Republican senators are turning up the pressure on President Trump, urging him to abandon his national emergency declaration and rely on less controversial pots of money to fund construction of his wall on the southern border.
Three Republicans have already said they’ll support the Senate version of a resolution of disapproval passed by the House to block Trump’s emergency declaration and his redirecting of funds toward wall construction. One more, together with all 47 Senate Democrats, would give the measure enough votes to pass, forcing Trump to use his veto power.
It’s a confrontation Senate Republicans would prefer to avoid with a president who remains popular among GOP voters. "People are caught between the need for border security and agreeing with (what) the president's trying to do, but not how he wants to do it," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on Thursday warned Trump to avoid setting a “dangerous precedent” by using the national emergency declaration to circumvent Congress on the issue of border wall funding. “It is unnecessary and unwise to turn a border crisis into a constitutional crisis about separation of powers when the president already has congressional funding authority to build the 234 miles of border wall that he requested,” he said.
Trump’s border wall plan relies on a few separate pots of money: about $601 million from a Treasury Department Forfeiture Fund, some $2.5 billion from Department of Defense funds for fighting illegal drugs and up to $3.6 billion from military construction funds. Trump’s national emergency declaration was made in order to access only that last pot.
Alexander urged Trump to use only funds that he can get without resorting to an emergency declaration. Alexander suggested that by transferring $3.7 billion (instead of the planned $2.5 billion) from the drug interdiction programs, Trump could wind up with a total of $4.5 billion in funding and avoid setting off a constitutional crisis over Congress’ power of the purse.
“He’s got sufficient funding without a national emergency, he can build a wall and avoid a dangerous precedent,” the Tennessee senator said.
Alexander, who has announced that he will not seek reelection in 2020 after three terms in the Senate, did not say how he’ll vote on the resolution to block Trump’s emergency declaration — but his speech sent a pretty clear signal.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) also signaled he may vote against Trump. "I think it's a bad idea to run government by emergency and the power of the purse should remain with Congress," he said, according to CNN.
And Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) said that he may vote to overturn Trump’s declaration if he determines that it would jeopardize military construction funds. “I think it’s probably good that the president, if he has to get this done, go ahead and do it on an emergency — but not at the expense of the military,” Inhofe said, according to The Washington Post. “And if it ends up at the expense of the military, that it’s going to inflict damage on the military, then I have to act accordingly.”
The bottom line: Congress likely still doesn’t have to votes to override a presidential veto, and Trump has given no indication of backing down on the emergency, telling Fox News’s Sean Hannity that Republicans who vote against him may “put themselves at great jeopardy.” GOP senators may not want to take a tough vote, but Trump may not care.