Washington, United States | AFP |
President Donald Trump faced a test of strength — and a likely defeat — Thursday in the US Senate, where a simmering revolt in Republican ranks could help sink his border emergency declaration.
A handful of the party’s members are saying they will join Democrats to vote for a measure that would nullify the emergency declared by the president in February as a way to secure more funding for a wall on the US-Mexico border.
Trump says the move allows him to skirt Congress and repurpose billions of dollars in other government funds, including money that was earmarked to build or renovate military facilities.
But Democrats and some Republicans have cried foul. They argue that Congress is constitutionally appointed to control the government’s purse strings — and declaring an emergency to seize more money is a blatant abuse of executive authority.
Republicans control the Senate, 53 to 47, but at least six Republicans have stated they will support the resolution of disapproval, giving Democrats the numbers they need to squeak it through.
Senator Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential candidate, said he will back the measure, calling it “a vote for the constitution and for the balance of power that is at its core.”
A group of Republicans sought to limit defections by cutting a deal Wednesday with the president to limit his powers on emergency declarations, but Trump refused.
He set the stage for the showdown by using his now-familiar strong-arm tactics, warning Republicans not to rebuke him on the emergency.
“Don’t vote with Pelosi!” he boomed on Twitter early Thursday, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi whose Democratic-led chamber has already approved the resolution.
Later in the White House, he acknowledged that “I’ll probably have to veto” the legislation, the first such executive blockage of legislation in his presidency.
But he is likely to get his way nonetheless, at least for now before the issue gets taken up by the courts, as Democrats will not have enough votes to override the veto.
“It won’t be overturned and the legal scholars say it’s totally constitutional,” Trump said.
“It is, pure and simple, a vote for border security,” he said of the looming Senate vote which was expected after 1815 GMT.
Despite the fist-shaking early tweet, Trump arrived at the US Capitol for a Friends of Ireland lunch hosted by Pelosi and featuring Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and some Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Trump was gracious with Pelosi, his chief Democratic rival, who earlier in the day urged the Senate to “reject the president’s unconstitutional measure.”
- ‘Judgment of history’ –
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed support for Trump’s move, describing a border security system “at the breaking point” as he sought to rally his troops for the vote.
“The president is operating within existing law, and the crisis on our border is all too real,” McConnell said.
The but the chamber’s top Democrat couched it as a dangerous power grab by an unrestrained president acting out of “pique.”
“It’s our job, here in Congress, to limit executive overreach, to defend our core powers” of controlling how federal dollars are spent, Senator Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor.
“This is not an everyday moment,” he added. “The judgment of history weighs on this vote.”
The White House laid out an ambitious 2020 budget proposal Monday which contains $8.6 billion in new wall funding, considerably above the $5.7 billion Trump sought for this year.
It is highly unlikely that lawmakers will go along with it.
Congress already rejected the $5.7 billion, providing just $1.4 billion for construction of 55 miles (90 kilometers) of barriers along the border in Texas.
The White House has signaled it will seek to repurpose some $6 billion from military funds but has not specified which programs would be slashed.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan got an earful from an irate Senate Democrat Tim Kaine, who said he felt “sandbagged” by the Pentagon chief for withholding details about which state will see military construction (mil-con) projects curtailed.
“Members of the Senate are entitled to know from where these mil-con monies will be pulled,” Kaine fumed.
The vote could end up as the second embarrassing bipartisan rebuke of Trump in as many days.
On Wednesday the Senate voted to end US military support for the Saudi-led war effort in Yemen, despite warnings from the White House that doing so would harm Washington’s ties with Riyadh.
© Agence France-Presse