Trump tempts constitutional crisis with threat

President Trump blinked in his emotional Oval Office defense of shutting down the government over what he termed “a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul” along our southern border.

After reciting all his justifications for the shutdown, many of them false or exaggerated accounts of alien intruders, he failed to repeat his threat to declare a national emergency and to have his cherished wall built on his own authority,

Instead, Trump merely repeated his earlier challenge to the Democratic leaders in Congress “to pass a spending bill that defends our borders and reopens the government.”

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer had already declined, and in a joint television rebuttal to the president’s demand they held firm, in effect inviting Trump to raise the ante.

He may yet do so, triggering a Democratic appeal to the Supreme Court on his ability to end-run the legislative branch’s power of the purse. But any such procedural outcome would only underscore this president’s bull-headed executive style and prolong the suffering of the 800,000 federal workers denied their regular paychecks.

Trump has said declaring a national emergency “still is on the table,” and his legal defense team has been beefed up in anticipation of a possible constitutional crisis over the issue. It may be his only remaining alternative to hold the line in his demand for the wall.

But Trump already has blundered his way into a deep hole of managerial and governing incompetence. Declaring such an emergency could raise new calls for presidential impeachment on grounds of his failure “faithfully to execute the office of president,” including honoring Congress’ power to refuse to pay for a border wall.

Republicans in the House and Senate who so far have marched in lockstep behind Trump could finally start having second thoughts about where in an institutional sense he is leading them and their once-proud Grand Old Party. Where are the Barry Goldwaters and John McCains of yesteryear, or even the Ronald Reagans?

Others who remain in Congress with reputations as straight shooters with high ethical standards, but have put theirs in temporary cold storage in the Trump era, could yet be stirred by the latest political insanity.

The current self-made crisis now engulfing this president, who seems to govern by whim and impulse, comes at a particularly improvident time for him. The midterm elections that brought 40 more Democrats into the House, giving them the majority power of subpoena, created a shooting gallery with Trump and his chaotic White House crew as targets.

If he chooses to declare a national emergency, he will open a new avenue of legal protest. It could shake his hold on even the political constituency that delivered him the presidency in 2016.

He clings to those millions who bought into his snake oil of false claims and allegations in the 2016 campaign. He now seeks to placate them by delivering on the pipedream of a southern border wall that he once said Mexico would pay for.

It is long past the time that we should recognize this political novice, whose election was the worst political mistake in our nation’s checkered history, for the menace he is.

The primary responsibility for this deplorable circumstance rests with the Republican Party leaders. Many of them imbibed Trump’s snake oil and now must own up to the disaster he has wrought for the party and the nation.

It’s not too late for Republicans who remember and still honor the better natures of their party — whether it be the conservatism of Bob Taft and Ronald Reagan, the moderation of Dwight Eisenhower or the independence of John McCain — to step up and bring the GOP home.

They now have a special obligation to derail or hold in check the madness of Donald Trump. They need to say no if he tries through the Supreme Court to usurp Congress’s power to reject his demand that the American people pay for that folly of a border wall.

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Jules Witcover is a nationally syndicated columnist.