WASHINGTON — Several Senate Republicans on Thursday joined Democrats to vote against President Donald Trump’s border emergency declaration, a stinging rebuke of the White House’s decision to circumvent Congress to deliver on the president’s campaign pledge to build a wall.
Twelve Republicans defected to vote with all Democrats in support of a resolution to terminate the president’s Feb. 15 declaration.
Minutes after the measure passed, Trump tweeted, “VETO!”
It would mark the first veto of his presidency. He has defended his emergency order — which would allow him to divert military funding toward wall construction — by calling illegal immigration a threat to national security and a humanitarian crisis.
The president’s veto is likely to stand. The vote tally, 59-41, fell well short of the 67 votes that would be needed to override it. The House approved the same resolution earlier this month and also fell short of a veto-proof majority.
But it was still an embarrassing congressional defeat, coming after a lengthy effort by Senate Republicans to convince the White House to withdraw the resolution and search for another way to construct the border wall.
“I was hoping we could get the White House in a different place. There are other options,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
It marked the second time this week that the Senate voted against the administration’s position.
On Wednesday, seven Republicans bucked their party to vote with Democrats to end the United States’ role in the war in Yemen. The vote was viewed as a condemnation of Trump’s defense of Saudi Arabia for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., had also urged the administration to look elsewhere for border money, warning that the resolution is “a dangerous precedent” that future Democratic presidents will use to enact their own controversial priorities, like gun control and climate change, or even to take down the wall.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, tried to broker a compromise by offering a separate resolution to limit the president’s power to enact emergency declarations.
Blunt, Alexander and Lee voted with Democrats to rescind the president’s declaration.
If Trump vetoes the measure as expected, the dispute likely would head to the courts. As soon as Trump tries to divert money to the border wall, Democrats or their allies are expected to file suit, possibly tying up the matter for years.
Many lawmakers viewed the emergency declaration as an end-run around Congress’ constitutional authority to determine how the federal government spends money. Just months ago, Congress voted to fund the government without money for the border wall.
“This is a vote for the Constitution and for the balance of powers that is at its core,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, another Republican who voted against the president. “For the executive branch to override a law passed by Congress would make it the ultimate power rather than a balancing power.”
Other Republicans voting with Democrats included Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rob Portman of Ohio, Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican running for re-election in North Carolina next year, said last month he would support the measure, but he flipped Thursday under intense lobbying from the White House.
He said he changed his mind because he and other lawmakers were working with senior White House officials on a broader measure to limit the president’s authority under the National Emergencies Act.
Even those Republicans who voted in support of the emergency declaration acknowledged the seriousness of the issue and the conflict they felt about the constitutional questions it raised.
“I hope (Trump) realizes this really is a sincere conflict,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., a close ally of the president.
Many of the Republican defectors were careful to stress that they agreed with the goal of boosting border security funding — a prominent theme of Trump’s 2016 campaign and potentially a factor in the 2020 race.
“I believe the crisis on our southern border is real,” Alexander said on the Senate floor. “U.S. Customs and Border Patrol arrested more than 66,000 illegal aliens in February 2019, the highest total in a single month since March 2009.”
Ultimately, most Republicans sided with the president.
“We have failed to protect our border as any sovereign nation must and our people are dying because of it,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. “The administration’s sensible, long-overdue efforts to secure the border have been met only by howls of outrage from the Democratic Party.”
Republicans may have multiple opportunities to cast the same vote. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday that law allows him to force a vote on the resolution every six months.
“Certainly,” he said, “we would intend to do that.”