House Democrats Take First Step to Thwart Trump Emergency Decree

(Bloomberg) -- House Democrats set a vote for Tuesday on a resolution to block President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to build a wall on the southern U.S. border. The measure will force Republicans to take a stand on whether the president exceeded his authority over federal spending.

The resolution is assured of passing the Democratic-controlled House, and it could get enough GOP votes to pass the Senate with a simple majority. Trump on Friday repeated a threat to veto the resolution. It would be difficult to muster the two-thirds vote in both chambers for an override given the reluctance of most congressional Republicans to defy Trump, who maintains solid support among GOP voters.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi framed the resolution as a “patriotic” reaction to Trump’s plan to use government funds in a way that was not authorized by the legislative branch, which has constitutional authority over taxpayer money.

“The president is not above the law -- in any way,” Pelosi said on a call with reporters. “We would be delinquent in our duties if we did not protect the Constitution, even from the president of the United States.”

Senate Vote

The measure is privileged, which means the Senate must vote on it within 18 days of House passage. This creates a delicate situation in coming weeks for Senate Republicans who have in the past vigorously defended legislative powers from executive overreach but have been hesitant to undermine a president from their own party.

Friday’s resolution, filed by House Democrat Joaquin Castro of Texas, is the opening move in the next phase of conflict between a Republican president and Democrats who capitalized on Trump’s unpopularity to take control of the House in November’s election. While Democrats have expressed a desire to get started on their policy agenda, they have also been eager to act as a check on Trump.

Trump last week signed an emergency declaration to divert certain military funding for wall construction, after Congress approved only $1.375 billion of the $5.7 billion he sought in a bipartisan budget bill.

Military Funds

The president plans to unilaterally shift nearly $7 billion in federal funds to construct physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. That includes $2.5 billion from a military counter-narcotics program and $600 million from the Treasury asset forfeiture fund without relying on the emergency declaration.

Using the drug program money will face its own set of problems.

The Pentagon has informed Congress that only $85 million remains in the account and it will seek to transfer funds from other military projects to replenish the account to build the wall, according to a House Appropriations committee Democratic aide. The Pentagon traditionally would need House and Senate Democrats to sign off on such a reprogramming request, though Trump may test the system by making the transfer without permission and daring Democrats to sue.

Castro raised concerns about diverting $3.6 billion from military construction, possibly including projects at Joint Base San Antonio near his district, to a border wall that Trump campaigned on during the 2016 presidential race. The lawmaker said he will reach out to Republican colleagues to build bipartisan support for his resolution to counter what he described as part of Trump’s tendency to push “constitutional boundaries.”

The Defense Department hasn’t identified which accounts the military construction funds for the wall would come from.

At least 225 House Democrats have cosponsored the resolution, joined so far by one Republican: Justin Amash of Michigan.

GOP Reaction

The resolution presents a potential political headache for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, who previously said the hoped Trump would avoid using emergency powers to get more money for a wall.

But last week, as Congress faced a deadline to pass a spending bill to avoid another government shutdown, McConnell said on the Senate floor that he told the president he will support the emergency declaration.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said this week she will vote for a resolution to block the declaration as long as the measure doesn’t contain any extraneous items. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky also have expressed doubts about the emergency declaration.

Trump said Friday he will veto the resolution if it gets to his desk, and that he’s confident enough Republicans would stick with him to deny Democrats the votes needed to override his veto.

“We have too many smart people that want border security, so I can’t imagine it would survive the veto,” Trump said.

Pelosi, speaking with reporters later Friday in Laredo, Texas, said Trump’s veto threat “doesn’t change my plan at all."

Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Friday that the Democrats’ resolution is "political expedience in action." He said, "Democrats don’t have the votes to pass a veto-proof resolution to terminate the declared emergency."

The Senate can amend the resolution, according to the National Emergencies Act of 1976. Pelosi said she didn’t expect the Senate to make changes. If the Senate-passed version is different than the House resolution, the measure would will go to a bipartisan conference committee.

In addition to the resolution from the House, 16 states have filed a lawsuit challenging the declaration. Pelosi said Friday the House is still considering additional legal action, but declined to say when another lawsuit could be filed.

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