A Vote for the Constitution

March 15, 2019

This week, the Senate passed a resolution of disapproval for President Trump’s emergency declaration for funding for a border wall.

Now, I wholeheartedly and unequivocally support building a wall on our southern border. I agree with the President that there is a crisis unfolding on our border that is endangering men, women, and children, and the surrounding communities; and I agree that it is of the utmost importance to secure our border.

But what I do disagree with is the President’s approach to try and do this. By asserting authority to spend money on objects and priorities in a manner that is not directly authorized by Congress, he is circumventing our constitutional and legal framework – the very framework by which the Founding Fathers intended to protect the American people.

It’s significant that the very first clause of the very first section of the very first article of the Constitution consists of the words “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.”

The Founding Fathers placed the legislative powers with in the federal government in the branch that would be held most accountable to the people at the most regular, routine intervals through elections.

And they very deliberately set up a system of government in which there was a “separation of powers.” So while the legislative branch would write the law, another would enforce the law, and the other would interpret the law. That system of government relied necessarily on the fact that each branch of government would operate within its domain and would jealously guard the powers reserved to it, neither exceeding the powers granted it nor accepting diminution of those powers.

Some people today believe that this system is a nice theory, but is naïve and irrelevant in our diverse and modern nation, which is now a vast global and economic power; and in which Congress can apparently no longer “get things done.”

And indeed, over the past decades, Congress unfortunately chosen to relinquish the power –and hard work – of accountable legislating by ceding much of that power to the executive branch.

And so many believe that we have no choice but to accept – and even encourage – a system of government in which Congress is relegates itself to the back seat of passing law, and in which the we further centralize power in the federal government and particularly in the Executive branch.

But this view gets things exactly backwards. It is the advocates of executive overreach and judicial supremacy who are naïve.

Instead of uniting us behind our ideological and regional differences, centralization of power instead is strangling Washington and toxifying our political discourse. And further, by pulling power into Washington to the less accountable branch of government, we empower and enrich the political and corporate classes at the expense of the working and middle classes.

Centralization is not unity – it’s surrender. Surrender to exactly the kind of monarchical and abusive sort of government that our Founding Fathers were trying to protect us from.

So while political elites may try to assure us otherwise, the Constitution is all process. The whole point is process, so that it protects the American people.

Moreover, the Constitution doesn’t resolve our political differences, and it isn’t meant to. But it does lay out the processes by which we are supposed to resolve them. Brushing that process aside does not override our disagreements, but intensifies and escalates them, ratcheting up our politics into an all-consuming war of outrage and contempt.

When Congress adopted the National Emergencies Act in 1976, it said that the President may declare an emergency with almost no standards. And while at first they included provisions that would allow them to unilaterally could veto the president’s actions, they eventually removed them and instead replaced them with “resolutions of disapproval” that are subject to presidential veto – effectively ceding its power the executive branch once again. And this is precisely the problem.

That’s why I voted in favor of the resolution of disapproval this week; and that’s why I introduced legislation to reform the National Emergencies Act.

Executive overreach – and abdication of Congress’s constitutional powers – is neither a Republican nor Democratic issue; neither a liberal nor a conservative one. It’s an American one. And I will continue to devoting my time and efforts in Congress to addressing it.