Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) over the weekend became the fourth Republican senator to come out in favor of a resolution to block President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to redirect funds toward construction of a wall on the southern border.
The resolution of disapproval has already passed the Democratic-led House. Paul’s pronouncement means that it will likely have the simple majority of votes needed to pass the Senate, where the 47 senators who caucus with the Democrats are expected to back it and Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Thom Tillis (NC) have said they support it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged on Monday that the resolution will pass the upper chamber. “What is clear in the Senate is that there will be enough votes to pass the resolution of disapproval, which will then be vetoed by the president and then in all likelihood the veto will be upheld in the House," McConnell said.
Paul said his decision came down to constitutional considerations. “I can’t vote to give the president the power to spend money that hasn’t been appropriated by Congress,” Paul said in a speech Saturday, according to the Bowling Green Daily News. “We may want more money for border security, but Congress didn’t authorize it. If we take away those checks and balances, it’s a dangerous thing.”
Paul also published a piece on the Fox News website Sunday evening explaining his position: “I stand with the president often, and I do so with a loud voice. Today, I think he’s wrong, not on policy, but in seeking to expand the powers of the presidency beyond their constitutional limits.”
Paul’s decision “will be keenly felt inside the White House,” Vanity Fair’s Tina Ngyuen says. “Paul has been described as the ‘Trump whisperer,’ a fellow political iconoclast who enjoys a deeply personal connection to the president, despite their ideological differences.”
Other Republican senators, including Lamar Alexander (TN), Mitt Romney (UT), Marco Rubio (FL) and Roger Wicker (MS), have also voiced concern over Trump’s emergency declaration, though they have not said whether they will vote for the resolution to block it.
The Senate is due to vote on the resolution later this month, and Republicans are still searching for a way to avoid a potentially embarrassing confrontation with the president. Alexander last week publicly urged Trump to reverse course on the national emergency and Sen. John Kennedy (LA) speculated on CNN that the president might reconsider his declaration. There’s also still a chance that Paul or other Republicans supporting the resolution to change their minds in the face of pressure from the White House or other maneuvering around the resolution.
“Republicans worry that in supporting Trump, they will be giving approval to a White House power grab that circumvents Congress’s constitutional power over spending,” The Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez writes. “But if they oppose it, they face the wrath of not only the president but his political base — and possibly a primary challenge.”
Why it matters: Passage of the resolution in the GOP-controlled Senate would represent an extraordinary rebuke to Trump, but it may have limited practical significance given the president’s pledge to veto the measure. Congress likely wouldn’t have the votes to override a veto.
Still, Congress’ rebuke could factor into court cases challenging Trump’s national emergency, highlighting Congress’ opposition to Trump’s order. “A joint resolution underscoring that Congress has deliberately rejected the inclusion of border wall fencing in response to a presidential request could well move a court to say that this statute will not help finance it,” Ohio State University law professor Peter M. Shane writes at Slate.