House

House votes to overturn Trump’s emergency declaration

The House passed legislation Tuesday to block President Trump’s emergency declaration for the southern border, marking an unprecedented congressional challenge to a president’s authority to invoke emergency powers.

The resolution passed easily through the Democratic-controlled chamber, 245-182, with Democrats voting unanimously to send it to the Senate. The GOP-led upper chamber is expected to hold a vote on the measure in the coming weeks.

{mosads}Republican leaders, who had clambered to limit defections in their ranks heading into Tuesday’s vote, were largely successful: 13 Republicans joined with Democrats to admonish Trump’s move — well short of the number Democrats would need to overturn the president’s promised veto.

Sponsored by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), the one-page resolution would terminate Trump’s emergency declaration, thereby preventing the administration from extending the U.S.-Mexico border wall using funds previously allocated for other programs.

The vote marks the first time Congress has taken formal action to block a presidential emergency declaration since the power was created in the National Emergencies Act of 1976.

Democrats hinged their opposition on the basic principles of constitutional law, arguing that Trump’s unilateral move marks a clear-cut violation of the separation of powers and the unique authority of Congress to dictate where federal dollars are spent.

“If it were truly an emergency, we’d all be there with the president,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said several hours before Tuesday’s vote, during a conference of the American Legion in Washington.

“Our founders had great vision. They did not want a king,” she said.

The wall had been a principal element of Trump’s 2016 campaign, and, as president, he’s offered increasingly dire warnings that new physical barriers are vital in the law enforcement battle against illegal crossings, violent crime and drug trafficking in the border region.

“Without strong Borders, we don’t have a Country,” Trump tweeted leading up to the vote.

It’s a public safety argument that Democrats have rejected outright, noting that border apprehensions have fallen significantly relative to levels of decades past.

“There is no basis in law or in fact to declare a national emergency,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said hours before the vote. “President Donald Trump has more stories than ‘Harry Potter,’ and all of them are make-believe.”

Trump had declared the emergency on Feb. 15, just a day after Congress approved — and the president reluctantly agreed to sign — a sweeping spending bill to avert another government shutdown.

{mossecondads}The package included some funding for border security measures but denied Trump’s initial demand for $5.7 billion in new wall construction. The emergency declaration was his way to sidestep a recalcitrant Congress to advance a key policy priority.

Trump’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill were quick to rush to his defense, accusing Democrats of threatening national security by opposing new wall funding in the spending package — and leaving the president no choice but to act on his own.

“What we see happening along the border, the amount of drugs, the amount of deaths in America, the human trafficking that’s coming across, the overwhelming problem there,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), rejecting the Democrats’ constitutional argument.

“So, the president has the authority to do it. And we will uphold him,” he said.

Appearing alongside McCarthy and other GOP leaders was Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), an active-duty member of the Air National Guard, who was recently deployed to the border and supports Trump’s emergency declaration.

“I went down there neutral on this question, didn’t know whether or not I’d support a national emergency,” Kinzinger said. “And I came back more convinced probably than anybody that this is the right thing to do.”

Democrats responded with accusations of their own, framing the emergency declaration as a desperate — and illegal — gambit by a frustrated president to get his way.

“People will say, ‘Well, there have been a lot of emergency designations.’ That’s right,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “This is the only one — the only one — that has been used to get around a Congress’s refusal to appropriate money for a particular objective.”

The Republican defectors on Tuesday were a mix of several groups: There were the conservative constitutional literalists, like Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.), who frequently clash with GOP leaders on separation-of-power issues; there were the moderate centrists — including Reps. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), Greg Walden (Ore.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) — who agreed with the Democrats’ legal argument that Trump is abusing his powers. And there was Rep. Will Hurd (Texas), the only Republican representing a border district who has long-opposed Trump’s push for a lengthy and imposing border wall. 

Other GOP lawmakers who voted for the measure were Reps. Francis Rooney (Fla.), Dusty Johnson (S.D.), Fred Upton (Mich.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.) and Mike Gallagher (Wis.).

Another major group of GOP critics — the military hawks who were initially furious with Trump’s plan to shift billions of dollars from the Defense Department to build his wall — ultimately sided with the White House.

Under the National Emergencies Act, the Senate must vote on the resolution within 18 days. Because the law deems it “privileged,” opponents cannot filibuster the measure, meaning the Democratic supporters in the Senate need only four Republican votes to send the bill to Trump’s desk.

Passage in the upper chamber is not guaranteed but appears increasingly likely. Three GOP senators — Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) — are already on record in support of the disapproval resolution, and a handful of others are leaning that way.

The president, for his part, has vowed in no uncertain terms to veto the resolution if it travels that far. Neither chamber is expected to have enough support to win a two-thirds vote to override the promised veto.

“They’re not going to be able to reverse this emergency declaration. But it does show that they’re in denial that there’s a crisis at the border,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told The Hill ahead of the vote.  

“Pelosi goes to the border and waves a Mexican flag saying there’s no crisis the same week that an illegal alien goes to Napa, right in her own backyard, and attacks a cop,” he continued. “I mean, it’s happening every day. There’s a real crisis and the president is taking steps to keep our country safe.”

Democrats are also vowing a legal challenge to Trump’s declaration, either by filing a suit of their own or piling on litigation already emerging from states and outside groups.

For the time being, they’re awaiting the outcome of the legislative battle before playing their legal hand.

Hoyer said Tuesday that, even if Trump’s veto is sustained, it will mark a political victory for Democrats.

“If he vetoes it, it will be another statement of his authoritarian inclinations,” Hoyer said. “So, I think we will have gained something.”

Tags Adam Kinzinger Brian Fitzpatrick Cathy McMorris Rodgers Donald Trump Elise Stefanik Francis Rooney Fred Upton Greg Walden Hakeem Jeffries Jaime Herrera Beutler Jim Sensenbrenner Joaquin Castro Justin Amash Kevin McCarthy Lisa Murkowski Mike Gallagher Nancy Pelosi Steny Hoyer Steve Scalise Susan Collins Thom Tillis Thomas Massie Will Hurd
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