During the riotous 2016 presidential campaign when real-estate tycoon and reality-TV star Donald Trump traveled the land, vowing to build a wall all along America’s southern border to keep out the Mexican criminal element, some of us who even deem Mexico a failed state or close to it wondered how Trump as president would ever compel Mexico to pay for such a wall. Meanwhile, a chorus of Trump apologists in Central Texas and beyond pressed us to not take Trump literally but, instead, seriously. This was a pivotal clue: If you can’t take someone at his or her very word, he or she doesn’t exactly measure up as trustworthy.
Three years later? President Trump quickly discovered Mexico wouldn’t pay for the wall. He also discovered some pesky constitutional protocols designed to deter authoritarian governance, including the separation of powers so eloquently championed by his own Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, in his new book, “A Republic, If You Can Keep It,” released last week. So Trump declared a dubious emergency to circumvent the power of the purse that the Constitution strictly reserves to Congress. And now he raids Pentagon coffers to build his border wall, congressional appropriations for the U.S. military be damned.
All this has put Republican lawmakers including our own congressman in an awkward bind. Many have encouraged military spending in an increasingly hostile world. Fair point. Many of these same Republican lawmakers spent much of the Obama administration decrying that Democratic president’s use of executive power to circumvent the Constitution’s Article I powers. Fair point. Yet now most of these lawmakers sit mute or even cheer as a Republican president undermines Congress to an astounding degree only imagined during the maligned Obama administration.
The $3.6 billion in plundered military funding includes everything from construction to counteract serious threats in Eastern Europe from Russian menace (once regarded with vigilance by Republicans) to school facilities for military families in Kentucky and beyond (rousing even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from his lethargy; he faces re-election in Kentucky in 2020). Now Republicans urge “backfilling” — spending even more money we don’t have to replace the billions in looted defense spending as trillion-dollar deficits characterize the Trump administration. Say, aren’t Republicans supposed to be the fiscal hawks that Democrats are not?
On the verge of Constitution Day, the president seems to have conceded that all those deal-making skills he touted were just part of his successful 2016 charade. He and his minions now rewrite vast chunks of immigration and asylum law, making a mockery of Congress’ reserved power to write and pass laws — laws the president is to execute, not bend to his whims. Alas, Republican lawmakers today find the founding document they once so readily championed a dusty inconvenience demanding political courage they quite obviously lack. Rather than stick up for the military and the Constitution, many now jump ship or avert their gaze. They deserve no accolades, no respect and no sympathy.