WASHINGTON (AP) — In a stunning rebuke, a dozen defecting Republicans joined Senate Democrats on Thursday to block the national emergency that United States (US) President Donald Trump declared so he could build his border wall with Mexico. The rejection capped a week of confrontation with the White House as both parties in Congress strained to exert their power in new ways.
The 59-41 tally, following the Senate’s vote a day earlier to end US involvement in the war in Yemen, promised to force Trump into the first vetoes of his presidency. Trump had warned against both actions. Moments after Thursday’s vote, the president tweeted a single word of warning: “VETO!”
Two years into the Trump era, a defecting dozen Republicans, pushed along by Democrats, showed a willingness to take that political risk. Twelve GOP senators, including the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney of Utah, joined the dissent over the emergency declaration order that would enable the president to seize for the wall billions of dollars Congress intended elsewhere.
“The Senate’s waking up a little bit to our responsibilities,” said Senator Lamar Alexander who said the chamber had become “a little lazy” as an equal branch of government. “I think the value of these last few weeks is to remind the Senate of our constitutional place.”
Many senators said the vote was not necessarily a rejection of the president or the wall, but protections against future presidents – namely a Democrat who might want to declare an emergency on climate change, gun control or any number of other issues.
“This is constitutional question, it’s a question about the balance of power that is core to our constitution,” Romney said. “This is not about the president,” he added. “The president can certainly express his views as he has and individual senators can express theirs.”
Thursday’s vote was the first direct challenge to the 1976 National Emergencies Act, just as Wednesday’s on Yemen was the first time Congress invoked the decades-old War Powers Act to try to rein in a president. Seven Republicans joined Democrats in halting US backing for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the aftermath of the kingdom’s role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Even though there’s not likely to be enough numbers to override a veto, the votes nevertheless sent a message from Capitol Hill.
“Today’s votes cap a week of something the American people haven’t seen enough of in the last two years,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, “both parties in the United States Congress standing up to Donald Trump.”
The result is a role-reversal for Republicans who have been reluctant to take on Trump, bracing against his high-profile tweets and public attacks of reprimand. But now they are facing challenges from voters — in some states where senators face stiff elections – who are expecting more from Congress.
Centrist Maine GOP Senator Susan Collins, who’s among those most vulnerable in 2020, said she’s sure the president “will not be happy with my vote. But I’m a United States senator and I feel my job is to stand up for the Constitution, so let the chips fall where they may”.
Trump’s grip on the party, though, remains strong and the White House made it clear that Republicans resisting Trump could face political consequences. Ahead of the voting, Trump framed the issue as with-him-or-against-him on border security, a powerful argument with many.