Trump Vetoes Bill Rejecting His National Emergency
By Jim Owen
President Trump is still fighting for his proposal to build a wall along the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, even though Congress voted to block his national emergency declaration to proceed with the project.
On March 15, the president issued his first veto after more than two years in the Oval Office to kill legislation the House of Representatives and the Senate recently passed. The measure rebuked Trump’s intention to use his executive authority to make the declaration. The emergency measures are now set to be in place, though Congress could override the veto.
The president wants to shift $3.6 billion from Defense Department construction projects, $2.5 billion from the Pentagon’s drug-interdiction program, and $600 million from the Treasury Department’s drug-forfeiture budget. Combined with the $1.4 billion lawmakers allocated in early March as part of a spending package to avert another government shutdown, that would total $8 billion for a small fraction of the 2,000-mile-long wall that Trump advocates.
Sixteen states have filed lawsuits against the emergency, claiming they would lose revenue and jobs. Landowners who fear the government will seize their property to build the wall, as well as liberal organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, also are taking legal action. Many observers believe that even if Congress fails to stop the emergency declaration, the matter will be tied up in the courts for years, perhaps long after Trump is out of office.
That could be bad news for the president’s re-election prospects in 2020. Trump has made it clear that he intends to again make the wall a key element of his pitch to voters. During the 2016 campaign, the real-estate mogul excited his supporters by pledging to erect the border barrier and force Mexico to pay for it. Since Mexico was never going to directly pay for the wall, Trump turned to Capitol Hill. Lawmakers agreed to earmark only a fraction of the amount he demanded.
Lopsided Votes in House and Senate
On March 14, the Senate voted 59-41 against the declaration. The majority included 12 Republicans, in addition to all of the chamber’s 45 Democrats and both of the independents.
The GOP senators, some of whom are in favor of building the wall, cited the Constitution’s call for a separation of powers among the three branches of government (legislative, presidential and judicial). They argued that Trump was attempting to exceed his authority by appropriating funds without congressional approval. The Constitution stipulates than all spending decisions originate in the House. Another concern was that a future Democratic president might exploit the precedent Trump is setting by declaring a national emergency regarding climate change or gun control.
A few of the names on the list of Republicans who broke with the president were not surprising. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is a self-described libertarian who often rails against what he sees as abuses of executive power. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, two of the more moderate GOP senators, have been known to occasionally side with Democrats. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a staunch defender of the Constitution, may have felt free to vote his conscience because he does not anticipate running for re-election next year.
The other Republicans who rejected the emergency were Roy Blunt of Missouri, Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky remained loyal to the president, but claimed that he did not pressure other members of his party to back the emergency. Sen. Thom Tillis, who had written a newspaper op-ed criticizing Trump’s declaration, reversed his stance by voting for it. Political pundits pointed out that the North Carolina Republican faces an uphill struggle to win another six-year term in 2020, so he may have been trying to appeal to his state’s Democratic and independent voters.
There were some predictions that the same factor might motivate additional GOP senators to abandon the president. Among those lawmakers were Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona and Joni Ernst of Iowa, all of whom represent states that Democrats are hopeful of winning in the next presidential race because of changing demographics and polls indicating they may have a chance. The senators have good reason to worry that more conservative candidates might emerge to challenge them in the GOP primaries, and that even if they prevail they could lose the general election to an anti-Trump Democrat.
Lee suggested a compromise, of sorts. He suggested that Congress approve the current emergency, but resolve to balk at such declarations in the future. Trump ridiculed the idea, perhaps because he wanted to preserve the option to advance more of his priorities. Democrats caution that if they accede to the president’s demands this time, he will continue to use the national emergency tactic.
In the days leading up to the vote, Trump urged GOP senators to back his declaration. He sent administration officials to Capitol Hill to lobby for the emergency. The efforts may have been persuasive for some members, but not enough of them. White House officials levied veiled threats against Republicans who opposed the declaration by saying Trump was keeping track of who they were. The administration implied the president would retaliate by recruiting primary challengers. He also could use Twitter to denigrate recalcitrant GOP lawmakers.
In late February, the Democrat-controlled House rejected the emergency 245-182. Thirteen Republicans voted with the majority. Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, who introduced the bill, called the president’s action a “power grab.” Every Democrat voted for the measure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been resolute in her insistence that the wall will never be erected, though Trump claims the project is already under way. She accused the president of trying to usurp the right of Congress to control the “power of the purse.”
Presidential Veto Looming
Trump wasted no time in announcing that he would make good on his threat to issue the first veto of his presidency to thwart the bill blocking his national emergency. Immediately following the Senate vote, the president tweeted that he was looking forward to the veto.
Trump expressed his appreciation to Republicans who “voted to support Border Security and our desperately needed WALL.” He repeated his contention that some of those who cross the border illegally are drug smugglers, human traffickers and other criminals.
The president signed the veto in a White House ceremony, with law-enforcement officers and parents of children murdered by undocumented immigrants standing behind him. A spokesman for the administration described the occasion as a “sad moment” that was a result of Democrats voting against the America people and their safety and security.
There is considerable skeptism that enough Republicans will vote to override the veto. Two-thirds of the members in both chambers are needed, a bar that may prove to be too high to reach, especially in the Republican-controlled Senate. In the House, Democratic leaders might not even hold a vote because they are afraid of losing.
Future of Trump Presidency
The day before the Senate denounced the emergency declaration, a majority of the members called for an end to U.S. support of Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen. The two votes showed that the president’s support among members of his party on Capitol Hill is eroding.
GOP lawmakers may also part ways with Trump by ignoring the budget he submitted to Congress, refusing to sanction his new trade pact with Canada and Mexico, and criticizing his Middle East policies. A number of Republicans are unhappy with the president’s support of Saudi Arabia, despite the empire’s brutal slaying of a U.S.-based reporter; his decision to withdraw troops from Syria; and his threat to pull out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The growing discord in the party could lead to a primary challenge for Trump. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, and former GOP Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and William Weld, are looking into the possibility of launching campaigns. Another ex-governor, Jeb Bush of Florida, is encouraging them. The son and brother of past presidents told CNN someone should run against Trump so Republicans are given a choice. He stressed the importance of party members re-examining “what it means to be a Republican,” but acknowledged that “it’s hard to beat a sitting president.”
Bush, one of 17 GOP presidential candidates in the early stages of the 2016 race, was the early favorite before Trump denounced him for his positions and low energy. Pundits concluded that Republicans were ready for an outsider who promised to shake things up in Washington, rather than someone like Bush who represented the party establishment.
Trump’s base still supports him, if recent polling is accurate. The surveys show that more than 93 percent of Republican voters align with the president, though his overall approval rating is in the mid-to upper 40s. Bush acknowledged that Trump’s base is strong and loyal.