With a handful of Republicans bucking the president, the Senate now appears to have the 51 votes needed to pass a resolution nullifying Donald Trump’s emergency declaration that seeks to spend billions toward building a southern border wall. The resolution, passed by the House on February 26th, is likely to prompt Trump’s first-ever presidential veto.
This bipartisan opposition to the president’s border policy follows the standoff that yielded the longest government shutdown on record. Congress finally reached an agreement in mid-February to spend just $1.375 billion on “pedestrian fencing” along the border — a far cry from the $25 billion Trump had sought for “The Wall” that he’d long promised Mexico would pay for.
The day after the president signed that budget compromise into law, he staged a bizarre Rose Garden appearance to declare a national emergency on the border — and vowed to redirect another $6.6 billion toward barrier-building by tapping monies intended for drug interdiction and military construction. Calling into question the validity of the “emergency” he’d just invoked, Trump insisted: “I didn’t need to do this.”
The reaction in the House was swift. Led by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), the lower chamber passed a resolution declaring Trump’s order “terminated,” per Congress’ authority under the National Emergencies Act.
Democrats argue that Trump, by effectively appropriating money for border-wall construction specifically disapproved of by Congress, is usurping the power of the purse. They warn that if Trump goes unchecked now, presidents of both parties could abuse this expansion of “emergency” authority.
If Congress lets Trump’s emergency declaration stand, this President and future presidents will come back for more. And if the border wall is a national “emergency” under this law, how am I supposed to tell a future President that opioid and gun deaths are not? Or climate change?
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) February 26, 2019
Speaker Nancy Pelosi challenged Republican colleagues before the vote: “Is your oath of office to Donald Trump, or is it to the Constitution of the United States?” Thirteen GOP House members sided with Democrats on that vote in late February.
Now, at least four members of the president’s party appear ready to do the same in the Senate. Joining Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — Kentucky’s Rand Paul declared Sunday he would vote to block Trump’s emergency declaration in an op-ed published by Fox News.
Paul grounded his argument in constitutional principle, citing his opposition to Trump’s predecessor. “Every single Republican I know decried President Obama’s use of executive power to legislate.” Paul wrote. “The only way to be an honest officeholder is to stand up for the same principles no matter who is in power,” he added. “I stand with the president often, and I do so with a loud voice. Today, I think he’s wrong, not on policy, but in seeking to expand the powers of the presidency beyond their constitutional limits.”
With Senate Democrats united, these four Republicans would give the resolution the 51 votes needed to pass in the Senate — and there are still several other Republicans who could swell the margin of the vote.
This opposition by GOP senators would provide a rare Congressional rebuke of a president who routinely abuses his executive and moral authority. But Senate passage alone is unlikely to end the emergency declaration. Trump is expected to use his first-ever veto to block the measure, and currently Congress lacks anything close to the two-thirds supermajority needed to override the veto.
That doesn’t mean Trump’s wall is a done deal. The judiciary is likely to have the final word on this constitutional tussle, and the executive action is already being challenged in court.