A handful of Republican senators have finally stepped up to question — quite rightly — whether there truly is a “national emergency” at the nation’s border with Mexico.
Even if their newly found courage isn’t enough to halt the president’s “because I say so” style of governing, it is encouraging that some in his party are finding their voices.
Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, is the latest to announce his support for a House-passed resolution aimed at blocking President Trump’s emergency declaration, and with it the prospect of spending an additional $3.6 billion for a border wall whose main intent is to placate either his political base or right-wing talk show hosts — or both.
‘‘I can’t vote to give the president the power to spend money that hasn’t been appropriated by Congress,’’ Paul said in a speech over the weekend. ‘‘We may want more money for border security, but Congress didn’t authorize it. If we take away those checks and balances, it’s a dangerous thing.’’
At least three fellow Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — have also said they will support the resolution, meaning it probably has enough votes to pass the Senate.
But the resolution still falls short of the two-thirds needed to override a threatened presidential veto. That’s unfortunate, not just because it represents a deplorable waste of money, but also because every member of Congress — of whatever political philosophy — will come to regret the day they turned over their power to appropriate money to the executive branch.
It was a point Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell made when Trump first announced his intention to take the $1.375 billion Congress did appropriate for border security and then declare a national emergency at the border. But McConnell, up for reelection next year, has already folded, joining the wing of the party that trembles at the propsect of opposing anything this president does. Of course, Collins is also up for reelection, but she may have more to fear from a potential Democratic opponent than from a primary challenge.
The fact remains that the emergency declaration is not rooted in anything resembling facts (illegal crossings at the southern border are down significantly, from 1.6 million in 2000 to about 400,000 last year) but rather is an exercise in presidential petulance.
The dollars actually available to the president, even without an emergency declaration, tell the story. In addition to the money appropriated last month by Congress, the president can draw on another $2.5 billion from a Pentagon account designated for drug interdiction. That doesn’t require an emergency declaration. There’s also $601 million available in a forfeiture fund in the Treasury Department.
So the administration would have to spend $4.5 billion over the next year before Trump would even have a reason to tap into the additional $3.6 billion he insists is needed to quell this “emergency.”
Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, last week warned about creating a “a constitutional crisis about the separation of powers.” However, he has not yet indicated how he will vote on the resolution opposing the declaration. Nor have Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who have both expressed reservations.
Words are cheap. A resounding vote against this emergency declaration by Senate Republicans concerned about the gross misuse of taxpayer funds and a vast expansion of presidential power might send a message to the man in the White House that there are limits to his excesses and to his abuse of authority. And that they can no longer be counted on to approve of either.