After declaring less than three weeks ago that he would vote for a resolution to block President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration aimed at freeing billions of dollars for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis on Thursday flipped his position and voted against the measure.
Twelve Republicans voted for the resolution, more than enough to pass it in the GOP-controlled Senate.
“I come to the floor to say I do not intend to vote for the resolution of disapproval, and here’s why,” Tillis, of Huntersville, told colleagues before the vote. “A lot has changed over the last three weeks. A discussion with the vice president, a number of senior administration officials, a lot of collaboration with my colleague from Utah (Sen. Mike Lee) that’s a serious discussion about changing the National Emergencies Act in a way that will have Congress speak on emergency actions in the future.”
Lee and other Republicans have proposed introducing legislation that would limit the ability of presidents to declare emergencies, but it wouldn’t have applied to Trump’s recent declaration.
Tillis has faced fierce criticism from some in his party who suggested a vote for the resolution could lead to Republican primary opposition in his 2020 bid for re-election.
His vote Thursday was an abrupt about face from the strong language he used in a Feb. 26 column he wrote for the Washington Post.
“It is my responsibility to be a steward of the Article I branch (of the U.S. Constitution), to preserve the separation of powers and to curb the kind of executive overreach that Congress has allowed to fester for the better part of the past century,” Tillis wrote. “I stood by that principle during the Obama administration, and I stand by it now.”
Tillis and other Republicans had argued that it would hypocritical to have criticized what they felt was executive overreach by former President Barack Obama, and then support Trump’s declaration after he didn’t get the funding for the wall he’d asked for from Congress.
But in a written statement issued after the vote, Tillis suggested that he didn’t have a problem with Trump’s declaration, but rather what Democratic presidents might do in the future if they had the same power.
“The concerns I’ve raised were never about what President Trump is trying to accomplish but rather with setting a precedent that a future Democratic president would exploit to bypass Congress to implement policies well outside the mainstream,” Tillis said.
In his Washington Post column, Tillis wrote that Trump’s “national emergency declaration on Feb. 15 was not the right answer” to Democrats’ opposition to funding the building of additional sections of wall.
“I would vote in favor of the resolution disapproving of the president’s national-emergency declaration, if and when it comes before the Senate,” he concluded.
North Carolina’s other U.S. senator, Richard Burr, also voted against the resolution Thursday.
“Securing America’s borders is one of our government’s basic responsibilities, and essential for ensuring the safety of our nation,” he said in a statement. “After reviewing the emergency declaration with my counsel, I believe the President’s efforts to secure our Southern border are lawful based on the authorities passed by Congress.”