Just five days before President Trump declared a national emergency to build an unnecessary wall, he sent a tweet quoting foothills Congressman Tom McClintock.
Disregarding the “power of the purse” held by Congress, McClintock stated, “The president is on sound legal ground to declare a national emergency. There have been 58 national emergencies declared since the law was enacted in 1976, and 31 are currently active, so this is hardly unprecedented.”
What is unprecedented is a president doing an end run around Congress to appropriate money for a manufactured crisis. A hallmark of the Constitution is separation of powers for our three branches of government. In their wisdom, Founding Fathers believed checks and balances were necessary to protect our democracy. A constitutional crisis is inevitable if the president is allowed to fabricate a crisis to bypass congressional authority.
The National Emergencies Act does not automatically hand the president a blank check if a national emergency is declared. Contrary to what the president is calling a crisis, border crossings and border arrests are at the lowest levels in decades. In addition, from 2009 to 2014, 13 percent more Mexicans returned to Mexico than migrated to the United States.
For more than a decade, McClintock has spoken religiously at town halls about the Constitution and the genius of our Founding Fathers. In 2013, during the 16-day Tea Party shutdown, McClintock went on the House floor and defended the “power of the purse” against the Obama administration’s request to raise the debt ceiling. He said the 2013 impasse “had taken on the dimensions of a constitutional crisis.”
McClintock also claimed in 2013, “If the Republicans acquiesce to the president’s wishes, then a fundamental element of our Constitution will have been destroyed. The power of the purse will have shifted from the representatives of the people to the executive. Thus, a perilous era will have begun.”
In a stunning reversal, McClintock has abandoned his reverence for the Constitution.
The real crisis for the president is his inability to fulfill a campaign promise to build a border wall and have Mexico pay for it. By manufacturing a national emergency, he decided to do what he failed to accomplish in the two years Republicans had control of Congress.
The president even admitted in a press conference, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.”
Congressman John Garamendi, D-CA, is taking a strong stand against the emergency declaration. Garamendi chairs the Readiness Subcommittee that controls the funding for crucial military projects the president wants to sideline. He compared the president’s raiding of funds Congress has appropriated for national security to “putting his hands on a very hot stove.”
Garamendi calls the emergency declaration “a sham emergency that is unconstitutional and unnecessary. I will push back to protect the military projects in our communities.”
The likely outcome for the unconstitutional emergency declaration is it will get tossed out by the courts on its merits, or get tossed by property owners’ challenges over massive seizures of private land along the nearly 2,000-mile southern border.
By giving the president a green light to violate the Constitution, McClintock has defied our Founding Fathers’ desire to protect us from an autocratic president. It is hypocritical for McClintock to change his tune on a fundamental Constitutional issue now that a Republican is in the White House and Democrats control the House of Representatives.
Marc Boyd lives in the Mother Lode and is an educator, a businessman and a former Democratic candidate for state Assembly in a foothills district.