Donald Trump ran for president as an anti-politician, someone who would adhere to the Constitution and stand his ground on principles no matter how hard he was pushed or who was pushing him.
Looks like that was a lie.
On Wednesday, the president found himself at odds with an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority in Congress on an important constitutional issue. He accused Congress of trying to usurp powers the nation’s founders thought should be reserved for the president and he predicted lawmakers will come to regret it.
And then he went along with them.
Without the sort of fanfare that usually accompanies bill signings, Trump put his signature to legislation imposing tough economic sanctions on North Korea, Iran, and Russia. The bill also limits Trump’s or any future president’s ability to lift the sanctions.
The sanctions are overwhelmingly popular; they reflect American alarm at the growing nuclear threat posed by North Korea, distrust of Iran, and anger at Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Trump has been outspoken in condemning the first two of those countries but slow to accept the intelligence community's finding that Russia interfered in the election.
Trump released statements endorsing the sanctions but calling the bill imposing them “significantly flawed,” and including “a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions.” He cited 11 sections of the bill that he asserted infringe on presidential prerogatives; and he issued a press release arguing that the bill “improperly encroaches on Executive power, disadvantages American companies, and hurts the interests of our European allies.”
The president stayed on the attack in a series of tweets this morning. With the sanctions in place “our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low,” he wrote. “You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!”
Trump’s opinion is just that, and it’s easy to find constitutional experts who disagree with him – vehemently. Michael Glennon, a scholar at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, told the Washington Post that Trump has “a misguided interpretation of his constitutional authority. Congress has very broad authority over foreign commerce. It’s explicitly given the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations.”
Sen. John McCain interrupted his treatment for brain cancer in Arizona to give Trump a more direct rebuttal. “The framers of our Constitution made the Congress and the president coequal branches of government. This bill has already proven the wisdom of that choice,” he asserted.
Putting aside such disagreements about the Constitution and the president’s powers, we’re left with this: Trump has signed a bill he insists is fundamentally flawed and largely unconstitutional. How in the world can he justify that?
He signed for the sake of “national unity,” the president asserted.
Well national unity may be a fine thing, but it’s not part of the presidential oath of office. Like each of his predecessors, Trump swore to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution;” now he’s signed on to a law he describes as unconstitutional.
So which is it, Mr. President? Are your complaints about the sanctions bill and its supposed unconstitutionality just so much bluster or have you betrayed your oath and the Constitution by signing it?
Not even a president can have it both ways.
Office: Common Cause National