In a few minutes, President Trump will declare a national emergency that he admitted was his backup plan if he couldn’t get Congress to fund his border wall.
This kind of thing is a failure of leadership — according to Trump himself.
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and before, Trump repeatedly attacked President Barack Obama for using executive orders instead of bending Congress to his will and striking deals. This isn’t technically an executive order, but it’s arguably Trump’s most aggressive attempted use of executive power, the kind of thing that could recast executive authority for decades to come. And it comes after two months of failure to convince Congress of the “emergency” he’s claiming on the Southern border or the need for a wall.
Let’s recap some of Trump’s more applicable comments to the situation we find ourselves in.
Nov. 20, 2014:
Much of Trump’s commentary on this point came around the time Obama issued an executive order extending deportation protection to “dreamers,” something Trump called unconstitutional. As with today, Trump pitched this as a failure to negotiate. And as with today, it was a failure to lead on immigration. Trump would argue that the situation on the border is a national emergency that requires action, unlike protecting dreamers, but the point remains that he failed to convince Congress of that or really negotiate anything in the way of concessions.
November 2014 on “Fox and Friends”: “It should absolutely not pass muster in terms of constitutionality, but it depends on what these justices do. . . . I mean, I think certainly he could be impeached, and certainly they could shut down the government.”
Trump doesn’t explicitly say Obama should have been impeached for the DACA executive order, but he doesn’t shy away from that possibility.
Again, it’s not quite apples to apples. Executive orders are not supposed to change the law but instead change priorities within the parameters allowed by laws Congress has passed. National emergencies are governed by a specific law Congress passed in the 1970s that handed the power to declare emergencies over to the president. The point, though, is that Trump thought executive overreach in the absence of striking a deal could be an impeachable offense, and now he’s arguably going further than Obama ever did.
April 18, 2015: “Whether it’s Benghazi, whether it’s IRS, whether it’s any of the many things that you see that are going wrong with our country. The executive orders are an outrage. We have a president that can’t lead. He said the hell with it. I’m not going to do this anymore. I want to rest and I want to do other things, including going out to play golf. . . . But he signs executive orders because he’s given up. He can’t convince anybody to do anything, so he’s given up, and he signs on immigration and on other things.”
Trump spent two months and a 35-day partial government shutdown trying to persuade Congress to go along with his border wall. “He can’t convince anybody to do anything, so he’s given up, and he signs on immigration” sure seems to apply today.
Aug. 25, 2016: “He signs his executive orders all over the place, because he doesn’t want to meet with people and try and convince them to do what the right thing to do is. No, he’s not playing by the rules. No, I do play by the rules. I will play by the rules, too.”
Jan. 14, 2016: “He doesn’t want to get people together, the old-fashioned way, where you get Congress. You get the Congress, you get the Senate, you get together, you do legislation. He just writes out an executive order. Not supposed to happen that way.”
And Sept. 24, 2015:
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Are you going to be willing when your law that you pass through Congress rests on a congressman from Boise, Idaho, who you’re going to have to fly out and sit in his house and hang out with him and beg him and give him whatever he wants in the appropriation bill to get his vote? I mean, are you going to be willing to do that sort of, sort of slogging?
TRUMP: Well, I am. And, you know, Obama has not been willing to do that, Joe. That’s why he signs executive orders all the time.
Here Trump attacked Obama for not being willing to meet with members to try to bring them over to his side. Trump occasionally meets with Democratic leaders, but for much of the past two months, he basically sat this one out and let Congress try to resolve it. And he certainly didn’t fly to Boise to convince rank-and-file members.
Nov. 11, 2015: “But the whole concept of executive order — it’s not the way the country is supposed to be run. He’s supposed to go through Congress and make a deal and go and talk to people and get the guys in there and, you know, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, is supposed to all get together. He’s supposed to make a deal, but he couldn’t make a deal because it’s not his thing.”
“He couldn’t make a deal because it’s not his thing.”
May 18, 2016: “But I want somebody that can deal with Congress, can deal with the Senate, can deal with our Congress people so that we can get something passed. You know, Obama signs his executive orders all day long because he can’t get along with anybody. It’s not the way it’s supposed to work.”
“He can’t get along with anybody."
And finally, some more:
March 29, 2016: ″You know, it’s not all about signing executive orders because this is something that came in — that wasn’t the way our founders thought that this country was going to win. You have to get — now, I’ll make great deals. I’ll make conservative deals. I’m going to make wonderful deals but you have to do it the old-fashioned way like Ronald Reagan did with Tip O’Neill.”
July 29, 2014:
Aug. 29, 2014:
Indeed. What will Congress do about a president who once cautioned against executive overreach who then engages in stretching the powers of the presidency himself?