Senate rejects Trump border emergency as Republicans defect
WASHINGTON — The Republican-run Senate rejected President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency at the southwest border on Thursday, setting up a veto fight and dealing him a conspicuous rebuke as he tested how boldly he could ignore Congress in pursuit of his highest-profile goal.
The Senate voted 59-41 to cancel Trump's February proclamation of a border emergency, which he invoked to spend $3.6 billion more for border barriers than Congress had approved. Twelve Republicans joined Democrats in defying Trump in a showdown many GOP senators had hoped to avoid because he commands die-hard loyalty from millions of conservative voters who could punish defecting lawmakers in next year's elections.
With the Democratic-controlled House's approval of the same resolution last month, Senate passage sends it to Trump. He has shown no reluctance to casting his first veto to advance his campaign exhortation to "Build the Wall," and it seems certain Congress will lack the two-thirds majorities that would be needed to override him.
"I'll do a veto. It's not going to be overturned," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. "It's a border security vote."
Though Trump seems sure to prevail in a veto battle, it remains noteworthy that lawmakers of both parties resisted him in a fight directly tied to his cherished campaign theme of erecting a border wall. The roll call came just a day after the Senate took a step toward a veto fight with Trump on another issue, voting to end U.S. support for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition's war in Yemen.
In a measure of how remarkable the confrontation was, Thursday was the first time Congress has voted to block a presidential emergency since the National Emergency Act became law in 1976.
Even before Thursday's vote, there were warnings that GOP senators resisting Trump could face political consequences. A White House official said Trump won't forget when senators who oppose him want him to attend fundraisers or provide other help. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on internal deliberations.
At the White House, Trump did not answer when reporters asked if there would be consequences for Republicans who voted against him.
Underscoring the political pressures in play, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who last month became one of the first Republicans to say he'd oppose Trump's border emergency, said Thursday he'd vote to support it. Tillis, who faces a potentially difficult re-election race next year, cited talks with the White House that suggest Trump could be open to restricting presidential emergency powers in the future.
Still, the breadth of opposition among Republicans suggested how concern about his declaration had spread to all corners of the GOP. Republican senators voting for the resolution blocking Trump included Mitt Romney of Utah, the party's 2012 presidential candidate; Mike Lee of Utah, a solid conservative; Maine moderate Susan Collins and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a respected centrist.
Republicans control the Senate 53-47. Democrats solidly opposed Trump's declaration.
Presidents have declared 58 national emergencies since the 1976 law, but this was the first aimed at accessing money that Congress had explicitly denied, according to Elizabeth Goitein, co-director for national security at New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice.
Trump and Republicans backing him said there is a legitimate security and humanitarian crisis at the border with Mexico. They also said Trump was merely exercising his powers under the law, which largely leaves it to presidents to decide what a national emergency is.