The president’s national emergency declaration for border wall funding is “unnecessary, unwise and inconsistent with the Constitution,” Sen. Lamar Alexander said. | Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
Sen. Lamar Alexander urged the president to withdraw his national emergency declaration or face a potential GOP revolt.
By BURGESS EVERETT
02/28/2019 02:50 PM EST
Updated 02/28/2019 04:48 PM EST
Senate Republicans are offering a choice to President Donald Trump: Withdraw your national emergency declaration at the border or face a potential rebellion from the GOP.
The message was delivered clearly on Thursday by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), part of an effort by senior Republicans to avoid a direct confrontation with Trump on the Senate floor.Story Continued Below
In a much-anticipated floor speech, the retiring senator declined to state whether he will become the deciding vote to block the president’s maneuver. But he signaled broad opposition to the emergency declaration and sought to convince Trump that he has other ways to collect $5.7 billion for the border wall — the precise amount of money he demanded during the government shutdown fight.
“He’s got sufficient funding without a national emergency, he can build a wall and avoid a dangerous precedent,” Alexander told reporters afterward, referring to billions from a drug forfeiture fund and anti-drug smuggling money at the Defense Department. “That would change the voting situation if he we were to agree to do that.”
Three Republicans have already said they would join Democrats in voting for a resolution to block Trump, and only one more is needed for the Senate to successfully reject Trump’s declaration. Alexander is just one of about 10 senators who are committed to blocking the president’s move or are considering doing so, suggesting the White House has a ways to go to avoid a public split in the party and a Trump veto.
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Asked how the GOP can avoid a battle with Trump, one Senate Republican considering voting for the disapproval resolution said: “He can change his mind.”
“The president can get way more money than he’s even asking for without setting the Constitution on its head,” said this undecided senator, who requested anonymity to speak frankly. “I am very, very skeptical about the precedent this makes.”
In 2005, President George W. Bush withdrew an emergency plan for paying disaster workers after Congress threatened to block him.
If Trump doesn’t back down, there is still deep reluctance in the GOP to becoming the 51st vote for the disapproval resolution that the Senate is expected to vote on in March. So far, Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine are the only Republicans who have said they would support blocking Trump on his plans to seize billions from military projects.
The president told Sean Hannity that Republicans who oppose him “put themselves at great jeopardy” and said it’s “very dangerous” to vote against border security. Some GOP senators shrugged off that sentiment.
“I always do what I think is the right thing to do,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who is undecided. “As long as I’m satisfied with myself, that’s the person I’m going to satisfy.”
Republicans spent all week debating how to deal with the political headache of seeing a president from their party use some of the same unilateral tactics they panned under President Barack Obama.
After introducing her own resolution of disapproval directly on the Senate floor Thursday, Collins said her “Republican colleagues are very uneasy about the precedent.”
“I don’t think emergencies are a good way to run the government. And the president needs permission from Congress to get money,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Thursday. Despite those words, he hasn’t made a “final decision” on his vote.
“I have long believed and advocated that every president, Republican and Democrat, should act consistent with the Constitution and federal law. And I’m assessing those legal authorities right now,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
GOP senators are discussing amending the House-passed disapproval resolution to make it more palatable to both them and Trump, but say they are not sure it will be allowed by the Senate parliamentarian. The resolution has been referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee, but Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said his committee will hold no hearings on it.
“There’s some discussion about: Is there a way to give the president what he asks for in terms of funding but to minimize the use of this mechanism in the future?” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who will oppose the resolution as written.
Despite his clear opposition to Trump’s national emergency declaration, Alexander deemed the looming vote on disapproval a hypothetical, since Trump could withdraw it or the House-passed resolution could be amended. Under current law, the House measure will come up by mid-March, and Alexander left little doubt that he’s just one of a large bloc of Republicans who could defy the president.
Trump’s national emergency declaration for border wall funding is “unnecessary, unwise and inconsistent with the Constitution,” Alexander told reporters. “And many Republican senators who can speak for themselves share that view.”
“We’ve never had a case where the president has asked for money, been refused the money by Congress, then used the national emergency powers to spend it anyway,” he added. “To me that’s a dangerous precedent.”
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