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Unconstitutional Power Grabs

It’s President’s Day and boy could we use a new president. In his off-the-rails declaration of a national emergency so he can use funds Congress appropriated for other purposes to build some version of his phony border wall, Donald Trump has crossed the line on separation of powers and the constitutional authority of the president. The question now for the American people is who exactly do our elected members of Congress represent — their constituents and their oath to uphold the Constitution, or the wannabe dictator in the White House?

Make no mistake, the Constitution is very clear about who has the power and duty to appropriate funds for the operation of government — and it is not the president. Montana’s Sen. Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte, both Republicans and Trump puppets, took the same oath of office as all elected federal officials to uphold the Constitution. Yet both are violating that oath by supporting Trump’s unconstitutional power grab to shift billions of taxpayer dollars to his wall rather than the purposes for which Congress appropriated those funds.

It’s not much of a surprise that their continuing blind loyalty to the Republican president has clouded the judgment of Daines and Gianforte. But Trump did not vote for or elect Daines or Gianforte — Montanans did, and they expect our congressional members to represent Montanans and their very real and pressing needs, of which there are many.

Instead, trying his best to devise some kind of cover for his dereliction of duty, Daines claims: “This is a national crisis. Look no further than what is going on right now in Montana with methamphetamine and what’s coming across the southern border is methamphetamine, fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and marijuana.”

The facts, however, contradict Daines’ fearmongering since it’s well-documented that the vast majority of illegal drugs that come into the country through the southern border do so at established border entry stations, not through the areas in which Trump wants to build his vanity wall. Short on originality, Gianforte simply parrots Daines to falsely claim there is “a crisis on our southern border.”

Yet, for the last two years Trump had Republican majorities in both the House and Senate and if there was a crisis surely those majorities would have jumped to provide the billions of dollars building the wall will cost. After all, there are nearly 2,000 miles of southern border and if the crisis was so severe the Republican-dominated Congress would certainly have appropriated the necessary funds. But they did not.

Perhaps they naively believed Trump’s ridiculous campaign promise that Mexico was going to pay to build the wall. Or more likely, they were too busy handing out massive tax breaks to the already wealthy and growing the national deficit by trillions of dollars and, you know, the southern border issues have been there for a long time and apparently weren’t a crisis for the last two years.

But the sheer recklessness of Trump’s emergency declaration has other Republicans considerably more concerned. Sen. Marco Rubio, a conservative Florida Republican, bluntly stated: “No crisis justifies violating the Constitution.” His words were echoed by Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, who said: “Such a declaration would undermine the role of Congress and the appropriations process… sets a bad precedent for future presidents… is also of dubious constitutionality.”

The oath of office is more than a formality for public officials, it is a sacred promise to the people they serve. Gianforte and Daines should remember that the oaths they took were to defend, not destroy, the Constitution.

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George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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