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Trump Vows Veto After Congress Blocks His Order To Build Border Wall

Mar 14, 2019
Originally published on March 14, 2019 4:26 pm

Updated at 4:16 p.m. ET

The Republican-controlled Senate approved a resolution to terminate President Trump's national emergency declaration at the U.S.-Mexico border, putting Congress on a path to its first veto confrontation with the Trump administration.

Shortly after the vote, President Trump tweeted, "VETO!" Neither chamber mustered the two-thirds support required to override a presidential veto.

The president also tweeted that he looked forward to vetoing the measure, which he called "Democrat inspired."

But in Thursday's vote to block the president's emergency declaration, 12 Republicans voted with all Senate Democrats to pass the resolution. The Democratic-controlled House approved it last month, 245-182, with just 13 House Republicans breaking with the White House.

North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis penned an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Feb. 25 saying he would vote for the resolution blocking the president's actions to go around Congress to build a border wall, but reversed himself and opposed it on Thursday.

At stake is nearly $6 billion in federal funds that President Trump redirected in a Feb. 15 emergency declaration. The White House is seeking to take that money from accounts at the Treasury and Defense departments to build physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. The president made the order after Congress agreed on a bipartisan basis to provide $1.375 billion in wall funds for this fiscal year, but Trump said it wasn't enough.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., initially counseled the president against invoking the national emergency out of concerns it would divide Senate Republicans and test the separation of powers, but he voted with the president on Thursday and defended his actions as lawful.

"He has simply operated within existing law, the National Emergencies Act of 1976, to invoke a narrow set of authorities to reprogram a narrow set of funds," McConnell said. "If Congress has grown uneasy with this new law, as many have, then we should amend it."

Democrats broadly oppose the wall, but have argued the resolution bends the intent of the law and the constitutional authority of Congress. "We've never had a president like this. We've had lots of presidents with lots of foibles but none of them seem to equate their own ego with the entire functioning of the government of the United States except this one. We can't succumb to that," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Trump said Thursday his declaration would withstand expected court challenges. "The legal scholars all say it's totally constitutional. It's very important. It's really a border security vote," he said.

Many Senate Republicans aren't as sure. "Never before has a president asked for funding, Congress has not provided it, and the president then has used the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to spend the money anyway," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who said congressional authority to appropriate federal tax dollars is a "crucial source of our freedom."

"This declaration is a dangerous precedent," he added.

Other Republicans tried and failed to cut a deal with the White House to help defeat the resolution. There was a last-ditch effort to get Trump to agree to back legislation by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to limit presidential authority to declare national emergencies going forward, but Trump told Lee he wouldn't support it, and Democrats said they'd block it anyway. "We tried to cut a deal, the president didn't appear interested," Lee told reporters on Wednesday. He ultimately supported the resolution.

The resolution is the second Senate rebuke of the Trump administration this week. On Wednesday, senators approved a resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which is another rejection of Trump administration policy.

The rebukes are a reflection of the new divided government in Washington, with House Democrats planning on a more confrontational approach to a president than congressional Republicans, who worked hard to accommodate the president's agenda during his first two years in office.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump tweeted a single word this afternoon - veto, exclamation point. He was responding to a congressional vote terminating his national emergency declaration to build a wall. In the Senate, a dozen Republicans broke with the White House to side with Democrats. The democratically-controlled House had already voted against the emergency declaration. The president has been consistent all along about how he would respond. This is what he said earlier today before the Senate vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, no. I don't know what the vote will be. It doesn't matter. I'll probably have to veto.

SHAPIRO: And this would be the first veto of the Trump presidency. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: The outcome of this vote was not in doubt because Democrats had enough support from Republicans to pass it. But how surprising is it that 12 Republicans broke with the White House?

DAVIS: You know, when you think about how reluctant Republicans generally are to break with President Trump, especially on an issue like the wall, it does speak to how deep the concern is in Congress that there's something much bigger at stake here. Those 12 Republicans who sided with Democrats - they all support the wall. The question is about whether President Trump is operating within the bounds of the Constitution, not with the national emergency declaration itself. The law is pretty unambiguous that he has the authority to declare national emergencies, but it's in the question of using that authority to then redirect this money that Congress has already decided to be spent elsewhere. So what Congress is saying is that they are trying to overturn the president's February 15th order, which aims to redirect about $6 billion to build a wall.

SHAPIRO: Assuming that the president follows through on his promise to veto this, there are not enough votes to overturn his veto, override it. So where does it go from here?

DAVIS: So 16 states have already filed legal challenges to the president's declaration, so that has to play out. Democrats on Capitol Hill also say they intend to fight it in the courts. The vote by Congress, while it doesn't have the votes to override, could play a factor in these legal challenges 'cause it will send a message to the courts about what the legislative branch's position is here. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - before this, he had privately urged the president not to go down this path, although ultimately, today he voted with the White House. But when he was speaking on the floor today, he made the point that if Congress doesn't like the way the president's using these powers, they should do something about it. This is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: He has simply operated within existing law - the National Emergencies Act of 1976 - to invoke a narrow set of authorities to reprogram a narrow set of funds. If Congress has grown uneasy with this new law, as many have, then we should amend it.

DAVIS: The catch here, Ari? A lot of Republicans actually did try to do that. There was a last-minute effort this week among some Senate Republicans to say to the White House, we'll vote down the resolution if the president will say he will support legislation to limit future presidential authority to declare national emergencies. And President Trump told Republicans he could not commit to supporting that.

SHAPIRO: And what's really amazing, Sue, is this is the second vote this week where the Republican-controlled Senate rejected Trump administration positions. There was also a vote on ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which the administration supports. Is this a sea change? I mean, are we living in a different era now?

DAVIS: It is certainly a different chapter. You know, for his first two years in office, President Trump had Republicans in control of the House and Senate. They worked very hard to accommodate the president, move his legislative agenda. I think on, you know, a singular basis, lawmakers still overwhelmingly support President Trump. But as the next two years unfold, he's got a loyal opposition in the House. And he does have a not-insignificant number of Republican senators who, at turns, are uneasy about his foreign policy, his trade policy and, as we saw today, his possible executive overreach.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Susan Davis. Thanks a lot.

DAVIS: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.