SALT LAKE CITY — One Utah Republican congressman called President Donald Trump’s executive orders on coronavirus relief “irresponsible,” while a GOP senator who doesn’t shy away from criticizing the president says he might have the authority to do what he did.
Rep. John Curtis and Sen. Mitt Romney had contrasting views on what some have described as Trump’s end run around Congress to defer payroll taxes and extend expired unemployment benefits. The measures also address an eviction ban and provide relief for student loans.
“While I share the president’s frustration with political gridlock, circumventing Congress’ constitutional mandates by issuing executive orders is irresponsible and ignores the separation of powers ingrained in our Constitution,” Curtis said in a statement Monday.
“Taking political shortcuts bypasses the momentum of legislation and hurts our system of checks and balance — no matter who is in power.”
After negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on the next COVID-19 economic assistance package broke down last week, Trump used what he said were inherent presidential powers to sign the relief orders.
Romney said Trump has taken a “tenuous” legal position, but the measures will probably be in place until Congress reaches a deal.
“My legal staff has taken a look at the executive orders and believe that the president has a good, reasonable case to be made that he has the authority to do what he has described,” Romney said Monday on KSL Newsradio’s “Live Mic.”
Romney said the orders would probably pass legal muster if challenged, though he allowed, “This isn’t the way things are supposed to be done.”
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said unlike President Barack Obama’s “completely” illegal DACA program, Trump has identified a statutory reason for each of his weekend executive orders.
“That said, it is disturbing how much legislative power Congress has given the executive branch and I call on my colleagues who say they oppose these actions to work with me in returning these powers to the legislative branch where they belong,” he posted on Twitter.
Curtis urged Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate to put aside partisanship and work together for the good of Americans because, “after all, that is our job.”
“America will have a better and more durable result when broadly supported action is taken by the diverse interests represented in Congress, as opposed to questionably legal executive orders from the administration,” he said.
Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, told a Sutherland Institute virtual audience that he wouldn’t criticize the president for making an effort to come up with at least some relief as the impasse over a new package continues.
While some might see the president’s orders as encroaching on tax and spending policy that Congress say it is granted by the Constitution, Romney said it was more egregious that Trump took money from the military to build the border wall after lawmakers voted no.
“That was a pretty much a straight slap in the face at Congress. This is not quite at the same level,” he said, noting Republicans have for good reason complained about executive orders in the past.
“Now we’re carrying them out ourselves through a Republican president and it is stretching the constitutional separation of powers in a time which, of course, is quite unusual with the COVID crisis going on.”
Romney said he wants to get help to the unemployed and make sure they can pay for rent, food and health care. He said he can’t imagine the Democrats challenging Trump’s order calling for unemployment payments of up to $400 a week, one-third less than the $600 people received under the previous benefit.
The senator has proposed his own plan to extend unemployment benefits, starting at $500 a week and scaling down through the end of the year. Romney said he doesn’t want to create another situation where people are making more money by not working than by being employed.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche