Statement of Vice Chairman Leahy On The Joint Resolution Of Disapproval Of President Trump's Declaration Of A National Emergency

Sometimes casting a vote on the Senate floor is just a matter of course.  It is something we do routinely, usually without considering the impact of that vote on the Senate as an institution, let alone on our constitutional republic as we know it. This week’s vote on President Trump’s national emergency declaration is different. It is a pivotal moment in this body’s history. It is a stress test of the very notion of separation of powers. And it will be viewed for decades as the moment when Congress either asserted itself as a coequal branch of government – or surrendered as a subordinate to the will of a President who now claims his powers are absolute. 

This is a President who has said – out loud – that the Constitution gives him the right to do “whatever I want as President.” This President is now attempting to ignore the explicit will of Congress by simply declaring a national emergency to fund his “big, beautiful” wall. A wall he promised Mexico would pay for. 

For three years, he failed to convince Congress that his wall was a good idea. Even when his own party controlled both chambers of Congress, his tweets and tantrums couldn’t convince enough members that his cynical campaign promise was worthy of tens of billions in taxpayers dollars. So when Congress didn’t comply, he directed his yes-men to tell him that he could fund his pet project nonetheless – by declaring a national emergency out of thin air, and stealing funds from our troops and their families. 

He even admitted his national emergency declaration was a matter of political expediency rather than justified by facts when he declared from the Rose Garden that he didn’t “need” to invoke a national emergency, he could “build the wall over a longer period of time” he just wanted do it “faster.”  And, once, again the whims of this President trample over the constitution. 

President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build his wall should offend all 100 Senators in this body. First and foremost, he is using it to steal $3.6 billion from critical military construction projects that would benefit our men and women in uniform and their families. One hundred twenty-seven military construction projects – including a child development center, an elementary school, a fire-rescue station – have now fallen victim to his fixation on a wall.

We already ask our military families to sacrifice so much to keep our country safe. Now they must sacrifice yet again. And to what end? To keep this President’s ego safe? Are my Republican friends really going to go home to their states and districts to defend President Trump’s shameless plundering of resources from our troops?    

Furthermore, his national emergency declaration is a transparent end run around Congress’s constitutional power of the purse. Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution – which I dare say President Trump hasn’t bothered to read – states that Congress, and Congress alone, decides how to spend Americans’ hard earned tax dollars.  That is one of the most critical checks and balances in our constitutional system. In our democracy, Presidents must respect – and normally do – the appropriations decisions of Congress.

But not this President. When Congress said no to his wall, he crippled our government and threatened our economy with the longest government shutdown in American history. He eventually folded, but only to turn around and pull the national emergency lever when Congress held firm. Will we stand idly by while he tramples over the Constitution and ignores Congress? What kind of precedent is that?

I was here when Congress enacted the National Emergencies Act of 1976. When we passed it then, we assumed that any President would have enough respect for the office to invoke the extraordinary powers granted under it judiciously. And only in times when there was, in fact, an emergency to be addressed.

But not this President. Where the world sees women and children seeking refuge at our southern border, he sees criminals and terrorists invading our country. Where the world sees declining border crossings – crossings have dropped steeply since June – he sees an escalating border crisis that only his wall can fix. Facts may not matter to a President willing to invent a hurricane path with a sharpie marker. But they should matter to us. We must not allow this President to invoke such sweeping powers – powers we granted to him for real emergencies – simply to address some emergency he has concocted in his head.

So this week, I hope that all Senators will think carefully about their vote on the President’s national emergency declaration. I hope that each of us thinks long and hard about what it would mean – for our role as a co-equal branch, for the separation of powers, for our Constitution – if we fail to reject this naked power grab by President Trump.

In March, twelve of my Republican friends joined Democrats in rejecting the President’s emergency declaration, forcing him to override our vote with a veto. I hope even more Republicans join Democrats again this time in voting aye on the joint resolution of disapproval. We must send this President a veto-proof message that Congress will rise above party to protect what is most precious in our American democracy.   


CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667