Democrats will push back on national emergency in Congress and courts

Congress will defend its constitutional authority over spending ‘using every remedy available,’ Democratic leaders vow

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats will push back against the president's national emergency declaration in Congress, the courts and the public. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer promise that Democrats in Congress — hopefully joined by some Republicans — will push back against President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration in multiple arenas. 

“The President’s actions clearly violate the Congress’ exclusive power of the purse, which our founders enshrined in the Constitution,” the duo said in a joint statement Friday. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”

Pelosi and Schumer did not provide specifics regarding the actions they’ll take. But there’s already talk of the House passing a resolution of disapproval, rejecting the emergency declaration. 

Under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, presidents can take extraordinary actions in times of crisis by declaring a national emergency. A joint resolution disapproving of action under the 1976 law would be considered “privileged” and can be passed with a simple majority vote in each chamber.

The privileged status of such a resolution would allow Senate Democrats to force a floor vote over objections of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said Thursday he supports Trump’s decision.

During a Rose Garden announcement Friday, Trump said he would sign a national emergency declaration stating there’s a crisis at the southern border. He plans to shift $3.5 billion from the Defense Department’s military construction fund to the border barrier project.

“The President’s unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist does great violence to our Constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently needed defense funds for the security of our military and our nation,” Pelosi and Schumer said. “This is plainly a power grab by a disappointed President, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process.”

The Democratic leaders’ promise that Congress will respond in the courts comes as no surprise to the administration. Trump said Friday he expects to get sued and even to get an initial “bad ruling,” but he expressed confidence the Supreme Court will uphold his declaration.  

Democrats are likely to coordinate legal action with states and local governments — and potentially, outside interest groups —that will want to sue Trump over the declaration. 

“The president’s emergency declaration, if unchecked, would fundamentally alter the balance of powers, inconsistent with our founders’ vision,” Pelosi and Schumer said. 

Some Republicans have said they do not support Trump using an emergency declaration to go around Congress. But it’s unclear whether they feel strongly enough to get involved in any court action, or to support a resolution of disapproval. 

Pelosi and Schumer are hoping they will, saying, “We call upon our Republican colleagues to join us to defend the Constitution. Just as both parties honored our oath to protect the American people by passing the conference committee bill, the Congress on a bipartisan basis must honor the Constitution by defending our system of checks and balances.”

The Democratic leaders’ statement focused on Trump’s national emergency declaration. It was not immediately clear if they will also seek to challenge his authority to use other executive actions to shift additional money toward the border barrier project. 

The Trump administration is planning actions that would divert $2.5 billion from the Pentagon’s drug interdiction initiative and $600 million from a Treasury Department drug forfeiture program. White House officials said Friday those funds will “back-filled” in Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget request.

John T. Bennett, David Lerman and Niels Lewsniewski contributed to this report.

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