The same senators also defended former President Donald Trump over his illegal blocking of funding for aid to Ukraine.
Republican senators on Tuesday angrily denounced a government agency's ruling that President Joe Biden acted legally when he froze funds for his predecessor's border wall project. But they defended then-President Donald Trump when he was impeached on counts that included illegally freezing funds for the Ukraine.
Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Richard Shelby of Alabama released a statement accusing the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, of using a double standard.
"GAO's decision today makes clear that there are two sets of rules when it comes to executing funds appropriated by Congress: one for Democrat administrations and one for Republican administrations," the statement reads. "The decision splits hairs to justify actions that, just two years ago, were determined to be contrary to 'the faithful execution of the law.'"
"We hope our colleagues in Congress recognize this overreach by the executive branch and don't excuse it just because they are in the same political party," it says.
Capito and Shelby issued their statement in reaction to the GAO's decision that Biden's decision to pause construction of the wall along the nation's southern border was permissible because it was for an important and legally appropriate purpose.
The agency drew a clear distinction between what Biden did and Trump's summer 2019 blocking of funds appropriated by Congress to aid Ukraine in order to pressure that country's government to dig up dirt on his political rivals. The GAO had determined Trump's action to be illegal in a January 2020 ruling.
Of Biden's pause of the funding, the GAO ruled:
We conclude that delays in the obligation and expenditure of DHS's appropriations are programmatic delays, not impoundments. DHS and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have shown that the use of funds is delayed in order to perform environmental reviews and consult with various stakeholders, as required by law, and determine project funding needs in light of changes that warrant using funds differently than initially planned. As explained below, because the delay here is precipitated by legal requirements, the delay is distinguishable from the withholding of Ukraine security assistance funds.
In his own statement, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy praised the "welcome" decision:
As the ruling made clear, a review of the environmental havoc wrought by former President Trump's vanity wall, and taking the time to actually consult with the various stake holders, including landowners whose land was being seized, is legal and permitted by law. President Trump’s approach to the wall at the Southern Border was at best a bumper sticker approach to a serious policy issue, and it should be reviewed to ensure that American taxpayers’ dollars are well spent. It was right for President Biden to suspend the funds for such a review.
As the ruling explicitly states, there should be no false equivalence drawn between this legal, programmatic delay, and the personal, political, secret, and illegal impoundment of aid for Ukraine by the former President.
But while Capito and Shelby are now outraged by Biden's decision to pause spending on the wall, they took no action to punish his Republican predecessor for his actions and even defended his behavior.
In December 2019, the House of Representatives charged Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in the first of his two impeachments. The abuse of power article specifically noted that Trump conditioned the release of $391 million of funds appropriated for "vital military and security assistance to Ukraine" on the announcement of Ukrainian investigations into Biden.
In his trial in the Senate, Capito and Shelby voted to acquit Trump on both charges.
Capito said in February 2020 that she would vote against conviction and opposed even a censure resolution. She blamed the "partisan nature" of the impeachment and said none of the arguments made would "justify a Senate voting to reverse the will of the people and the voters and remove from office the person they chose to lead this nation."
In a television interview that January, Shelby dismissed the allegations against Trump, saying, "People do things. Things happen."
Following the Senate trial presentations, he said that he had determined the only abuse of power was "by the Democratic House" and that he was "proud to stand and repudiate these very weak impeachment efforts."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.