WASHINGTON – Rep. Tom Reed stood by President Trump last week when House Democrats voted to overturn the commander in chief's declaration of a national emergency at the southern border.
But Reed will no longer stand by any president's right to declare any sort of national emergency without congressional approval.
A day after House Democrats rejected Trump's emergency declaration, Reed, a Corning Republican, introduced a bill that would amend the National Emergencies Act so that Congress would have to approve any such declaration within 60 days – or else the emergency declaration would become null and void.
In other words, Reed voted to uphold Trump's unilateral move aimed at building a wall at the Mexican border, but wants to make sure that neither Trump nor any other president will ever again have that kind of nearly unfettered power.
It's a highly nuanced stance, struck by a politician who's trying to find a middle path in these sharply partisan times. But to Reed, a Corning Republican, it makes perfect sense.
“This resolution is not a rebuke of President Trump’s national emergency declaration – the drugs, violence and human trafficking speak for themselves in regards to the true crisis we are facing" at the southern border, Reed said.
Instead, he said: "This resolution speaks to the politicization of Congress and its failure to lead. Instead of proactively solving problems Congress has delegated our precious power away. We must take this power back. Otherwise over time, Congress will be seen as an advisory body instead of the co-equal branch of government the country needs.”
Some might see Reed's vote last week, and the resolution he introduced that followed it, as highly political moves by a politician who doesn't want to rile the pro-Trump base of his Republican Southern Tier district, but who also wants to remain true to his brand as the GOP co-chair of the middle-of-the-road Problem Solvers Caucus.
But several of Reed's prominent colleagues see his proposal as a serious one.
Proof can be found on his bill's list of bipartisan co-sponsors. Republicans who have signed on include Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, a former chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, who used to hold the third-ranking slot in the House leadership.
“For too long, Congress has ceded its constitutional duties to the executive branch," Rodgers said. "In order for us to protect the voice of 'We, the People,’ we must restore that authority to the branch that is closest and most accountable to the people – the legislative branch.”
On the other side of the aisle, Reed's co-sponsors include not only Rep. Josh Gottheimer, the New Jersey Democrat who co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus, but also one of the stars of the party's freshman class, Rep. Alison Spanberger of Virginia. They voted to overturn Trump's emergency declaration, but said they backed Reed's proposal because it addresses a much larger and more lasting issue.
“Preserving the fundamental principle of constitutional separation of powers is not a partisan issue," Spanberger said. "It’s a congressional duty."
Reed's proposal essentially flips the power balance in the National Emergencies Act. Under current law, presidents can declare emergencies and Congress can overturn them if it chooses to vote on them – which it rarely does. In fact, there are more than 30 national emergencies currently in place that Congress has never bothered addressing.
Under Reed's legislation, though, every time a president declared a national emergency, Congress would have to vote on it. That puts the National Emergencies Act in line with the War Powers Act, which calls on Congress to vote after a president initiates a large-scale military action.
The Trump White House has been silent on Reed's proposal, and one of the president's top supporters. Republican Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence, like Reed and the vast majority of House Republicans, voted against the Democratic proposal to overturn Trump's emergency declaration.
"The proposed resolution is power Congress already has," said Collins spokeswoman Jennifer Brown. "House Democrats recognized this with the House's vote on the President’s emergency declaration earlier this week and the Senate plans their own vote in the near future.”
Reed said Congress has over the decades delegated more and more authority to presidents, who have been only too happy to use and expand that authority. "I recognize that the president has the authority under existing law to do this," Reed said. "That being said, I have expressed my disagreement with the president going down this path."
It's difficult to say whether Reed's proposal will gain traction in the Democratic-controlled House. But when told what Reed had proposed, Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, replied: "I like that."
At the same time, though, Higgins indicated that Reed's position on the emergency powers controversy was both practical and political.
"Everybody has their way of dealing with this that takes into consideration the fact that there's also politics," Higgins said. "I suspect that is what Congressman Reed is doing here. He offers what appears to be a constructive alternative so that, you know, his position is somewhat nuanced, right?"