Fifty-nine members of the United States Senate have handed President Trump a major defeat, voting to disapprove his emergency declaration to build a wall on the border with Mexico. In doing so, 12 Republican senators voting with 47 Democrats decided to put the Constitution and the country over party allegiance.
It was also the first time in Trump’s presidency that congress has stood up to the president to protect their powers granted the legislative branch under Article I of the Constitution.
This constitutional confrontation is far from over. The president has indicated he will veto the resolution of disapproval. House and Senate leaders would then have decide if they would attempt to override the veto that would require a two-thirds vote in both houses.
The importance of this moment should not be lost, coming as it does at a very precarious time for the administration. It is under siege by the special counsel’s investigation into possible Russian collusion in the 2016 campaign. New York authorities are looking into Trump’s past business deals while House committees are diligently performing their oversight function into the executive branch.
Now into the second half of his presidency Trump shows no sign of “growing in the job” or figuring out what authority the Constitution has granted him or what powers it has given to the other separate but equal branches of our federal government. His so-called emergency declaration to build a border wall is a prime example.
In this case, Congress enacted an appropriation bill that did not include funding for Trump’s border wall. Although he signed the bill into law, he now comes with what he labels an “emergency declaration” setting forth his reasons why a border wall is necessary to protect the United States from those mainly seeking asylum. The approach taken by Trump is misguided for many reasons but I will limit my criticism to only two of them.
First, declaring an emergency does not make it so. Secondly, in this particular instance, he has violated Article I, of the Constitution.
There is no emergency. According to official statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, the number of people attempting to illegally enter the U.S. from Mexico is down significantly from previous years. Things are not out of control at the border.
Trump created a similar “emergency” at the border in October during last year’s congressional campaign. Called out the army and commanded them to the border. What happened? When the troops got there they saw no emergency, no chaos, no riots, no crisis. What they did see were thousands of children living in cages separated from their parents, some for months and some perhaps for years. As Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd, whose district is located along the border, has said about a declaration by the president, “it would be a bad idea to call a national emergency.”
The reality is that even if Trump gets his way, the matter will be tied up in court for years and no border wall will be constructed during this period.
Trump has identified where he will cobble together the money for the wall. Some of it will come from reducing by 25 percent spending approved by Congress for military construction. Some of this money was slotted for direct national security activities. All of this will be held up until the Supreme Court finally decides the matter. And there will be hundreds of individual cases that will be brought by those whose land will be taken by the government for building a wall. These cases will litigate the issues surrounding the taking of private property and eminent domain requirements. These are issues of great concern for many who supported Trump in the 2016 election.
The declaration violates the constitutional separation of powers. Article I of the Constitution reads: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
Trump has gotten himself into this situation by doing his favorite presidential two-step — playing the role of a super-reality legislator. He might one day perform this role on television, but not while occupying the Oval Office. In the past, he has benefited from a majority of his own party in Congress that has often viewed their role as presidential enabler rather than protecting the powers of the legislative branch of government empowered by the Constitution and required by law to keep a check on the executive branch.
Congress must use its own formidable powers to ensure blatant disregard for the Constitution is brought to a halt. This we have finally seen with the vote in the senate of the resolution of disapproval of the president’s emergency declaration to fund the border wall. Let’s hope Congress is ready to function as the fully separate and independent institution the Constitution meant it to be. Congress should be a watchdog over the executive and not simply a lap dog for the president.
Tom Coleman represented Missouri as a Republican in the United States House from 1976-1993. He has taught as an adjunct professor at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and at American University in Washington, D.C.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.