Bipartisan House Group Wants to ‘Claw Back’ National Emergencies Powers for Congress

Bipartisan House Group Wants to ‘Claw Back’ National Emergencies Powers for Congress
The Capitol in Washington on Dec. 17, 2018. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Mark Tapscott

WASHINGTON—A group of 12 House Democrats and eight Republicans are backing legislation to “claw back power from the executive branch on national emergencies.”

The proposal amends the National Emergencies Act of 1976. There are currently 31 national emergencies in effect as a result of presidential declarations.

Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) said in a joint statement that the measure “is not a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration. The drugs, violence and human trafficking speak for themselves in regards to the true crisis we are facing.”

“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,” Reed said.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) said in the statement that "national emergencies are no way to govern, regardless of party ... By amending the National Emergencies Act, this bipartisan legislation will help Congress wrest back control and prevent further abuse of executive authority.”

Will Reinert, Reed’s spokesman, told The Epoch Times on Feb. 28 that the bill is intended “as a compromise” between allowing continued excessive use by presidents of the national emergency authorities delegated by Congress and withdrawing those authorities entirely.

Reinert said the measure will most likely be referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

The measure follows a Feb. 26 245–182 House vote to block Trump’s Feb. 15 declaration of a national emergency to justify his re-purposing of as much as $8 billion previously appropriated to the departments of Defense, Treasury, and Homeland Security to help complete construction of a wall on the U.S. southern border with Mexico.

The block approved by the House is pending in the Senate where it stands a solid chance of being approved if only narrowly because three Republicans—Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina—have said they will support the measure.

Depending on how Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) who sometimes votes with Republicans to support Trump, the block could pass or fail by only one or two votes. The Senate has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats.

Should the vote be tied, Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding ballot, killing the override effort.

Trump has promised to veto the blocking measure if it reaches his desk, and it is highly doubtful either chamber of Congress could muster the two-thirds vote required to override a veto.

It is against that background that the Reed-Gottheimer proposal is seen by proponents as the basis for a possible compromise on the issue.

The most significant provision in the proposal requires that “the president must terminate the executive declaration of a national emergency under the National Emergencies Act after 60 days unless Congress (1) has affirmatively authorized the action; or (2) has extended the time period by law.”

The proposal also requires that “once the president has issued a national emergency declaration under the National Emergencies Act, a resolution affirmatively authorizing the action and/or extending the time period shall be the first legislative item considered by the respective bodies with all other legislative action suspended until such resolution is voted upon by the body.”

If those provisions are approved by Congress and signed into law by Trump, the role of Congress in determining when to end national emergency actions would be significantly strengthened by the 60-day requirement. The law currently does not specify a time limit.

“This legislation represents an important step to rein in the excessively broad authority that has been delegated to the executive branch and will prevent future circumstances in which legislative leaders rely on the president’s executive authority to let them off the hook for failing to do their jobs,” Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) said in the joint statement.

“Our government was set up to give power to the American people by giving power to Congress,” Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) said in the statement.

“But Congress has allowed presidents to seize more and more power; declarations of ‘national emergencies’ are one example of this. We need this legislation to give power back to the people by giving power back to Congress,” Lipinski added.

Democrats co-sponsoring the measure besides Gottheimer and Lipinski include Reps. Salud Carbajal of California, Debbie Dingell of Michigan, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, Josh Harder of California, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Tom O'Halleran of Arizona, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and Tom Suozzi of New York.

Republican co-sponsors besides Reed and Curtiss include Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Will Hurd of Texas, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers of Washington, Alex Mooney of West Virginia, Bill Posey of Florida, and Fred Upton of Michigan.

Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative editor and reporter who covers Congress, national politics, and policy for The Epoch Times. Mark was admitted to the National Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Hall of Fame in 2006 and he was named Journalist of the Year by CPAC in 2008. He was a consulting editor on the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Other Than Honorable” in 2014.