WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor announcing his decision to vote in favor of the resolution of disapproval regarding the administration’s national emergency declaration. Portman said he agrees there is a crisis at the southern border and supports the president’s border security plan.  He also outlined how the president can access sufficient funding to implement his border security plan (1) without setting a bad precedent counter to our Constitution, (2) without tying up the needed funds for the border in the courts, and (3) without taking funds away from important military construction projects from our troops – including a number of important projects in Ohio. 

Transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here

 

“I’m here to talk about the vote that we will take later today on this floor regarding the president’s national emergency declaration. From the outset of this process, I’ve had two objectives. One, to support the president on the crisis at the border. I believe his plan to address that crisis is a good one. We should support it. But, second, to do it in the right way, without setting a dangerous new precedent, counter to a fundamental constitutional principle, without tying up the needed funds for the border in the courts, and without taking funds away from important military construction projects for our troops. 

“Unfortunately, despite a sincere effort by the administration as recently as this morning to try to work with me and other colleagues, including the presiding officer, we were not able to agree on a path forward that addresses those concerns that I just outlined. I’m going to lay out in a minute how I think we can better achieve the president’s goals of strengthening our border security without invoking the national emergency and the funding he seeks through that national emergency. 

“First, let me repeat what I said on this floor many times and said consistently -- I do believe we have a crisis at the border.  A humanitarian crisis, a trafficking crisis, and a drug crisis.  According to Customs and Border Protection, last month in February, 76,000 illegal immigrants arrived at our southern border. That’s an average of about 2,000 every day. Since October of last year, we’ve apprehended more than 268,000 people at the border. That’s about a 100 percent increase over the same period last year. And we’ve seen a 300 percent increase in families arriving at the border, compared to this time last year. By the way, the vast majority of those are from three countries in Central America. 

“The is a humanitarian crisis. The journey to the United States from these so-called Northern Triangle countries is incredibly dangerous, especially for women and children. They face violence from gangs and traffickers and hunger and dehydration in the rough terrain. Many of them arrive traumatized, hurt, sick, and often we don’t have the resources to provide for those needs. There’s also a growing human trafficking crisis. Our lack of border security allows human smugglers to move across the border unchecked and increasingly they’re taking advantage of these flows of individuals to traffic women and children. In particular, I will say the border patrol resources are spread thin trying to monitor these areas that do not have barriers. 

“Third, this is a drug crisis. The Drug Enforcement Agency has said: ‘The southwest border remains the primary entry point for heroin into the United States.’ That’s not a debatable point. I’m told that with regard to Ohio, where we have been devastated by the opioid epidemic, over 90 percent of the heroin is coming across the southern border. And fentanyl, the deadliest drug of all, which comes primarily from China and primarily through the U.S. mail system, 50 times more powerful than heroin, is increasingly coming across the southern border, too.  Yesterday I learned from Customs and Border Protection that fentanyl seizures along the border, between the ports of entry, have increased by 400 percent between 2016 and 2018. 

“As we’re finally beginning to make progress on the opioid crisis in my home state of Ohio and around the country, finally reducing the number of heroin overdoses and deaths and other fentanyl and prescription drug deaths – for the first time in eight years we’re seeing a reduction in those deaths – crystal meth and the devastation it causes is coming back with a vengeance. It’s more pure than ever, more powerful than ever, and it’s coming from Mexico. Some of you may remember the issue of crystal meth labs being in people’s houses and the environmental damage it caused and the crystal meth being cooked.  That’s not happening much anymore.  Why?  Because this pure crystal meth coming from Mexico is so much more powerful and less expensive.  It’s cheap.  Law enforcement tells me that on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, pure crystal meth is now plentiful and less expensive than marijuana, and far more dangerous. Where is it coming from? It’s coming from Mexico. 

“So even with limited resources, in fiscal year 2018, Customs and Border Protection seized almost a half million pounds of marijuana, 11,000 pounds of methamphetamines between ports of entry, and at the ports of entry, they seized over 1,700 pounds of fentanyl.  By the way that’s enough to kill about three billion people.  1,700 pounds of fentanyl, three flecks of which can kill you.  They’ve also seized 56,000 pounds of crystal meth and nearly 52,000 pounds of cocaine. And frankly, that’s the tip of the iceberg, most of it’s getting through, they’re only checking a small percentage of shipments, meaning the vast majority of drugs are coming across the border undetected. We need to do more. 

“There is no question we need stronger border security.  And again, I support the plan that the president has outlined including the $5.7 billion the president has requested for walls and other barriers. That $5.7 billion number wasn’t just picked out of thin air – it funds the top 10 priorities of the Customs and Border Protection Border Security Improvement Plan. The experts have given us a plan and the president’s $5.7 billion request simply funds what the experts have said.  This plan, the border security expert plan, has been embraced by this Congress in the last two appropriations cycles – they pointed to that plan and said this is the path forward. So this is the experts, it’s not controversial.  

“By the way, the experts have recommended not that we build a wall from sea to shining sea, it’s been mischaracterized as that, but 234 miles of barriers, walls and other fencing at places where people cross the border most frequently, primarily in the state of Texas, primarily in the urban areas. Places where it will make the most difference.  Funding for these types of barriers has been included in the budget requests from previous administrations of course. Previous administrations have built hundreds of miles of fencing, over 500 miles. It’s also been included in appropriations bills passed by Congress during the last two appropriations cycles, by both Republicans and Democrats. So why is it that this administration can’t build the barriers that other administrations have and that Congress in the past has supported? 

“Of course it’s not just about more physical barriers, and the president’s plan also recognizes that.  We need more border patrol agents, more technology, more surveillance, more drones, more cameras, more screening at our ports of entry, and more technology to stop this illegal flow of drugs.  That’s also a significant part of this plan.  But erecting more barriers and fencing in key areas along the border will help stem the tide.  It will ease the burden on our border security personnel and allow them to focus their resources more effectively.  It’s time to listen to the experts and give them what they need to carry out their important mission. 

“But we have to do that in the right way.  As we all learned in high school, our government has a system of checks and balances.  It gives some powers to the president, it gives some powers to Congress.  Our Constitution explicitly gives the United States Congress what’s called the power of the purse. Congress, not the president, has sole authority to determine how to spend taxpayer money.  And that’s appropriate.  After all, we are here to represent the people, and we are the most accountable to taxpayers.  Once we appropriate the money for a specific purpose, then it’s the president and the executive branch that’s responsible for administering those programs.  

“So we had our spending fight here in Congress.  I thought we should give the president the full amount of money he requested for barriers and I voted that way.  At the end of the day, Congress decided to give him only some, not all, the funds he requested.  But under current law and current congressional approval and authorities, without declaring a national emergency President Trump can actually access additional funds that gets him to the $5.7 billion that he requested.  As the Wall Street Journal said in its recent editorial opposing the national emergency: ‘The president doesn’t need to invoke a national emergency to build his wall along the southern border.’ 

“Declaring a national emergency to access different funds sets a dangerous new precedent. The use of national emergency powers to circumvent Congress’s explicit decision on funding is unprecedented.  No president has ever used what’s called the National Emergencies Act in this way.  As a result, it opens the door for future presidents to implement just about any policy they want, and to take funding from other areas Congress has already decided on, without Congress’s approval.  

“Once a president declares an emergency, he or she has access to a lot power. Some would say nearly unlimited power.  A future president could seize industries or could control means of communication—think of the internet.  A future president may well say that climate change is a national emergency and use emergency authorities to implement the Green New Deal.  By the way, according to a new study by Douglas Holtz-Eakin at the American Action Forum, the proposed policies in the Green New Deal will cost between $51 trillion and $93 trillion over the next 10 years – when added up together.  Obviously that’s not sustainable, and it’s an astounding price tag.  In fact, as Senator Alexander said on the floor earlier today, future presidents could actually use this emergency authority to tear down the very wall we are now constructing – and some Democrats running for president have said that’s what they intend to do, that’s what they want to do. 

“So the president is using the National Emergencies Act to take funds away from a particular area of the spending, it’s called military construction funds.  Only twice before have presidents declared a national emergency in order to transfer military construction funds away from their congressionally-designated projects into other priorities.  In both of those situations, we were at war, and the Secretary of Defense transferred the funds to support the war effort and Congress did not object.  Although there is a crisis at our border, we are not in wartime, and there are other funds available to address border security.  

“The president wants to do more to address the crisis at the border and I do too. And he can do more. The president has available to him enough funds right now to begin building all the barriers he has requested without resorting to national emergency funds. I support him using those funds to get to the full $5.7 billion he requested for barriers on the southern border. Here’s how he could access it without using the national emergency. 

“First would be the $1.375 billion that was appropriated by this Congress for the barriers. By the way, that’s the most that’s ever been appropriated in a fiscal year ever for the purpose of barriers. Second, he can access, as he intends to do, the $601 million from the Treasury forfeiture fund. He can do that without a national emergency. Third, he could access funding through the DOD counter drug account. He has said he’d like to access about $2.5 billion from that account but he could actually access, under our laws that we have passed here, we’ve given him authority to access up to $4 billion. This adds up, as you can see, to over $5.7 billion, almost $6 billion at the president’s disposal without moving to the national emergency that he has invoked. 

“So my hope is that the president will take this approach. I think using those funds is a better way to accomplish our border security goals precisely because the president does not need to declare a national emergency. And these funds are far more certain. The $3.6 billion the president takes from the military construction projects is uncertain because these funds are likely to be tied up in constitutional litigation, tied up for months, probably years. By the way, the president has rightly acknowledged that. 

“Under the National Emergencies Act, Congress has given the president flexibility to address significant threats to our nation’s well-being, and we want him to have that flexibility. It was critical to President Bush to act quickly and decisively in the days after the 9/11 attacks. But short of that type of situation, it’s imperative for the president to honor Congress’s constitutional role to make policy and appropriate money. A national emergency declaration is a tool to be used cautiously and sparingly. That’s why I’ve cosponsored legislation offered by Senator Mike Lee to amend the National Emergencies Act to ensure Congress does have more control over these decisions in the future. 

“So in my view, the best resolution here is for the president to use that nearly $6 billion of funding he has at his disposal to implement his plan and then ask Congress for additional funding during the next appropriations cycle which, by the way, begins on October 1 of this year. 

“This approach, again, has three distinct advantages. One, it would not set the dangerous precedent we discussed today. Second, the funds could actually get to the border because it won’t be tied up in litigation. And, third, it would fully protect important military construction projects in Ohio and around the country, including, by the way, funding for the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, an automated multi-purpose machine gun range at Camp James A. Garfield, a fire station replacement at Mansfield Lahm Airport, a small arms range at Rickenbacker International Airport, and a small gate relocation project at Youngstown Air Reserve Station. All of those are things are in the current fiscal year Military Construction Appropriations bill and benefit Ohio. I’m a strong supporter and advocate for Ohio’s military facilities and our research institutions and will continue to work to ensure that our key military construction projects at these strategic facilities can continue to move forward. 

“I’ve worked on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. I have had the honor of being a senator and a congressman on this side and I’ve worked for two White Houses. In fact, I was Associate Counsel to President Bush, 41, in his White House counsel’s office. I know how hard it can be for the executive branch, the president, and Congress to find that balance that our founders intended between the executive branch and the legislative branch. But our founders drew a clear line on at least one thing. Congress, closest to the people, would have the power of the purse. 

“When President Obama bypassed Congress and took executive action to create new immigration policy, this was back in 2012, I spoke out. I criticized him because of the constitutionality issue. I said I agreed with President Obama that our immigration system was, and by the way still is, broken. I agreed we need to work together to fix it. But I said it doesn’t mean that a president can ignore Congress, substitute his own judgment for the will of the people and make up new laws on his own. That’s what I said President Obama did. I believed it was wrong then. I believe the president’s use of national emergency declaration to access already approved military construction project funding is wrong now. I support his goals. President Trump is right that we have a crisis, and I support his plan to secure the border, and he can fully fund it in a more reliable way.  By the way, anyone who cares about getting that money to the border to build walls ought to want that certainty. 

“Each one of us in this body has sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. So today, I will vote to support the disapproval resolution that is before us. I know the president has the votes to pursue his approach. Even if the disapproval resolution passes, he can veto it and his veto will be sustained. I know that. But I continue to hope the president uses the funds he has available to him without creating a bad precedent, having some of the needed funds tied up in the courts, and taking money from important military projects. President Trump is right about the crisis at the border, and the approach I outlined today will enable him to accomplish his policy objectives on the border and honor our Constitution.” 

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