Senate Votes Down Unconstitutional Emergency Declaration, 59-41

Congress is doing its damned job for a change.

NYT (“Senate Prepares to Reject Emergency Declaration Over Trump’s Objections“):

The Senate on Thursday was poised to give final passage to a resolution overturning President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southwestern border, a bipartisan rebuke of executive overreach that was coming despite the president’s public and private lobbying to stop it.

The afternoon vote would set up the first veto of Mr. Trump’s presidency — on one of the core issues that has animated his political rise, the promise to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.

By Thursday morning, more than a half dozen Republicans had publicly committed to join Senate Democrats in supporting the House-passed resolution of disapproval, even as Mr. Trump warned that such a vote “is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!”

Mr. Trump, furiously lobbying against defections, sought to frame the vote publicly as not only a declaration of support for his border security mantra, but a sign of personal loyalty in a time of divided government. On Twitter, he referred to it as a vote “on Border Security & the Wall” and urged Republican senators, “don’t vote with Pelosi!”

But as he railed against the measure, two more Republican senators, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, announced that they would support the resolution of disapproval, joining five other Republican senators: Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.

“Never before has a president asked for funding, Congress has not provided it, and the president then has used the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to spend the money anyway,” Mr. Alexander said in a statement. “The problem with this is that after a Revolutionary War against a king, our nation’s founders gave to Congress the power to approve all spending so that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a crucial source of our freedom.”

Mr. Romney called the resolution “a vote for the Constitution and for the balance of powers that is at its core.”

Regardless of whether one thinks the President’s border wall is a prudent public policy, the rule of law and respect for the Constitution to which he pledged an oath is paramount. He simply lacks the authority to declare a fake emergency and then use that to strip monies the Congress has appropriated for one purpose to fund a project Congress has refused to fund. It’s an absurd and dangerous precedent that Congress simply has to stand up against.

UPDATE:  The final vote was 59-41; I’ve updated the headline accordingly. This is notable because

  1. 12 Republicans crossed the aisle, joining the unanimous Senate Democrats.
  2. It’s still 7 votes short of enough to override the expected Presidential veto. We’ll see if those votes are forthcoming on the override vote; one suspects not.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mattbernius says:

    This is 100% a good first step. And its great to see some bipartisanship on the issue.

    But channeling the Wolf in Pulp Fiction, let’s not start [something something] quite yet — I’ll start celebrating Congress doing something when they introduce viable legislation to fix the National Emergencies Act.

  2. Teve says:

    Donald J. Trump
    Mar 11
    Republican Senators have a very easy vote this week. It is about Border Security and the Wall (stopping Crime, Drugs etc.), not Constitutionality and Precedent. It is an 80% positive issue. The Dems are 100% United, as usual, on a 20% issue, Open Borders and Crime. Get tough R’s!

    Stupid Constitution!

  3. grumpy realist says:

    OT (Brexit report): Damned if I know. Vote after vote after vote in U.K.Parliament. About the only conclusion I can draw is we’re now seeing the (calm, cool, collected) Brits acting like the Lebanese gov’t. Or toddlers who have just learned the word “NO!” Probably expecting the EU to pull their nuts out of the fire even while screaming at the top of their lungs about how the U.K. Is Going To Leave Because Will Of The People.

    (Also, I am SO glad we have a written Constitution here in the U.S…..half of the wrangling going on in the U.K. at present is what the rules are since no one ever bothered to write them down. Can we say chaos?)

  4. MarkedMan says:

    Correction: the Democrats are doing their damn job (admittedly, easy for them in this case). A very small minority of Republicans are doing their damn job.

  5. mattbernius says:

    two more Republican senators, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, announced that they would support the resolution of disapproval, joining five other Republican senators: Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.

    Thom Tillis flipped at the last second and now is supporting Trump. Word is that he was being threatened with a primary from the Right for 2020 if he didn’t get in line with the President.

  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Friggin’ Tillis wrote an op-ed about how it is so important to vote for this Resolution…and now he has knuckled under to pressure from threats of being primaried, and flipped his position to against.
    Can’t wait to see how he spins his lack of spine.

    Obviously this is a show vote. It will be vetoed. Then it will go to court.
    But the fact is that Dennison went to Congress for the money, they said no, and he signed their appropriations bill… then made his Declaration, and then Congress passed this Resolution…and that chain of events is not going to work in his favor when it gets to the courts.
    Of course he has Justice Boof wandering the halls of the Supreme Court in a drunken stupor…so who knows?

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Ted Cruz…Constitutional Conservative…abdicates power to the Executive.
    Ben Sasse…Claims to be a Constitutional Conservative and wants to limit the ability of the Executive to declare emergencies without Congress…but voted to abdicate poweer to the executive because Pelosi is “politically motivated”. That makes no fuqing sense at all

  8. gVOR08 says:

    I see Brave Sir Willard, putative leader of the anti-Trumpers, jumped on board as the sixth or seventh of the four votes required. IIRC, about what I predicted a week or two ago. I am, however, surprised Rand Paul actually did vote for the resolution like he said he would.

  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Erin Ryan cracks me up…

    Veto Corleone send tweet

  10. Neil J Hudelson says:

    And Sen. Cory Gardner voted for handing over power to Trump. So he’ll stand up for Trump on weed, just not on, you know, Constitutional matters.

  11. Kit says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Can’t wait to see how he spins his lack of spine.

    Republicans have never valued spine, but do value a man’s ability to toe the line. Oh, yeah, and freedom. And character…

  12. Kylopod says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: @Kit: My hope is that when and if Thillis is defeated for reelection, it will finally start to send a message to GOP lawmakers that going too far to the right has consequences, too. NC has got to be a top target for Democrats in 2020. Remember: Thillis only narrowly won last time during a good Republican year. Hillary lost NC by a 3-point margin, but in the same election a Democrat unseated a Republican governor with the bathroom issue front and center. I think Thillis’s vote on the emergency declaration–and his pathetic flip-flop–may have already sealed his fate.

  13. Kit says:

    @Kylopod: I want you to be right, but narrowly flipping one seat is a tactical victory, not a strategic one. Where’s the path to victory?

  14. Kathy says:

    If I worked at the Senate, I’d so print 41 double-letter size labels reading “CONSTITUTION-FREE ZONE” in red letters, and paste them on the appropriate office doors.

    I don’t suppose all 100 senators have their offices in the same building, but you get the idea.

  15. Mikey says:

    2/3 of Senate Republicans, members of the party that has so long claimed to be champions of small and limited government, voted to make the President an emperor with essentially unlimited power.

    The 1/3 who didn’t deserve no special credit for simply having done the right thing.

  16. Mikey says:

    @Mikey: Argh I can’t math. I had 60 on the brain. It’s actually about 3/4 of Republicans who voted to make Emperor Trump.

  17. Teve says:

    Norman Ornstein

    There is one story that should be the dominant one but it is getting cursory coverage. The President of the United States warned that if things got bad, he had the military, police & Bikers for Trump ready and waiting. The stuff of dictatorships. Normalized in today’s environment
    9:43 PM · Mar 14, 2019 · Twitter for iPad

    Norman Ornstein
    Replying to
    2. For two years when asked I have given my worst case scenario. Trump is cornered, goes on Fox and Twitter and says “This is a coup attempt by the deep state and Hillary Clinton to steal the election I won fair and square. Take to the streets to preserve our country.”

    Norman Ornstein
    3. Many do. Most in the military will not. Most police will not. Some will. Bikers for Trump and others will. There are bloody confrontations, w police, radicals on the other side and peaceful counterprotesters. Trump calls a state of emergency and suspends civil liberties.

    Norman Ornstein
    Of course, this is not a certainty. But as his shocking statement today suggests, it is not beyond his capacity or the willingness of many who follow him. And there is certainly no assurance that all or most elected Republicans in Congress would stand up to him.

  18. gVOR08 says:

    Baby steps. There was a joint resolution disapproving of Trump’s Yemen policy, the House voted 420-0 (four GOPs voting “present”) for a resolution that the entire Mueller report be made public (OK, some of them think it will exonerate Trump), and now twelve GOP Senators voted against Trumpsky’s wall emergency. Another decade or so, they might start developing some interest in governance.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    @Teve: It is freaking incredible that what Ornstein highlights has gotten so little coverage…I mean, if something like that can be normalized, just about any abnormal atrocity committed by this idiot in the White House can be normalized…