Congress Sends Trump Bill to Avert Shutdown Amid Emergency Plan

(Bloomberg) -- Congress sent President Donald Trump legislation he said he’ll sign to avoid another government shutdown, as a new dispute looms over his decision to declare a national emergency to get a total of $8 billion in federal money for his border wall, according to an official.

The House voted 300-128 Thursday night for the spending measure that will provide $1.375 billion for 55 new miles of border fencing -- far short of the $5.7 billion the president sought. Hours earlier, the Senate passed it 83-16.

In addition, the president plans to unilaterally shift nearly $7 billion in federal funds to construct physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, a White House official said. Trump will use an emergency declaration to redirect some of the money and ordinary executive authority to tap other funds, all of which has been passed by Congress for other purposes, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official declined to describe what funding sources Trump plans to use.

Trump’s signature on the spending bill Friday will keep about one-fourth of the government from closing for a second time in two months. Lawmakers of both parties said they wanted to avoid a repeat of the 35-day partial shutdown that ended Jan. 25 when the president accepted a short-term spending bill without extra wall funding.

“President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action -- including a national emergency -- to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border,” White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Congress Sends Trump Bill to Avert Shutdown Amid Emergency Plan

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on the Senate floor that he told the president he would support the emergency declaration. Still, there are lingering doubts among some Republicans about the strategy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters that a legal challenge is an option. “The president is doing an end run around Congress, the power of the purse,” she said at a news conference.

Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York released a joint statement calling an emergency declaration “a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall.”

Democratic Representative Henry Cuellar, who represents part of the Texas border with Mexico, said an emergency declaration to get funds for a wall is “the only way the president could save face” after failing to get as much money as he wanted in the spending bill.

GOP Skepticism

Some Republicans also expressed doubts about an emergency declaration. GOP Senator Marco Rubio of Florida called it “a bad idea” that “raises real constitutional questions.”

Others backed Trump and McConnell. “I stand firmly behind President Trump’s decision to use executive powers to build the wall-barriers we desperately need,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and ally of the president.

Congress Sends Trump Bill to Avert Shutdown Amid Emergency Plan

Administration officials have said declaring a national emergency would allow Trump to shift billions allocated to other projects to the wall. In addition to lawsuits, the House will introduce a resolution to disapprove the declaration, according to Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler. Some Republicans, including Rubio, said they may support a legislative move to block Trump from using those funds.

Lawmakers of both parties have suggested that an emergency declaration could set a precedent for future decisions by Democratic presidents that Republicans might not like.

“Just think what a president with different values can do,” Pelosi said. “You want to talk about a national emergency, let’s talk about today,” the one-year anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“Why don’t you declare that emergency, Mr. President? I wish you would,” Pelosi said.

Presidential Contenders

In the House, 213 Democrats and 87 Republicans voted for the spending bill while 19 Democrats and 109 Republicans opposed it.

The 16 senators who voted against the spending bill, H.J.Res. 31, included 11 Republicans, among them Rubio, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The declared or likely 2020 Democratic presidential contenders split their votes. The “no” votes included Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Three others supported the bill: Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

The measure passed by Congress allows the government to construct only existing styles of border barriers. Democrats also won increased funding for humanitarian aid at the border, alternatives to detention and aid to Central America.

The bill would give federal civilian workers a 1.9 percent pay raise, overriding a pay freeze signed by Trump during the shutdown. It also would pay for a new polar ice-breaker for the Coast Guard.

Republicans claimed victory on a provision that rejected Democratic demands for a cap on immigrant detention beds. Instead, it sets a goal of reducing the number while allowing the administration to exceed the funding level on an emergency basis.

Rio Grande Valley

Republicans highlighted that the bill provides 55 miles of barrier in the Border Patrol’s highest priority areas in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, a $942 million increase to Customs and Border Protection for 800 new officers, and $615 million for new equipment at ports of entry.

Democrats successfully pushed to exclude some areas in Texas from fence construction, including the National Butterfly Center and a SpaceX launch pad, and to give local officials more say in placement of the fencing.

The measure would fund through Sept. 30 the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as independent agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.