Posted on February 28, 2019
“I support what the president wants to do on border security, but not the way he has been advised to do it. There has never been an instance where a president has asked for funding, Congress refused it, and the president then used the National Emergencies Act to justify spending the money anyway. If President Trump can build a wall when Congress has refused to provide the funding, then the next president can declare a national emergency and tear the wall down or declare a climate change emergency and stop oil exports and offshore drilling. There is no limit to the imagination of what the next leftwing president could do to harm our country with this precedent.” – Senator Lamar Alexander
** Click here for video of the Senators remarks **
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 28, 2019 – United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said today that President Trump already has congressional funding authority to build the wall he wants on the southern border without resorting to a “dangerous national emergency precedent.” In an address on the Senate floor, he urged the president to ask his lawyers to “take a second look” at existing funding authorities that don’t require a national emergency when he returns from his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“I support what the president wants to do on border security, but not the way he has been advised to do it. It is unnecessary and unwise to turn a border crisis into a constitutional crisis about separation of powers when the president already has congressional funding authority to build the 234 miles of border wall that he requested in his January 6 letter to the Senate,” Alexander said.
“There has never been an instance where a president has asked for funding, Congress refused it, and the president then used the National Emergencies Act to justify spending the money anyway. If President Trump can build a wall when Congress has refused to provide the funding, then the next president can declare a national emergency and tear the wall down or declare a climate change emergency and stop oil exports and offshore drilling. There is no limit to the imagination of what the next leftwing president could do to harm our country with this precedent.”
Alexander said, “After an American revolution against a king, our founders chose not to create a chief executive who could tax the people and spend their money any way he chose. The Constitution gave that responsibility exclusively to a Congress elected by the people, and every one of us United States senators has sworn an oath to support that Constitution. Separation of those powers is a crucial constitutional imperative that goes to the heart of our freedom.”
Quoting the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Alexander said that the “genius of the American constitutional system is the dispersal of power. Once power is centralized in one person, or one part of government, the Bill of Rights is just words of paper.”
The senator continued, “There is a way the president can avoid this dangerous precedent completely: he can use the congressional funding authority he already has to build the 234 miles of wall that he asked Congress to approve in his January 6 letter to the Senate.”
The senator offered this analysis of existing funding authority that could be used to support building the wall that the president has requested: “If my analysis is incorrect,” he said, “I hope that the president’s lawyers will tell me.”
- One January 6, in his letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the president requested $5.7 billion to build 234 miles of new physical barrier on the southern border.
- On February 14, Congress passed the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which provided $1.375 billion to build 55 miles that the president asked for.
- On February 15, the day he signed the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, President Trump announced that he would use two additional sources of funds that already had been approved by Congress which could be used to fund the border wall:
- About $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund.
- Up to $2.5 billion from other Department of Defense accounts to support counter drug activities and block drug-smuggling corridors across international boundaries. The president is authorized to do this because of a provision in law that allows him to transfer up to $4 billion among accounts at the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense budget is over $600 billion.
The senator said that these three sources of funds added up to about $4.5 billion, or $1.2 billion less than the $5.7 billion the president requested in his January 6 letter. “So by transferring $3.7 billion – instead of $2.5 billion – from Department of Defense accounts to support counter drug activities, the president would be able to build the 234 miles of wall he requested and would not need to declare a national emergency. To be specific, this means the president would use: $1.375 billion from the Homeland Security Appropriations bill; $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund; and $3.7 billion from Department of Defense accounts to support counter drug activities.”
“Using funds already approved by Congress avoids the constitutional crisis of separation of powers,” Alexander said. “It avoids establishing a dangerous precedent, which could be misused by subsequent presidents. It avoids taking money for military construction projects specifically approved by Congress such as military barracks and hospitals. And it also avoids months or years of litigation, which could make it unlikely the full 234 miles are ever built.”
The senator concluded, “It may be a couple of weeks before the Senate votes on a resolution regarding the national emergency declaration so there is time for the president’s lawyers to take another look and determine whether we can both build the 234 miles of border wall that the president requested and avoid this dangerous precedent.”