Senate rejects Trump's emergency border declaration

The Senate voted on Thursday to nix President Trump’s national emergency declaration to construct the U.S.-Mexico border wall, setting up the first veto battle with his White House.


Senators voted 59-41 to pass the resolution of disapproval blocking Trump’s declaration. Underscoring the broad base of concern over Trump’s actions within the Republican caucus, 12 GOP senators broke rank and voted with all the Democrats.

The measure passed the House last month, 245-182.

The resolution now heads to Trump’s desk, where he is expected to use the first veto of his presidency to defeat it. Neither chamber has the votes to override the president, who tweeted shortly after the vote was closed.

Trump made an eleventh hour plea to Republican senators, reiterating his pledge to veto the resolution and signaling he could be open to future changes to his emergency powers, and even accusing Republicans who voted "yes" of standing with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“Prominent legal scholars agree that our actions to address the National Emergency at the Southern Border and to protect the American people are both CONSTITUTIONAL and EXPRESSLY authorized by Congress....” Trump said in a string of tweets.

But that argument failed to squash the momentum behind the resolution, which garnered support from various factions of the GOP caucus, including moderates, members of leadership and libertarian-leaning senators.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who supported Trump in the vote, argued that the president should view the fight as a victory, because his veto will ultimately be sustained.

"The House is going to sustain his veto, so I think he ought to accept that as a win," Cornyn said asked about the potential fallout between the president and GOP senators.

But the vote marks a significant setback for Trump, who has made his pledge to build the wall a focal point of his presidency. And it’s the second rebuke for Trump in as many days after the Senate broke with him on support for Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Republicans have been wary of breaking with Trump on border security but raised significant concerns about separation of powers questions sparked by his emergency declaration. GOP supporters of the resolution, such as Maine Sen. Susan Collins, cast their vote not as a rebuke of Trump’s border wall but instead over a constitutional question about Congress’s role in funding the government.

“That is why this issue is not about strengthening our border security, a goal that I support and have voted to advance. ... It is a solemn occasion involving whether or not this body will stand up for its institutional prerogatives and will support the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution,” Collins said. “We must stand up and defend Congress’s institutional powers as the Framers intended that we would. Even when doing so is inconvenient or goes against the outcome that we might prefer.”

Collins said separately that while she had talked to White House staff, she had not spoken directly to Trump about her vote. She added that she expected he would not "be happy" but that she was "letting the chips fall."

"But I'm a United States senator and I feel my job is to stand up for the Constitution."

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is retiring at the end of the current Congress, argued that a vote against the emergency declaration was a “check on the executive [that] is a crucial source of our freedom.”

In addition to Alexander and Collins, GOP Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Roger Wicker (Miss.) and Mitt Romney (Utah) voted for the resolution blocking Trump’s emergency declaration.

"I don't think everything is measured in this building based upon how they think it reflects on the White House," Romney told reporters shortly before the vote.

There were some last-minute surprises. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who had said he would vote for the resolution blocking Trump, announced moments before the vote started that he was changing his mind.

“We have to recognize that we have a crisis at the border, 76,000 people crossing illegally in February alone. We have narcotics flooding our country, poisoning our children and adults of all ages,” he said from the Senate floor.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), a top 2020 target for Democrats, supported Trump, while Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, did not.

Republicans went down to the wire as they scrambled to find an off ramp to the showdown with Trump, who remains popular with the party’s base.

Several last-minute attempts — ranging from an alternative GOP proposal to killing the resolution of disapproval in exchange for future checks on emergency powers — fell flat. Though Alexander and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) were still shopping their alternative proposal a day before the vote, leadership locked in a deal to avoid amendments, ensuring the House-passed bill would be what the Senate voted on.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), emerging from a closed-door lunch Wednesday, signaled that Republicans were running out of options, telling reporters, “Everybody knows how they’re going to vote. I don’t think the president’s going to win this one.”

But underscoring the level of concern among Republicans, a group of GOP senators, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), went to the White House on Wednesday night and tried to pitch Trump, unsuccessfully, on an escape hatch that would let them avoid handing him an embarrassing defeat over the border wall.

Graham told reporters that when Trump asked him if his veto would be sustained, "I said yeah overwhelmingly."

"I said, 'let's sit down, look at this one point of money see if we can find a way forward in October,' but he feels like his commitment to build the wall was moving forward," Graham said.

Republicans were crucially able to keep the number of "yes" votes below 67, the number needed to override a veto. Though a challenge to Trump’s veto is expected to die in the House, having roughly 20 GOP senators break with the president would have set up an embarrassing setback that would spark new questions about his hold on the caucus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made no secret of the fact that Trump’s emergency declaration has sparked fierce, lengthy discussions within the caucus. But he urged his caucus to support Trump, arguing that there was a “border security and humanitarian crisis on the southern border.”

“It’s no secret I take the Senate as an institution extremely seriously. I take the separation of powers extremely seriously. And I take Congress’s prerogative over appropriations extremely seriously. But — as I argued yesterday in the context of the Yemen resolution — the Senate should not be in the business of misusing specific resolutions to express opinions on more general matters,” McConnell said.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a close ally of Trump’s, also knocked Democrats for their “howls of outrage” against the White House.

“We have reached a moment of crisis, but it’s not a constitutional crisis. It’s a crisis at the border, a crisis of American sovereignty. When hundreds of thousands of foreigners arrive at the southern border and demand entry, that’s not migration. That's an emergency,” he said.

But Trump’s allies were unable to sway enough Republicans. Only four GOP "yes" votes were needed with all 47 Democrats voting for the resolution. Democrats, speaking from the floor ahead of the vote, characterized it as one of the most consequential they have taken and urged GOP senators to buck Trump.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday's vote could be “more difficult” for Republicans given Trump’s penchant for “threatening, bullying or publicly castigating members of his own party.”

“But I would say to them, I would say to every Republican: There are times when loyalty to America, to our Constitution, to our principles, to what has made this country great should lead members to rise above, rise to the occasion,” he said. “I hope, I pray this moment is one of those times.”
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