The House passed legislation Tuesday disapproving of President Donald Trump’s border security emergency declaration but came up well short of the two-thirds margin that would be needed to overcome a Trump veto.
The 245-182 vote sends the joint resolution to the Senate, where it should get expedited consideration.
All eyes now will be on the handful of Senate Republicans most likely to buck Trump and assert congressional authority. But the fact the House was far from a veto-proof supermajority means the Senate action in the coming weeks will be more of a symbolic exercise.
Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina was the first GOP senator to offer a lengthy explanation for his decision to support the resolution, which he did Monday evening in an opinion piece for The Washington Post. Tillis wrote that as much as he supported the president’s push for border security, the method was too constitutionally dubious.
“In fact, if I were the leader of the Constitution’s Article II branch, I would probably declare an emergency and use all the tools at my disposal as well,” Tillis wrote. “But I am not. I am a member of the Senate, and I have grave concerns when our institution looks the other way at the expense of weakening Congress’s power.”
In the House, 13 Republicans voted with the Democrats against the emergency declaration: Justin Amash and Fred Upton of Michigan; Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania; Mike Gallagher and Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin; Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington; Will Hurd of Texas; Dusty Johnson of South Dakota; Thomas Massie of Kentucky; Francis Rooney of Florida; Elise Stefanik of New York; and Greg Walden of Oregon.
Massie said in a Twitter post before the vote that he planned to support the resolution “in order to be consistent in preserving the constitutional structure of our Republic.”
“I support President Trump and I support the wall,” the Kentucky Republican said, referencing Trump’s hallmark border security pledge, but “the appropriations process belongs within Congress.”
Amash, the chairman of the House Liberty Caucus, gave the same explanation for his ‘no’ vote. Two of the GOP ‘yes’ votes came from members in districts that backed Hillary Clinton in 2016: Hurd and Fitzpatrick.
The House vote offered the new Democratic majority its first opportunity to rebuke Trump’s immigration policies, save for the appropriations negotiations that ended last month’s partial government shutdown and resulted in Trump receiving billions less for border security than he desired.
Much of the floor debate prior to the vote dealt less with actual border security policy and more with the separate branches of government, the extent of executive authority and congressional power of the purse. Texas Democrat Joaquin Castro, who introduced the resolution of disapproval and helped shepherd its passage, accused Trump of committing “constitutional cannibalism” when he signed the national emergency declaration.
House Majority Whip Steny H. Hoyer urged lawmakers to have “a spine,” arguing that the vote was an opportunity for lawmakers to demand “self-respect,” and that Trump’s emergency declaration, which seeks to reappropriate military construction funds to build the wall, is “an affront to all that Republicans stand for.”
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But Republicans declined to take the bait. North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, mocked the “newfound constitutionalists across the aisle” and accused them of silence when former President Barack Obama used executive power to bypass Congress on immigration issues, like when he established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012.
GOP leaders were steadfast in their belief that the chamber would not have sufficient votes to override Trump’s expected veto. Even if more than 51 senators vote to pass the resolution and send it to Trump’s desk, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said his chamber stands no chance of reaching the two-thirds threshold required for the override.
“When you see the vote today, there will be nowhere near the votes to override a veto,” Scalise said. “This emergency declaration will be upheld, even if it makes its way through the Senate, which hopefully it doesn’t get past the Senate.”
“We’re going to stand with the president in making sure we can secure this border and confront this national crisis that’s taking lives every single day,” the Louisiana Republican told reporters.
Scalise appeared with other House GOP leaders for a regular news conference Tuesday, and they were joined by Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who recently returned from an Air National Guard deployment to the U.S.-Mexico border.
“If this was just an issue of immigration, I wouldn’t think so. But this is an issue of drugs and human trafficking,” Kinzinger said. “I think compassion and border security are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I think they can only exist with each other.”
The White House made Trump’s intent to veto clear in a statement of administration policy that blamed illegal immigration on “antiquated laws and problematic court decisions” and left Trump no choice besides declaring a national emergency in order “to respond effectively to the ongoing crisis.”
The White House Press Office also put out a detailed statement about how Trump would use the money. The statement said he would use the various pots of money in sequence with the reallocated Pentagon money last, and that housing for military families would not be delayed.
“These funding sources will be used sequentially and as needed,” the statement said, with the $1.375 from Homeland Security appropriated funds passed in the recent spending bill used first, then the $3.1 billion from the other statutory authorities — including $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund and $2.5 billion in drug interdiction funds — and finally the $3.6 billion from military construction.
The statement also said that no military construction projects would be canceled, just delayed. It said repurposed funds would be used for constructing new, 18- to 30-foot-high steel primary pedestrian barriers in various areas, replacing outdated pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers with modern 18- to 30-foot-high steel barriers, and constructing new secondary barriers to provide a patrol zone.