President Trump on Friday issued the first veto of his presidency, blocking a congressional resolution that would have prematurely terminated the national emergency he declared in February in an attempt to unilaterally fund the construction of his long-promised wall on the southern border.
“Today I am vetoing this resolution. Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution and I have the duty to veto it,” Trump said while flanked by an “angel mom” in the Oval Office.
Trump railed against Congress during the Oval Office signing ceremony, calling the resolution “reckless” and repeatedly asserting that the influx of illegal immigration at the southern border qualifies as an emergency. Attorney General William Barr joined Trump in the Oval Office, making a rare public appearance to confirm Trump’s reading of the national-emergencies statute.
The resolution passed the Senate Thursday 59–41 with the support of twelve Republicans, who split with the president and much of the GOP establishment in condemning the national-emergency declaration as an abuse of executive power.
Congress, lacking a veto-proof majority, will be unable to terminate the national emergency — but the declaration must still survive numerous legal challenges before Trump can unilaterally re-appropriate the $3.6 billion in military funding that he’s sought for the construction of the border-wall.
While much of the Republican establishment enthusiastically backed the emergency declaration, a number of conservative lawmakers — including Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Mike Lee of Utah — expressed concern about executive overreach, but voted against the resolution anyway. The group of Senate conservatives relented after trying in vain to negotiate a compromise with the White House wherein Trump would vow to support some version of Lee’s Article One Act, which would significantly constrain the the National Emergencies Act of 1976, in exchange for the lawmakers’ support for his current exercise of emergency powers.
Tillis, who initially vowed to support the resolution in an op-ed urging his colleagues to do the same, explained in a Thursday statement that he decided to back Trump’s declaration after Vice President Mike Pence provided assurances that the administration would to reform the national-emergencies statute to prevent future abuses.
Sasse similarly urged his colleagues to support Lee’s bill reining in the president’s emergency powers, but said he decided to vote against the resolution because he believes there is a true crisis at the southern border, which Trump is legally entitled to address using a national-emergency declaration under current law.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in anticipation of Trump’s veto, prematurely scheduled an override vote for March 26 in what amounts to a symbolic gesture, since there is no companion vote scheduled in the Senate.