Trump's border emergency survives as veto override falls short

Trump talks to reporters as he departs a closed Senate Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The Democratic-controlled House lost a veto override vote that aimed to halt President Donald Trump's national emergency plan to fund a border wall, as Republican support for the president handed him a new victory following the end of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

The 248-181 vote on Tuesday (March 26) was short of the two-thirds majority needed to overturn Trump's first veto, as most Republicans voted against the resolution despite the public unpopularity of the emergency declaration.

The vote kills Democrats' legislative effort to rein in Trump's plan to fund a wall on the border with Mexico, and it demonstrates the president's enduring influence over Republican lawmakers.

The vote came after Sunday's massive win for the president when Attorney-General William Barr announced that Mueller had not found evidence that the president or his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election. Barr also said Mueller had not turned up enough evidence to justify a charge of obstructing justice.

The House and Senate had voted earlier to disapprove Trump's plan to use an emergency declaration to divert military funds to build the wall. It was a rare bipartisan rebuke of the president, as 13 House Republicans and 12 Senate Republicans joined with Democrats to adopt the resolution, H.J.Res. 46.

Yet, those votes did not come close to the two-thirds margin needed to survive Trump's March 15 veto, foreshadowing Tuesday's failed attempt to overturn the president's action. This time, 14 Republicans joined Democrats in voting for an override.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that while the veto override might fail, the resolution established congressional opposition to Trump's emergency declaration and could factor into multiple lawsuits challenging it. A coalition of 16 states, led by California, sued the Trump administration last month in an effort to block the declaration.

"Establishing the intent of Congress will help us in the court of law and in the court of public opinion," Pelosi said last week at a news conference in New York.

The failed vote removes one roadblock from the administration's effort to secure significant border wall funding from a Congress reluctant to give it to him. After a 35-day partial government shutdown earlier this year over the president's demand for US$5.7 billion (S$7.7 billion) in border wall funding, Congress agreed to provide only US$1.4 billion for physical barriers.

The administration plans to use the emergency declaration to redirect US$3.5 billion in funding from military construction projects and tap other funding sources that do not require an emergency declaration. In total, the administration hopes to have US$8 billion available to build the border wall.

Pelosi had called on lawmakers from both parties to pass the resolution to prevent the president from circumventing Congress's constitutional authority over spending.

"This emergency declaration is nothing more than an end run around a majority - a bipartisan majority - of both the House and the Senate in complete disregard of our constitutional system of separation of powers," said Representative Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat.

Representative Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican, said in backing Trump, "He has very clearly laid out the case for a declaration for a national emergency. There is a crisis at the border."

Most of the 14 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block the emergency declaration have said that while they agreed with the president's call for border security, his method for securing funding set a bad precedent of executive overreach.

The president's declaration also lacks support among the public. A CNN poll conducted March 14-17 found that 50 per cent of those questioned agreed with Congress' resolution disapproving the emergency declaration, while 55 per cent said Trump shouldn't have vetoed the resolution.

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