House Democrats on Tuesday were able to pass a resolution aimed at blocking President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration along the southern border.
For months, the federal government has been consumed by the ongoing dispute over border security funding. The fight was so intense it led to a partial government shutdown and threatened a second. The House passed the resolution against the national emergency declaration by a vote of 245 to 182.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) introduced the resolution last week to terminate the emergency declaration. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) helped build support for it in the week leading up to its introduction. She sent a letter to lawmakers and held press conferences to encourage them to back it.
“Each one of us, and every person in public service in our country, takes an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution,” Pelosi said from the floor before the vote. “And that Constitution is about the separation of powers that is being usurped by the executive branch. We in the legislative branch cannot let that happen.”
Trump declared a national emergency after congressional negotiators failed to come close to the $5.7 billion request for border wall funding. The president signed a short-term spending bill that ended the first shutdown; the eventual deal included $1.375 billion for physical barriers.
“It is the statutes that allow the president to do this,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said hours before the Tuesday vote. “The statutes don’t provide for national emergencies on climate change; they don’t allow for national emergencies on gun violence. But they do allow it for this particular issue and the president is exactly right. There is a crisis at the border.”
The resolution is not likely to get much further now that it has passed the House. The Senate currently has a Republican majority; the president has threatened to veto the resolution. But some Republicans have expressed opposition to the emergency declaration, such as libertarian-leaning Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said during a press conference on Tuesday that he will not handicap the resolution when it comes to his side. He was also briefed along with other party members about the legality of the order. He said lawmakers are in the process of considering its legality but have not drawn conclusions yet.
“It will come over here. It’s privileged — it will come up,” McConnell said. “It can rest as much as 15 days, but I think it will be reasonable to assume that [a] vote will occur before the next Senate recess period. We had a very full discussion on this issue during our conference at noon today with the vice president and a lawyer from the Justice Department.”
Trump has argued the situation at the border constitutes a crisis and that a wall is critical to deterring illegal drugs and criminal gangs from coming into this country. He could possibly free up billions in emergency funds for the wall from various federal reserves through the National Emergencies Act (NEA).
“The statute might be interpreted to be used in a reckless manner, but it is precise that it deals with the necessity of military construction and other matters in the course of war that are an emergency,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said before the vote. “But we do not have that … What we have is a person’s desire.”
Trump is facing lawsuits for his emergency declaration. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is leading 16 other states that have sued the administration. Dozens of former national security officials also signed onto a statement that publicly rebuked the emergency declaration on Monday.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) became one of the first major organizations to announce a lawsuit soon after the president made his declaration. The group argued the decision evades congressional funding restrictions in an unprecedented violation of the law. The ACLU also sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to vote for the Tuesday resolution.
American presidents have declared at least 58 states of emergency since lawmakers passed the National Emergencies Act in 1976.
That does not include disaster declarations for weather events, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice. Dozens of emergencies are still in effect because they were extended by other presidents.
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