Why Every Senator Should Have Voted to End the President’s Emergency Declaration
How did we get here?
President Trump told us over and over that Mexico would pay for the wall. And instead of taking that up with Mexico, he has now asked the American taxpayer to fulfill his broken promise.
For two years, a Republican Congress did not pay for the president’s wall. So he went to the American people during the 2018 election. They rewarded him by handing Democrats the House of Representatives. Then last December, Democrats offered the president $1.3 billion for border security. Instead of accepting the fact that Congress doesn’t want to pay for his wall, he shut the government down for 35 days. And then, after all that misery, he basically got the same deal that he got before the shutdown, making that exercise entirely pointless.
So having failed to get Mexico to pay for the wall, having failed to get a Republican Congress to pay for the wall, he now says he’s going to declare a national emergency to pay for it.
This is not a national emergency. This is just Plan B. And the president has admitted as much. He said, “I don’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” The president is also saying, “much of the wall has already been fully renovated or built” at the same time he’s saying he needs a national emergency to build the wall. It is preposterous. And it’s not the truth.
When the president signed the emergency declaration, he said, “national emergencies, have been signed many times before…They sign it. Nobody cares.”
Nobody has cared because those were real emergencies. They were not cases where a president used a national emergency to pay for something Congress explicitly refused to fund. That has never happened before in American history. And if we go down this road, it will not be the last time.
This should bother everybody who believes in our Constitution, which gives Congress the power of the purse. Every senator should be voting to protect that.
I have been shocked at how people who call themselves “constitutional conservatives” have tolerated a president who doesn’t care about the rule of law, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, and who slanders journalists as “fake news.”
But I would think this would be one step too far.
Let’s add it all up. The president couldn’t get Mexico to pay for the wall. He couldn’t get a Republican Congress to pay for the wall. So now he’s violating the Constitution to steal money that has been appropriated by Congress from the Department of Defense — from our war fighters — to expropriate private land from our farmers and ranchers through eminent domain.
It must be said, the president has a very unusual view about eminent domain for a politician.
He’s said, “I think eminent domain is wonderful.”
“Eminent domain is something that has to be used, usually you would say for anything that’s long, like a road, like a pipeline, or like a wall or a fence.”
“We are going to need a little eminent domain to get that wall built, just so you understand…You need eminent domain, you have to take certain areas, okay?”
That’s the kind of language you’d expect out of an autocrat, not in a democracy.
To my Republican friends, that is what you are supporting by voting to uphold this national emergency. What a betrayal of conservative principles this is. I don’t understand why people are willing to cash in their principles so cheaply — for $3.6 billion. Surrendering your principles in such a tawdry exchange should infuriate the real conservatives who live in this country.
And that’s not even the most important point here. The most important point is that, while we are screwing around over the president’s wall, China has been busy. And I know somebody will say, “they have a wall.” Yes, they built it 500 years ago. That’s not what they’re working on today.
Today, China is spending $125 billion on their railroads, including a lot of high-speed rail. They have spent $300 billion on new roads, bridges, and ports across the globe through their Belt and Road Initiative. They have bought stakes in 16 ports across Europe and the Mediterranean. They have laid over 3,700 miles of fiber-optic cable to connect Africa to Latin America. And back home, every night on cable news all we hear is, “$3.6 billion, the wall, the wall, the wall.” The world is racing ahead of us, while we’re getting run around by one inane distraction after another.
Unless we’re prepared to be the first generation of Americans to leave less opportunity, not more, to the people coming after us, we need to do a lot better. And part of that is preserving the institutions that built this country. We’re talking here about the rule of law. We’re talking about the Constitution that generations of Americans have preserved, not always perfectly, often very imperfectly. But every generation of Americans has seen it as their obligation to try and live up to the pages in our founding documents.
This whole country is founded on the idea that we will have disagreements, because in a republic, you have disagreements. There is no king or tyrant to tell you what to think. But the Founders believed that out of that vigorous disagreement, we would create more imaginative and durable solutions than any tyrant could come up with on their own. That’s why they designed our institutions the way that they did.
But this generation of politicians — and I accept my share of the blame — have degraded these institutions. But we cannot continue to degrade these institutions and expect that the next generation of Americans is going to look back on us with anything except contempt.
We will regret it if we go down this road. If President Trump sets this precedent, and some Democratic president follows it, that is one more step away from the republic we all claim we cherish, to put power in the hands of a tyrant.
That would be a shameful day in the United States Senate.
Adapted from remarks delivered on the Senate floor on March 14, 2019.