Opinion writer

Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller’s disastrous appearance on Fox News rightfully got most of the media attention on Sunday. Here was the architect of the emergency declaration unprepared and unable to defend President Trump’s actions as much to do about nothing. We are unsurprised, however, that Trump’s most loyal and dogged anti-immigrant advocate, once outside the cocoon of a White House populated by yes men, should find it hard to present factual answers to legitimate questions.

What was more depressing was the pathetic conduct of Republican senators who seem thoroughly incapable of defending their power of the purse. Here was the cringeworthy exchange between Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and NBC’s Chuck Todd:

CHUCK TODD:

So you believe his use of the National Emergency Act, I want to clarify this, is constitutional? You believe it will be upheld in the court? Do you want the courts to uphold this power?

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

Listen, I regret that past Congresses have given the president, any president, a lot of its, Congress’s constitutional authority. It’s done it on tariffs, it’s done in this case. It’s done in many cases. We should have three coequal branches. Right now, the presidency is probably the most powerful, and then the court. And Congress is really diminished. And we should start taking back that congressional authority. It’d be, it’d return that balance. But that’s the way it is. And again, particularly when Congress has given —

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

— the president authority, it's really when that president's authority is even stronger than just what's written in the Constitution.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you going to vote to disapprove of the president's use of this, of the National Emergency Act when it comes to the Senate? The House is likely to vote on a resolution of disapproval. It'll come to the Senate. Where would you vote on that?

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

I'm going to take a look at the case the president makes. And I'm also going to take a look at how quickly this money is actually going to be spent, versus what he's going to use. If he's not going to be spending it this fiscal year or very early in the next fiscal year, I would have my doubts. So again, I'm going to take a look at it and I’ll, you know, I'll decide when I actually have to vote on it.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you share the concern that other conservatives have that, if this is allowed to become precedent, where a president, thwarted by a Congress that he disagreed with, can end-run Congress this way and declare a national emergency to take appropriated money and spend it anywhere, climate change, guns, you name it?

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

Absolutely, I share those concerns, which is why we're going to take a very careful look at what he's doing here in this instance. But again, I have to stress, this president has been thwarted for keep — you know, in his attempt to keep this nation safe and secure, to secure, to secure our borders. Let's face it. If this president can claim a mandate on anything he ran on, it's exactly this issue, better barriers and securing our border. And Congress, and Democrats in Congress have supported this in the past. They just won't support it now because it's President Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

But Senator--

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

I think it's very regrettable. An easy solution--

CHUCK TODD:

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Senator —

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

Just have them stop being hypocrites.

I wouldn’t bring up hypocrisy if I were he. Republicans had a meltdown when President Barack Obama issued an executive order to protect “dreamers." Now, they are copacetic with an even larger power grab, one that preempts Congress’s spending power. And though Johnson is “concerned,” the good people of Wisconsin don’t send him to Congress to be concerned; they send him to defend the Constitution, not roll over out of fear that Trump will dash off an angry tweet.

No one bests Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), however, in the boot-licking department. The man who excoriated Obama for executive overreach has no problem, of course, with Trump. On "Face the Nation," he unfortunately did not receive the Chris Wallace treatment. Instead, he filibustered:

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do— don’t you think Congress has ceded too much power to the executive branch?  Do you think that you need to more sharply define what constitutes a national emergency so that future presidents can’t interpret it as they like?

SEN. GRAHAM: Good question. I think that every member of Congress has watched three presidents send troops to the border. Bush, Obama, now Trump. Not one of us have complained about deploying forces to the border to secure the border. It’s pretty hard for me to understand the legal difference between sending troops and having them build a barrier. What disappoints me is on President Obama’s watch as a Republican, I voted for a $44 billion border security package, $9 billion of which included barriers. 2006 all of us voted for the Secure [Fence] Act. And we’re talking about steel barriers not a concrete wall. And unfortunately when it comes to Trump, the Congress is locked down and will not give him what we’ve given past presidents. So unfortunately, he’s got to do it on his own, and I support his decision to go that route.

It is incumbent on every interviewer who questions a Republican to have the politician’s previous statements about executive overreach at the ready, grill them on their hypocrisy and ask three basic questions: 1) Isn’t Trump’s overreach the most egregious of all because it aims to supplant Congress’s Article I role? 2) What evidence of an emergency is there, if even Trump says he “didn’t need to do this”? 3.) When President Warren or President Harris declares an emergency, takes money from the military and uses it for measures necessary to protect the country from the cataclysmic effects of global warming, will you give her your approval?

At times such as this, one really misses the principled, consistent voice of the late senator John McCain. He didn’t undergo torturous confinement for five years to see Graham and the rest trample on the rule of law and give license to an authoritarian bully. Unfortunately, the GOP is the party of Trump and his sycophants, not of constitutional conservatism, limited government or any other defining principle. And it’s certainly not McCain’s GOP.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: How to screw up an emergency declaration in 10 easy steps

Greg Sargent: Trump just plunged the country into dangerous new territory. Here’s what’s really at stake.

Eugene Robinson: We have a national emergency, all right. Its name is Donald Trump.

Erik Wemple: Trump highlights importance of national emergency by . . . commenting on ‘SNL’

Greg Sargent: Trump’s national emergency will only underscore his raging, delusional impotence