WASHINGTON: The US Senate began debating a proposal on Thursday to terminate President Donald Trump’s declaration of an emergency at the southern border, with enough Republicans indicating they would support the measure for it to pass, with Trump vowing a veto.
Passage of the legislation would mark the second Senate rebuke of the president in two days. Senators on Wednesday approved a resolution seeking to end US support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the war in Yemen, rejecting Trump’s policy toward the kingdom.
During the first two years of his term, the Republican-led Congress mostly accommodated Trump, who has not yet used his veto pen. That could change now in response to Trump making the emergency declaration as an alternative way to get billions of dollars in funding for the wall after Congress turned him down.
At least seven Republican senators have now said they back the measure passed in February by the US House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats. At least four Republicans are needed to pass it in the 100-seat Senate, along with all 45 Democrats and two independents.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged his fellow Republicans to defeat the measure but Senators Mitt Romney and Lamar Alexander announced that they would vote the opposite, becoming the latest Republicans to express defiance of Trump.
“A vote for today’s resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for (Democratic House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi, Crime and the Open Border Democrats!” Trump tweeted on Thursday.
McConnell said Trump was “operating within existing law” and that if senators did not like the powers provided to the president under the National Emergencies Act, “then they should amend it.”
The measure is unlikely to become law since a two-thirds vote of Congress is needed to override a presidential veto, which Trump vowed to issue if it passes the chamber Thursday.
Vice President Mike Pence met with Republican senators this week to try to tamp down support for terminating the declaration. Some Republicans are concerned future Democratic presidents could usurp the power of Congress to fund the government and use the emergency declarations to fund their own pet programs.
Pence told senators that Trump would back a second bill offered by Republican Senator Mike Lee, which would end future emergency declarations after 30 days unless Congress votes to extend them.
Lee said on Wednesday the White House had subsequently made clear his bill did “not have an immediate path forward.” He said he would vote on Thursday to end the emergency declaration.
At stake are billions of dollars in funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border that Trump is demanding but Congress has refused to fully provide. The stalemate led to a 35-day partial government shutdown that ended in January.
Under the emergency declaration Trump signed on Feb 15, he would take money from other federal programs to build the barrier, which he says is needed to curb illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
Democrats deny there is an emergency at the border, saying border crossings are at a four-decade low.
“Democrats and Republicans both know the sad truth: the president did not declare an emergency because there is one,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor. “He declared an emergency because he lost in Congress and wants to get around it.”