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Congress OKs border bill; Trump to sign measure, declare emergency

Updated February 14, 2019 - 2:07 pm

WASHINGTON — The White House said President Donald Trump will sign a $333 billion bipartisan spending bill passed by Congress on Thursday, but also will declare a national emergency because the legislation does not include money to build a border wall.

“He’ll be making a big mistake,” warned Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., about the president’s plan to go around Congress and redistribute money for a border wall.

The legislation approved by the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support provides 55 miles of border fencing, money to hire more Customs and Border Protection agents and a pay raise for federal employees, reversing a wage freeze imposed by Trump.

Lawmakers rushed to approve the bill and send it to the president, who faces a midnight Friday deadline to avert another partial government shutdown.

The White House said the president will sign the bill and declare a national emergency or take other executive actions to redirect unspent federal funds to border wall construction, a signature campaign issue that he famously said Mexico would finance.

The White House has scheduled a 10 a.m. announcement in the Rose Garden.

Any declaration, or order, that would circumvent the constitutional role of Congress to authorize and appropriate federal funds is expected to be immediately challenged, and meet opposition from Democrats and Republicans concerned about the precedent such actions would set.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats were exploring legal options, and noted that the precedent that Trump would set would allow a future president to make a unilateral decision on gun violence and Second Amendment protections.

Pelosi could introduce a resolution in the Democrat-controlled House to stop the executive action. It likely would pass, force the Senate to take up the measure and expose a split in the Republican caucus on the president’s plan.

Schumer said the president’s actions would be an abuse of power that, since Mexico has failed to pay for the wall, would put American “taxpayers on the hook” for wall construction.

“The fact of the matter is, this is not an emergency” but a legislative dispute with Congress over border security, Schumer said.

Delivering on campaign promise

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump “is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border and secure our great country.’’

Trump has been pilloried by conservative pundits who claim he caved in to Democrats on the border security issue and abandoned his base voters who responded to his pledge to build a wall to stop illegal immigration.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced the president’s intention to take executive action just prior to the Senate vote in which lawmakers approved the bill 83-16.

McConnell said he would support the emergency declaration, but other GOP senators openly worried about the precedent and a presidential action that bypasses congressional authority.

Both Nevada senators, Democrats Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, voted for the spending bill and rejected Trump’s plan.

Cortez Masto said the bill includes border security provisions, such as technology, that she supports and provides a 1.9 percent pay raise to federal workers, $267 million for tribal health care and $468 million to fight the opioid epidemic.

But Cortez Masto said the president’s intention to take executive action is “turning his back” on lawmakers who produced the spending bill through bipartisan, bicameral negotiations and compromise.

“While I’m relieved to see Congress pass a funding deal that keeps the government open, there is not justification for the president to declare a national emergency at the border,” Rosen said.

Claim of a crisis disputed

House lawmakers passed the bill on a 300-128 vote.

The Nevada congressional delegation, Democrats Reps. Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee, along with Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, voted in favor.

“It’s a compromise,” Lee said. “It’s not everything we wanted.”

Titus said the president’s claim that there is a national crisis at the border is “simply not true.”

She said she would pursue legal and legislative remedies “to prevent President Trump from constructing this vanity project.”

“The symbol of America must always remain the Statue of Liberty, not a border wall,” Titus said.

The bill includes $1.3 billion for border fencing, less than the $1.6 billion included in an earlier Senate bill that Trump rejected last December.

Trump rejected that bill because it did not contain border wall funding, prompting a 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.

Roughly 800,000 federal workers were furloughed or forced to work without pay during that period, including 3,500 in Nevada. Although federal workers received back pay for that period, government contractors did not, and many small businesses lost receipts and sales.

Several Nevada federal workers attended a news conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday urging Congress and the White House to avoid another shutdown and legislating on the backs of government employees.

Republican lawmakers signaled to the White House that they did not favor another government shutdown, and would vote to pass the spending bill to keep federal departments and agencies open.

The last shutdown cost the U.S. economy $3 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Republicans and Democrats alike were concerned about the president’s plan to redirect unspent funds. The Texas delegation, led by Republican senators, warned the White House against taking unspent disaster funding for Hurricane Harvey victims.

Horsford spoke this week with Brig. Gen. Kim Colloton with the Army Corps of Engineers about Nevada projects and funding.

There are about five ongoing construction projects at Nellis Air Force Base under the Corps and vulnerable to Trump administration plans, Horsford said. Those projects include facilities and paving for F-35 aircraft training and operations at the base.

Also subject to a reduction in funding would be flood control projects and national security programs in Nevada, according to Horsford, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Horsford said Trump’s “unconstitutional actions” threaten to take money away from projects and activities “that keep Nevada families safe.”

Horsford told the Review-Journal following a Wednesday news conference that the president “does not have the authority” to bypass Congress on the authorization and appropriations process, and would face immediate legal challenge for such an action.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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