Republicans could regret allowing Trump to use sham emergency

While we are confident that Connecticut’s House and Senate representatives in Washington, all Democrats, will push back against President Trump’s sham national emergency declaration, the prospects that enough Republicans from other states will join them appear slim.

And if, because of the unwillingness of Republican leaders to take a principled stand, Trump succeeds with his executive branch power grab, the damage to constitutional checks and balances will be substantial. Republicans could well come to regret their acquiescence when a Democrat is in the White House.

Those who are betting on the federal courts to save the day could be disappointed, because a year from now the Supreme Court might very well rule that Congress gave away its power of the purse constitutionally.

In the other words, the nation confronts a constitutional crisis because of political pandering. Having failed to convince a majority of Congress that funding for his border wall is a necessity, Trump wants to keep his base happy. So he comes up with a national emergency to fund it, able to tell his most ardent backers he is doing all he can to build the wall.

If he fails it will be the fault of the courts, or the biased media, or the Democrats — certainly not him.

Yet the facts are that Trump has tried to make his case for a crisis at the border and the solution of a “beautiful wall” since his run for the presidency in 2016. He promised, nonsensically, that Mexico would pay the bill. Once elected, Trump had the fortune of having his Republican Party controlling the House and Senate. Yet the president was unable to gain funding for his wall from the Republican Congress or Mexico.

In the lead up to the 2018 election, Trump doubled down on his fearful rhetoric about the southern border threat and what to do about it — a wall. The result was solid Democratic gains, including taking control of the House of Representatives.

Given those election results, it should have been no surprise to the president that the Democrats had no interest in providing massive funding for a border structure. Yet for 35 days, the country suffered through a needless partial government shutdown and Coast Guard personnel, air traffic controllers, transportation agents and other critical workers went unpaid, all because Trump signaled he would not sign a bill unless it included $5.7 billion in wall funding.

But he didn’t have the votes, just as all past presidents at times didn’t have the votes and had to live within the means provided by Congress, as the Constitution mandates.

Eventually Trump buckled, the government reopened and a budget won approval from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, including $1.3 billion for border security, which the president is free to use to improve or extend physical barriers along the southern border where it makes sense.

Trump signed the budget bill.

Now he is trying to use his national emergency declaration to get what he could not obtain through the democratic process, or at least to save face. According to the administration, the president plans to redirect $3.6 billion from the military’s construction budget, $2.5 billion from drug interdiction and $600 million in drug forfeiture funds to pay for wall construction.

Congress can stop this and should.

The 1976 law Trump is citing to claim his national emergency expenditure gives Congress the power to override it. The House will vote to do so. Enough Republicans, we suspect, will have the integrity to do likewise in the Republican-controlled Senate. But given an expected Trump veto, overturning the emergency declaration would then require two-thirds votes, and it is highly unlikely enough Republicans will stand up to Trump to get that number.

But before they support this behavior, Republicans might consider how a future Democratic president could use an emergency declaration to address gun violence, climate change or health care despite GOP opposition.

At the very least, Congress should re-examine that 1976 law that provides presidents far too much leeway in using emergency claims to legislate from the executive branch. Presidents have used it 59 times, though never so blatantly to get around the will of Congress.

The law provided an open portal for a demagogic president to exploit it. Now the nation has one.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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