Trump declared a state of emergency late last week to get his wall built, and Republicans lined up to support it. He used his executive order powers, as he has many times since getting into office, to bypass Congress. The legislative branch had passed a law that gave him funding for border security, but he didn’t get money for extending the wall across the country as he had demanded, so he used his declaration of a “state of emergency” as a cover to give him access to money allocated for other purposes (military construction and drug interdiction, among other things). The irony is that Trump and the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and of course the Oval Office for the first two years of his administration, and even with a favorable legislative branch couldn’t get his wall started. And his oft-stated claim that Mexico would pay for the wall (even signing a “Contract with the American voter” to that effect) has long been abandoned.
All of the ramifications of Trump’s maneuvering for this ridiculous pet project are subjects for another post; I want to talk here about the hypocrisy of Republicans in Congress (and obviously of Trump himself) around Trump’s use of Executive Orders.
When Obama was in office and used Executive Orders to take action on immigration, Republicans couldn’t object strongly enough. Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell put on expressions of deep gravitas to say that Obama was creating a “constitutional crisis” with “executive overreach” and needed to be called to task for his despicable actions. Fox news floated the question of whether or not he should be impeached, and had “citizen Trump” on the air saying he thought it should be explored.
Now, both McConnell and Graham are perfectly fine with Trump’s use of his Executive Order pen, in spite of the stated purpose of the legislative branch in controlling the actual purse strings. In fact, it is specifically enshrined in the Constitution that the Executive branch can ONLY spend money that has be specifically allocated by the Legislative branch. Article 1, section 9, clause 7 of the Constitution says “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”
Although there had been ample precedent for Obama’s actions, the fact is that he probably did overreach his authority. I’m not saying he might not have been justified, particularly given McConnell’s commitment to stymie virtually every action Obama took, but we have a system of checks and balances written into the Constitution and it’s a dangerous thing to do an end run.
Now the Republican’s have Trump (or he has them) and suddenly the “Executive overreach” that was such a threat to our Constitution and the Rule of Law under Obama are perfectly OK.
H. L. Mencken is credited with saying “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” (His actual quote was slightly different than that, but the gist was the same). I can’t figure out if McConnell and Graham are so cynical that they think the voters don’t remember their “outrage” of a few years ago at Obama, or if, as Mencken implies, the populace is too stupid to notice their hypocrisy.
The scariest part to me is a third possibility: that in fact the voters do remember, but don’t care.