There are a few things in politics that are red lines―once they are crossed, there is no going back. Trump’s emergency declaration is one of them. If a president can declare anything he wants to do an “emergency,” then our republican system has been torn asunder.
If a president can simply invoke a magic word to accomplish whatever he wants, it hardly matters where you stand on taxes or tariffs or… anything else. This is one of those “first principles” you hear about.
Fortunately, we elected a bunch of “constitutional conservatives” during the Tea Party era who I’m sure will swiftly put an end to this dictatorial overreach.
I’m being sarcastic, of course. Don’t expect any Gadsden flag-waving cavalry to show up and save the day.
Bill Kristol has been tweeting a video of Ted Cruz passionately arguing that "it's incumbent on Republicans in Congress to use every single tool we have to defend the rule of law, to rein in the president, so that the president does not become an unaccountable monarch.”
Pretty tough rhetoric. Cruz then adds that “this is a moment of testing.”
He’s right. This is a test. Unfortunately, we’re failing it. The video was from 2014—back when nearly every conservative (including yours truly) was criticizing Barack Obama’s usurpation of congressional authority. Today, however, it’s highly doubtful many conservatives will muster the same level of righteous indignation.
Indeed, Cruz seems to be enabling Trump’s move, while simultaneously urging him to do so in a way that avoids setting precedent for future presidents. Hint: Once the genie is out of the bottle, he’s out of the bottle.
In fairness to Cruz, few on the right have the courage of their convictions. Rush Limbaugh, likewise, was aghast at executive branch power grabs before he was for them. And if it took Cruz five years to evolve; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took just a few days to cave―and he is a veteran establishment figure who ought to fully comprehend the consequences of Trump’s actions.
The good news is that a few of the libertarian-leaning conservatives are taking a principled stand. For example, Rand Paul said, "Extraconstitutional executive actions are wrong, no matter which party does them." The problem being that Rand Paul’s history of flip-flopping undermines his strong stance on this issue.
Perhaps the most eloquent response came from Rep. Justin Amash, a youngish Michigan Republican with an intellectually honest streak. You should read his whole thread, but Amash’s polite (but firm) conclusion sums it up well: “Congress should (and I will) work to repeal laws that ostensibly grant legislative powers to the president. But even if Congress does no such thing, such laws are void under our Constitution, and any emergency declaration by the president for a non-emergency is likewise void.”
Sadly, Amash is both literally and figuratively in the minority. Instead of “constitutional conservatives” who care about principles and precedents, we have quislings. Instead of champions of liberty, we have apologists for situational ethics.
For some reason, the media continues to portray this story as the Republican Party at odds with this president. You’ll see headlines suggesting Republicans are “split” or “divided” over Trump’s decision—a rare example of the press giving the GOP too much credit for courage and independence.
Sure, Chuck Grassley said “I wish he wouldn’t have done it.” Susan Collins said it was "a mistake," and Marco Rubio is “skeptical” he can support Trump’s emergency order. Churchillian declarations they are not.
Now, it is entirely possible that enough Republicans will end up joining Senate Democrats to “disapprove” Trump’s emergency order. This will allow many Republicans to go on record as opposing executive overreach (which will come in handy when a Democratic president co-opts this idea on gun control or climate change).
Disapproving of the emergency order won’t do anything practical to stop the president (it will instead demonstrate their impotence), unless a two-thirds majority in both houses rises to the occasion and overrides Trump’s veto.
And that is exactly what must happen.
The constitutional crisis is upon us, folks. Members of Congress can’t just pass the buck to the courts to handle it. It’s time to take a stand.
Any Republican who votes for this emergency order and (should the situation arise) does not support overturning Trump’s veto has crossed the red line. They’re dead to me, and they should be to you, too.