Washington • Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney joined 10 fellow Republicans on Thursday to override President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration on the U.S.-Mexico border, arguing that it usurps Congress’ role and upsets the balance of power.
Trump is expected to veto the resolution rebuking his declaration, which he says is necessary because of a “crisis” on the border of immigrants flowing into the United States. While experts note border crossings are at a 20-year low, both of Utah’s senators, Lee and Romney, said they believed there is a need for a physical barrier at the southern border but that a national emergency wasn’t called for.
“I’ve got concerns about this legal framework,” Lee said on the Senate floor before his vote. “This is not about the president. This is not about my disagreement with or disapproval of the president or his approach to border security or his desire to build a barrier along our southern border. I think all those things need to happen. But this law, Mr. President, is wrong.”
The Senate voted 59-41 to denounce Trump’s declaration. The House had previously passed the measure. It now heads to the president’s desk.
Minutes after the vote, Trump made his response clear.
“VETO!” he tweeted.
In a follow-up tweet, the president said that he looks forward to vetoing the “Democrat-inspired Resolution which would OPEN BORDERS while increasing Crime, Drugs, and Trafficking in our Country. I thank all of the Strong Republicans who voted to support Border Security and our desperately needed WALL!”
While 41 Republicans backed Trump’s emergency order, the 12 who broke with him said they worried about executive overreach and that it could set a precedent for future presidents — who may be Democrats — to use such a power to achieve things Congress won’t approve.
Trump had sought $5.7 billion to build a wall along the southern border, a campaign promise he had repeatedly said Mexico would pay for. But Congress refused, leading to a 35-day government shutdown that ended with no money for new wall construction.
Trump then declared an emergency under a decades-old law that allows Congress to overturn it. It did but without a large enough margin in either chamber to overcome a veto. The declaration is also the subject of several lawsuits.
Romney, who had been silent about his vote until Thursday, said before the issue came to the floor that he couldn’t, in good conscience, support an emergency declaration that was overturning the will of Congress, which controls the purse strings.
“I am seriously concerned that overreach by the Executive Branch is an invitation to further expansion and abuse by future presidents,” Romney said in a statement. “We experienced a similar erosion of congressional authority with President [Barack] Obama’s unilateral immigration orders — which I strenuously opposed. In the case before us now, where Congress has enacted specific policy, to consent to an emergency declaration would be both inconsistent with my beliefs and contrary to my oath to defend the Constitution.”
Lee had attempted to find a solution that would keep Republicans in line over the resolution by passing a measure that would require any emergency declaration to be approved by Congress within 30 days, but Trump phoned him Wednesday to say he wasn’t on board. In response, Lee said he would vote against the current emergency declaration.
Lee took to the Senate floor to explain his vote Thursday, noting that he supports a border wall, more border security and money for both. He listed all the ways he agrees with Trump’s approach to immigration, except for claiming executive authority to tackle it. In the end, though, Lee said it was Congress’ fault for giving a president unilateral authority to claim an emergency.
“By handing it over to the executive, it leaves the Congress without an opportunity to signal how it feels about this beyond adopting a resolution of disapproval, which is itself subject to a presidential veto,” Lee said. “That’s why I’m concerned about this."
Romney, a freshman and former GOP presidential nominee, said his vote was about the constitutional balance of government branches and not about the border wall that Trump is trying to build.
“This is not a vote against border security,” Romney said. “In fact, I agree that a physical barrier is urgently needed to help ease the humanitarian crisis at the southern border, and the administration already has $4.5 billion available within existing authority to fund a barrier — even without an emergency declaration.”