Democrats ignored a veto threat and rammed legislation through the House Tuesday that would stymie President Donald Trump’s bid for billions of extra dollars for his border wall, escalating a clash over whether he was abusing his powers to advance his paramount campaign pledge.
The House’s 245-182 vote to block Trump’s national emergency declaration throws the political hot potato to the Republican-run Senate, where there were already enough GOP defections to edge it to the cusp of passage. Vice-President Mike Pence used a lunch with Republican senators at the Capitol to try keeping them aboard, citing a dangerous crisis at the border, but there were no signs he’d succeeded.
“I personally couldn’t handicap the outcome at this point,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who’s planning a vote within the next three weeks.
Senate passage would force Trump’s first veto, which Congress would surely lack the votes to override. But the showdown was forcing Republicans to cast uncomfortable votes pitting their support for a president wildly popular with GOP voters against fears that his expansive use of emergency powers would invite future Democratic presidents to do likewise for their own pet policies.
Underscoring their desire to avoid a tally suggesting that Trump’s hold on lawmakers was weakening, House Republican leaders worked to keep the number of GOP supporters below 53. That’s how many would be needed to reach a two-thirds majority of 288 votes, assuming all Democrats vote “yes,” the margin required for a veto override.
Thirteen House Republicans joined all voting Democrats Tuesday to support the Democratic resolution.
The White House wrote to lawmakers formally threatening to veto the legislation. The letter said blocking the emergency declaration would “undermine the administration’s ability to respond effectively to the ongoing crisis at the Southern Border.”
Republicans said Democrats were driven by politics and a desire to oppose Trump at every turn, and said Trump had clear authority to declare an emergency to protect the country. They also defended the president’s claims of a security crisis along the boundary with Mexico, which he has said is ravaged by drug smugglers, human traffickers and immigrants trying to sneak into the U.S. illegally.
“We are at war on the Southern border with the drug cartels,” said Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas.
Trump has asserted that barriers would stop drugs from Mexico from entering the U.S. In fact, government figures show that 90 per cent of drugs intercepted from Mexico are caught at ports of entry, not remote areas where barriers would be constructed.
Democrats said Republicans repeatedly accused former President Barack Obama of flouting the Constitution, which gives Congress control over spending, but are ignoring Trump’s effort to do the same.
“Is your oath of office to Donald Trump, or is your oath of office to the Constitution?” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asked Republicans.
They said Trump’s push for the wall reflected a continuation of the anti-immigrant views that helped fuel his election.
Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor, The Associated Press