House favors bid for repeal of emergency declaration; Arkansas’ lawmakers oppose resolution, support Trump

House favors bid for repeal of emergency declaration; Arkansas’ lawmakers oppose resolution, support Trump

Written by: Democrat-Gazette Staff
Published by: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday approved a resolution to overturn President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border, escalating a clash over whether he was abusing his powers to advance his presidential campaign pledge.

The 245-182 vote fell well short of the two-thirds majority that would be required to overcome a presidential veto, which Trump has threatened. Thirteen Republicans sided with Democrats.

 

The four House members from Arkansas, all Republicans, supported the president’s declaration.

In a floor speech, Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro said Trump had “full statutory authority” to declare an emergency.

“The only reason this legislation is being considered on the floor today is to obstruct the president’s agenda. The president has made it clear that he will use all statutory tools at his disposal to secure the border, and that is exactly what he’s doing in declaring this emergency,” Crawford said.

Two of the other Arkansans released written statements after Tuesday’s vote.

“While I would prefer Congress to appropriate these funds to combat the crisis on our southwest border, the president does have the authority to reprogram funds and I believe their use would not undermine the priorities of our military and law enforcement,” Rep. French Hill of Little Rock said.

“The humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border must be addressed,” said Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers. “I support the commander-in-chief’s work to ensure a strong, safe and secure border.”

Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs did not issue a statement, a spokesman said.

Democrats argued that Trump’s claim of a crisis at the border was baseless and that he was embarking on the road to dictatorship by unilaterally declaring an emergency to try to get money from U.S. taxpayers to fulfill a campaign promise.

“We are not going to give any president, Democratic or Republican, a blank check to shred the Constitution of the United States,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on the floor before the vote. Holding up a pocket copy of the Constitution, she asked Republicans: “Is your oath of office to Donald Trump, or is your oath of office to the Constitution of the United States?”

Republicans countered that Democrats were ignoring a very real crisis at the border and said Trump was within his rights to declare a national emergency, since he was acting under provisions of a law passed by Congress, the National Emergencies Act of 1976.

“There is a national emergency at the southern border that the Democrats will declare today doesn’t exist,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “The president has the authority to do it, and we will uphold him.”

Though presidents have declared 58 emergencies under the law, this is the first aimed at acquiring money for an item Congress has explicitly refused to finance, according to Elizabeth Goitein, co-director for national security at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. This is also the first time Congress has cast votes on whether to annul an emergency declaration, she said.

Trump issued the emergency declaration on Feb. 15 as part of a deal to keep the government open after a 35-day partial shutdown over Christmas and much of January. The president agreed to sign a spending bill to keep the government funded through Sept. 30 while providing $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fencing along the border in Texas, but he said he needed billions more.

 

The administration plans to redirect an additional $6.7 billion from several sources, including $3.6 billion from military construction projects that can be accessed via the emergency declaration.

Now that the House has passed the disapproval resolution, the Senate will have about 18 days to take it up, a timeline set by the National Emergencies Act. The law also specifies that Senate passage takes only a simple majority, not the 60-vote supermajority often required in the Senate.

That means four Republican votes would ensure passage of the disapproval resolution — presuming that Democrats stick together as expected. GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Thom Tillis of North Carolina have announced plans to vote for the disapproval resolution.

Other Republicans have also voiced concerns, including at a private lunch Tuesday with Vice President Mike Pence, during which about six senators spoke up with reservations, according to one person in attendance.

One of those senators was Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who asked a Justice Department attorney about how a future Democratic president might be able to use similar emergency powers, according to an official briefed on the meeting, who requested anonymity to describe it.

Senators called it a “serious” discussion with Pence, one in which the vice president focused on trying to explain the rationale for the emergency declaration and mollify concerns from rank-and-file Republicans that the reprogrammed funds would not hurt their local military installations.

The vice president made the case that the wall was the issue Trump ran on in his campaign, and he argued that military construction projects would not be jeopardized because the money could be replaced, according to the official briefed on the meeting.

“Let me tell you this, if it’s military construction projects, we’ll back-fill that so fast, as soon as we get there,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Appropriations Committee, predicting “no trouble” in providing new funds for the projects. “You can rest assured that issue won’t stay alive long.”

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the chief GOP vote counter, said there may be GOP attempts to amend the House measure, saying Republicans “think they have amendments that would improve it.”

A White House document for media said Tuesday that the military construction funds under the national emergency declaration would be tapped only after the appropriated money and other funding sources have been exhausted, sequencing that some Republicans have pointed to as alleviating some of their concerns.

CHINA, RUSSIA THREATS

Also Tuesday, the top U.S. general for homeland defense said he sees no military threat coming from the southern border with Mexico, but his focus is on “very real” threats from China and Russia.

Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, told a Senate committee that proposed barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border could increase security against any potential military threats coming from the south. But he said Russia’s advancements in training and capabilities, and its intent to hold the U.S. at risk, present an urgent threat to America.

Democratic senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee peppered O’Shaughnessy with questions about the need to divert the money from existing projects and questioned the validity of a national emergency declaration.

“I’m concerned, very frankly, that this administration is politicizing our military and militarizing our immigration policy — in effect, using the troops under your command as political props, both in terms of declaring a fake emergency but also compromising our potential security by diverting them away from other assignments and missions that are absolutely necessary,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

O’Shaughnessy, who visited the southern border Saturday with acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, was careful to defer any assessment of the southern threat to the Department of Homeland Security, and Customs and Border Protection. He said those agencies believe that more fencing can affect the movement of drugs across the border.

O’Shaughnessy said he would defer to Homeland Security “on the character of the threat,” adding that Northern Command is trying to “be a good partner” as the other agencies take on the drug trafficking challenge. Asked if it is a national emergency, he said, it is a “national issue” that requires a “whole-of-government approach.”

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., questioned whether Congress should allow Trump to use Pentagon money for a non-defense emergency.

“The threat isn’t military, and still we’ll take $6 billion out of the defense budget to deal with it?” said Kaine. “If we set that precedent, I certainly can foresee a day when a president is going to say 40,000 gun deaths a year are an emergency, and why don’t we take money out of the Pentagon budget to deal with that?”

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, argued that the shipment of illegal drugs from Mexico into the U.S. has caused tens of thousands of deaths, and that it constituted an emergency. But he also endorsed O’Shaughnessy’s assertion that Russia’s expanding fleet of icebreakers in the Arctic presents a serious threat, and the U.S. needs to increase its capabilities there.

The U.S. Coast Guard currently has one working Polar-class icebreaker ship, but there’s funding in the Defense Department budget to begin building more. Sullivan said the poor condition of the U.S. ship is a disgrace, and the U.S. needs more ability to counter Russia and China in the Arctic.

Information for this article was contributed by Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim, Paul Kane, John Wagner, Paul Sonne and Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post; by Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Lisa Mascaro, Colleen Long and Lolita C. Baldor of The Associated Press; and by Frank E. Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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