Las Vegas Sun

March 19, 2019

Currently: 75° — Complete forecast

Where I Stand:

GOP spines re-emerge; cue the next emergency

Emergency averted. Emergency created.

Two years into the Trump presidency, it was inconceivable to believe or expect that the Republican Party would ever stand up to the obvious excesses and extra-constitutional antics of President Donald Trump and his administration.

Unfortunately, there was no reason to believe that the once Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater and John McCain would ever again act on principle — at least as long as the Twitter finger of the president remained active. So much so that a back surgeon X-raying the spines of the Republicans in the United States Congress would have come up empty.

Until this past Thursday.

Twelve Republicans stood up for the Constitution, the Congress and the foundational belief of our Founding Fathers that our democracy could and would work best when there existed three co-equal branches of government — the executive, the legislative and the judicial.

Whatever other reasons those 12 GOP senators who voted to put a check on Trump’s power grab this past week may have had, at the core was the preservation of the prerogatives of Congress versus the executive branch.

Our American history is replete with examples of presidential power moves against the legislature and vice versa. There is nothing new in that give-and-take throughout the 232 years of the greatest constitutional democracy on earth. What is new, however, has been the absolute acquiescence by the overwhelming majority of the GOP membership in the House and Senate to the dictatorial will of the president — to the point that what we have more resembles the birthing of an authoritarian regime than a democratic union in pursuit of perfection.

When Trump declared an emergency on the southern border to take money from other parts of the government to pay for his wall that no one really wants or needs, he set in motion a showdown between the constitutional requirement that the Congress approve all spending by the United States and the executive branch (Trump), which in this case wants to spend as it pleases.

The simple fact is that the Congress did debate Trump’s border wall request and refused to go along with him. The legislature said no. Trump said, basically, who cares and declared an emergency so he could take funds from wherever he could find them to make good on half of his campaign promise to build his “beautiful” wall.

In case you forgot the other half of that promise — which has been erased from the memory of Trump’s base — it was that Mexico would pay for it.

In any event, 12 Republican senators joined their Democratic colleagues and stood up for the Constitution. They did so knowing full well that Trump would turn his ire and his considerable Twitter followers against them. We can only assume at this point that they understood the risks and opted to fulfill their oaths of office and their obligation to defend the Constitution.

As an aside, something else happened Thursday that should give us all a glimmer of hope that congressional spines may be stiffening. The House of Representatives voted 420-0 on a resolution supporting a full disclosure of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, if an when that is ever completed. You can’t get any more bipartisan than that!

So back to this wall thing and Trump’s effort to usurp the power of the purse from the Congress.

Trump made good on his promised veto Friday. That most likely means that the courts will decide the limits of presidential power.

It would have been far better, I believe, if the Congress had stood up with veto-proof majorities to make that decision crystal clear. But it takes spines longer to regenerate than to grow in the first place, I suppose.

And, therein lies the makings of the next emergency. For whenever political decisions like Trump’s power grab dictate a requirement for the judicial system to sort matters out, it creates an opportunity for mischief — the kind of mischief in which the nature of our democracy hangs in the balance.

That decision, left to the nine men and women of Trump’s new Supreme Court, may determine how far astray our democratic system will go as it lurches away from our Founding Fathers’ Constitution and toward the natural inclination of men like Trump to govern by dictate rather than democracy.

I think that qualifies as an emergency.

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.