US Senate rejects Trump border emergency, setting up veto showdown

The US Senate on Thursday rebuked President Donald Trump for the second time this week, with 12 Republicans joining Democrats to end Trump's emergency declaration at the southern border.
Trump speaks during a briefing on drug interdiction efforts, at the White House, March 13, 2019.
Trump speaks during a briefing on drug interdiction efforts, at the White House, March 13, 2019.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The Senate voted to block President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency to pay for a wall at the border with Mexico, setting up his first veto and highlighting a growing willingness by Republicans in the chamber to split with their president.

The 59-41 vote on Thursday (March 14) was short of the 67 needed to override a veto.

It is already clear that Trump's rejection of the measure would be sustained in the Democratic-led House, which lacked a two-thirds majority in approving the resolution last month.

Still, the Senate vote is an embarrassing show of Republican disunity with the party's leader.

"I'll do a veto; it won't be overturned," Trump told reporters on Thursday at the White House.

The border wall was one of his top 2016 campaign promises, and the issue is sure to be prominent in his 2020 re-election campaign.

While Trump appears set to win the fight, 12 Republicans voted with all 47 Democrats to cancel the emergency.

The declaration would let Trump divert Pentagon money to pay for border wall construction that Congress refused to fund.

Republicans who voted with Democrats to block the president's action say he overstepped his bounds and set a dangerous precedent by ignoring the legislative branch's authority over government spending.

"This check on the executive is a source of our freedom," said Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who backed the resolution.

"Any appreciation for our structure of government means that no president should be able to use the National Emergencies Act to spend money that Congress refuses to provide."

Trump is also seeing Senate Republican defections over his foreign policy decisions, including a resolution approved Wednesday that would direct him to withdraw US support for the Saudi Arabia-led conflict in Yemen.

"The Senate is waking up a little bit to our responsibilities," Alexander said.

Republican Senate backing also is critical for the president as his legal challenges mount amid investigations by federal prosecutors and House Democrats.

Trump sought to keep pressure on Republicans in the hours leading up to the vote, writing on Twitter that "A vote for today's resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!"

At the same time, he pledged to back a revision to the 1976 law that lets presidents invoke emergency powers. Lawmakers in both parties are proposing to limit such actions in the future.

"If, at a later date, Congress wants to update the law, I will support those efforts," Trump tweeted.

 
 
 
 

Trump announced the emergency after a 35-day government shutdown over his demands for border wall funding. Congress agreed to provide only US$1.4 billion for 55 miles of new construction, far short of the US$5.7 billion the president said he needed. He has sought to tap US$3.6 billion from military construction projects for the wall he promised to build.

Trump asserts that Democrats don't want to secure the border, while Democrats say the president is wasting money on an ineffective and symbolic effort to keep undocumented immigrants out of the US.

'TRAMPLED' ON CONSTITUTION

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump didn't justify his declaration or spell out which military construction projects would be affected. He also said the president showed disrespect for the separation of powers in seeking to keep his campaign promise.

"He couldn't just abandon his border wall, so he trampled on the Constitution to continue his fight," Schumer of New York said on the Senate floor before the vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who backed the president in Thursday's vote, acknowledged that many senators want to limit future emergency declarations by presidents. He called on lawmakers to seek "bipartisan solutions," while also insisting Trump was justified in using the existing law to address border security concerns.

"The president is operating within existing law and the crisis on our border is all too real," said McConnell of Kentucky.

The House's 245-182 vote last month for the resolution, H.J.Res. 46, was short of the two-thirds margin needed to override an expected veto, so Trump's threat to kill the measure should be sustained.

Still, Trump faces court fights including a lawsuit filed in February by more than a dozen states - including California, Nevada, Maryland and Illinois - that contend the emergency declaration to unlock more money for the wall violates the Constitution. The votes by the House and Senate to reject Trump's declaration may be helpful to those fighting in court to overturn it.