By Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images.
In a rare but significant break with the president, a dozen Republican senators joined with Democrats Thursday afternoon to vote in favor of a resolution overturning Donald Trump’s national-emergency declaration. Some dissent was expected—Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Rand Paul had all announced they would support the resolution, and Thom Tillis was dithering—but the final vote count handed Trump a decisive defeat, made even more embarrassing by his repeated calls on Twitter for G.O.P. lawmakers to “get tough” and fall in line.
In all, Collins, Murkowski, and Paul were joined by Mike Lee, Mitt Romney, Lamar Alexander, Pat Toomey, Jerry Moran, Roy Blunt, Marco Rubio, Roger Wicker, and Rob Portman. At issue was not their support for a border wall, which Trump’s national-emergency declaration is intended to fund, but rather what they saw as blatant, unconstitutional executive overreach, with the president bypassing Congress’s budgetary powers to act unilaterally. “It’s imperative for the president to honor Congress’s constitutional role,” Portman explained during his “yes” vote. “A national-emergency declaration is a tool to be used cautiously and sparingly.”
The intraparty showdown was set in motion last month, when Republicans recoiled at Trump’s national-emergency declaration after he failed to fund his border wall through the appropriations process. “I never thought that was a good idea. I still don’t,” Toomey told a reporter at the time, while Murkowski stated flatly that she “[didn’t] think this is a matter that should be declared a national emergency.” Representative Joaquin Castro introduced a resolution overturning the declaration that easily passed the House, putting the onus on the Republican-controlled Senate to either push it through to the president’s desk, or go along with what many in the G.O.P. saw as a frightening precedent. “I believe the use of emergency powers in this circumstance violates the Constitution,” Kansas’s Moran said in a statement posted on Twitter on Thursday. “This continues our country down the path of [an] all powerful executive—something those who wrote the Constitution were fearful of.”
In the days leading up to the vote, the White House scrambled to save face. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that the administration was busily conferring with Republicans over a bill by Senator Lee that would have reclaimed some of the authority Trump had seized from Congress. Had Trump opted to support the measure, Republicans would have been able to point to his willingness to keep executive power in check as cover for their “no” votes. But Trump flatly refused to back the bill, prompting Lee to vote against his emergency declaration, too.
Trump’s congressional allies, too, reportedly did everything in their power to save him the embarrassment of a legislative defeat. Per the Post, Senators Lindsey Graham, Ben Sasse, and Ted Cruz went so far as to crash his dinner at the White House with Melania on Wednesday night to beg him to reconsider. “I said there’s some people want to talk to you. They have some concerns about the emergency declaration,” Graham told reporters. “Hell, if I was him, I would have told us to go to hell.”
In the end, Trump ignored them. Perhaps he didn’t expect the number of defections to be quite so high. But, more likely, his disdain for the process of governing is so complete that he’s content to circumvent it. After all, in his Rose Garden speech announcing the emergency declaration, he predicted the controversy—and plunged ahead anyway. “Not too many people have said” he was violating the Constitution, he told a reporter. “But the courts will determine that. Look, I expect to be sued . . . We’ve got to get rid of drugs, and gangs, and people. It’s an invasion. So I think that we will be very successful in court.” Even in the face of a humiliating legislative defeat, Trump’s one-man show will go on:
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