GOP plan would limit power to declare emergency

Erika Holt
March 14, 2019

Inside a private luncheon with other Republican senators after the Pence gathering, Tillis made the case that if the White House agreed to some form of Lee's legislation, that would mean a president would be giving up some of his executive powers - a rarity, according to a person briefed on the closed-door discussion.

Trump declared the border emergency after Congress refused to give him as much money as he wanted for his wall.

Already approved by the House of Representatives, the resolution to terminate the declaration has sufficient support in the Senate to be passed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week.

Lee told a reporter for The Hill that he'll vote for the disapproval resolution.

The White House and Republican senators sought compromise on limiting presidents' powers to unilaterally declare national emergencies, as chances improved that President Donald Trump might avoid a long-expected rejection by Congress of his effort to divert billions more for building barriers along the Mexican border.

At stake are billions of dollars in funding for a wall along the U.S. -Mexico border that Trump is demanding but Congress has refused to fully provide. Congress can vote to block an emergency declaration, but the two-thirds majorities required to overcome presidential vetoes make it hard for lawmakers to prevail.

But approval of the resolution would highlight a clash in which Trump was being forced to protect his signature campaign promise by vetoing legislation sent to him by a Republican-led Senate.

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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), a constitutional lawyer and a freshman senator, came out in favor of President Trump's move to secure the border through the National Emergencies Act.

In an attempt to stave off Senate passage - an embarrassing prospect for Trump - Republican senators have been pushing an alternative measure that would instead address concerns that Trump's powers under the National Emergencies Act are too broad.

That would give Republicans who are uneasy about the constitutionality of the February 15 declaration - yet nervous about publicly rebuking Trump - some political cover to side with the president.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, spoke on the phone privately with Trump last week about the emergency declaration vote, along with other issues. The White House nonetheless views the chaos as a mess of senators' own making, one senior administration official said.

Under a 1976 law, presidents have wide discretion in determining when a national emergency has occurred. If Trump would commit to signing a bill that would handcuff future emergency declarations, some of those senators might support his border declaration.

Under the emergency declaration Trump signed on February 15, he would take money from other federal programs to build the barrier he says is needed to curb illegal immigration and the flow of illicit drugs. That 30-day approval window would apply after Trump's current border declaration expires in one year, meaning it could remain in place for at least a year without congressional approval.

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