DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (AP) — Republican opposition grew Thursday to President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southwest border as the Senate chugged toward a showdown vote that seemed certain to rebuff him despite his last-minute warnings.
GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Mitt Romney of Utah became the sixth and seventh Republicans to say they’d vote Thursday for a resolution to annul the border emergency Trump declared last month. Utah Sen. Mike Lee also released a statement Wednesday saying he would vote to terminate the emergency declaration after the White House announced it would not support Lee’s ARTICLE ONE Act.
Just four GOP defections would ensure the measure would be sent to the White House, where Trump has promised a veto. There is no indication that foes of his declaration have the votes to overturn his veto, and Trump said as much at midday.
“It’s not going to be overturned,” he said firmly at the White House.
Trump did not answer when reporters asked if there would be consequences for Republicans who vote against him. But a White House official said Trump won’t forget when senators 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.
Trump wants to use his declaration to steer $3.6 billion more than Congress has approved for building border barriers.
As previously reported, the resolution to terminate the emergency declaration was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 26 by a vote of 245-182; however, Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams of Salt Lake City was the only Utah representative to vote in favor of the resolution.
On the Senate floor, Alexander — one of the chamber’s more respected lawmakers — said Trump’s emergency action was “inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution that I took an oath to support,” citing the power Congress has to control spending.
Romney, his party’s 2012 presidential nominee, used a written statement to call Trump’s declaration “an invitation to further expansion and abuse by future presidents.” He said:
This is not a vote against border security. In fact, I agree that a physical barrier is urgently needed to help ease the humanitarian crisis at the southern border, and the administration already has $4.5 billion available within existing authority to fund a barrier – even without an emergency declaration.
The defections by the two high-profile lawmakers added weight to the growing list of GOP opponents to his border emergency, and left little doubt that the Republican-run Senate would snub Trump. The challenge in a battle related to his signature issue — building barriers along the Mexican border — is striking.
On Twitter, Trump called on Republicans to oppose the resolution, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., helped drive through the House last month.
“Today’s issue is BORDER SECURITY and Crime!!! Don’t vote with Pelosi!” he tweeted, invoking the name of a Democrat who several GOP ads have villainized in recent campaign cycles.
Republicans had hoped that if Trump would endorse Lee’s ARTICLE ONE Act, which would constrain emergency declarations in the future, it would win over enough GOP senators to reject the resolution blocking his border emergency.
Lee proposed letting a presidential emergency last 30 days unless Congress votes to extend it. That would have applied to future emergencies but not Trump’s current order unless he sought to renew it next year.
But Trump told Lee on Wednesday that he opposed the legislation, prompting Lee himself to say he would back the resolution thwarting the border emergency in Thursday’s vote.
“Congress is supposed to be the first among the federal government’s three co-equal branches,” Lee said in a statement. “For decades, Congress has been giving far too much legislative power to the executive branch. While there was attention on the issue I had hoped the ARTICLE ONE Act could begin to take that power back. Unfortunately, it appears the bill does not have an immediate path forward, so I will be voting to terminate the latest emergency declaration. I hope this legislation will serve as a starting point for future work on this very important issue.”
Trump tweeted Thursday if Congress wants to amend the law governing emergency declarations in the future, “I will support those efforts.”
Trump’s rejection of Lee’s proposal left many Republicans boxed in: defy Trump and the conservative voters who back him passionately, or assent to what many lawmakers from both parties consider a dubious and dangerous expansion of presidential authority.
Other GOP senators who’ve said they’d vote to overturn Trump’s border emergency were Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Tillis, though, has wavered in recent days. He and Collins face potentially competitive re-election fights in 2020.
Republicans control the Senate 53-47.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who is backing Trump, went to the White House late Wednesday to see if some compromise could be reached that would help reduce the number of GOP senators opposing the border emergency, according to a person familiar with the visit who described it on condition of anonymity. Trump’s Thursday comments indicated the visit didn’t produce results.
Under a four-decade-old law, presidents have wide leeway in declaring a national emergency. Congress can vote to block a declaration, but the two-thirds majorities required to overcome presidential vetoes make it hard for lawmakers to prevail. Presidents have never before declared an emergency after Congress voted to deny them money for the same purpose.
The strongest chance of blocking Trump’s declaration is likely several lawsuits filed by Democratic state attorneys general, environmental groups and others.
Written by ALAN FRAM and LISA MASCARO, Associated Press. Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
St. George News contributed to this report with statements from the Offices of Sen. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney.
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