Congress pushes back on border emergency
The Republican-controlled Senate appeared poised to deliver a stinging rebuke to President Trump after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) this week joined three other GOP senators in backing a measure to block the president’s border emergency declaration. Paul’s vote would be the decisive 51st in a roll call expected next week. Trump invoked the National Emergencies Act of 1976 after reluctantly signing a bipartisan spending bill in February that allotted $1.3 billion for barriers along the Mexican border, far short of the $5.7 billion he demanded. He now plans to bypass Congress and use $3.6 billion from military construction projects to fund the border bulwarks. The Democratic-controlled House has already passed a companion measure to the Senate resolution, with support from 13 Republicans. But even if the House and Senate agree on a joint resolution, Trump has vowed to veto it, and only a two-thirds majority of both chambers could override him. “My oath is to the Constitution, not to any man or political party,” Paul said, chiding the president for “seeking to expand the powers of the presidency beyond their constitutional limits.”
The Capitol Hill battle comes as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) revealed that the number of migrants who crossed the Mexican border rose sharply, to 76,103, in February—more than double the tally from last February and the highest number logged during that month in the past 12 years. Officials say 90 percent of those crossing originate in Guatemala, and a record number are families. “This is clearly both a border security and a humanitarian crisis,” said Kevin McAleenan, CBP commissioner. “The system is well beyond capacity, and remains at the breaking point.”
What the editorials said
Clearly, CBP figures prove there truly is a border crisis, said the New York Post. We need more than just the wall, though, to solve it. Migrants are coming in vast numbers because “smugglers have put them wise” to court decisions that require the U.S. to release families after no more than 20 days, and lengthy proceedings before deportations. That means migrants are released in America until their cases are resolved. These “perverse asylum rules” need updating. The crisis, said The Salt Lake Tribune, is not at the Mexican border. It’s in Washington, where Trump’s blatant end run around Congress represents a constitutional crisis, with “raw executive might” pitted against the powers of the purse vested in the legislature by the Founders. What’s needed is a “renewed respect for the constitutional separation of powers.”
What the columnists said
Harsher U.S. policies are pushing more migrants to try their luck getting over the border illegally “rather than waiting in line to claim asylum,” said Julia Ainsley in NBCNews.com. In January, the U.S. finalized a deal with Mexico to force those who declare asylum in San Diego to wait in Tijuana. There, they may languish for “months or years, often in unsafe and unsanitary conditions,” with only 40 to 100 allowed to apply at the border each day. By contrast, illegal crossers are permitted to stay if they pass an initial asylum screening.
Complaints by members of Congress about Trump’s emergency are just so much hypocrisy, said Peter Wallison in The Wall Street Journal. Lawmakers have been handing over power to the presidency for decades, “delighted to do this, because it relieves them of the difficult decisions involved in crafting actual legislation.” Now when it’s politically advantageous to do so, they’re complaining. Actually, the Republicans backing the resolution are acting on principle, said Katherine Timpf in NationalReview.com. The GOP decried “President Obama’s aggressive use of executive power,” and Paul is right that they shouldn’t now enable the same overreach by Trump. Americans shouldn’t take lightly their president “behaving like a king” when so many “fought and died” to ensure we don’t have one.
Practically speaking, a congressional joint resolution will not amount to much, said Aaron Blake in The Washington Post. But that doesn’t mean it’s just “another toothless symbolic rebuke,” either. “This time, there’s meat on the bone.” A joint resolution would mean Congress will have made its will on border wall spending clear not once, but twice—and that might matter to the Supreme Court, where this legal fight is ultimately headed. ■