KEVIN LEININGER: Memo to GOP: Principle is great, but voters expect you to achieve something, too
Since Gerald Ford signed the authorizing legislation in 1976, seven presidents have declared a total of 58 national emergencies and 31 are still in effect — the oldest being Jimmy Carter’s freezing of Iranian assets during the hostage crisis of 1979. And that doesn’t even include President Trump’s declaration of an emergency at the Southern border deemed so outlandish by Congress that it was soundly rejected in both houses with the help of 13 representatives and 12 senators who sided with the Democratic majority against their fellow Republican in the White House.
“Republicans can disagree on principle, and the reasons varied,” Sen. Todd Young of Indiana told me last week. “Some thought there were other ways for the wall to get get funded.” Although Young and Indiana’s junior Sen. Mike Braun both supported Trump, some Republicans worried future Democratic presidents might abuse emergency declarations should Trump be allowed to do so now. Others shared Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s concern that the declaration usurps Congress’ budgetary authority. “Each on of us has sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” he explained.
But then so did Young, Braun and the 40 other senators and 182 representatives who voted to uphold Trump’s declaration, which would provide about $6.6 billion in funding for border security in addition to the $1.4 billion included in a spending deal that avoided another government shutdown last month.
“After weeks of careful study and discussion with legal experts, there’s no question the declaration adheres to the law,” said Young, now entering his third year in office. “But (my vote) was also a policy judgment. There is a crisis at the border, creating problems with human trafficking, narcotics and an infringement on our sovereignty.” Braun said much the same thing in a statement, insisting that because the spending deal did not sufficiently address the border crisis Trump had “no other option than to declare a national emergency.”
Trump has promised to veto Congress’ disapproval, meaning the courts will ultimately have to decide whether the border declaration exceeds the president’s constitutional authority. But with Trump’s promise of a wall having contributed to his election in 2016, and with no barriers erected during his first two years in office despite a GOP majority in both the House and Senate, Republican voters could be forgiven for wondering why standing on principle always seems to work in the other side’s favor. After all, many of the same Democrats opposing border security now supported it under such previous presidents as Bill Clinton, who barely 20 years ago could say “All Americans . . . are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country” without being accused of endorsing white supremacy.
These days, Young correctly pointed out, Democrats are uniting around the far-left position that endorses not only the destruction of barriers that already exist but the elimination of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which is detaining an average of 46,500 migrants — the highest number on record.
I would never urge anyone to cast a vote that violates an oath or is inconsistent with conscience, but politics is also about producing results. It should remembered that when every Democratic senator was needed to pass Obamacare in 2009, several votes were secured in ways that had little to do with principle. Bernie Sanders of Vermont took credit for $10 billion in funding for community health centers; Louisiana got $300 million in Medicaid funding and Bob Nelson’s “Cornhusker Kickback” saved Nebraska taxpayers $45 million in Medicaid taxes over 10 years. Nor should it be forgotten that it was Senate Democrats who invoked the so-called “nuclear option” in 2013, allowing them to approved executive branch nominations and federal judicial appointments by simple majority vote instead of the 60 needed previously. In an all-too-rare display of hardball, Republicans expanded the precedent to approve two Supreme Court justices.
Young insists Trump remains serious about border security and points to real accomplishments during his first two years in office: tax cuts, regulation reform and more. “It’s remarkable what we’ve achieved by standing on principle,” he said, even as Democrats “have all decided to oppose him.”
But does anyone really believe such results-oriented unity will not continue under a future Democratic president and congressional majority that is veering left at warp speed, seemingly unconcerned with constitutional limits and the traditions of the past? What good will conservative principles do when the only party that values them has been neutered by its own ethics?
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at email@example.com or call him at 461-8355.