Editorial: Trump’s national emergency exposing Congress as a constitutional sham

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

It is not often that you wish a group of politicians would become more power hungry. But the country would be better off if that sentiment took hold in the U.S. Congress.

The debate over whether President Trump should be allowed to divert funds to address a “national emergency” related to immigration on the southern border has illustrated how far Congress has fallen. It appears that Congress will not be able to unite and approve a resolution that would halt the national emergency declaration — at least not with enough votes to overcome a likely presidential veto.

The failure is a shame, and is further evidence that Congress is becoming a constitutional sham. The U.S. Constitution makes Congress one of three equal branches in the U.S. government. In fact, you could argue that if any one branch was given advantage by the Founders, it is Congress. The Constitution gives Congress the power to control spending. Those who control the money usually don’t have a hard time figuring out how to get their way.

But give Congress credit. It has a knack for bumbling. In that regard, it has no equal. Congress is full of people who had to win a vote of the public to take their seats. That would lead you to believe that there are large groups of people, somewhere, who like Congress. Not so much. The latest Gallup poll lists the congressional approval rating at 21 percent.

Why should anyone like Congress? When is the last time Congress liked itself?

Congress frequently allows itself to be pushed around by the presidency. This frequently happens when Congress and the presidency are controlled by the same party. Congress has bought into the notion that the president is the leader of his party. That may be true enough, but it doesn’t mean the president is the leader of government. There are three equal branches. The Founders did not create a system where two of the branches follow the other.

The national emergency debate, however, threatens that notion. This should be the issue that causes Congress to put aside partisan differences and rally around the all-time great unifier: self-interest. If Congress lets this national emergency declaration stand and lets the president spend money for a purpose that Congress has specifically disapproved, Congress will have given up a huge amount of its power. Even supporters of the emergency declaration seem to understand that this will create a powerful precedent that will be used by future presidents. If illegal immigration is a national emergency, is gun violence also one? Rest assured that out of the approximately 1.2 million Democrats who have announced plans to run for president, several would love to take this national emergency idea out for a spin.

Despite it all, Congress appears content to relinquish such power. Perhaps it feels it has no choice. After all, it is fighting the most powerful force in America: celebrity. U.S. presidents long have been celebrities. Normally, they don’t become one until they become president. This time, the country thought it would be fun to put a celebrity in office and watch what happens when we inflate an already large ego. The answer: a consolidation of power.

It is as if Congress has lost its hunger for power. It is now content to merely receive the adulation of the rich and famous. It is a trend potential presidents are probably taking note of. That’s why the already large field of Democratic presidential candidates likely will get larger. After all, it doesn’t yet have its true celebrity. In one regard, it is too bad that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson now says he isn’t going to run for president.

It would be fitting. Rocks sink, just like the competence of American government.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.