The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump issues first veto of his presidency over emergency declaration for border wall

President Trump vetoes a resolution to overturn his declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border at the White House on Friday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump issued the first veto of his presidency Friday to secure federal money for a border wall that he promised as a candidate and considers a crucial priority for his reelection, capping a week of confrontation with both political parties.

“Today I am vetoing this resolution. Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution, and I have the duty to veto it,” Trump said during a made-for-the-cameras Oval Office event with supportive sheriffs and families of Americans killed by undocumented immigrants.

Rebuffed by Congress in his demands for billions for the wall, Trump had declared a national emergency at the Mexican border last month, a move that would allow the president to circumvent the will of lawmakers and spend billions on border barriers.

Congress backed a resolution of disapproval, with the Senate voting 59-to-41 on Thursday for the measure. Twelve Republicans defied Trump and joined Democrats on the legislation.

The rare rebuke from members of his own party was symbolically important, but Congress does not have the votes to overturn Trump’s veto. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) immediately announced a March 26 vote to try, saying that “House Republicans will have to choose between their partisan hypocrisy and their sacred oath to support and defend the Constitution.”

Pelosi called the president’s wall money maneuver a “lawless power grab.” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said there was no emergency.

“Congress has refused to fund his wall multiple times; Mexico won’t pay for it; and a bipartisan majority in both chambers just voted to terminate his fake emergency,” Schumer said in a statement.

The Senate joined the Democratic-controlled House to pass a disapproval resolution for the national emergency declaration Trump issued to build his border wall. (Video: Monica Akhtar, Rhonda Colvin, Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

Most congressional Republicans who defected did so as a protest of the president’s methods and the possible precedent of executive overreach, rather than as a stance on the underlying question of whether a border wall is necessary. Democrats and some Republicans challenged the declaration as a blow to the separation of powers.

Trump said Friday that he understands that objection and maintained that he didn’t twist arms, although he had warned potential Republican defectors about putting themselves in “great jeopardy” and dispatched Vice President Pence and other administration officials to Capitol Hill to plead his case.

“They’re doing what they have to do, and I put no pressure on anybody,” Trump said. “I actually said, ‘I could have gotten some of them to come along.’ I said: ‘I want for you to vote your heart. Do want you want to do. I’m not putting any pressure.’ ”

Republican alignment with Trump’s agenda and GOP control of both houses of Congress until this year meant that legislation the president opposed never reached his desk. Democrats now control the House, and some Republicans in the Senate seem more willing to cross the White House.

“It definitely is a national emergency. Rarely have we had such an emergency,” Trump said Friday. He noted that presidents have declared nearly 60 previous national emergencies without the backlash triggered by his action.

“I’d like to thank all of the Great Republican Senators who bravely voted for Strong Border Security and the WALL,” Trump tweeted ahead of his veto. “This will help stop Crime, Human Trafficking, and Drugs entering our Country. Watch, when you get back to your State, they will LOVE you more than ever before!”

His reelection campaign also sought to raise money on the issue, sending a message to supporters in Trump’s name that read: “I look forward to VETOING the Dem inspired OPEN BORDERS & Pro-Crime resolution! Donate NOW for the WALL & we’ll TRIPLE MATCH your gift.”

‘The Conveyor Belt’: U.S. officials say massive smuggling effort is speeding immigrants to — and across — the southern border

Trump also has maintained that he has the legal authority to act. Joining him in the Oval Office was Attorney General William P. Barr, who said the emergency declaration was “clearly authorized under the law.”

A Justice Department letter to congressional leaders detailed the arguments defending Trump’s action, saying it was authorized by the National Emergencies Act of 1976.

The letter, a copy of which was reviewed by The Washington Post, draws much of its reasoning from an analysis by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and points to various crises for which past presidents have declared emergencies under the law.

“Many such emergencies dealt with matters less threatening than the ongoing crisis on the southern border. For instance, prior national emergency declarations have authorized the use of statutory powers to prevent the importation of uncut diamonds . . . and to promote democracy or conflict resolution in various countries around the world,” the letter said.

The letter also argues that the situation at the border has worsened.

“The population of migrants crossing the border has shifted from one that consisted primarily of single adults from Mexico, who often could be promptly repatriated, to one that includes large numbers of families and children from Central American countries — people who cannot currently be detained in any significant numbers and who are generally more difficult to remove,” the letter states. “That shift has placed a substantial strain on border-security resources.”

In challenging Trump on Thursday, only one Republican who is up for reelection next year — Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) — voted for the disapproval resolution.

In addition to Collins, the other GOP senators voting for the resolution were Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Mike Lee (Utah), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rand Paul (Ky.), Mitt Romney (Utah), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Roger Wicker (Miss.).

The vote came a day after the Senate called for an end to U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, marking the second instance in two days that a Senate that has been mostly deferential to Trump took a position against him.