House Fails to Overrule Trump’s Veto, Border Emergency Continues

March 26, 2019 Updated: March 26, 2019

The House of Representatives failed on March 26 to override President Donald Trump’s first veto, leaving in place the national emergency he declared last month to redirect funding toward a U.S.-Mexico border wall construction beyond what Congress approved for the purpose.

Democrats control the House, but only 14 Republicans joined them for a total of 248 votes, a far cry from the two-thirds majority of 290 votes needed to beat a veto. One Democrat, Jackie Speier of California, didn’t vote. Her office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Democrats were expected to fight the emergency declaration in courts. A coalition of 16 states sued in February to block Trump’s move.

Wall Fight

Trump declared the national emergency on Feb. 15, after Democrats in Congress blocked his request for $5.7 billion for wall construction. The wall funding dispute led to a shutdown of about a quarter of the federal government starting on Dec. 21.

In a January televised address, Trump laid down a proposal for a border security compromise that would provide temporary protection from deportation to some 700,000 illegal immigrants in exchange for border wall funding.

The proposal also included a list of measures generally supported by both parties, including humanitarian funding, drug detection technology, and extending protections for people who have fled wars and disasters.

He called the border situation a crisis, pointing to drug and human trafficking, criminals sneaking in, and the economic impact of illegal immigrants. Illegal border crossings have indeed soared in recent months. Border Patrol agents apprehended nearly double the illegal border crossers in the first five months of fiscal 2019 than in the same period the prior year.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected Trump’s offer before he started his speech.

The Democrats finally relented in late January and agreed to negotiate on the wall funding in exchange for ending the shutdown. The negotiations produced less than $1.4 billion for new border fencing in the 2019 budget.

Emergency Powers

Trump’s declaration had enabled the transfer of $3.6 billion from the military construction budget toward wall construction. The president also ordered the shifting of an additional $3.1 billion, which did not require emergency powers.

Together with the 2019 budget allocation, Trump should have enough to build about 324 miles of new fencing.

The Defense Department has identified $12.8 billion in funds from projects that can be reallocated to the construction of the border barrier. The department notified Congress on March 25 that it has authorized the transfer of $1 billion toward wall construction. Senate Democrats immediately protested the transfer.

Congress Dispute

The House Democrats argued the Republican president had overstepped his authority by going around Congress’s refusal to fund a border wall, because the legislature has the power to control spending under the Constitution.

“The founders (of the United States) did not want a monarchy; that’s what they rejected. What they wanted was a democracy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on the House floor.

“We take an oath to the Constitution, not to the president of the United States,” she said.

But Republicans said Trump had acted legally under a 1976 law known as the National Emergencies Act, under which previous presidents had declared dozens of emergencies.

“The president has the authority to act. The president is using the authority Congress has given him,” said Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.).

Mueller Boost

Trump’s position on March 26 was strengthened by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion, after a 22-month investigation, that the Republican president’s campaign team did not collude with Russian interference in the 2016 election. Moscow has denied meddling.

That political victory for Trump may make it easier for Republicans to back the president on a range of issues, including his border emergency.

“Even though the two issues clearly aren’t related, it increases the president’s strength and popularity and puts him in a stronger position,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said before the vote.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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