Politics & Government

Tillis backs Trump on border enforcement. Why he won’t support emergency declaration.

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis plans to break with President Donald Trump over his national emergency declaration, which would allow him to go around Congress to secure funds for a southern border wall.

Tillis, a Republican, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post explaining his decision to vote for a resolution of disapproval, rebuking Trump.

The Democratic-led U.S House passed the resolution 245-182 on Tuesday evening with 13 Republicans supporting the measure. The Senate is expected to take up the resolution before St. Patrick’s Day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.

“As a U.S. senator, I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress. As a conservative, I cannot endorse a precedent that I know future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms,” Tills wrote.

Tillis, who is up for re-election in 2020, is the third Republican to publicly pronounce his or her intention to vote for the resolution of disapproval. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have also indicated they are likely to support the resolution.

Other Republicans have voiced concerns about the move by Trump, but so far they have not committed to voting for the resolution. Trump declared a national emergency on Feb. 15 after failing to secure all of the money he wanted for the border wall through Congress.

North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr has not made his position public.

A Washington Post analysis of public statements found six Republican senators in opposition to the national emergency declaration with 16 others expressing some level of concern.

Republicans have 53 seats in the Senate. Senate Democrats, thus far, have been united in their opposition to the declaration. If one more Republican were to vote for the resolution, it would pass, though Trump would almost assuredly veto it. It seems unlikely that Congress could override the veto.

Tillis wrote that Trump “has few bigger allies than me when it comes to supporting his vision of 21st-century border security.”

“The president is rightfully frustrated with Congress’s inaction regarding the humanitarian and security crisis at the nation’s southern border,” Tillis wrote. “... Although Trump certainly has legitimate grievances over congressional Democrats’ obstruction of border-security funding, his national emergency declaration on Feb. 15 was not the right answer.”

Tillis, a former speaker of the House in North Carolina, said in his current role he must work to “preserve the separation of powers and to curb the kind of executive overreach that Congress has allowed to fester for the better part of the past century.”

He chided Republicans who criticized former President Barack Obama for overreaching his authority but seem fit to allow Trump to do the same.

“There is no intellectual honesty in now turning around and arguing that there’s an imaginary asterisk attached to executive overreach — that it’s acceptable for my party but not thy party,” Tillis wrote.

Tillis told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday that he supports spending $25 billion for border security.

“I just don’t think this is the right sustainable path, and I do believe Congress has to play a part in it,” Tillis said.

Democrats said Tillis was trying to have it both ways as he approaches his re-election campaign.

“Less than a year ago, Thom Tillis stood at a rally in Charlotte and said he would support every policy priority from President Trump — even when it hurts North Carolinians,” North Carolina Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard said in a statement.

“Now he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth because he’s worried about his own political future and convincing no one. Tillis is doing what he always does: saying one thing, doing the opposite and only looking out for himself.”

Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.