Republicans who once denounced President Barack Obama as a “king” or “tyrant” for issuing executive orders are now praising President Donald Trump after he took unilateral action seeking to extend coronavirus relief measures that Congress had been unable to agree on.
Trump on Saturday signed an executive order and other executive actions attempting to sidestep Congress, sparking criticism from Democrats who called the move inadequate and ineffective. Even if they are ultimately ruled constitutional, Trump’s actions aren’t likely to deliver aid quickly, if at all.
Most Republicans welcomed Trump’s announcement after weeks of strained negotiations among top administration officials and Democrats. The talks led to little progress on extending key relief measures such as supplemental federal unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions, as well as additional aid for schools, hospitals, elections and food assistance.
“I support President Trump exploring his options to get unemployment benefits and other relief to the people who need them the most,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Saturday in a statement.
McConnell had a different opinion in 2013, when Obama issued an executive action to protect millions of undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation.
“He knows that it will make an already-broken system even more broken, and he knows that this is not how democracy is supposed to work,” McConnell said at the time.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) similarly applauded Trump for taking action to extend added unemployment benefits, which expired last month. He also criticized Obama for his unilateral moves sidestepping Congress.
“This is wrong. It’s irresponsible. It will do damage to our efforts to fix a broken immigration system. This is a tremendous presidential overreach,” Graham said of Obama’s immigration order in 2013.
Graham said Saturday that he appreciated Trump’s orders but “would much prefer a congressional agreement.”
Trump’s executive action authorizes the federal government to pay for $300 in extra unemployment benefits per week by setting up a whole new program. It requires states to pay another $100 per week on top of that ― which some may not be able to afford to do.
The previous enhanced unemployment benefits that Congress authorized in March added $600 a week to standard state unemployment benefits. Democrats wanted to extend the benefits at $600 per week through the end of the year, but Republicans refused.
Even Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), an endangered incumbent facing a tough reelection fight in November, seemed to back Trump’s efforts as a negotiating tactic against Democrats.
“Congress must act quickly,” Collins said in a statement that did not address the legality of the move. “There are constitutional limits on what the President can do to help through executive orders.”
While many of his fellow “constitutional conservatives” remained silent over the weekend, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) expressed discomfort with Trump’s actions. In particular, he took issue with Trump’s order suspending the payroll tax until the end of the year.
“The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop,” Sasse said in a statement. “President Obama did not have the power to unilaterally rewrite immigration law with DACA, and President Trump does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law.”
Trump fired back in a tweet on Monday, accusing Sasse of speaking up when he finds it politically convenient.
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