U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said Tuesday he and his staff are working to determine whether President Trump has the authority to declare a state of emergency over funding for a border wall.
Speaking with the Tribune-Review in his Downtown Pittsburgh office, Toomey said he agrees with Trump that some physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border are necessary. He also said disputes over funding those measures should have been solved legislatively.
“Having said that, there’s a right way to do things, and we are a country that follows the rule of law,” said Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley. “I am concerned about whether this really amounts to an attempt to circumvent Congress here.”
Trump predicted that his administration would defend itself all the way to the Supreme Court.
Toomey said he worries about the precedent the move could set.
“There are good reasons that we have checks and balances in our system, there’s good reason that Congress is the branch of government that the Constitution assigns responsibility for spending taxpayer money,” Toomey said. “I want to take a hard look at what the president has announced and then I’ll decide after we’ve had a chance to do that.”
Toomey, who was in the Pittsburgh area Tuesday for an event, met with the Trib to discuss a range of issues. Among them:
Breaking with the Trump administration on trade policy
Toomey reiterated his stance that tariffs, especially those on steel and aluminum, could hurt American businesses and pass the burden on to consumers.
“I’ll continue to be an advocate for what I think is best for Pennsylvanians, which is low taxes, including on imports, and an opportunity to sell our products everywhere in the world,” Toomey said.
He pointed again to the Pittsburgh-based specialty steel manufacturer ATI (Allegheny Technologies) as an example of businesses that have suffered under the president’s 2018 steel and aluminum tariffs.
“They depend on being able to import steel, because the particular types of steel that they use is only made in other places,” Toomey said. “Well, these tariffs are hitting them with a huge, huge bill, because like I said, it’s Americans who pay for these tariffs. And that’s really problematic.”
Encouraging more open trade, including with neighbors like Canada and Mexico, would benefit Pennsylvania businesses, he said.
“We won’t have that opportunity if we’re not allowing their products to come into our country also,” he said.
Toomey teamed up with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia in 2012, following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, to introduce legislation that expanded background checks for gun purchases.
It never went very far, but he thinks the time might be right to get such legislation passed.
“We haven’t had enough votes in the Senate to get this done,” Toomey said. “Now we’ve got a political configuration where this could pass in the House — it probably will, very soon — and so I’m taking another look to see if I could persuade more Republicans, frankly, to support this in hopes that we could get to 60 votes.”
Toomey, a gun owner himself, said his legislation would require background checks everywhere in the country on commercial gun sales.
“I have never felt that a background check is an infringement on the rights of the law-abiding citizen, because we have a couple categories of people that we all agree shouldn’t have guns: dangerous criminals, and people who are dangerously mentally ill, for obvious reasons should’t be able to have guns,” Toomey said. “So the background check system is the common-sense way of finding out if someone is in one of these categories.”
Such changes need to happen on the state and federal level, Toomey said.
“I just don’t see any real change that would result from a city-by-city kind of approach,” he said.
Efforts to set local gun laws, like those considered by Pittsburgh City Council in recent months, would be too easy to evade, he said.
“Anything you do at the municipal level isn’t going to solve the problem,” he said.
Toomey, along with U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Peters Township, visited the Washington County-based organization City Mission to learn more about their efforts to support individuals in recovery from opioid addiction.
Toomey toured the facility, which provides a range of services including counseling, case management, dedicated resources for veterans and women with children, as well as services to support those experiencing homelessness.
“What I was impressed with was the way a very diverse community of folks has come together and rallied their support for City Mission,” Toomey said, adding that he was impressed with what the local organization was able to accomplish relying mostly on charitable donations.
“I guess just the community buy-in was really impressive to me,” he said.
Toomey played a key role in passing legislation in 2018 that included provisions ensuring doctors are notified if a patient has previously overdosed before prescribing opioids, as well as creating safeguards that would prevent over-prescribing.
“What my hope is, that we can just keep making steady progress and turn the corner on the numbers of people who are addicted, start getting real reductions in the rate of fatalities and overdoses, and just keep working at it,” he said.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .