Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told state lawmakers Friday that he hasn’t made a decision on joining a Congressional resolution opposing President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the nation’s southern border.
Lee objected to Trump’s use of executive authority to divert funding for the construction of a border wall. But he said he’s less concerned with that particular declaration than the underlying question of whether and when a president can sidestep Congress on government spending.
“It’s probably not a good idea to give presidents that much power,” Lee said.
Lee said while he supports the president’s goal of enhancing border security, he’s “agnostic” on what exact type of barriers are needed between the United States and Mexico.
And while it’s likely that Trump’s emergency declaration is legally sound, Lee said, the nation’s laws and precedents have placed too much discretion in the hands of the chief executive.
“There is certainly a crisis at the border,” Lee said. “Any time there’s a crisis, you can argue that the crisis is an emergency.”
Lee’s comments came during a series of visits to the state Capitol on Friday, in which the state’s senior senator met with the majority and minority caucuses of the House and Senate. The meeting with Senate Republicans was closed to the public and press, while the remaining three stops on Lee’s Capitol tour were open to spectators.
Questions about Trump’s emergency declaration, executive authority and immigration came from Democratic lawmakers. His visit with House Republicans focused on the Senate’s filibuster rule, his thoughts on Utah joining the call for a convention of states to debate constitutional amendments, and public lands designations.
“We have a problem that Utah has become a victim of The Antiquities Act over and over and over again,” Lee said, adding that Democratic presidents treat Utah “as a piñata” to please their political base.
But in each visit, Lee spoke about his opposition to the Saudi-led civil war in Yemen, and his efforts to secure bipartisan support for a resolution that would end U.S. involvement in that conflict. Lee said that sending U.S. troops into harm’s way without a formal declaration of war results in a lack of accountability for “American blood and treasure.”
“With any luck,” Lee said, “we’ll get ourselves out of that war in Yemen.”
The senator also expressed his support for loosening federal restrictions on marijuana to acknowledge the majority of states that have legalized cannabis for either recreational or medical use, and to facilitate research and financial transactions.
After Utah voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana in November, state lawmakers enacted a replacement program that would see the state operate a centralized cannabis distribution system.
“Keeping cannabis as a Schedule-1 controlled substance is probably not realistic,” he said.
Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, pressed Lee on the topic of family separations on the southern border and the children who have yet to be reunified with their parents.
“It’s inhumane and it’s not what America is about," Escamilla said. “I can’t believe it’s 2019 and we’re still hearing these horror stories.”
Lee responded that he believes everything that can be done is being done to reunite children with their families.