Senate Votes Down Trump Border Emergency, Likely Forcing His First Veto

March 14, 2019 by Dan McCue
A view of the U.S. Capitol Building on July 25, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Evan Golub/Zuma Press/TNS)

The Senate on Thursday voted to overturn President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the nation’s border with Mexico, a bipartisan rebuke the president has already suggested he’ll veto.

The 59-41 vote on a previously-passed House measure rejecting the president’s emergency declaration marked the first time ever that Congress voted to block a presidential emergency declaration.

Ahead of the vote, Trump repeatedly took to Twitter, calling “a vote for today’s resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!”

“… If, at a later date, Congress wants to update the law,” he said in another tweet, referring to the law granting the president the ability to declare emergencies, “I will support those efforts.”

“But today’s issue is BORDER SECURITY and Crime!!! Don’t vote with Pelosi!” he added.

While the president worked his cellphone, the White House released an op-ed that appeared in USA Today Thursday morning under the signatures of three state attorneys general, including  Ken Paxton of Texas.

He, Curtis Hill, and Jeff Landry, the attorneys general of Indiana and Louisiana, respectively, declared the president’s emergency declaration is “a proper use of executive power to protect our country’s borders and keep Americans safe.”

In the end, the last minute press and the in-person efforts of Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, were to no avail.

Among those who are pleased by the day’s events was Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who said the president failed to understand that it is the constitutional duty of Congress to appropriate funds for border security.

“Several weeks ago, Congress increased Homeland Security funding by $1.7 billion for this year,” Sinema said. “While there is more work for Congress to do, the emergency declaration undermines critical military assets across our country and unnecessarily puts at risk resources for Arizona servicemembers and national security.”

She vowed to “continue working to find bipartisan solutions in the U.S. Senate to secure our border and strengthen our military.”

But U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., maintained after the vote that the Senate made a mistake on Thursday.

He and the other senators who voted to uphold the declaration argued the president’s declaration was within the jurisdiction of the National Emergencies Act, and was needed to address what they and the president deem to be a crisis at the border.

“There is an emergency at our southern border,” he said, reiterating that stance Thursday afternoon.  “Military construction funds can be used by President Trump to create barriers to protect our nation from the scourge of illegal immigration. I believe the President is on sound legal ground.”

In the end, however, Graham and those who agreed with him could not overcome concerns about the legality of Trump’s redirecting $3.6 billion from military construction projects toward the border wall even after Congress explicitly rejected the funding request.

A dozen Republicans joined Senate Democrats in supporting the House-passed resolution of disapproval. They were Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee; Roy Blunt, of Missouri; Susan Collins, of Maine; Mike Lee, of Utah; Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska; Rob Portman, of Ohio; Mitt Romney, of Utah; Marco Rubio, of Florida; Patrick Toomey, of Pennsylvania; Rand Paul, of Kentucky; Roger Wicker, of Mississippi; and Jerry Moran, of Kansas.

“Moving forward,” Graham said, “I hope the White House and my colleagues who are concerned about the application of this law can reach agreement in terms of changing the underlying statute,” Graham said. “I do not believe the President is acting in an unconstitutional manner, but I would support revising the statute going forward.”

The Senate does not have enough votes to override the president’s expected veto, however it could bolster a number of lawsuits contesting the emergency declaration as a flagrant violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers.

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