Democrats launch bid to scuttle Trump's national emergency over border wall funding

The move could force tough votes for some Republicans.

February 22, 2019, 6:17 PM

House Democrats on Friday took the first step in a long-shot bid to stop President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration aimed at getting more money to build his proposed border wall after congressional Democrats refused to give it to him.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she will bring a resolution to terminate Trump's national emergency proclamation for a vote on Tuesday, the first swing congressional Democrats are taking to try to block the additional border wall money the president is seeking through executive action.

"We will fight his action in the Congress, in the courts and in the public," Pelosi, D-Calif, told reporters on a conference call Friday morning. "This isn't about anything partisan or political. This is about upholding the oath of office we take to protect and defend the Constitution."

H.J. Resolution 46 was filed earlier Friday morning, after Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, rallied "226 or 227" original cosponsors, including Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office Friday afternoon, Trump vowed to veto the measure if it ever makes it to his desk.

"Will I veto it? One hundred percent. One hundred percent," he repeated. "We have too many smart people that want border security so I can't imagine it can survive a veto."

In a nod to the long odds the resolution faces of being enacted, Castro called the president's proclamation an "unconstitutional power grab" that will "require historic unity" to counteract the president.

Pelosi denied that there is a crisis at the national border, calling the president's description of the border "frivolous and cavalier."

"The president does have such a right to do such a thing when there is a true emergency," Pelosi acknowledged. "If there was such an emergency, he wouldn't have to do it. We'd be right there with him."

"This is not what is happening now," she continued. "The president is being frivolous to the constitution."

Instead, Pelosi and Castro claimed that Trump is taking the action to fulfill a campaign promise, not because there is an actual emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Not only is he disrespecting the legislative branch and the Constitution, he is dishonoring the office in which he serves," Pelosi said. "This is institutional; it is constitutional; it is not political; it is not partisan. It is patriotic."

Though some Republicans have expressed concern about the president's executive action, none has vowed to join the Democratic effort to terminate the national emergency that's unlikely to succeed.

Despite its dim prospects, the gambit still promises to produce a political spectacle. With newfound power in the House majority, Democrats are seizing the opportunity to not only attack the president on cable TV, but also to force Republicans into casting politically difficult votes.

At the same time, other efforts to block the president are playing out in court.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border in Washington, D.C., Feb. 15, 2019.
President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border in Washington, D.C., Feb. 15, 2019.
Evan Vucci/AP

According to the National Emergencies Act, any national emergency declared by the president shall terminate if there is a joint resolution terminating the emergency enacted into law or the president issues a proclamation terminating the emergency.

The text of the resolution is relatively straightforward, identifying the president's proclamation and then destroying it: "Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled That, pursuant to section 202 of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622), the national emergency declared by the finding of the President on February 15, 2019, in Proclamation 9844 (84 Fed. Reg. 4949) is hereby terminated."

Since the resolution would require Trump's signature to become law, he's pledged to veto the measure instead -- in what would be the first of his presidency. There does not appear to be enough bipartisan support constituting supermajorities in both chambers to override a presidential veto, so this attempt to block the president legislatively likely would end there as legal challenges continue in court.

A coalition of 16 states filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco against the president and his administration to block the proclamation, arguing the declaration amounts to a misuse of executive power. The case could drag into the 2020 presidential campaign and ultimately end up at the Supreme Court.

PHOTO: Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi speaks during a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol, Feb. 14, 2019, in Washington, DC.
Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi speaks during a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol, Feb. 14, 2019, in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

In a "Dear Colleague" letter sent Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Republicans and Democrats alike to support the resolution, warning the proclamation "undermines the separation of powers and Congress's power of the purse, a power exclusively reserved by the text of the Constitution to the first branch of government, the Legislative branch, a branch co-equal to the Executive."

"All Members take an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution," Pelosi, D-Calif., noted. "The President's decision to go outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process violates the Constitution and must be terminated. We have a solemn responsibility to uphold the Constitution, and defend our system of checks and balances against the President's assault."

While the Senate's majority is controlled by Republicans, the measure is privileged and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is compelled to hold a vote on the measure after House passage, creating an awkward vote to either buck the president or surrender the constitutional authorities many lawmakers believe are threatened by executive action. If the House passes it, the resolution could sit in committee for up to 15 days before it's considered privileged in the upper chamber and its consideration is mandated.

Last week, McConnell encouraged the president to pursue executive action, though several GOP senators, including Sens. Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Lisa Murkowski, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Thom Tillis, Susan Collins and Lamar Alexander have expressed an aversion to the president's declaration.

"The president has made a strong case for increased border security, but declaring a national emergency is unnecessary, unwise and inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution," Alexander, R-Tenn., warned Wednesday prior to the president's announcement on Friday. "It is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution because, after the American Revolution against a king, our founders chose not to create a chief executive with the power to tax the people and spend their money any way he chooses. The Constitution gives that authority exclusively to a Congress elected by the people."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that identical companion legislation to the House resolution "will soon be introduced in the Senate."

"If the president's emergency declaration prevails, it will fundamentally change the balance of powers in a way our country's founders never envisioned," Schumer, D-N.Y., cautioned. "That should be a serious wake-up call to senators in both parties who believe in the constitutional responsibility of Congress to limit an overreaching executive."

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