The Senate has voted to terminate President Trump’s national emergency declaration on the southern border. The final vote on March 14, 2019, was 59 to 41.
The vote was largely symbolic. The measure now heads to the president’s desk, and he has promised to veto it. Both the House and the Senate would then need two-thirds of their members to support the measure in order to override the veto, according to the rules laid out in the National Emergencies Act.
Neither chamber currently has enough votes to do that. The House voted on February 26 to nullify the national emergency with a vote of 245 to 182.
Here’s what you need to know about the GOP senators who voted against the national emergency declaration and their stated reasonings.
12 Republican Senators Voted Against the President’s National Emergency Declaration
Twelve Republican Senators sided with their Democratic colleagues for the vote:
• Rand Paul – KY
• Lisa Murkowski – AK
• Susan Collins – ME
• Mike Lee – UT
• Lamar Alexander – TN
• Mitt Romney – UT
• Pat Toomey – PA
• Rob Portman – OH
• Marco Rubio – FL
• Roy Blunt – MO
• Jerry Moran – KS
• Roger Wicker – MS
Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina penned an editorial on February 25 vowing to vote against the national emergency. His Washington Post op-ed read in part, “Although Trump certainly has legitimate grievances over congressional Democrats’ obstruction of border-security funding, his national emergency declaration on Feb. 15 was not the right answer… I have grave concerns when our institution looks the other way at the expense of weakening Congress’s power.” But Senator Tillis flipped the script when it came time to vote. He decided to support the national emergency declaration.
GOP Senators Expressed Concern That President Trump’s National Emergency Declaration Was Not Constitutional & Unease Over Shifting Funds Away From Military Construction Projects
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky stated early on that he would vote against the national emergency declaration. He explained that he felt it was unconstitutional for the president to go around Congress to obtain funds that the legislative branch had already decided should be used elsewhere.
Senator Paul wrote in a Fox News op-ed on March 3 that he could not apply a different standard for President Trump as he had for President Obama. The piece read in part, “Congress clearly expressed its will not to spend more than $1.3 billion and to restrict how much of that money could go to barriers. Therefore, President Trump’s emergency order is clearly in opposition to the will of Congress. Moreover, the broad principle of separation of powers in the Constitution delegates the power of the purse to Congress. This turns that principle on its head.”
Senator Paul tweeted a statement immediately after the Senate vote, reaffirming his original stance: “I stand with President Trump on the need for a border wall and stronger border security, but the Constitution clearly states that money cannot be spent unless Congress has passed a law to do so.”
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida expressed concern about the precedent President Trump’s declaration would set. Senator Rubio did not jump on social media to talk about his vote but he did release a statement which was published by the Orlando Sentinel. It read in part, “We have an emergency at our border, which is why I support the president’s use of forfeiture funds and counter-drug money to build a wall. However, I cannot support moving funds that Congress explicitly appropriated for construction and upgrades of our military bases. This would create a precedent a future president may abuse to jumpstart programs like the Green New Deal.”
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio spoke on the Senate floor before the vote. He explained that he backs the president’s plan to build a wall at the southern border. But he said the “crisis” at the border needs to be resolved “in the right way, without setting a dangerous new precedent, counter to a fundamental constitutional principle, without tying up needed funds for the border in the courts, and without taking funds away from important military construction projects for our troops.”
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee talked about precedent as being the basis for his vote against the national emergency as well. He sent a string of tweets explaining his decision which read in full: “I support the president on border security. I have urged him to build the 234 miles of border wall he has asked for in the fastest possible way by using $5.7 billion already approved by Congress. But his declaration to take an additional $3.6 billion that Congress has appropriated for military hospitals, barracks and schools is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution that I swore an oath to support and defend. 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. 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. This declaration is a dangerous precedent. Already, Democrat presidential candidates are saying they would declare emergencies to tear down the existing border wall, take away guns, stop oil exports, shut down offshore drilling and other leftwing enterprises—all without the approval of Congress.”
Senator Susan Collins of Maine was one of the lawmakers who introduced the bipartisan resolution to block the national emergency. Her office put out a statement on March 14 which read in part: “Let me emphasize once again that the question presented by this resolution is not whether you’re for a border wall or against a border wall. It is not whether you believe that border security should be strengthened or whether it is sufficient. It is not whether or not we support or oppose President Trump. Rather, the question is a far more fundamental and significant one. The question is this: do we want the executive branch now or in the future to hold the power of the purse – a power that the framers deliberately entrusted to Congress? We must stand up and defend Congress’ institutional powers as the framers intended that we would, even when doing so is inconvenient or goes against the outcome that we might prefer.”
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who joined with Senator Collins on introducing the bipartisan resolution, explained her vote in a statement: “I take very seriously my oath to uphold the Constitution and my respect for the balance within the separation of powers. Article 1 provides that the power to appropriate lies with the legislative branch. When the executive branch goes around the express intention of Congress on matters within its jurisdiction, we must speak up or legislative acquiescence will erode our constitutional authority,” said Senator Murkowski. “We can and must address the President’s very legitimate concerns over border security, but we must not do it at the expense of ceding Congress’ power of the purse.”
Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said in a statement that he supports building a wall at the border, but feels a national emergency was not necessary to achieve that goal. His statement added, “This issue will be settled in the courts. That could take months and result in future Presidents having emergency authority to use in other ways. Democrats have already made clear that they believe they could use this same authority to impose policies like gun control or the Green New Deal. Those decisions should not be made without congressional action. I was aggressively opposed to the Obama administration’s attempts to circumvent Congress’s appropriating authority to prop up Obamacare. The same principle should apply regardless of which party occupies the White House.”
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who has clashed with President Trump repeatedly in the past, argued that the very future of the Constitution was at stake. “This is a vote for the Constitution and for the balance of powers that is at its core. For the Executive Branch to override a law passed by Congress would make it the ultimate power rather than a balancing power. This is not a vote against border security. 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. I am seriously concerned that overreach by the Executive Branch is an invitation to further expansion and abuse by future presidents. We experienced a similar erosion of congressional authority with President 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.”
Senator Mike Lee of Utah tried to avert a showdown between President Trump and Senate Republicans. He introduced a bill on March 12 that would limit the executive branch’s power to declare national emergencies, in return for allowing the current one to proceed. But President Trump dismissed the idea and Senator Lee voted against him. Senator Lee said before the vote, “Congress is supposed to be the first among the federal government’s three co-equal branches. For decades, Congress has been giving far too much legislative power to the executive branch.”
Senator Jerry Moran repeated his colleague’s assertion that he supported the construction of a border wall. But he felt that “expanding the powers of the presidency beyond its constitutional limits is something I cannot support.”
Senator Roger Wicker of Kansas issued a statement before the vote that read in part: “I have serious reservations as to what the Emergency Declaration might do to the Constitutional principle of checks and balances. The precedent we set this year might empower a future liberal President to declare emergencies to enact gun control or to address ‘climate emergencies,’ or even to tear down the wall we are building today. For these reasons, I support my colleagues in looking for a way to advance President Trump’s Border Security Plan while preserving the invaluable concept of separation of powers. The system of checks and balances established by the Founders has preserved our democracy. It is essential that we protect this balance even when it is frustrating or inconvenient.”