White House

Rand Paul Is Right to Reject Trump’s Emergency Declaration

Senator Rand Paul speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., December 4, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Republicans must consistently oppose a “pen and phone” approach to governing.

Senator Rand Paul has announced that, despite supporting improvements in border security, he will vote against President Trump’s emergency declaration on the grounds that it’s an abuse of executive power — and he’s absolutely right.

“Every single Republican I know decried President Obama’s use of executive power to legislate,” Paul wrote in an opinion piece for Fox News. “We were right then.”

“But the only way to be an honest officeholder is to stand up for the same principles no matter who is in power,” he continued.

Paul is certainly correct to point out that, during the Obama years, Republicans were constantly decrying the former president’s “pen and phone” approach to governing. In fact, towards the beginning of Paul’s piece, he reminds his readers that Donald Trump himself was critical of this kind of philosophy — with our current president saying in November 2014 that President Obama had had “to use executive action” because he was incapable of making a deal on immigration, and that that was “a very, very dangerous thing that should be overridden easily by the Supreme Court.”

Paul reminds his readers that “many of those voting now spent a good portion of their campaigns running ads against” President Obama’s aggressive use of executive power and claims this means “they will and should be condemned for hypocrisy if they vote to allow this because they want the policy or want to stand with the president in a partisan fight.”

“I would literally lose my political soul if I decided to treat President Trump different than President Obama,” Paul writes.

I know this won’t be popular with many people who read my columns, but I must say, I feel the exact same about myself and my own political soul. After all, I was certainly among those who detested President Obama’s tendency to behave like a king rather than an elected public servant, and I am committed to remaining consistent on this principle — no matter who is in office, and no matter how much I like the specific plan that the office-holder is proposing.

So let me be clear: My opposition to this emergency declaration is not because I’ve never been a fan of spending more than $1.3 billion on a wall. I haven’t been; that’s true, for many reasons. For example: The government would have to deal with the obstacle of seizing a ton of private land; it’s a lot of money to spend on something that could easily be climbed over using a simple ladder or gone under using a tunnel; a better, cheaper method would be to make it easier for people to come here legally and it would likely lead to more people using other methods, such as entering legally and then overstaying, which is already how most people in the country illegally got here. For more information on why a wall might not be the best use of $1.3 billion, start here.

No, my opposition is based on my beliefs about the appropriate scope of executive power. Even if President Trump wanted to use his executive power to force the government to spend $1.3 billion on a project called “Make Katherine Timpf Rich,” I would oppose it — because, to me, there is nothing more important than ensuring that our executive leader does not get into the habit of behaving like a king when so many people fought and died to ensure that our system would work differently.

If you’re a huge fan of the wall, that’s fine. If you — like Paul himself — wanted Congress to secure more funding for it, then that’s fine, too. But the thing is, if you were railing against President Obama’s tendency to want to get things done himself that he couldn’t get done through Congress, then you simply cannot support this emergency declaration without being a complete hypocrite. In fact, supporting it would prove that you never really cared about Obama’s use of executive power at all in the first place; you were only using that argument as an excuse to detest, on partisan grounds, what was being done. (It’s also worth noting that it seems difficult to justify the idea that illegal immigration has somehow suddenly reached “emergency” status when the fact is that it’s already dropping on its own, and that it’s expected to continue to do so.)

Much to my displeasure, it seems as though the government is getting bigger and bigger each day. Conservatives always like to say that they oppose this along with me, but you’ll have to excuse me for saying that I’m starting to have a difficult time believing that. I’m definitely thankful for the consistent small-government conservatism that’s being displayed by Senator Paul here; I only wish that more people who use that political label could understand how generally limiting the scope of executive power is far more pivotal in ensuring a bright, prosperous, and free future for our country than any one specific issue — no matter what that issue may be.

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