It’s hard to fathom nowadays that the framers of our republic believed that Congress, of the three branches of federal government, should and would necessarily be the strongest and most important of those branches.
James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution, wrote: “In republican government, the legislative power necessarily predominates.” Madison actually believed that Congress might come to predominate too much, hence the bicameral national legislature he crafted.
History has proven Madison’s fears unfounded. Far from dominating the other branches, Congress has over time ceded much of its power to the Executive and Judicial branches. Today, a law is not a law until the federal courts say it’s a law. Similarly, a law is not a law unless the Executive enforces it. Barack Obama, for example, famously chose not to enforce many of the immigration laws passed by Congress. In 2010, Deputy Attorney General Anita Bath in his Department of Justice was quoted thusly: “People should just relax, especially undocumented immigrants. Be assured that this President, unlike previous Presidents, will not enforce laws just because Congress passed them.”
This thumb in their collective eye was accepted meekly by the Congress for two reasons: (1) Obama as the first African-American president was to be granted a pass on pretty much everything and (2) more importantly, Congress didn’t want the responsibility anyway.
As a matter of fact, most members of Congress from both parties would much prefer not to have the responsibility of making any hard decisions. The primary goal of most of them, a goal that grows more enticing the longer they are there, is to keep getting re-elected until the time comes to retire and cash in big time as a K Street lobbyist. In the meantime, they grandstand and gush over bills and resolutions that sound oh-so-compassionate but do nothing to push the country forward.
Take, for example, the junior senator from North Carolina, Republican Thom Tillis. Here is a politician who flaunts his support of feel-good bills he’s pretty sure no one will disagree with him on: the PROTECT Asbestos Victims Act, the American World War II Heritage City act, the ALS Disability Insurance Access Act, the absurdly named Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education, and Defending our Nation (SUCCEED) Act, and so on. Senator Tillis is more than happy to put his name on these goody-goody bills but when it comes time to say yea or nay to the actions of a President of his own party, as in the case of Trump’s emergency declaration, Tillis is silent. He’s even worse than silent. He comes down on both sides of the issue: on the Washington Post op-ed page he hopes his DC pals read and off the list of RINO renegades he hopes his constituency notices.
It’s this kind of spinelessness that has eroded the power of Congress and made them appear a feckless band of eunuchs of all possible genders.
However, as President Trump is so good at doing, he may now have finally roused some of them from their slumbers. He justified his declaration of a national emergency by pointing to one of Congress’s specific acts of abdication, the National Emergencies Act of 1976. Forty-three years later, some are having second thoughts. Here’s a sampling of current headlines:
- Sen. Ron Johnson: Congress Needs To “Claw Back” Power To Declare National Emergencies
- National Emergencies Act: Flawed from the Beginning
- Sen. Pat Toomey: Congress Needs More Power in National Emergencies
Now, it appears that in response to a President’s having utilized power specifically granted to him, some of the eunuchs are stirring. This is probably less the result of a suddenly located backbone than their simply allowing themselves to be bullied by the press.
Will Congress wrest its power back? Probably not. If Trump is soon replaced, as both the Democrats and the Never-Trump RINOs devoutly hope, and “normalcy” returns, they can go back to their peaceful dreams of all that K Street money.