The U.S. Congress on Thursday formally rejected President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration to fund border wall construction, as the Senate voted 59 to 41 to disapprove the executive action, weeks after the House of Representatives did the same.
Twelve Senate Republicans joined a unified Democratic caucus to pass the disapproval measure in the Republican-led chamber, defying the White House and ignoring a presidential veto threat.
“This is not a normal vote — this is not a normal day,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, noting Congress’ first-ever official rejection of a national emergency declaration.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she backed Trump’s goal of beefing up security along the U.S.-Mexico border, but not his bid to bypass Congress.
“The president’s action comes into direct conflict with Congress’ authority to determine the appropriation of funds, a power vested in Congress by the framers of our Constitution,” Collins said. “This issue is not about strengthening our border security, a goal that I support.”
At the White House, Trump promised to respond.
“I look forward to VETOING the just passed Democrat inspired Resolution which would OPEN BORDERS while increasing Crime, Drugs, and Trafficking in our Country,” the president tweeted.
That message was echoed by Republicans who voted against the disapproval measure.
“There’s a clear border security and humanitarian crisis on the southern border of the United States,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said. “The president is operating within existing law, and the crisis on our border is all too real.”
Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton said: “When hundreds of thousands of foreigners arrive at the southern border and demand entry, that’s not migration. That’s an emergency and a threat to our sovereignty.”
No super majority
Although simple majorities coalesced to pass the disapproval measure in both houses of Congress, neither has the two-thirds super majority that would be required to override an expected presidential veto.
Congress has not funded Trump’s border wall requests, including under unified Republican control of the legislature, as existed for the first two years of his term.
Earlier this year, a politically-divided Congress provided limited funds to erect new fencing along small sections of the U.S.-Mexico border, an outlay Trump deemed inadequate. A national emergency declaration empowers a president to redirect federal funds in response to a sudden and grave crisis. In this case, Trump seeks to siphon billions of dollars from mostly military accounts for wall construction.
Democrats noted that America’s border deficiencies have been debated for decades and that, in making the declaration, Trump himself said he “didn’t have to do it.”
“He [Trump] declared an emergency because he lost [the battle for wall funding] in Congress and wants to get around it,” Schumer said. “He’s obsessed with showing strength, and he couldn’t just abandon his pursuit of the border wall. So he had to trample on the Constitution.”
Fear of setting precedent
Some Republicans, meanwhile, feared the president’s emergency declaration could set a precedent that a future Democratic president might use to evade the will of Congress.
“Imagine in the future a socialist-inclined president who wants to fund the Green New Deal [global warming resolution] or declare an emergency against the Second Amendment [constitutional right to bear arms],” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said. “Congress needs to fund border security — no question. But no president should go around Congress.”
Building a border wall was one of Trump’s bedrock promises to voters in his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump repeatedly stated that Mexico, not the United States, would pay for it.
The White House argued Mexico is paying for the wall indirectly as a result of the expected economic benefits from a new free trade agreement negotiated between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Aside from congressional action, the national emergency declaration is being challenged in the federal court system, which may have the final word in whether it survives.