Senator Aaron Burr was an extremely controversial (some might say “reviled”) figure in our political history, if there ever was one. As our third Vice-President (serving under Thomas Jefferson) he is most famous for the killing (in an illegal duel) of Alexander Hamilton. While the indictment and all charges stemming from that duel were eventually dropped, the effect of the incident was to end Burr’s political career. He regained a final measure of respect among his Senate colleagues, however, after his highly-regarded performance in presiding over the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, a proceeding that ended in Chase’s acquittal. The next day, unable to head off the political winds any further, Aaron Burr gave his farewell speech to the Senate.
The words in that speech, in which he foresaw how the American Republic might meet its end, have proved more prescient than Burr could have imagined.
From the United States Senate’s official website:
Burr chose the following day to bid the Senate farewell. He ended his brief remarks with a singularly brilliant expression of the Senate’s uniqueness under the Constitution. This Senate, he said, “is a sanctuary; a citadel of law, of order, and of liberty; and it is here — it is here, in this exalted refuge; here, if anywhere, will resistance be made to the storms of political phrenzy and the silent arts of corruption; and if the Constitution be destined ever to perish by the sacrilegious hands of the demagogue or the usurper, which God avert, its expiring agonies will be witnessed on this floor.” As Burr walked from the chamber, his promising career in ruins, members spontaneously began to weep. No one present ever forgot the scene.
Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin, writing for the Washington Post, would no doubt agree. She has watched the members of this Republican Congress—and particularly the Senate–under the “leadership” of Donald Trump, transform themselves from defenders of conservative ideals into mere automatons acting as rubber stamps to the whims of a would-be dictator, apparently with no real regard for the Constitution that by its terms mandates that they exist, in theory at least, as co-equal branches of this government.
In her column, Rubin highlights the callow refusal of Republican Senators to challenge the usurpation of Congressional power Trump has claimed in declaring the necessity for funding his “border wall” as so important—such a vital “emergency”– that it warrants bypassing the express will of the people’s elected representatives. She quotes Missouri Senator Roy Blunt’s bumbling attempts to justify his support of Trump’s action, preserved forever in the transcript of this weekend’s “Face The Nation:”
MARGARET BRENNAN: How will you vote?
SEN. BLUNT: –correctly. I- I don’t know yet. I don’t know yet. I don’t like the process. I don’t think that the emergency declaration law was written to deal with things that the president asked the Congress to do and then the Congress didn’t do. It’s never been used that way before. I want to look carefully at the law. I want to hear what the president’s lawyers have to say about it. I- I really think the president would have been better served by one, taking the money that he- he got in the bill he signed, two, using the transfer authority he had. And I am absolutely confident that those two amounts of money would be more money than could be spent between now and September the 30th. . . .
MARGARET BRENNAN: But in terms of clarifying what you just said, are you saying it is possible that what the president declared is unconstitutional?
SEN. BLUNT: No, no.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You believe he has full authorities to do this–
SEN. BLUNT: Well I don’t know that. . . .
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you could vote to try to block the president from moving forward with this emergency? You just haven’t decided yet. Is that fair?
SEN. BLUNT: I think that’s fair. I think that’s fair, it’s also fair to understand that the president says he’ll veto whatever–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
SEN. BLUNT: –passes the House and Senate. And so this will be decided in the courts. I think it’s highly unlikely that the veto would be overridden in the House and probably not overridden in the Senate, either one. And so it’s gonna be decided in the courts. And it’s- I think it’s a fairly- it’s a significant court decision.
The stunning implication that a sitting member of the Senate would willingly defer to “the courts” the determination of whether a President had infringed on the Senate’s own Constitutionally-vested powers is what (rightly) sets Rubin off. And she calls out Blunt’s sophistry and cowardice for what it is—a wholesale abandonment of his (and by implication, the entire Republican Senate’s) sworn duty to defend and protect that same Constitution:
Republicans’ blather, evasion and lack of candor should remove any doubt that the party is now motivated by a single message: Defend whatever Trump says.
A political party must be more than a cult. As currently constituted, the Republican Party no longer stands for constitutional democracy; as such, it should be banished from government.
On Tuesday the House of Representatives, now under Democratic control, will pass a Resolution of Disapproval of Trump’s contrived “Emergency” declaration in an attempt to invalidate it as a usurpation of the power of appropriations vested in the Congress by the United States Constitution. Passage of that Resolution will force the Republican-controlled Senate to vote on the same measure.
At that time we will all find out whether, as Aaron Burr warned, the “expiring agonies” of this Republic will be witnessed on the floor of the Unites States Senate.