President Trump’s emergency declaration, which purports to give him the authority to spend taxpayer money to build a wall along our southern border, despite Congress having not constitutionally appropriated funds for him to do so, has been divisive across the country. Locally, that divide can be found in statements issued by two of the men who represent me in Congress: Sen. Jerry Moran and Rep. Ron Estes.
Moran and Estes are conservative Republicans, with voting records that show consistent support for conservative causes and President Trump’s policy preferences. But in this case, they parted ways.
You can see that parting in the comments they made when Congress held a vote to remove the president’s claimed emergency authority, as the law allows. When the House voted on the resolution in February – and passed it – Estes voted against it. When the Senate voted on the resolution last Thursday – and also passed it, thus requiring President trump to veto this legislation if he wants his emergency powers claim to move forward – Moran supported it. Why?
For Estes, the issue was pretty straightforward. In a four-sentence statement, he mentioned President Trump by name three times. He spoke of Trump “rightfully exercising” his presidential powers and of “supporting the president’s actions to address this crisis.” He was, in my judgment, voicing what seemed to him a straightforward political matter. The president of the United States was doing something which he, as a Republican, agreed with, and so as a good member of the president’s own party, he was going to support him.
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Estes is making use of the “delegate” model of representation. That is, he understands himself to be a spokesperson for the Trump-supporting Republicans of his district; to not support Trump’s agenda would be a betrayal of those who voted for him.
For Moran, though, the issue was hardly straightforward. His statement also mentioned President Trump by name three times, but only in the course of a 26-sentence-long outline of arguments. Those arguments involved the fundamentals of our system (it is “a violation of the U.S. Constitution” if the executive branch spends money that goes beyond “appropriations approved by Congress”), fears for our future (“this continues our country down the path of an all-powerful executive”), and basic ethics (“the ends don’t justify the means”). While Moran agrees with his party’s concerns about the southern border, and recognizes many executive abuses in the past, he sees neither thing as sufficient reason to set aside his conservative worries about this president, at this time, claiming powers that he constitutionally has no right to.
The House and the Senate are different places, of course, and Estes and Moran work in different institutional and electoral contexts. Still, it is always impressive to see someone in Congress think seriously about not just the political popularity, or the partisan necessity, of a given issue, but rather about, as Moran wrote, the danger of establishing a “precedent for future presidents.”
Estes invoked President Trump, and for many voters that’s enough; but Moran instead invoked his “understanding of history,” his “intellect,” and his “gut.” This exemplifies the “trustee” model of representation: being entrusted by voters to use all one’s resources and experience to make, on their behalf, difficult decisions – which this one clearly was.
Moran’s vote against our president’s power grab will anger those Kansas Republicans who see his role in the Senate as solely to advance Trump’s political agenda. But for myself, I can only say: Sen. Moran, thank you. As one who teaches about our constitutional system and its many problems and challenges regularly, I have great appreciation for anyone willing to take a locally unpopular stand in defense of fundamental principles. Well done, Senator! Though I may often disagree with you politically, this week you’ve earned my appreciation, and my trust.
Dr. Russell Fox is a political science professor at Friends University.