Senator Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) speaks to members of the media following a vote on the national emergency declaration Thursday. (Al Drago/Bloomberg)
Opinion writer

Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine), Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), Mike Lee (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.). These were the only Republicans willing to defend the Constitution’s separation of powers and their own body’s power of the purse. They voted with all Democrats to pass a resolution terminating President Trump’s emergency declaration, which was a political “hoax.”

Toomey wrote an op-ed explaining his reasoning:

Our Constitution specifically gives Congress, not the president, the power to authorize federal spending. Congress' "power of the purse" limits the executive branch from spending the people's money without the consent of their representatives. This feature reflects a key pillar of our constitutional government: Responsibilities are to be separated between the different branches of government so as to prevent any single branch from centralizing power.

Were the president to successfully circumvent Congress using an emergency declaration, not only would our Constitution’s separation of powers be weakened, but a dangerous precedent would be set. Future presidents, frustrated by Congress, could declare national emergencies to unilaterally advance whatever controversial policy they might favor. It’s easy to envision a Democratic president declaring a national emergency on climate change to impose the very harmful provisions of the so-called Green New Deal. This isn’t just idle fear-mongering. Presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she would declare a national emergency on climate change.

Likewise, Lee issued a statement: “Congress is supposed to be the first among the federal government’s three coequal branches. For decades, Congress has been giving far too much legislative power to the executive branch.” He added, “While there was attention on the issue I had hoped the ARTICLE ONE Act could begin to take that power back. Unfortunately, it appears the bill does not have an immediate path forward, so I will be voting to terminate the latest emergency declaration.”

Moran, from Kansas, a deep-red state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, said simply, “Upon my election to public office, I take one oath — to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I believe the use of emergency powers in this circumstance violates the Constitution. Allowing the use of such power establishes a precedent for future presidents to further act against laws and appropriations approved by Congress. This continues our country down the path of all powerful executive — something those who wrote the Constitution were fearful of.”

These senators and their colleagues were not opposed to border security. To the contrary, they’ve been hawks on immigration and border security. They were not opposed to building a wall. They were opposed to violating the Constitution and thinking up a patently absurd rationalization for capitulating to the president. Well, you say these guys (except Collins) aren’t up for reelection in 2020. True, but neither are a slew of them who went along with the constitutional charade, including some elected just a few months ago (e.g., Josh Hawley of Missouri, Mike Braun of Indiana, Rick Scott of Florida). These freshmen are so timorous that they couldn’t make a stand on principle over five years before they’d next face voters. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who was just elected for a second term, couldn’t manage to put the Constitution over his political ambitions.

Were they afraid of a mean tweet? Getting left off a state dinner invitation list? It’s odd that their justification for supporting Trump has often been, "But Gorsuch . . . " What is the purpose, however, of having a president to appoint conservative judges if the president himself is going to violate the Constitution and attack democratic norms? It’s a very strange way to protect the “rule of law.” (It’s like voting for Trump because Hillary Clinton, Republicans insisted, was going to run up the debt, be a patsy for foreign aggressors, show contempt for national security protocols, govern like a partisan hack, appoint sleazy Cabinet secretaries and lie thousands of times.)

An argument is to be made that the 12 senators don’t deserve praise because they were merely doing their job as their oath of office required. Nevertheless, in times of intellectual and moral corruption, when political convenience and cowardice are Republicans’ biggest motivators, simply doing one’s job is a big deal.

While I disagree with the 12 “yes” votes on many items, they showed themselves capable of courage, the first and most important virtue that makes all others possible. Maybe, having exercised those moral muscles, they’ll be more apt to use them again. For upholding the Constitution and not treating constituents as fools, we can say, well done and keep it up, senators.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Demonizing Muslims and immigrants leads to predictable results

Jennifer Rubin: 20-plus questions to cut to the 2020 chase