Lee: Rein in Executive Emergency Powers After Trump's Border Declaration

Senate Judiciary Committee member Mike Lee (R-Utah) at a March 21, 2017, hearing on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced legislation today to rein in executive authority bestowed by the National Emergencies Act of 1976.

Lee’s bill comes as the Senate is expected to vote this week on a resolution of disapproval against President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to take funds from military construction and divert them to building a border wall.

Lee’s bill wouldn’t apply to Trump’s declaration, though. All future emergency declarations would be subject to a 30-day window in which Congress would have to approve — without the current veto-proof majority — the emergency to keep the executive action going.

“If Congress is troubled by recent emergency declarations made pursuant to the National Emergencies Act, they only have themselves to blame,” Lee said. “Congress gave these legislative powers away in 1976 and it is far past time that we as an institution took them back. If we don’t want our president acting like a king we need to start taking back the legislative powers that allow him to do so.”

The senator added that his bill “will go a long way to restoring the balance of powers in our republic.”

The legislation is co-sponsored by GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Roger Wicker (Miss.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Todd Young (Ind.), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Mitt Romney (Utah), and Ted Cruz (Texas).

McConnell said it was “a little early to talk about” Lee’s bill as the upper chamber prepares to first tackle the resolution of disapproval.

“I think everybody in my conference is in favor of the president’s position on the wall and on border security. It is no secret that the use of the national emergency law has generated a good deal of discussion,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters today. “And we’ll continue having those discussions, but it’ll all come to a head on Thursday. The clock runs and the vote will occur on Thursday.”

“There’s a lot of discomfort with the law, not that the president doesn’t have the authority to do what he is doing. I think most of my members now believe this is not a constitutional issue in that sense, but rather is this grant of authority to any president — not just this one, any president. Was it too broad back in the ’70s when it was passed?” he added. “So, yeah, we’re discussing altering that, but that would be prospectively. It wouldn’t apply to the current situation.”

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) separately told reporters of Lee’s bill that “for our Republican friends to say we’ll let Trump to declare any emergency he wants but a future president can’t — that doesn’t work.”

“So we would have to look at what they did,” Schumer added. “But first, let’s see if our Republican friends have the courage to say that this is not an emergency.”