The House passed a resolution tonight to overturn President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border, as majority Democrats painted an apocalyptic portrait of a lawless chief executive out to gut the Constitution.
The 245-182 tally was mostly along party lines, with 13 Republicans defecting to side with Democrats on a vote that effectively became a test of GOP loyalty to Trump. Despite their frequent complaints of executive overreach during the Obama administration, most Republicans fell in line with Trump’s decision to try to circumvent Congress to get billions of dollars for his border wall. As a result the vote fell well short of the two-thirds majority that would be required to overcome Trump’s threatened veto.
Democrats argued that Trump’s claim of a crisis at the border was baseless, and that he was embarking on the road to dictatorship by unilaterally declaring an emergency to try to get money from U.S. taxpayers to fulfill an unpopular campaign promise.
“We are not going to give any president, Democratic or Republican, a blank check to shred the Constitution of the United States,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on the floor ahead of the vote. Holding up a pocket copy of the Constitution, she asked Republicans: “Is your oath of office to Donald Trump or is your oath of office to the Constitution of the United States?”
Republicans countered that Democrats were ignoring a very real crisis at the border, and said that Trump was well within his rights to declare a national emergency, since he was acting under provisions of a law passed by Congress, the National Emergencies Act of 1976. Tuesday’s vote was the first time since passage of the law that Congress has invoked provisions allowing for passage of a disapproval resolution to nullify a presidential emergency declaration.
“There is a national emergency at the southern border that the Democrats will declare today doesn’t exist,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “The president has the authority to do it, and we will uphold him.”
Trump issued the emergency declaration on Feb. 15, as part of a deal to keep the government open after a 35-day partial shutdown over Christmas and much of January. The president agreed to sign a spending bill to keep the government funded through Sept. 30 while providing $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fencing along the border in Texas, but he said he needed billions more. The administration plans to redirect an additional $6.7 billion from several sources, including $3.6 billion from military construction projects that can be accessed via the emergency declaration.
Trump long claimed Mexico would pay for the wall.
Now that the House has passed the disapproval resolution, the Senate will have approximately 18 days to take it up, a timeline set by the National Emergencies Act. The law also specifies that Senate passage takes only a simple majority, not the 60-vote super-majority often required in the Senate.
That means only four Republican votes would ensure passage of the disapproval resolution — presuming Democrats stick together as expected. GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) have already announced plans to vote for the disapproval resolution, and other Republicans have been voicing concerns, including inside a closed-door lunch Tuesday with Vice President Pence where about a half-dozen senators spoke up with reservations, according to one person in attendance.
One of those senators was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who questioned a Justice Department attorney present about how a future Democratic president might be able to use similar emergency powers, according to an official briefed on the meeting who requested anonymity to describe it.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), accompanied by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), left, and others, speaks about a resolution to block President Trump’s emergency border security declaration on Capitol Hill on Monday. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Senators called it a “serious” discussion with Pence, one in which the vice president focused on trying to explain the rationale for the emergency declaration and mollify concerns from rank-and-file Republicans that the reprogrammed funds would not hurt their local military installations. The vice president made the case that the wall was the issue Trump ran on in his campaign, and also argued that military construction projects would not be jeopardized because the money could be replaced, according to the official briefed on the lunch.
“Let me tell you this, if it’s military construction projects, we’ll back-fill that so fast, as soon as we get there,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, predicting “no trouble” in providing news funds for the projects. “You can rest assured that issue won’t stay alive long.”
Shelby dismissed any concerns about where those funds would come from to replenish the military accounts.
“From money! Where do we fill everything else? Because it would be one of the highest priorities,” Shelby said.
A White House fact sheet Tuesday said the military construction funds under the national emergency declaration would be tapped only after the appropriated money and other funding sources have been exhausted, sequencing that some Republicans have pointed to as alleviating some of their concerns. The military construction funds would come from projects like military housing and a variety of improvements at bases around the country and internationally, in situations where money has been appropriated by Congress but not yet obligated.
(c) 2019 The Washington Post – By Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim, Paul Kane and