SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mike Lee introduced legislation Tuesday to curb the president’s power to declare a national emergency.
The bill comes just days before the Senate plans to vote on a resolution to reverse President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration on border security.
"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," Lee said Tuesday.
If passed, the bill, called the Article One Act, would "take back significant legislative powers" given to the executive branch by law, according to a press release issued by Lee's office Tuesday. Currently, Congress is able to cancel an emergency declaration only by passing a resolution with enough support to withstand a presidential veto.
Under Lee's proposal, if a president were to declare a national emergency, Congress would have to approve it within 30 days or it would automatically expire.
“If Congress is troubled by recent emergency declarations made pursuant to the National Emergencies Act, they only have themselves to blame,” Lee said in the press release. “Congress gave these legislative powers away in 1976 and it is far past time that we as an institution took them back.”
Republican support for Lee's bill is growing, according to NBC News.
In fact, Vice President Mike Pence has reportedly discussed a deal with Republican senators in which Trump would sign Lee’s legislation reining in his power to declare future national emergencies in return for the GOP voting against the Democratic resolution overturning Trump’s emergency declaration, The Hill reported.
Pence met Tuesday with a group of Republicans including Lee, the sponsor of the bill, as well as Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), according to The Hill.
Lee says the way that the National Emergencies Act is currently written gives too much power to the president, and prevents the legislative branch from acting as a check on the president’s authority.
“It’s a fake check,” Lee told the Deseret News Tuesday. “Because unless you have a Congress with enough votes to overturn the president’s veto of Congress resolution of disapproval, then the president is going to prevail and whatever action he’s chosen to take will remain in effect in full force.”
The House already approved a resolution to block Trump’s emergency declaration to build the wall. As of last week, it appeared that the resolution would also be approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, according to NBC News. The Senate is expected to vote Thursday.
But regardless of how the Senate votes, the border wall is far from dead. Trump is expected to veto the resolution, and it is unlikely that the resolution will receive enough support to overturn Trump’s veto, according to NBC. To overturn the veto the Senate would need a two-thirds vote. Historically, Congress has overridden fewer than 10 percent of all presidential vetoes.
Lee's bill and the backdoor negotiations Pence is leading would allow Trump to save face, The Hill reported. Killing the resolution on the Republican-controlled Senate floor would “spare the president embarrassment and avoid him having to issue the first veto of his presidency,” according to The Hill.
Senate republicans told The Hill that there would have to be an “ironclad promise from Trump to sign Lee’s bill in order to flip Republicans who currently say they will vote ‘no.’” Trump thus far hasn’t made any such pledges.
Lee says Congress is to blame for allowing the executive branch to overstep its authority over the years. Lee was highly critical of the Obama administration's use of executive orders.
“Congress is the problem," he said. "It’s happened gradually over the last eight years. Congress has systemically, deliberately, and for the political convenience of members of Congress has delegated out far too much power. And Congress needs to reclaim that power.”
Lee says the act, however, does not completely negate the president’s ability to leverage emergency powers in an appropriate situation.
“It still … gives the president the degree of discretion to act in an emergency,” Lee said. “But it puts a fuse on it.”85 comments on this story
Lee says this bill is just one piece of a larger initiative he’s been developing over the last few years called the Article I Project, which he says involves identifying areas in which Congress has “excessively delegated power away to the executive.”
“This is one of the best … potentially bipartisan opportunities that we’ve had the entire time I’ve been in the United States Senate to focus on an area where Congress has unmistakably given up too much power,” Lee said.
The Article One Act is expected to come to the Senate floor after the March recess.