Trump issues fresh veto threat of resolution on emergency declaration
WASHINGTON - Drama mounted in the Senate Thursday, March 14, ahead of a showdown vote over President Donald Trump's border emergency declaration, as a GOP senator described crashing the White House residence with two of his colleagues to plead with Trump for a deal.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he showed up at the White House Wednesday night with Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., interrupting Trump as he dined with first lady Melania Trump. They discussed how to satisfy GOP concerns on the emergency declaration but reached no agreement, and Trump renewed his veto threat Thursday morning.
"I said thank you for meeting with us. Sorry we ruined your dinner. And again, if it'd been me, I would have kicked us out after about five minutes," Graham said, adding he was still holding out hope just hours ahead of the vote.
"With Trump everything is possible," Graham said. "Rabbits being pulled out of a hat are just everyday business."
But opposition swelled as more Republicans announced they would vote against Trump, and in favor of a Democratic resolution to overturn the president's declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border. The vote was shaping up as a sharp rebuke of Trump - even if Congress will be unable to override his veto in the end.
Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, became the latest senators to declare their opposition to the president, arguing that he was threatening the Constitution's separation of powers by declaring a national emergency to get money denied by Congress for his border wall.
"I will vote today for the resolution of disapproval," Romney said in a statement Thursday morning. "This is a vote for the Constitution and for the balance of powers that is at its core. For the executive branch to override a law passed by Congress would make it the ultimate power rather than a balancing power."
Trump took to Twitter to goad his critics and insist defectors would be siding with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., whose chamber has already passed the resolution overturning Trump's emergency declaration.
"A vote for today's resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!" Trump wrote.
The president said he would support GOP efforts to update the National Emergencies Act at a later date - something that's been under discussion as a way to rein in presidential powers going forward - "but today's issue is BORDER SECURITY and Crime!!! Don't vote with Pelosi!"
Pelosi herself told reporters: "The Senate will hopefully vote for the Constitution of the United States to uphold the oath of office that we all take by voting to reject the president's measure that does violence on the Constitution. . . . We'll then send the bill to the president."
Concern among GOP senators has focused on Trump's use of the National Emergencies Act to grab $3.6 billion appropriated by Congress for military construction projects nationwide - and use it to build barriers along the border instead.
Graham declined to specify what exactly was discussed when he and the others showed up to interrupt Trump's dinner Wednesday night, but said it focused on satisfying those concerns.
"It was an effort to try to find a way to deal with the one statute that people have a problem with. The president was generous with his time. I don't know if we can get there but we're trying," Graham said.
Graham praised Trump for his accessibility, describing calling him Wednesday night to say he wanted to come over with Cruz and Sasse.
"I just said 'There's some people who want to talk to you, you know I like them they got real concerns, I don't agree with them but they're good guys and gals.'"
The president's response, according to Graham: "'Yeah come on down.'"
"Literally that way," Graham said. "Hell if it'd been me I'd of told us to go to hell."
One person familiar with what transpired said a White House lawyer was brought in as the senators made their case, to explain why their proposal wouldn't work, and the discussion was ultimately unsuccessful. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private encounter.
The attempted last-minute intervention by Graham and the others was just the latest attempt by Republicans to find a way out of their bind, as they choose between siding with Trump or crossing him on Thursday's vote. The decision is fraught, touching on Trump's signature issue of the U.S.-Mexico border wall - but also, some believe, taking them into risky territory in acceding to a dramatic expansion of executive power.
Trump has rejected such arguments, insisting repeatedly that the vote is about border security alone, not constitutional issues. He's shot down the GOP's attempts at deal-making, calling Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, during a private GOP lunch Wednesday to reject a proposal to curtail presidential powers under the National Emergencies Act.
Shortly after that, Lee announced he'd be voting for the disapproval resolution. In addition to Lee, Romney and Alexander, the other GOP senators who've said they'll vote for the disapproval resolution are Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
With the Senate's 47-member Democratic caucus expected to unite in favor of the disapproval resolution, the measure should command more than the majority needed to pass.
"A big National Emergency vote today by The United States Senate on Border Security & the Wall (which is already under major construction)," Trump tweeted early Thursday. "I am prepared to veto, if necessary. The Southern Border is a National Security and Humanitarian Nightmare, but it can be easily fixed!"
Although Congress lacks the votes to override Trump's veto, the Senate vote would still stand as an embarrassing rebuff of a key Trump initiative at the hands of his own party. And it would come a day after a Senate vote to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, marking unusual twin rebukes from a Senate that has mostly bowed to Trump's wishes.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered contrasting takes on the Senate floor Thursday morning about what is at stake.
"This is not a normal vote," Schumer said. "This will be a vote about the very nature of our constitution and the separation of powers."
But McConnell argued that Trump was acting well within his powers and consistently with previous invocations of the National Emergencies Act.
"Let's not lose sight of the particular question that's before us later today, whether the facts tellus there's truly a humanitarian and security crisis on our Southern border and whether the Senate, for some reason, feels this particular emergency on our own border does not rise to the other national emergencies current in effect," McConnell said.
Thursday's vote regarding the national emergency is expected in the afternoon, not long after Trump is scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill for a "Friends of Ireland" luncheon with lawmakers and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
This article was written by Erica Werner, a reporter for The Washington Post.