For the two U.S. senators representing Texas and the Republican congressmen representing Central Texas who for nearly a decade have drawn pocket Constitutions to sermonize to the press and the people about the almighty importance of Article I and the wisdom of separation of powers, the jig is up. When a Democrat one day occupies the presidency and invokes emergency powers to also subvert Congress’ power of the purse, these lawmakers will have forfeited any right to cite the Constitution in outrage. They have violated their oaths of office.
The House and Senate have now voted for resolutions formally disapproving of President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency regarding the situation on our southern border. Our own lawmakers unfortunately opposed this. The president has now vetoed the resolution. And so for the first time in U.S. history, in direct defiance of Congress, a president will use this declaration to siphon taxpayer money constitutionally appropriated for other key purposes, including military priorities, to fund construction of a border wall. Congress has repeatedly refused to allocate money for wall construction to the degree that he demands. (In a bipartisan compromise last month, it allocated $1.38 billion.)
Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who has built a reputation as a strict constructionist of the U.S. Constitution, to his credit tried to push legislation last week that would allow Trump to do his executive end-run around Congress this one time but going forward would rein in such unrestrained executive power. Lee acknowledged that Congress had ceded too much legislative power to the executive branch. However, when he pressed this as a compromise that might give strict constructionists such as himself cover and the president his wall funding, the president rebuffed him. Trump will surrender no power.
Context is important. Sen. Lee and other Republican senators pushed this futile compromise because they now clearly realize that the awful precedent Trump is establishing is a step toward American Caesars — the death knell for our constitutional republic. Even John Cornyn, Texas’ senior senator, acknowledged that Lee’s compromise might be “the single most important outcome of this debate” over border wall funding. In the end, Lee maintained his principles. He voted for the resolution, defying Trump. Supposed constitutional champion Ted Cruz, along with Cornyn, voted against it. History will take note.
Yes, Trump disciples will note Speaker Nancy Pelosi also refused Sen. Lee’s compromise, but her stand is at least consistent and principled: If all that we’re witnessing is deemed executive overreach in the future, then by sheer logic Trump’s actions must be so now. Two questions remain beyond what federal courts might do: First, when the president seeks money for military programs he plundered for his wall funding (including possibly $500 million for Texas bases), should Congress allocate more for these, knowing he may well plunder again? The other is troubling for those of us convinced America will decay from within well before its collapse: Do those cheering Trump’s move in the name of a border wall accept complicity in what Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro accurately labels “constitutional vandalism” — or do they even care?