Poor Thom Tillis. For a few shining days the Republican senator from North Carolina had a backbone. Then, in one crumbling moment Thursday afternoon, it went away.
In a Feb. 25 Washington Post op-ed, Tillis boldly announced that he would vote against President Trump’s effort to circumvent Congress by declaring a national emergency at the southern border. Congress had denied the president’s request for border wall money, so Trump has declared a national emergency that gives him power to get the wall money anyway.
Tillis had criticized President Obama for using executive orders to get around Congress. He also objected to the emergency declaration as a violation the Constitution’s separation of powers, which under Article 1 gives the power of the purse to Congress alone. In his op-ed, Tillis supported the president’s plan for a wall, but intellectual honesty required that he couldn’t go along with the way Trump is trying to fund it. He wrote:
“It is my responsibility to be a steward of the Article I branch, 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. I stood by that principle during the Obama administration, and I stand by it now.”
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Apparently, the only word of that he really meant was “now.” Because in the Senate on March 14, the formerly standing senator was fully prostrate before the altar of Trump.
“I come to the floor to say I do not intend to vote for the resolution of disapproval. And here’s why. A lot has changed over the last three weeks,” Tillis said.
The why, according to North Carolina’s junior senator, was that he’s heard “serious discussion” about changing the National Emergency Act so no “future left-wing president” can do what he was voting to allow the current right-wing president to do. The prospect of a change in the law was the fig leaf with which Tillis tried to cover his capitulation.
In a whopper worthy of the president himself, Tillis said he did not change his position out of concern that a vote against Trump would bring on a primary challenge when he stands for re-election in 2020.
Fear of the president’s disapproval and the wrath of his base clearly caused Tillis’ humiliating flip-flop. After his op-ed, North Carolina Republicans let him know that not being in lockstep with Trump left him out of step with them.
“We’re not happy with the way Senator Tillis seems not to support the president,” said Diane Parnell, chairwoman of the Rockingham County Republican Party. “We’re looking to see who is coming to primary him.”
“It looks like you’re putting yourself in opposition to the president,” said Jim Womack, chairman of the Lee County Republican Party and a candidate for chairman of the state GOP. “Tillis can be intellectually honest all day long, but messaging matters.”
Tillis, who votes in line with Trump 94 percent of the time, learned not to stray, even when 12 other Republicans opposed the president’s emergency declaration Thursday.
That blind following of a polarizing president makes Tillis’ decisions simple when it comes to voting in the Senate. It will get complicated, however, when it comes to people voting for Tillis. The president carried North Carolina, but since he took office his approval rating has dropped by 18 points to 48 percent. Support for the wall is at 44 percent with 46 percent opposed, according to a Feb. 22 High Point Poll. Those numbers could go down if Trump uses his emergency powers to take money from North Carolina military base projects to pay for his wall.
Now that Thom Tillis has abandoned his principles in order to stand wherever Trump stands, there will be no need for further op-eds. We can learn what our senator thinks by reading Trump’s tweets.