Tennesseans ask me, “Is there really a crisis on our southern border? Do you support President Trump’s border wall?” My answer to both questions is, “Yes.”
I have urged the president to build the 234 miles of border wall he asked for in the fastest possible way – with a minimum delay and legal challenge – by using $5.7 billion already approved by Congress.
But his emergency declaration to take an additional $3.6 billion that Congress has appropriated for military hospitals, barracks and schools – including one at Ft. Campbell – is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution that I swore an oath to support and defend.
Never before has a president asked for funding, Congress has not provided it and the president then has used the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to spend the money anyway.
The problem with this is that after a Revolutionary War against a king, our nation’s founders gave to Congress the power to approve all spending so that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a crucial source of our freedom.
In addition, this declaration is a dangerous precedent. Already Democrat presidential candidates are saying they would declare emergencies to tear down the existing border wall, take away guns, stop oil exports, shut down offshore drilling and other left-wing enterprises – all without the approval of Congress.
I believe the crisis on the southern border is real. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol arrested more than 66,000 illegal aliens in Feb. 2019 – the highest total in a single month since March 2009. In the last two years alone, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have arrested 266,000 illegal aliens in the United States with criminal records.
And each week, approximately 300 Americans die from heroin overdoses, of which nearly 90 percent comes across our southern border.
During the last 25 years, Congress approved and Presidents Obama, Clinton, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush built 654 miles of barrier along the 1,954 mile southern border.
In 2013, the comprehensive immigration bill that received 68 Senate votes, including mine, included $40 billion for border security, including physical barrier, and enforcement. Last year, I voted with almost every Democrat for a bill that included $25 billion for border security, including physical barrier.
So, one might ask, why is President Trump the only president not allowed to build more wall on the southern border?
But in this case, as The Wall Street Journal said on March 12, “The president doesn’t need to invoke a national emergency to build his wall along the southern border.”
He has the money immediately available in other accounts already approved by Congress. And any appreciation for our structure of government means that no president should be able to use the National Emergencies Act to spend money that Congress refuses to provide.
Justice Antonin Scalia, who is revered by constitutional conservatives, put it this way: “Every tin horn dictator in the world today, every president for life, has a Bill of Rights. That’s not what makes us free. What has made us free is our Constitution. Think of the word ‘constitution,’ it means structure. That’s why America’s framers debated not the Bill of Rights, but rather the structure of the federal government. The genius of the American constitutional system is the dispersal of power. Once power is centralized in one person, or one part of government, a Bill of Rights is just words on paper.”
I fault Democrats for not supporting President Trump’s reasonable requests for more wall on the border after 25 years of approving physical barrier for four other presidents. But that is not an excuse to ignore the constitutional separation of powers — especially when the faster way to build the 234 more miles of wall the president has asked for is to use money already approved by Congress.