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Push to avert showdown over border wall declaration falls short

Updated March 13, 2019 - 4:09 pm

WASHINGTON — Republican senators and the White House tried to reach a deal Wednesday to save President Donald Trump from an embarrassing defeat over his emergency declaration to bypass Congress for funds to build a border wall — a last-minute effort that appeared to fail.

The Senate is expected to vote Thursday on a House-passed resolution to terminate the president’s Feb. 15 emergency declaration that would direct unspent military funds to the southern border wall. Passage appeared likely as several Republicans said they would vote with Democrats.

“I don’t think the president’s going to win this one,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told reporters.

“Turn out the lights, the party’s over,” Kennedy said, using a refrain from a Willie Nelson song often sung by commentator and former Cowboys football star Don Meredith at the end of Monday Night Football broadcasts.

Kennedy said he would vote against the resolution, but he predicted the measure would pass, easily.

Republican opposition

A number of Republican senators, concerned about constitutional issues and the use of a national emergency by future presidents, were expected to join Democrats in delivering an embarrassing rebuke to Trump and vote to pass the resolution.

On the eve of the vote, GOP lawmakers continued to huddle with White House aides on a reform bill that would limit future presidential declarations of national emergencies.

Although the reform bill, filed by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, would not retroactively limit Trump’s declaration, the last-minute measure was seen as a compromise to limit GOP defections.

Trump pulled his support for the Lee bill, even though it left intact the president’s current declaration. Lee announced he would vote for passage of the resolution of disapproval.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., warned Republican senators it would not provide political cover they may be seeking by amending the 1976 National Emergencies Act.

“Republican senators are proposing new legislation to allow the president to violate the Constitution just this once in order to give themselves cover,” Pelosi said in a statement.

“The House will not take up this legislation to give President Trump a pass,” Pelosi said.

The House passed the resolution to terminate the emergency declaration last month, 245-182, with 13 Republicans voting with Democrats — far fewer than what would be needed to muster a two-thirds majority to override a threatened veto.

Nevada’s congressional delegation split along party lines. Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee voted for the resolution. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei voted against it.

In the Senate, Republicans hold a 53-47 majority. Just four GOP votes would allow the resolution to pass. Republicans Mike Lee of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Susan Collins of Maine and Thom Tillis of North Carolina have said they will support the resolution.

Paul has estimated that as many as 10 GOP senators could vote to terminate the declaration.

‘A manufactured crisis’

Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, both Nevada Democrats, are united with their party in its support of the resolution terminating the national emergency — which Cortez Masto called a “manufactured crisis.”

Indeed, both Cortez Masto and Rosen questioned the constitutional authority of the president to declare an emergency and take funds for a pet campaign pledge after the House and Senate rejected his demand for the money.

“I don’t think we need a wall. I don’t think we need a manufactured emergency that this administration has created to appropriate funds,” Cortez Masto told reporters.

Several Republicans disagree with the president’s use of the declaration to bypass Congress and redirect funds after the House and Senate rejected Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for the border wall and overwhelmingly passed a spending bill that directed $1.375 billion for border fencing and technology.

Trump signed that bill, to avoid another partial government shutdown, but immediately declared a national emergency. The administration identified $3.6 billion for military construction projects that it planned to redirect for wall construction.

That $3.6 billion included $97 million for four projects in Southern Nevada, including two predator drone facilities at Creech Air Force Base, a combat helicopter rescue simulator at Nellis Air Force Base and a National Guard readiness center in North Las Vegas.

Several Republicans co-sponsored Lee’s bill to reform the emergency declarations act, including Tillis, who is up for re-election in 2020 in a swing state.

The vote on the resolution will force several GOP senators up for re-election, including Cory Gardner and Martha McSally, to cast a vote and risk alienating either Trump’s conservative base or independent voters who do not favor a wall.

Trump denied threatening or pressuring Republican senators to vote against the resolution, or suffer political consequences.

“Nobody’s beaten up,” he told reporters at the White House, just prior to a meeting with Republican senators arriving to discuss trade with the president and administration staff.

Trump has vowed to veto the resolution when it hits his desk. It is unlikely the House could muster the two-thirds majority needed to override.

Still, 16 states, including Nevada, have sued in federal court seeking an injunction on the administration from using appropriated military and law enforcement funds, citing the constitutional authority of Congress to authorize and appropriate program funds.

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

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