WASHINGTON ― The House took a first step to oppose President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration Tuesday, voting largely along party lines to block the president from redirecting military construction money to a border wall. The resolution was adopted in the House and is expected to clear the GOP-controlled Senate in the coming weeks, but Tuesday’s vote revealed one key truth: There are not enough votes to override a veto from Trump.
The House agreed to the resolution 245-182, with 13 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting for the legislation to rescind Trump’s declaration. The vote, however, fell well short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override Trump’s all-but-certain veto. (In the House, that would be roughly 289 votes, depending on how many representatives show up to vote.)
The 13 Republicans who voted against Trump’s move Tuesday included some of the most moderate Republicans in the GOP conference ― such as Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Will Hurd (R-Texas) ― and some of the most conservative, like Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
But for the most part, GOP members stayed in line to support Trump’s emergency declaration, even though many of them spent years decrying President Barack Obama’s “executive overreach.”
House Democrats have been hammering Trump and other Republicans over his declaration, almost delighting in how Republicans now show hardly any qualms about a president from their party subverting Congress.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), who introduced the disapproval resolution, made the point Tuesday that if the president is successful in going around Congress, “he will likely circumvent Congress again, in the same unconstitutional way.”
Democrats have argued that if the president is able to declare a national emergency and redirect money at will, then future presidents will do the same for issues like guns and climate change.
But Republicans seemed to draw a line between this national emergency and future, theoretical ones.
For conservative Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the president has every right to declare a national emergency and redirect funding to a wall, “because this has been a national emergency for a long time, and Congress has failed to act on it.”
Other Republicans emphasized that they believe there is a crisis at the border.
“We are at war on the southern border with the drug cartels,” Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said repeatedly on the floor Tuesday.
And Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) ― recently back from a stint in the Air Force National Guard Reserves ― told a story about how he came to believe the situation is a genuine national emergency. During his time flying missions at the border, he said, he saw cartels bringing drugs into the U.S. and human traffickers sometimes abandoning people in the desert.
But Democrats were happy to point out that the situation at the border has gotten better over the past decade, not worse.
“There is no war at the border. There is no crisis at the border,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who was in El Paso, Texas, with a number of other Democrats over the weekend.
“I saw a lot of heartbreak and challenge,” he said. “But I did not see a national emergency that would justify the president ignoring the Constitution.”
Hoyer then quoted from Trump’s Feb. 15 press conference declaring a national emergency, where Trump said: “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.”
“Not that I ‘need to do it’ much faster,” Hoyer said, “I’d just ‘rather’ do it much faster.”
Hoyer argued that the debate isn’t really about a wall.
“It is about the Constitution. It is about this institution,” he said, adding that the question boils down to “fidelity to the president or fidelity to the Constitution.”
Democrats have also tried to skewer Republicans over the accounts from which Trump is taking money to build his wall.
In advance of the vote, House Democrats began circulating a list of just over 400 military construction projects that could be affected, with an average cost for each of the projects at around $40 million. Overall, Trump could take about $15 billion from the military construction budget ― about $10 billion worth of projects from the fiscal 2019 budget, and another $5 billion from previous years.
But local arguments ultimately didn’t seem to sway any Republicans.
The few Republicans who sided with Democrats seemed to do so out of ideological and political concerns, just as the three Senate Republicans who have said they will vote with Democrats when the privileged resolution comes up for a vote in that chamber ― Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) ― don’t seem concerned about military construction first and foremost.
In the Senate, the privileged resolution can sit in committee for up to 15 days before it’s available for any member to bring it up for a vote.
While the resolution seems to have enough votes to pass, Trump has already said he would veto it, and without 67 votes in the Senate and a two-thirds majority in the House, the resolution would only serve to potentially strengthen a legal case to block Trump’s move.
Sixteen states are currently suing the Trump administration in a federal court in San Francisco, and Trump is expected to face other legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of border property owners.