POLITICS

Senate Could Vote Down Donald Trump's Emergency Declaration

But it's not clear if Republicans would be willing to override a presidential veto.

WASHINGTON ― The Republican-led Senate looks poised to vote down President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to find funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Three Senate Republicans have publicly said they would vote for a resolution of disapproval, and another suggested he would. Only four Republicans are needed, because Democrats control 47 seats and the resolution requires a simple majority of 51 votes.

The Democratic-controlled House has scheduled a disapproval vote for Tuesday afternoon, and the measure is likely to pass. Once the Senate receives the bill from the House, any senator can bring it up for a vote after 15 days and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can’t block it.

Trump has said he would veto the resolution if it passed. Congress could override the veto if two-thirds of each chamber voted yes ― which would be the real test of Republican willingness to stand up to the president and defend their prerogatives as lawmakers.

Trump declared a national emergency two weeks ago, after failing to convince Congress to give him $5 billion to build a wall along the southern border even though arrests for illegal border crossings are lower than they have been previously. The declaration, which would allow Trump to use other funds to begin construction, will be subject to a court challenge in addition to congressional disapproval.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said voting down Trump’s national emergency declaration isn’t a question of supporting the president ― it’s about protecting Congress and its constitutional powers. Tillis wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that it’s his responsibility “to preserve the separation of powers and to curb the kind of executive overreach that Congress has allowed to fester for the better part of the past century.”

Tillis previously said, however, that he would never vote to override a veto.

“I’m going to defer to the president on the best strategy and I would never vote to override a veto on something that the president didn’t think was the best approach,” he told HuffPost in January.

A spokesperson for the senator did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to reporters on Feb. 12 about the bipartisan compromise worked out to a
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to reporters on Feb. 12 about the bipartisan compromise worked out to avert another government shutdown.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have also said they would vote to disapprove the emergency. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) previously said he would probably also vote that way.

“I would be inclined to vote for the resolution of disapproval,” Wicker told HuffPost earlier this month, before Trump declared the emergency. “I think it’s bad law and I think it’s bad strategy for the president.”

Wicker declined to say how he planned to vote on Tuesday, however.

“I may be making a statement in a few days,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Republicans who once loudly protested President Barack Obama’s actions on immigration as executive “overreach” now find themselves defending Trump’s emergency declaration on the border.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of those Republicans, repeatedly expressed concerns about the president bypassing Congress via an unprecedented emergency declaration earlier this month. But he told reporters Tuesday that he would oppose the resolution disapproving of the declaration anyway.

The senator, who faces re-election in 2020, said the matter involved a “larger issue” that Congress “delegated its authority to the White House in hundreds of instances – and this is just one example.” He then called for a “bigger conversation about the separation of powers,” even though his position on the resolution would embolden the executive branch over the legislature.

Several Republicans who oppose the resolution have said they worry Trump has paved the way for a future Democratic president to declare emergencies on issues such as health care or gun control.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who is on the Senate committee responsible for appropriating funds, said she thinks that could happen anyway.

“I think future presidents could make the same decision anyway regardless of whether President Trump did this or not,” Capito told HuffPost.

GOP senators had an opportunity to hear from Vice President Mike Pence and a Department of Justice lawyer, who laid out the administration’s view that the president’s emergency declaration is legal, during a conference lunch on Tuesday. McConnell told reporters after the meeting that his colleagues engaged in a “robust” debate about the matter, but he did not say if believed Trump’s national emergency to be legal.

An undecided senator who requested anonymity didn’t find the administration’s arguments very good convincing, however. 

“‘We’ve got a crisis. That means the president can do this.’ That’s essentially the argument,” the senator said after the meeting.

Senators also discussed backfilling money that the administration has proposed taking from military construction projects to use on the border wall, according to several attendees. But such an option could be difficult considering Democrats now control the House, and they’ve already rejected funding for Trump’s proposed border wall.

“That is exactly how the Constitution is written. It’s right there in Article One. Congress holds the purse strings but the executive gets to do whatever and then we backfill!” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the top Democrat on the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, tweeted sarcastically on Tuesday in response to the discussed GOP proposal. 

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