Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) outlined an alternative approach on Thursday to get funding for a border wall amid a vote to block President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to get those funds.
Trump declared the national emergency last month after receiving a compromise budget deal that failed to meet his requests for border wall funding. He did sign the deal to prevent a second partial government shutdown.
Portman became one of a handful of Republicans to break party lines to vote against the emergency declaration.
“I support the plan the president has outlined, including the $5.7 billion the president has requested for walls and other barriers,” Portman said from the floor before the vote. “It will ease the burden on our border security personnel and allow them to focus their resources more effectively. It is time to listen to the experts and give them what they need to carry out their important mission. But we have to do that in the right way.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other critics appealed to constitutional conservatives in arguing that the emergency declaration was a severe overreach of executive authority.
Republicans generally support the president when it comes to border security, but the emergency declaration was more decisive, resulting in the defection of a dozen members.
“I thought we should give the president the full amount of money he requested for barriers, and I voted that way,” Portman said. “At the end of the day, Congress decided to give him only some, not all, the funds he requested. But under current law and current congressional approval and authorities, without declaring a national emergency, President Trump can actually access additional funds that gets him to the $5.7 billion he requested.”
Portman listed three places the president can get more than enough funding for the border security wall.
He noted the first place is the $1.375 billion that was already appropriated for barriers in the compromise budget deal. He added that is the most ever appropriated in a fiscal year for barriers.
The president can also use $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund. Then he can use $4 billion through the Department of Defense Counter Drug Account.
“The president has available to him enough funds right now to begin building all the barriers he has requested without resorting to national emergency funds,” Portman said. “This adds up, as you can see, to over $5.7 billion, almost $6 billion at the president’s disposal without moving to the national security — to the national emergency that he has invoked.”
Portman added that the approach could help the president avoid legal challenges his emergency declaration is attracting.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is leading a major lawsuit against the move on the grounds the decision evades congressional funding restrictions in an unprecedented violation of the law.
“So my hope is that the president will take this approach,” Portman said. “I think using those funds is a better way to accomplish our border security goals precisely because the president does not need to declare a national emergency — by the way, these funds are far more certain. The $3.6 billion the president takes from the military construction projects is uncertain because these funds are likely to be tied up in constitutional litigation, tied up for months, probably years.”
The House already passed the resolution to block the emergency declaration on February 26.
The Senate later passed the proposal to block the emergency declaration on a 59 to 41 vote on Thursday. It now goes to the president, who is likely to veto it.
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