Trump tells GOP to back border emergency, but defeat likely

Congress can vote to block a declaration, but the two-thirds majorities required to overcome presidential vetoes make it hard for lawmakers to prevail.

14 March 2019 | 18:00

Source: Associated Press

  • Source: Associated Press
  • Last update: 14 March 2019 | 18:00

Sen.Thom Tillis, R-N.C., attends a Senate Armed Services hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 14, 2019. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON: Republican opposition grew Thursday to President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southwest border as the Senate chugged toward a showdown vote that seemed certain to rebuff him despite his last-minute warnings.

GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Mitt Romney of Utah Romney became the sixth and seventh Republicans to say they’d vote Thursday for a resolution to annul the border emergency Trump declared last month.

Just four GOP defections would ensure the measure would be sent to the White House, where Trump has promised a veto. There is no indication that foes of his declaration have the votes to overturn his veto, and Trump said as much at midday.

“I’ll do a veto. It’s not going to be overturned,” Trump told reporters. “It’s a border security vote.”

He did not answer when reporters asked if there would be consequences for Republicans who vote against him.

But a White House official said Trump won’t forget when senators want him to attend fundraisers or provide other help. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on internal deliberations.

Trump wants to use his declaration to steer $3.6 billion more than Congress has approved for building border barriers than Congress has approved. 

Trump’s rejection of Lee’s proposal left many Republicans boxed in: defy Trump and the conservative voters who back him passionately, or assent to what many lawmakers from both parties consider a dubious and dangerous expansion of presidential authority.

Democrats, set to oppose him, said there was no emergency at the border. They said Trump issued his declaration only because Congress agreed to provide less than $1.4 billion for barriers and he was desperate to fulfill his campaign promise to “Build the Wall.”

“He’s obsessed with showing strength, and he couldn’t just abandon his pursuit of the border wall, so he had to trample on the Constitution to continue his fight,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

On the Senate floor, Alexander — one of the chamber’s more respected lawmakers — said Trump’s emergency action was “inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution that I took an oath to support,” citing the power Congress has to control spending. Romney, his party’s 2012 presidential nominee, used a written statement to called Trump’s declaration “an invitation to further expansion and abuse by future presidents.”

The defections by the two high-profile lawmakers added weight to the growing list of GOP opponents to his border emergency, and left little doubt that the Republican-run Senate would snub Trump. The challenge in a battle related to his signature issue — building barriers along the Mexican border — is striking.

Thursday’s vote would be the first time Congress has rejected a presidential emergency under the 1976 National Emergency Act. While presidents have declared 58 emergencies under the statute, this is the first aimed at acquiring money for an item Congress has explicitly refused to finance, according to Elizabeth Goitein, co-director for national security at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice.

On Twitter, Trump called on Republicans to oppose the resolution, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., helped drive through the House last month.

“Today’s issue is BORDER SECURITY and Crime!!! Don’t vote with Pelosi!” he tweeted, invoking the name of a Democrat who boatloads of GOP ads have villainized in recent campaign cycles.

Republicans had hoped that if Trump would endorse a separate bill by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, constraining emergency declarations in the future, it would win over enough GOP senators to reject the resolution blocking his border emergency.

But Trump told Lee on Wednesday that he opposed Lee’s legislation, prompting Lee himself to say he would back the resolution thwarting the border emergency in Thursday’s vote. Trump tweeted Thursday if Congress wants to amend the law governing emergency declarations in the future, “I will support those efforts.”

Other GOP senators who’ve said they’d vote to overturn Trump’s border emergency were Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Tillis, though, has wavered in recent days. He and Collins face potentially competitive re-election fights in 2020.

Republicans control the Senate 53-47.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who is backing Trump, went to the White House late Wednesday to see if some compromise could be reached that would help reduce the number of GOP senators opposing the border emergency, according to a person familiar with the visit who described it on condition of anonymity. Trump’s Thursday comments indicated the visit didn’t produce results.

The National Emergency Act gives presidents wide leeway in declaring an emergency. Congress can vote to block a declaration, but the two-thirds majorities required to overcome presidential vetoes make it hard for lawmakers to prevail.

Lee proposed letting a presidential emergency last 30 days unless Congress votes to extend it. That would have applied to future emergencies but not Trump’s current order unless he sought to renew it next year.

The strongest chance of blocking Trump is likely several lawsuits filed by Democratic state attorneys general, environmental groups and others.

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