Fact Check: Tillis' Reversal On President Emergency Declaration Is A 'Full-Flop'

Mar 27, 2019

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis took a stand in February. He said he would vote against President Trump’s emergency declaration to fund a border wall – and he made that statement very publicly – writing an op-ed in The Washington Post. But less than a month later he was not among a dozen Senate Republicans to join Democrats in voting against the declaration.

That got the attention of several media outlets, whose editorial writers called it various forms of what the Washington Post phrased a “remarkable flip-flop.” The North Carolina Democratic Party chimed in too, saying Tillis “says one thing, then does another.” 

Paul Specht of the Raleigh News and Observer joined WFAE’s Lisa Worf to break this down. 

Lisa Worf: So, Paul, this sounds awfully like a flip-flop on Tillis’s part, is that indeed the case?    

Paul Specht: It is. And at PolitiFact, we normally put things through the truth-o-meter. And in this case, we looked at how his position had changed and we put his position through what we call the flip-o-meter. And that judges things on whether or not there was a flip, a half flip, or a full flop. And after looking at it, we gave him a full flop — an upside down meter with a red indicator that says "full flop," and that's not your computer messing up. The icon is upside down on purpose.

Worf: So what was Tillis' his position initially for not supporting an emergency declaration to fund the border wall?

Specht: Well before the vote, he said that he was concerned about any president trying to usurp Congress — go round them to approve spending of any kind. He said that he can relate to the president wanting to use the National Emergencies Act, or similar methods, to get things done. He said, "I'm not the president I'm a member of the Senate and I have grave concerns when our institution looks the other way at the expense of weakening Congress's power."

So, that's a pretty forceful and deliberate statement.

Worf: What kind of reaction did he get from that statement?

Specht: Almost immediately, Republicans across North Carolina started vocally expressing their displeasure. It was not the state party — the North Carolina Republican Party didn't make any sort of formal statement or position. But various county parties across North Carolina came out and said, "Well, maybe we want to see someone primary Tillis next year. Maybe we need someone who's more aligned with our president."

I think it's safe to say these were grassroots concerns from conservatives who wanted a senator who's more committed to the president. This sort of opened up an opportunity for someone to come in and challenge Tillis to his right.

Worf: Now, in saying he'd support the president's emergency declaration Tillis did mention that he received what he called "a lot of feedback." That was right before last month's vote on the Senate floor. He went on to say his main concern with the executive action is future potential abuses. And then he said this:

But I think that we could view this as an opportunity. I thought we could view this as an opportunity to where maybe we could have a discussion about the National Emergencies Act and potentially make a real difference here.

Worf: So what do you make of this, Paul?

Credit Photo courtesy of Paul Specht

Specht: I think that's a misleading explanation given what we know about what is in his op-ed. Obviously, the op-ed in The Washington Post was his most public statement about this aside from his floor speech. His op-ed doesn't mention anything about the National Emergencies Act or reforming it. And so for him to say that he viewed this as an opportunity to talk about it and consider changes before voting on Trump's emergency declaration is misleading.

It was also misleading for him to say that his main concern was future potential abuses. It's possible that it was his main concern, but his op-ed singles out Trump specifically and talks about all emergency declarations as unnecessary and just sort of bad governance because they circumvent Congress.

This particular line stood out to us from his Washington Post article. It says, "There is no intellectual honesty and now turning around and arguing that there's an imaginary asterisk attached to executive overreach — that it's acceptable for my party but not thy party."

That's a pretty firm stance against declarations themselves. He didn't leave himself a lot of wiggle room when it comes to you know supporting it conditionally.

Paul Specht will be joining WFAE’s Morning Edition every Wednesday to Fact Check North Carolina news. If you have any claims you want the PolitiFact team to check out, you can email them at factcheck@newsobserver.com.