Talking Points

Democrats are embracing Trump's 1 simple trick

If one thing characterized the presidency of Donald Trump, it was a willingness to ignore the rules — no boundary was sacred, whether it took the form of a norm, a law, or a Constitutional requirement. Rules were for other people. Suckers.

Democrats have decided this is fine and dandy.

Congress is still stuck on a bill to fund a new round of COVID relief, and it can't seem to get unstuck. So some Dems are proposing that President Biden do an end run by declaring an emergency and raiding the Pentagon budget to get the money needed to buy more vaccines and tests. The Constitution clearly says that Congress, not the president, determines how to spend the public's money. So how are the idea's backers justifying their proposal? By pointing out that Trump did it first, when he repurposed defense money for his border wall.

"We saw how Trump did it based on his priorities," Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) told The Atlantic's Russell Berman. "If they can do that, don't tell me they can't find another $15 billion and more for saving lives in America and around the world."  

It's alarming to see members of Congress give up on their Constitutional duties and ask the president to claim more power. If the legislative branch can't even come to some kind of agreement to pay for basic medical supplies during a pandemic, what really are they capable of accomplishing? And don't they realize that by giving the imperial presidency the opportunity to become more imperial, they're eroding America's already fragile democracy? 

Maybe it's understandable that Democrats embrace the "whataboutist" argument for elbowing Congress aside — if Trump did it, why shouldn't they? But Trump, or a Trump clone, might be back in the White House as soon as 2025. Why would the public believe the inevitable Democratic critiques of presidential overreach then if they embrace the exact same tools when given the opportunity? If something is unconstitutional when Republicans do it, it remains unconstitutional when Democrats do it. 

Ironically, Trump used a similar argument to justify his diversion of money to the border wall. As my colleague Bonnie Kristian pointed out in 2019, "Trump's case for getting his way was simple: Democrats will abuse executive power if given the chance, so he should get to do it, too." (Biden won the White House and reversed course before the Supreme Court could definitively settle the matter.) Now Democrats are saying the same thing about Republicans. Meanwhile, the president becomes more and more powerful, the Constitution less and less meaningful. And the slope gets ever more slippery all the way down.