Opinion Pieces

Chronicle: I support border security; today I voted to prevent a future president from unilaterally enacting a Green New Deal

February 25, 2019, Washington Post: “[Governor Jay] Inslee said he would be willing to declare a national emergency on climate change, allowing drastic federal action that could not pass Congress, if the Supreme Court upholds President Trump’s emergency declaration to build a wall on the southern border. ‘…if the rules change and the circumstances change, we’re going to play by whatever rules exist to deal with this existential crisis.’” 

I support President Trump’s emphasis on border security. In fact, I’ve repeatedly voted to exceed his request for funds to add physical barriers along our southern border. When it comes to asking Congress to step up the plate and ensure we know who’s coming in and out of our country, I have been and will continue to be his ally. 

Unfortunately, Congress has failed to take the necessary steps to fix our nation’s broken immigration system. President Trump is frustrated, and so am I. As an appropriator, I’ve helped craft and voted in favor of a Homeland Security spending plan to provide $5 billion for 200 miles of physical barrier and enhanced border security for this year alone. Last year I voted for legislation to provide nearly $30 billion for enhanced border security and physical barrier construction along the southern border. Congress, however, failed to advance these funding solutions.

Despite the lack of progress on border security, using an emergency declaration to circumvent congressional action – whether Congress is right or, in this case, dead wrong – is a very dangerous path. To the benefit of all, there is a separation of powers in this country whereby Congress makes the decisions on where money will be spent, and the president carries out those decisions. Do we really want a President Inslee, who has repeatedly failed to enact such initiatives as a carbon tax in his own blue state, to be empowered to finally enact a harmful agenda on a national scale – even if Congress opposes him?

Conservatives may cheer President Trump circumventing Congress in this manner today, but the cheering will stop when a liberal president follows this example to raid our military to pay for government-run health care. Other extreme liberals have already suggested that the Green New Deal and halting individual firearm ownership warrant similar emergency declarations.

The president (and individual members of Congress) may not like what Congress decides, but he is pushing the constitutional limits on the executive office by overturning those decisions by himself. The weaker we make Congress, the more we empower a single individual to rule this country, and the easier we make it for a president to abuse power.

There’s nothing new about presidential emergency declarations; I’ve supported them. I’m aware that President Obama declared 12 national emergencies during his time in office, and President Trump had already declared three prior to this latest one. However, none of those previous declarations were for initiatives that – right or wrong – Congress had rejected. That’s a key difference, and allowing this type of emergency declaration to move forward will set a precedent that conservatives will come to regret.

When President Obama used executive action to circumvent Congress and implement his “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” aimed at undocumented individuals, I spoke out against the unconstitutionality of this executive overreach. So did most of my Republican colleagues. As my Republican Senate colleague Thom Tillis wrote recently: “There is no intellectual honesty in now turning around and arguing that there’s an imaginary asterisk attached to executive overreach — that it’s acceptable for my party but not thy party.”

To clarify: my vote to nullify this latest emergency declaration was a vote to maintain the separation of powers upon which our country was founded. It was not a vote against border security, because I agree with the president on the importance of strong borders and firmly believe securing our borders is our constitutional duty. But we must proceed in a way that doesn’t open the floodgates for future presidents to abuse a power the founders never intended.

We live in a representative democracy with checks and balances, so no one person has the power to use government to do whatever he wants. The Constitution is the only thing that protects you and me from a scenario where one person can overrule all institutions – and so I voted to ensure the Constitution stands strong.

If one president can unilaterally build a wall, the next president can unilaterally tear it down. That’s not speculation; multiple 2020 Democrat presidential hopefuls have suggested it. I’m going to continue my efforts in Congress to ensure our southern border is secure and our citizens are safe. The only way to build a lasting, successful immigration policy is through force of law passed by Congress. Governing by emergency is no way to operate and Congress needs to do its job.