Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, wants the border wall. But Trump’s emergency declaration to build it, she says, is both a strategic blunder and a dangerous violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“He literally contradicted the Constitution to use this money for something other than which it was intended,” Herrera Beutler said, during a wide-ranging interview with The Chronicle editorial board Thursday. “It’s not that he used money within an agency on that agency’s purposes. He is using money from military construction — there’s no connection, there’s no nexus.”
While criticizing Trump’s decision, Herrera Beutler noted that she’s voted whenever possible to fund a physical barrier on the southern border, calling it “eminently defensible” for the nation to control who crosses in — and a deterrent to drug traffickers.
“The Constitution is the only thing that protects us,” she said. “I get why he wants the wall. I support him 100 percent in getting the wall. But this is the one line for me I can’t cross.”
While some have noted that she did not oppose any of President Barack Obama’s 13 emergency declarations, she pointed out that the border scenario is different. Previous emergency declarations have used funding set aside in advance for that purpose. Trump’s order pulls money previously designated by Congress for other uses, overruling legislators’ “power of the purse.”
“The declaration of emergency is using money that was appropriated by Congress under the Constitution, signed into law for one purpose, and he’s proposing to spend it on something it was not authorized for,” she said. “That’s directly violating the Constitution.”
In addition to the legal mess the situation creates, Herrera Beutler fears the most dangerous outcome is if a future Democratic President uses the door Trump opened to declare an emergency for a liberal policy agenda.
“To change the Constitution right now and allow this executive to spend the money however he wants … just opens a Pandora’s box,” she said. “If we don’t think Elizabeth Warren will use that to take away our gun rights or if we don’t think Bernie Sanders would do that on the Green New Deal — I think (Trump’s) got people giving him really bad information.”
The Democratic-controlled House is likely to vote Tuesday on a resolution to block Trump’s order, and Herrera Beutler signaled she would vote for the bill.
“I’ve already said I oppose (the declaration),” she said. “If there’s a way for me to do that — when I get back (to Washington, D.C.), I’m gonna want to be seeing what tools are available.”
She also noted that the declaration is being challenged in court, and it will take “years” before the legal battle is settled. Still, she said she’s determined to continue fighting in Congress for wall funding, emergency declaration or not.
“That brings me back to the goal, we need to get the wall going,” she said. “I don’t know why he went the direction he went. I think that’s a mistake. I’m gonna redouble my efforts to get the money he’s asked for for a physical barrier.”
Meanwhile, Herrera Beutler also had criticism for Trump’s strategy during the 35-day government shutdown earlier this year. Trump demanded $5.7 billion for the wall, refusing to sign spending bills until Congress provided the funding. Finally, after a shutdown lasting more than a month, he signed a funding bill setting aside just $1.3 billion for border barriers.
Early last year, Herrera Beutler noted, Trump turned down a deal from congressional Democrats that would have spent $25 billion on wall funding while providing legal status for “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. In comparison to the bill he signed this month, the offer Trump rejected looks good in retrospect.
“I didn’t write a book on the deal, but that doesn’t seem like the best deal to me,” she said.
Herrera Beutler blamed Trump for costing Republicans leverage during the shutdown, using personal attacks to put himself at the center of the fight.
“Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi didn’t have a leg to stand on in opposing this — until we gave them one,” she said. “Until it became about the personalities. … Nancy Pelosi, I don’t think she’s right on policy at all, but she’s calculating politically. She’s on top of her game. She has tried to bait people around the President, who take her bait and then push him to do something that doesn’t get us closer to the wall.”
From the beginning, the GOP was in a bad spot after Trump said he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.” Watching that exchange on TV, Herrera Beutler said she knew wall supporters had lost their leverage.
“I was like — gahhh,” she said, putting her face in her hands. “I watched Nancy Pelosi’s face and she had a little smirk. … With that quote, she then took away all ability for him to put pressure on her, because he said he’d be proud to own it.”
Herrera Beutler has faced plenty of backlash from Trump supporters after she first announced on Feb. 14 that she opposed the President’s emergency declaration. Following an election season in which she faced criticism from the right for failing to reliably stand by Trump — and a strong general election challenge from Democrat Carolyn Long, who tried to tie her to Trump — she said she knows she’ll get criticism no matter what she does.
“If I were gonna make decisions like this based on (politics) alone, you don’t want me to be your representative,” she said. “I don’t deserve it.”