Obama’s use of executive authority as, in the words ofRep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.)‚ “an unprecedented executive power grab” and an “end-run around Congress” that would “undermine the Constitution and threaten our democracy.” They called him a “king,” “emperor” and “tyrant.” They were particularly exercised that Obama used executive authority on the issue of — oh, the irony — immigration. In 2014, Trump condemned Obama’s executive order to stop deportations of undocumented parents of children born in the United States as “a very, very dangerous thing that should be overwritten easily by the Supreme Court.”
>Now Trump is traducing the Constitution in ways that Obama would never have dared. This is only the second time since the passage of the 1976 National Emergencies Act that a president has used his emergency powers to take military action — in this case to divert defense funds to build a border wall. The only previous time was after 9/11. And never before has a president employed emergency powers to fund a project that Congress refused to appropriate.
Many Republicans understand what a dangerous precedent this sets. “The whole idea that presidents — whether it’s President Trump, President Warren or President Sanders — can declare an emergency and somehow usurp the separation of powers and get into the business of appropriating money for specific projects without Congress being involved, is a serious constitutional question,” Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) told CNN in early February.
Now Republicans have a chance to vote their consciences, if they have any left. The House will vote Tuesday on a resolution to repeal the state of emergency. The Senate will have its opportunity soon. This is the most important vote that Republicans will make in their lives. And there is every indication that almost all of them will make the wrong choice.
Only one Republican, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, has co-sponsored the House resolution of disapproval. Almost all Republicans will likely do what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) did: He warned against the emergency declaration before it was issued but supported it after Trump ignored his advice.
If Republicans support this unconstitutional power grab, they will have completed their transformation from the party of Reagan — a party devoted to conservative principles — to the party of Trump — a party devoted to no principle other than a desperate desire to propitiate a 2qacapricious would-be tyrant in the White House. They might as well get rid of the elephant and make their party symbol a curved yellow fruit, because they will have become banana republicans. I am worried about the Democrats’ drift to the left, but I can never imagine voting again for a Republican Party that represents a clear and present danger to democracy in the United States.
And Matt Lewis is even more emphatic in another piece posted yesterday:
[I]t is entirely possible that enough Republicans will end up joining Senate Democrats to “disapprove” Trump’s emergency order. This will allow many Republicans to go on record as opposing executive overreach (which will come in handy when a Democratic president co-opts this idea on gun control or climate change).
Disapproving of the emergency order won’t do anything practical to stop the president (it will instead demonstrate their impotence), unless a two-thirds majority in both houses rises to the occasion and overrides Trump’s veto.
And that is exactly what must happen.
The constitutional crisis is upon us, folks. Members of Congress can’t just pass the buck to the courts to handle it. It’s time to take a stand.
Any Republican who votes for this emergency order and (should the situation arise) does not support overturning Trump’s veto has crossed the red line. They’re dead to me, and they should be to you, too.
The words of the Times Editors, Lewis and Boot are well-taken, but it seems fairly clear that for the most part, that their warnings, as well as those of other pundits who have spoken out against this power grab by the President, will largely go unheeded. As noted, in the House the resolution of disapproval that the Democrats have filed has been co-sponsored by only one Republican, Justin Amash of Michigan who is largely an anomaly in the House Republican Caucus. No other Republican member of the “people’s house” has been even the slightest bit critical of what the President is doing here, notwithstanding the fact that he has admitted that he doesn’t really need to do it. For example, the leader of the so-called “House Freedom Caucus.” Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio has come out in favor of the emergency declaration and, by all accounts, the majority of his caucus supports his position. Things aren’t much better in the Senate, with most estimates showing that, at best, there are five Republican Senators who seem as if they could be among those who would cross the aisle and vote with the Democrats. While this would be enough to send the resolution to the President, it would not be nearly enough to override an expected Presidential veto.
It is correct to say, as the articles linked above do, that the upcoming vote on the House Democrat’s disapproval resolution is a litmus test for the Republican Party. If, as seems likely, Republicans choose to sit on the sidelines and allow this illegal and unconstitutional Presidential power grab to go unchallenged then their transformation from what they might have been in the past into the Trump Party will be complete. This isn’t surprising, of course. As I’ve said before, Trump is really just the endpoint of a process that began inside the GOP and the conservative movement in the 1990s. Some people will point to Newt Gingrich and the 1994 election, and there’s certainly evidence for that, but one could also make the case that the real impetus for the what has happened to conservatism over the past 25 or more years began with Pat Buchanan’s “Culture War” speech at the 1992 Republican nomination, or perhaps with the rise of the so-called “religious right” in the 1980’s something that Barry Goldwater himself warned Republicans about to no avail.
Wherever it started, though, the transformation picked up its pace in the 1990s with the victory in the `94 election, the rise of conservative talk radio, and, ultimately, the rise of Fox News Channel, which has in recent years become nothing but a propaganda network spewing right-wing talking points and Trump Administration propaganda. The Internet also helped to the extent that it led to the shattering of what had been something of a media monopoly. In and of itself that’s a good thing, of course, but it has also led to the creation of media bubbles that people can create that shield them from opposing points of view. While there are plenty of people on the left who wrap themselves in these bubbles, it seems to be a far more common thing on the right, where the idea of the “biased media” continues to maintain a hold notwithstanding the fact that their go-to news source is, in fact, the most biased news network on cable television.
The transformation of the GOP and conservatism that began in the 90s became complete after the election of Barack Obama with the rise of the so-called Tea Party. While this movement may have started out as something resembling what it’s name — “Tea” as in “Taxed Enough Already” — stood for, it quickly became the means by which various right-wing organizations mobilized the grassroots into protesting things that had nothing to do with taxes, most prominently including the Affordable Care Act but also eventually immigration and dozens of other seemingly unrelated issues. From the Tea Party, of course, we got politicians such as Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain. Allen West, Louie Gohmert, Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and of course Sarah Palin. More importantly, the influence of the Tea Party was the key factor in the process that pushed Republicans on Capitol Hill, and especially in the House of Representatives, further and further to right. Additionally, the party and the movement became far more populist in a poisonous way that appealed not to broadly popular policy, but on the red meat that satisfies the base. These forces taken all together are what prepared the ground for a Trump-like figure, so when he came along it’s not surprising in retrospect that he was able to roll over opponents who failed to recognize the monster many of them had helped to create.
Because of all of this, it’s pretty clear where Republicans are going to come down this week when they face the test over Trump’s illegitimate declaration of a national emergency. While there will be a handful of Republicans in the House and Senate who will recognize this power grab for what it is and vote accordingly, far too many of them will stand behind this President. At that point, the transformation of the GOP into the Party of Trump will be complete.