Senate Democrats plan to force another vote in Congress aimed at overturning President Trump’s border emergency declaration — potentially triggering a new standoff between the administration and congressional Republicans over the billions of dollars being siphoned from the Pentagon to pay for Trump’s border wall.
The procedure to disapprove Trump’s border emergency being deployed by Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is “privileged,” meaning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be unable to block the vote from happening. The Senate voted to reject the emergency declaration on March 14, with a dozen Republicans joining Democrats to defy Trump’s contention that there is an emergency at the border that justified his end run around Congress to pay for the wall. Trump promptly vetoed the legislation, and Congress lacked the votes to override his decision.
“This rises to a large and vital constitutional issue: Does our country truly have checks and balances, particularly when we have such an overreaching president?” Schumer said in a floor speech Tuesday. “We all must consider the dangerous precedent that would set if presidents may declare national emergencies every time their initiatives fail in Congress. It is outrageous.”
The timing of the vote is unclear, but it would probably occur in the coming weeks — the law invoked by Trump to justify his border emergency allows one every six months. Democrats are hoping the vote will be politically uncomfortable for Republicans facing potentially tough reelection battles in states that will lose money for military construction projects to pay for sections of the wall. The resolution needs only a simple majority to pass in the Senate.
Trump issued his declaration in February after Congress denied him the $5.7 billion he demanded to construct new barriers at the U.S.-Mexico border. The administration used the declaration to unlock about $3.6 billion that had been set aside for military construction projects to pay for one of Trump’s signature campaign promises, although the emergency order is being challenged in the courts.
The Pentagon last week made public a list of 127 military projects, both domestic and overseas, that would lose money. There are 11 border projects that are gaining the funds.
The list of projects includes Hurricane Maria recovery projects at military installations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and projects across Europe designed to help U.S. allies fend off Russian aggression. In all, projects in 23 states, three U.S. territories and 20 countries are affected.
The Trump administration argues that in effect, the projects are merely delayed until Congress approves new money for them.
But Democrats have promised not to “backfill” the funding. Sen. Brian Schatz (Hawaii), the ranking Democrat on the panel that oversees money for military construction projects, stressed again Tuesday that there is “zero chance” Congress will greenlight fresh funding for them.
“The Constitution provides that we do the appropriating,” Schatz said. “I will not — and I do not believe other Democrats would — vote to appropriate money to the same project twice.”
Democrats have repeatedly gone on the offensive against GOP senators up for reelection who have backed Trump on his border emergency yet are losing millions in federal funding for key military projects in their home states.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) — who initially announced his opposition to Trump’s emergency declaration only to reverse himself just before the vote to overturn it — stands to lose about $80 million in military projects in North Carolina. One of the projects — $32.9 million for an elementary school at Fort Bragg — had already been canceled, according to the Pentagon.
Tillis said he had spoken with military officials who said the impact would be minimal. He dismissed attacks from Democrats in North Carolina, noting that he has secured other funding victories for Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg.
“We’ve got a good story to tell,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) said earlier this year that she had secured a promise from then-acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan that no military projects in Arizona would lose money for barrier construction.
But $30 million for the Fort Huachuca Ground Transport Equipment Building in Sierra Vista is being diverted for the border; McSally’s office said that project had already been delayed because of “unforeseen environmental issues at the construction site.”
Both Tillis and McSally face potentially tough election contests next year. But both stressed that they would still vote to support the border emergency.
“I think Chuck Schumer is talking out of both sides of his mouth,” Tillis said. “On the one hand, he says it’s a slap to the military; on the other hand, he says it’s not gonna backfill it? We’ll have that discussion once we get to the appropriations process.”