With the help of Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the Senate delivered a stinging rebuke to President Donald Trump. An overwhelming majority approved a resolution to nullify Trump’s national emergency declaration, directly defying his effort to build a southern border wall. Trump’s pledge to veto the resolution sets the table for a constitutional showdown. As Blunt’s vote made clear, this is not about demonstrating loyalty to the president; it’s about defending the Constitution.
Trump’s only job in the weeks before Thursday’s vote was to convince Congress and the American public that the flow of illegal immigration across the border is so overwhelming that only a border wall can fix it. He failed repeatedly in that endeavor, even after a 35-day government shutdown. Republicans joined Democrats in blocking border wall funding. Case closed.
But Trump plans to circumvent Congress and the Constitution by invoking the National Emergencies Act to divert $3.6 billion already appropriated by Congress for other purposes. Some weak-kneed lawmakers, including Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., hid behind the “emergency” part of this argument while evading the more crucial question of constitutional powers.
Congress holds sole authority to appropriate funds. Hawley, a self-proclaimed authority on constitutional law, cannot possibly be confused about the appropriations clause of the Constitution. Yet he is blinded either by loyalty to Trump or fear of popular backlash if he dares to defy the president. Blunt, by contrast, refused to let the border wall controversy distract him from the far more important issue at hand.
Other prominent Republicans have had no qualms about where to draw the line. “This is a vote for the Constitution and for the balance of powers that is at its core. For the executive branch to override a law passed by Congress would make it the ultimate power rather than a balancing power,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
Hawley took an oath to defend the Constitution, not the president. Back when Hawley was running for attorney general in 2016, he told the Post-Dispatch editorial board that he would not hesitate to stand up to the president “when that president doesn’t follow the law or takes actions that threaten the people of Missouri. ... If I have to intervene or sue a President Donald Trump, I will.” Well?
Funding for Army Corps of Engineers projects affecting Missouri — not to mention construction of the $1.7 billion National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency western headquarters in St. Louis — could be threatened by Trump’s diversion of funds for his wall. So, yes, the people of Missouri are threatened. The Constitution is threatened.
Thursday’s vote is a clear message to Trump, from Republicans and Democrats, that he must stop trying to usurp congressional authority. When it comes time to override Trump’s veto, Hawley should honor his promises and join Blunt in standing up to Trump.