The Senate on Thursday delivered an extraordinary rebuke to President Trump, voting 59-41 to terminate his declaration of a national emergency at the southern border. The vote sets up a likely veto by the president, his first since taking office.
Twelve Republican senators joined with Democrats in supporting a resolution of disapproval to block the president’s executive action, concerned that Trump’s move represented a threat to the Constitution’s separation of powers and a dangerous precedent that could be used by future Democratic presidents.
The Republicans breaking ranks with Trump were: Lamar Alexander (TN), Roy Blunt (MO), Susan Collins (ME), Mike Lee (UT), Jerry Moran (KS), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Marco Rubio (FL), Pat Toomey (PA) and Roger Wicker (MS).
“Never before has a president asked for a certain amount of money, the Congress refused to provide that amount, and then the president spent the amount he asked for anyway,” Alexander said.
Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who wrote an op-ed weeks ago announcing that he would vote for the resolution, changed his mind and backed Trump. Tillis faces a tough re-election campaign in 2020 and had reportedly been warned by conservatives in his state that he could get challenged in the primaries if he supported the resolution.
Trump last month invoked the National Emergencies Act in order to redirect $3.6 billion appropriated by Congress for military projects toward the building of border barriers.
Thursday’s vote followed failed last-ditch entreaties by Republican senators to the president. Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC), Ted Cruz (TX) and Ben Sasse (NE) reportedly “crashed” Trump’s dinner Wednesday evening to discuss GOP concerns over his emergency declaration. Trump rejected their pleas, and he followed up Thursday morning by tweeting: “A vote for today’s resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!”
Why it matters: This is the first time Congress has voted to block a presidential emergency declaration, and it comes on the border wall, a key campaign promise by Trump. While some analysts and pundits applauded Congress for asserting its constitutional authority, others questioned why more Republicans didn’t buck the president.
“This is an absolute assault by the president on Congress’s Article I authority under the constitution. Their power of the purse authority is being trampled upon,” former Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican, said on CNN. “So I am really surprised that more [Republicans] haven’t been jumping up and down screaming bloody murder over this assault on their own congressional authority. Some must be very worried about their primaries. That’s the only explanation.”
The bottom line: The vote may be embarrassing for Trump, but it may have little immediate practical effect, as Trump has said he’ll veto the resolution and Congress won’t have the two-thirds majority required to override him. Still, the border wall funding fight will likely be decided by the courts and Congress’ vote could bolster lawsuits challenging Trump.