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In Our View: Trump power grab over wall must be resisted

The Columbian
Published: September 15, 2019, 6:03am

In redirecting money from military construction projects to fund a wall along the United States’ border with Mexico, President Donald Trump has violated the American principles of governance and, perhaps, the U.S. Constitution.

Those who support the president’s efforts to build a wall at all costs should consider the egregious precedent he is attempting to set. If Trump usurps Congress’ power to determine federal spending, it will open the door for future executives to reallocate military funds toward, for example, combating climate change in the name of national security. Or toward gun control. Or toward tearing down whatever wall Trump constructs.

The Constitution expressly gives Congress the power to determine spending with the approval of the president, and Congress has steadfastly refused to fully fund Trump’s wall. It did not do so when Republicans held both chambers of the legislature during the president’s first two years in office; it has not done so since Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in January.

Yet Trump continues to obscure the vision of the Founding Fathers in attempts to break the limits of his power. He has declared a “national emergency” at the border in an effort to redirect funding, and he has used at least two loopholes to reallocate Defense Department funding. The latest effort would divert $3.6 billion from construction projects to an expansion of the wall that was a central campaign promise. Of course, he promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, but he has since ignored that absurd claim.

Among the 125 construction projects that would lose funding under the current plan is an $89 million pier at Naval Base Kitsap in Bangor. That pier would be used by the Maritime Force Protection Unit and is one of the largest projects on the list to have funding diverted.

The plan also would reallocate $770 million from construction projects at U.S. military bases in Europe, which would further strain relationships with NATO nations and likely would be welcomed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with Rep. Derek Kilmer, said: “It is deeply disturbing to see the administration unilaterally raid funds from these vital projects in Washington and across the country to fund an ineffective, completely unnecessary border wall.”

The effectiveness of a wall can be debated. But there should be no debate about Trump’s dictatorial efforts to direct funding without the approval of Congress. There also should be no debate about Congress’ shameful acquiescence to a president who demonstrates little concern for a Constitution that says, “Congress shall have Power to … provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.”

Trump’s attention to border security is welcome and necessary. But the reticence of lawmakers to fully fund a wall should be regarded as a result of the checks and balances that have sustained this country for centuries. It should not be regarded as a signal for a president to take unilateral action when he or she does not get their way.

The action has been challenged in court, and the administration will have a difficult time finding a constitutional foundation for it. But regardless of what one believes about the need for a border wall, the issue extends well beyond that.

Allowing President Trump to redirect spending at his whim would provide future presidents with unfettered power that is ripe for abuse.

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