House Advances Resolution to Void Trump’s Emergency Declaration

February 26, 2019
In The News

THE HOUSE MOVED TUESDAY to undo President Donald Trump's emergency declaration to pay for a border wall with money Congress has not approved, setting up a battle over how much authority a president has and how much members of Trump's own party are prepared to defy him.


In a strictly party-line 229-193 vote, the House approved the "rule" for a resolution disapproving of Trump's Feb. 15 declaration. The rule, which sets terms of debate for legislation, is generally an indicator of how the final vote will go.


"Our call to duty today to to protect, to defend our Constitution," Rep. Norma Torres, Democrat of California, said on the House floor. "A yes vote will affirm our democracy."


Republicans complained that Democrats didn't approve the border security measures Trump and the GOP want, and so the president had no choice. Further, noted Rep. Michael Burgess, Republican of Texas, Trump is merely exercising the power Congress gave him when it approved the National Emergencies Act in 1976.


"You don't like the law that allows the president to declare an emergency? Change the law. You're the majority," Burgess said.


The vote presaged what is expected to be an easy, largely party-line passage of the resolution Tuesday afternoon. It would indeed be the first time Congress attempted to nullify a presidential declaration of an emergency. But House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, said Trump's action represents the first time a president has declared a national emergency to get funding for a project Congress has explicitly refused to provide.


Prospects in the Senate are less certain, although at least 15 Republican senators have expressed grave concerns about the use of emergency power, and only four GOP defections are needed to assure a majority vote for the disapproval resolution.


Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican up for re-election next year, announced in an op-ed in The Washington Post that, while he backed Trump's vision for a wall, he feels the president is wrong to subvert the will of Congress.


"It is my responsibility to be a steward of the Article 1 (legislative) branch, to preserve the separation of powers and to curb the kind of executive overreach that Congress has allowed to fester for the better part of the past century. I stood by that principle during the Obama administration, and I stand by it now."



Noting that many members of his own party accused former President Barack Obama of activist like a "king" or "emperor" by asserting executive authority on matters such as immigration, Tillis said the standard needs to be the same for Trump.


"There is no intellectual honesty in now turning around and arguing that there's an imaginary asterisk attached to executive overreach – that it's acceptable for my party but not thy party."


Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who is a major Democratic target in the 2020 Senate race, has said she will vote for the resolution to undo the emergency. Fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, too, says she will join what is expected to be a unanimous Democratic caucus voting for the resolution.


Since the measure is in a special category called a "privileged resolution," the Senate cannot simply ignore it, as often happens when one chamber passes a bill the other doesn't like – or doesn't want to force its members to go on record voting one way or the other. However, the Senate could amend the resolution, which would complicate its path to passage.


Neither chamber appears to have the votes to override a presidential veto, which would be Trump's first veto in office. That would not only underscore Trump's inability to get a simple majority of Congress on his side, but it would put Republicans in the hot seat again in an override vote.


Hoyer said he does not think it is futile to pass a resolution Trump may well veto.


"This is a vote of principle. This deserves to be voted on whether it is ultimately adopted or not," the leader told reporters before the vote. Congress, Hoyer said, need to corral presidential power or risk becoming "an authoritarian government led by a president who is unchecked."