By Michael Bryan
Senator Martha McSally cast the defining vote of her short tenure in the Senate yesterday when she voted against the Senate resolution terminating Trump’s fallacious emergency on the southern border under the 1976 National Emergencies Act. McSally’s vote was surely intended to protect her right flank as she faces another election for her seat in 2020; voting for the President’s unprecedented power grab will surely win her fans on the right, but at what cost to her duty and oath to uphold the Constitution?
McSally certainly has a certain degree of herd security for her cowardly act – only 12 of her colleagues had the fortitude to stand up for the Constitutional prerogatives of the Congress to allocate spending. However, the fact that most of the GOP caucus is enthralled by a grifter is no excuse for betraying your Constitutional oath.
The 1976 Act is a limit on Presidential power to declare emergencies, not an enablement act. By declaring an emergency when clearly not much has changed on the border in years, except that Congress explicitly voted to deny him funds to build his wall, Trump seeks to bypass Congressional control of the purse under Article I in order to redirect funds that Congress has already allocated to other uses – specifically, emergency relief funds and military building projects.
The President’s seizure of such power from Congress fundamentally shifts the balance of power between the branches of our government in favor of the Presidency. One can debate whether that would be a good idea, but it certainly isn’t a wise innovation without any deliberation beyond whether one supports this particular over-reaching President for this petty purpose. That’s what McSally and too many of her Congressional GOP colleagues did with their votes in favor of the President – voted to permanently give away to the Presidency one of the central powers of Congress.
This vote was a betrayal of the founding design of the Constitution – a betrayal of these Senators’ own powers – and that is the first step on the road to centralizing more and more power in the Presidency, until we truly have an imperial chief executive.
Senator Tom Tillis of North Carolina wrote in the Washington Post regarding his decision to vote against the President:
“From the perspective of the chief executive, I can understand why the president would assert his powers with the emergency declaration to implement his policy agenda. After all, nearly every president in the modern era has similarly pushed the boundaries of presidential power, many with the helping hand of Congress.
In fact, if I were the leader of the Constitution’s Article II branch, I would probably declare an emergency and use all the tools at my disposal as well. But I am not. I am a member of the Senate, and I have grave concerns when our institution looks the other way at the expense of weakening Congress’s power.
It is my responsibility to be a steward of the Article I branch, to preserve the separation of powers and to curb the kind of executive overreach that Congress has allowed to fester for the better part of the past century. I stood by that principle during the Obama administration, and I stand by it now…
…Republicans need to realize that this will lead inevitably to regret when a Democrat once again controls the White House, cites the precedent set by Trump, and declares his or her own national emergency to advance a policy that couldn’t gain congressional approval.”
Senator Tillis includes in his reasoning some political considerations that I find venal and vile, and still comes to the right position: vote to stop the emergency declaration. However, the pressure from the President was so strong and insistent, that even Tillis was ultimately forced to eat his wise words and vote “No” along with McSally and the other Congressional toadies to the President. I don’t expect Tillis will survive such a savage humiliation, nor should he.
Neither should Martha McSally any longer be considered worthy of serving in the Senate, having voted to denigrate the powers of her own office. She has violated her oath to protect and defend the Constitution.
Why did she do it? I can make a conjecture as to her political motivations, but McSally herself sought and received assurances from the President and the military that projects in Arizona would not be affected by any financial reprogramming that the President might do. She cites that as a key reason for her vote. So, in exchange for the empty promises of a notorious liar, McSally agreed to permanently cripple Congress, so long as Arizona’s ox wasn’t gored – only those of other States. Reprehensible.
Perhaps she was persuaded by McConnell’s last minute Hail Mary attempt to keep his caucus in check. McConnell put forth a deal under which AFTER this one exception the Congress would revisit the matter of emergency declarations under regular order:
“On Thursday morning, hours before the Senate voted, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered his Republican colleagues a cynical excuse to support Trump’s abuse. “If the 116th Congress regrets the degree of flexibility that the 94th Congress gave the executive, then the 116th Congress has the ability to do something about it,” said McConnell. He proposed to revise the Emergencies Act through future legislation enacted under “regular order.” Trump made the same pitch, offering to update the Emergencies Act “at a later date.” In the meantime, Trump and McConnell urged Republican senators to give Trump enough votes to sustain his veto and preserve the current emergency declaration. And they succeeded.
No one should trust this offer. A president who seizes the power of the purse in defiance of the will of Congress, which no president has done before, can’t be expected to accept real constraints. In fact, on Wednesday, Trump rejected a Republican proposal to limit his authority under the Emergencies Act. It’s laughable that McConnell, while urging Congress to give the president immediate and unprecedented emergency powers, insists that constraints on these powers should be deferred to a more orderly legislative process. Just give us this one coup, says the authoritarian party, and we’ll restore democracy.”
Indeed. Just give us this one coup and then we’ll restore democracy. Poppycock.
Martha McSally no longer gets any respect or benefit of the doubt from me. She is unfit to serve. I feel great sympathy for her personally, dealing as she is with her own #MeToo moment, but she has betrayed her oath, betrayed her office, and betrayed the people of Arizona.
If you love the Constitution, if you think that office-holders, above all else, must defend the Constitutional order, you can no longer cast a vote for Martha McSally.