Senate on verge of showdown with Trump over emergency declaration

WASHINGTON — A congressional showdown with President Donald Trump is looming as the Senate sets the stage for the first presidential veto with expected passage of a House-approved resolution to terminate his attempt to take funds from military projects to build a border wall.

Enough Republican lawmakers say they will vote with Democrats to pass a resolution of disapproval of Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the border, allowing him to bypass Congress after it rejected his demand for money for his signature campaign pledge.

The bipartisan rebuke of the president, following one in the House, would deliver an embarrassment to the president who enjoyed GOP support for policies and nominations during his first two years in office.

Several Republicans members have voiced concern about the precedent set by allowing Trump to bypass the authority of Congress in the Constitution to direct federal spending.

“By just passing the resolution, it shows the intent of Congress and where we stand on this issue,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.

“We believe in Congress, and the president doesn’t have the authority,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday that the subject has been one that has prompted “spirited discussion” within the Republican caucus.

He predicted the Senate would pass the resolution of disapproval, prompting Trump to veto his first piece of legislation and forcing a vote to override in the House, which would fail for a lack of a two-thirds majority.

“The veto will be sustained in the House,” McConnell said.

Although McConnell said he believes the president has legal authority to declare an emergency, he tried to sway Trump from taking the tack of declaring an emergency after a bipartisan, bicameral conference committee rejected his $5.7 billion demand for wall funding.

“I advised the president not to take this route, but he decided to do that,” McConnell said.

Cortez Masto said regardless of whether the House or Senate could muster the vote to override, it is important that lawmakers vote to uphold congressional authority to set spending policy and appropriate funds for programs and policies.

“It is important for Congress to take this next step,” Cortez Masto said.

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., agreed that it was important for the Senate to vote to uphold its power as a co-equal branch of government and not cede power to the White House.

At least four Senate Republicans announced they would vote with Democrats on the resolution, citing what they called an executive branch overreach. Those lawmakers are Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rand Paul of Kentucky. A vote likely will come next week.

Others could follow with pressure mounting on senators in states up for re-election in 2020, including Martha McSally of Arizona and Cory Gardner of Colorado.

Trump has said he will veto the resolution when it hits his desk, and has used the House resolution to characterize Democrats, who control the House, as weak on border security.

The border wall was a signature campaign pledge in 2016, and is likely to become a 2020 re-election issue as Trump ramps up his conservative base that has responded to his immigration policies.

Democrats and Republicans approved $1.375 billion for border security measures in the budget for the Department of Homeland Security. The funds were approved for more fencing, personnel and technology at the 2,000-mile Southwest border.

The president signed that bill to avoid another partial shutdown of the government, but used a Feb. 15 Rose Garden news conference to declare a national emergency at the border, despite figures from Homeland Security that show illegal immigration down substantially since 2006.

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

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