EDITORIAL: Trump forces Democrats to rediscover Constitution

Congressional Democrats applauded enthusiastically when Barack Obama made famous use of his pen and his phone. With one of their own firmly ensconced in the White House, executive overreach was of little concern.

And overreach Mr. Obama did.

Not only did the former president declare war (on Libya) without the consent of Congress, he ignored constitutional checks and balances to advance his agenda without approval from the legislative branch on a number of other occasions. For instance:

■ In January 2012, Mr. Obama illegally bypassed the Senate to stack the National Labor Relations Board with union sympathizers. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against this power grab.

■ After previously admitting he didn’t have the constitutional authority to grant temporary legal status to the so-called Dreamers — minors brought to the United States illegally — Mr. Obama reversed course after Congress failed to act and issued a questionable edict making it so.

■ To appease green extremists, the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 went around lawmakers to issue its Clean Power Plan despite the fact that the Clean Air Act didn’t extend such authority to federal bureaucrats. Again, the Supreme Court was forced to intervene.

Legal scholar Ilya Shapiro argued in a 2017 essay for The Federalist that Obama presidency was “the most lawless in U.S. history,” characterized by a penchant for “ignoring the executive branch’s legal limits and disrespecting constitutional bounds like federalism and the separation of powers.”

All the while, Democrats in the Senate and House raised nary a peep about these troubling abuses of executive authority. After all, the ends justified the means.

Which brings us to President Donald Trump.

On Friday, Mr. Trump did what everybody knew he would do and declared a “national emergency” that will allow him to circumvent Congress and access billions of dollars in order to build a wall on the nation’s border with Mexico.

“We’re going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border, and we’re going to do it one way or the other,” he said. “It’s an invasion,” he added. “We have an invasion of drugs and criminals coming into our country.”

The president takes this step after spending two months in a failed attempt to pressure Congress to allocate the money for the project, one of his primary campaign promises. The emergency declaration “enables Mr. Trump to divert $3.6 billion budgeted for military construction projects to the border wall,” The New York Times reported.

Suddenly, congressional Democrats have a newfound respect for the Constitution.

“This is plainly a power grab by a disappointed president,” read a joint statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, “who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process.”

They are entirely correct. Mr. Trump’s declaration wasn’t made to address any real national emergency. It was intended to accomplish by executive fiat what the administration was unable to accomplish through the proper constitutional avenues. As such, like the many similar abuses that Mr. Obama initiated, it is in contradiction to the checks and balances outlined in the Constitution.

To their credit, several Senate Republicans have criticized the president’s move for all the right reasons. They must continue to speak out.

Mr. Trump’s emergency declaration will certainly end up in the courts if Congress is unable to block it. Perhaps it will also jolt congressional Democrats into rediscovering the value of intellectual consistency and the importance of our nation’s founding document. A desirable outcome must in no way rationalize the trampling of vital constitutional safeguards.

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