House to vote Tues­day on mea­sure to nix Trump emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY MIKE DEBONIS AND PAUL SONNE To­luse Olorun­nipa and Philip Rucker con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Con­gres­sional Democrats moved rapidly Fri­day to ad­vance leg­is­la­tion to re­ject Pres­i­dent Trump’s dec­la­ra­tion of a national emer­gency, an ef­fort that will force Repub­li­can law­mak­ers to choose be­tween their sup­port for Trump and their oft-stated op­po­si­tion to the ex­pan­sion of pres­i­den­tial power.

The mea­sure, in­tro­duced Fri­day, is ex­pected to pass eas­ily in the Demo­cratic-con­trolled House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (DCalif.) said she would bring it up for a vote Tues­day. But the GOP’s dilemma will play out in pub­lic view days later in the Repub­li­can­con­trolled Se­nate, where nu­mer­ous GOP sen­a­tors have voiced op­po­si­tion to Trump’s emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion.

If Se­nate Democrats are united, they will need only four Repub­li­can de­fec­tions to pass the mea­sure and send it to Trump’s desk.

On Fri­day, Trump said he would veto the mea­sure “100 per­cent” if that hap­pened. And he pre­dicted that Congress would be un­able to muster the votes to over­ride his veto.

“We have too many smart peo­ple that want bor­der se­cu­rity, so I can’t imag­ine it can sur­vive a veto,” Trump said, adding that he ex­pects most Repub­li­cans to sup­port him. “I think they’ll stick.”

How­ever, con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tors and other GOP opin­ion lead­ers have been ratch­et­ing up pres­sure on Repub­li­can sen­a­tors to hold the line against what they view as an unacceptable over­reach of pres­i­den­tial author­ity. For Repub­li­cans who rou­tinely ac­cused Pres­i­dent Barack Obama of ex­ceed­ing his con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers, “this should not be a dif­fi­cult vote,” said Char­lie Sykes, a con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor who ed­its the Bul­wark, an on­line pub­li­ca­tion crit­i­cal of Trump.

“There’s not one Repub­li­can in Congress who did not ob­ject stren­u­ously to Obama’s use of ex­ec­u­tive author­ity,” Sykes said. “So it would be mon­u­men­tally hyp­o­crit­i­cal for them to turn around and endorse Trump’s use of ex­ec­u­tive author­ity to over­ride Congress’s con­sti­tu­tion­ally man­dated power of the purse.”

In a nod to that think­ing, Pelosi and other Democrats have couched their ar­gu­ments against the emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion in con­sti­tu­tional terms, ar­gu­ing that Congress can­not stand idly by while the pres­i­dent usurps the author­ity of the leg­isla­tive branch.

“We have a sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers in our coun­try,” Pelosi told re­porters Fri­day. “We bat­tled against a monar­chy — we did not in­tend to es­tab­lish one in our coun­try.”

While more than a dozen Repub­li­can sen­a­tors have made skep­ti­cal com­ments about Trump’s dec­la­ra­tion, only one — Sen. Su­san Collins (Maine) — has said she would vote to end it. On Fri­day, aides to sev­eral Repub­li­can sen­a­tors who have been crit­i­cal of us­ing emer­gency pow­ers to build the wall — in­clud­ing Sens. La­mar Alexan­der (Tenn.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Thom Til­lis (N.C.) — ei­ther de­clined to com­ment or did not re­spond when asked if those sen­a­tors planned to vote against Trump’s emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion.

In the House, Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) is the only Repub­li­can among the more than 220 co-spon­sors of the Demo­cratic res­o­lu­tion op­pos­ing Trump’s emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion. House Democrats ex­pect at least a few oth­ers to ul­ti­mately sup­port the mea­sure.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers have rarely de­fied Trump, and then typ­i­cally on mat­ters of for­eign pol­icy. A vote to dis­ap­prove of his emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion would strike at a cor­ner­stone of Trump’s pres­i­dency — his prom­ise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, which re­mains over­whelm­ingly pop­u­lar with GOP vot­ers.

While Congress con­sid­ers block­ing the dec­la­ra­tion, the fed­eral bu­reau­cracy is al­ready lurch­ing into ac­tion, search­ing for money for wall con­struc­tion. Last week, Congress passed a sweep­ing spend­ing bill that in­cludes $1.375 bil­lion for bor­der bar­ri­ers — far short of Trump’s re­quest.

So the ad­min­is­tra­tion is look­ing to take an ad­di­tional $6.1 bil­lion from the Pen­tagon bud­get to sup­ple­ment that fund­ing.

On Fri­day, a se­nior de­fense of­fi­cial said the Pen­tagon is ex­plor­ing ways to shift more than $2 bil­lion into an ac­count that Congress man­dated for coun­ter­drug ac­tiv­i­ties. While that ac­count cur­rently con­tains about $85 mil­lion, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said plans were un­der­way to trans­fer in bil­lions more from other de­fense ac­counts.

The of­fi­cial, who was au­tho­rized to speak to re­porters by the Pen­tagon on the con­di­tion of anonymity, said that while the de­part­ment has in the past sought ap­proval from Congress for such “re­pro­gram­mings,” it is not re­quired by law.

The de­fense of­fi­cial said the ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to des­ig­nate high-pri­or­ity sec­tions of the bor­der as “drug smug­gling cor­ri­dors” and will co­or­di­nate wall con­struc­tion in those ar­eas through the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers.

How­ever, the of­fi­cial said it will be months be­fore that hap­pens, and “longer than months for the com­ple­tion of con­struc­tion.”

The Pen­tagon is as­sess­ing which projects to freeze or scrap to free up the $6.1 bil­lion Trump has tar­geted in this year’s de­fense bud­get. In the crosshairs: projects that haven’t been awarded to con­trac­tors yet and projects aimed at fix­ing or re­plac­ing ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties rather than build­ing new ones.

The Pen­tagon has ruled out tak­ing money from mil­i­tary hous­ing, the of­fi­cial said.

One Demo­cratic con­gres­sional aide fa­mil­iar with the Pen­tagon plan said that it amounted to “a form of money laun­der­ing” but that law­mak­ers prob­a­bly have lit­tle im­me­di­ate re­course. Congress has rou­tinely given agen­cies the power to re­pro­gram unused funds — though those amounts in the past have tended to be in the mil­lions, not bil­lions.

The aide, who was not au­tho­rized to com­ment pub­licly on the mat­ter, said shift­ing the funds would cre­ate po­lit­i­cal fall­out.

“They are not just go­ing to be sit­ting around some­where. You’re go­ing to have to take it away from things that were ap­pro­pri­ated for a rea­son,” the aide said.

The pres­i­dent’s po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee on Fri­day be­gan re­run­ning ads on Face­book with a mes­sage tar­get­ing Repub­li­can sen­a­tors.

“I want to be able to show all Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors a list of the many Amer­i­can vot­ers that will NOT be happy if the wall isn’t built,” the ads said. “I need YOUR NAME on the list. Sign our Of­fi­cial Pe­ti­tion to the Se­nate now!”

White House and con­gres­sional GOP aides said Fri­day that there was no con­cen­trated ef­fort on Capi­tol Hill to lobby Repub­li­cans to vote against the res­o­lu­tion of dis­ap­proval — re­flect­ing a lack of se­ri­ous con­cern that many Repub­li­cans would defy the pres­i­dent and join an ef­fort to over­ride his veto. In the House, at least 53 Repub­li­cans would be needed for an over­ride, while 20 of 53 GOP votes would be nec­es­sary in the Se­nate.

Josh Holmes, a for­mer top aide to Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (R-Ky.), said that he ex­pects the Se­nate to pass the dis­ap­proval res­o­lu­tion but that he sees lit­tle chance of 20 Repub­li­can sen­a­tors break­ing ranks. That, he said, could give “flex­i­bil­ity” to a few GOP sen­a­tors to vote their con­science while the rest of the party holds the line and pro­tects the pres­i­dent’s agenda.

Any po­lit­i­cal fall­out, Holmes pre­dicted, would be fleet­ing.

“We had a record-set­ting govern­ment shut­down,” he said. “We’ve had a near-con­stant de­bate about the mer­its and de­mer­its of a wall. I don’t think there is a sin­gle Amer­i­can voter who has not for­mu­lated an opin­ion one way or an­other on that is­sue. So what a vote would do that two years of daily dis­cus­sion haven’t eludes me.”

Rep. Joaquin Cas­tro (D-Tex.), who au­thored the one-page House res­o­lu­tion, said that he would con­tinue call­ing Repub­li­cans over the week­end to build sup­port for the mea­sure and that he was hope­ful many would vote with Democrats to re­ject the emer­gency.

“This is a his­toric power grab, and it will re­quire his­toric unity by mem­bers of Congress, Repub­li­can and Demo­crat, lib­eral and con­ser­va­tive,” he said.

With the mea­sure ul­ti­mately likely to fail, Democrats are look­ing at other op­tions to un­der­mine Trump’s emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion.

The House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee has set a Thurs­day hear­ing on the mat­ter, and Chair­man Jer­rold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has in­vited White House Coun­sel Pat Cipol­lone and Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cials to ap­pear. None have yet con­firmed their par­tic­i­pa­tion, a com­mit­tee spokes­woman said Fri­day.

Trump’s move is also be­ing chal­lenged in the fed­eral courts, where sev­eral par­ties — in­clud­ing a coali­tion of Demo­cratic-led states — have filed law­suits to over­turn the emer­gency.

Pelosi said Fri­day that House com­mit­tees con­tinue to study whether the leg­is­la­ture it­self could pur­sue le­gal ac­tion but have reached no con­clu­sions.

“I’m not an­nounc­ing any­thing to­day,” she said.

ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

“We have a sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers in our coun­try,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told re­porters Fri­day. “We bat­tled against a monar­chy — we did not in­tend to es­tab­lish one in our coun­try.”

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