With a rebellion by 12 Republicans, the US Senate has voted against President Donald Trump’s national emergency that is criticised by his own party members as a presidential overreach.
The veto would make the Congressional resolution against the emergency only symbolic as his opponents do not have the two-thirds majority to overturn the first veto of his presidency and he would be able to use the declaration to finance the Mexican border wall for which Congress had refused to allocate funds in the budget.
The House of Representatives had already voted for the resolution last month and it will go to Trump for his promised veto.
Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi summing the opposition said: “President Trump’s emergency declaration is an unlawful power grab that does violence to the Constitution and fundamentally alters the separation of powers.”
Defying Trump’s assertion that a vote for the resolution would be supporting “crime and open border Democrats”, the 12 Republicans joined Democrats to vote for it for a tally of 59-41 signalling their disenchantment with some of his policies in a highly polarised nation.
Senator Mitt Romney, who had been the Republican Party candidate for President in 2012, said before the vote on the emergency that he was “seriously concerned” about the overreach that could lead to “abuse by future president”. He clarified, as did many others, that he was not against increased border security.
In another act of defiance, the Senate had voted to end military support by the Trump administration to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
The setbacks for Trump came while the nation awaits the report of an inquiry into whether his election campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.
His campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced on Wednesday to additional prison term on charges relating to his consulting work for a pro-Russian party in Ukraine.
The House voted with near unanimity on Thursday to demand the publication of the Russian inquiry report, which the attorney general is permitted my law to withhold. Some lawmakers fear that he may block the release of sensitive portions of the report.
Unlike in India, a national emergency in the US does not lead to suspension of civil liberties or similar restrictions but is used mostly for finance-related matters or to organise aid in natural disasters. Former President Barack Obama had invoked it about 10 times.
Trump is obsessed with the wall, which he has scaled back to a series of steel slats along some sections of the Mexican border, having made it a signature pledge of his election campaign.
He says it is required to keep out illegal immigrants, human traffickers, criminals and drug smugglers and it has gained urgency with over 7,000 Central Americans who came to the frontier in a convoy earlier this year hoping to crash through and are now camped on the Mexican side.
The nation went through 35 wrenching days of a government shutdown in December and January over the wall when he refused to sign the budget because it lacked funding for it. But finally he caved in to rising opposition and agreed to a budget that reopened the government, while declaring the emergency to allow him to divert $8.6 billion for the project from elsewhere.
Before the vote he told the media: “We are going to have a very strong border very soon… And we’re going to have hundreds of miles of wall up fairly soon.”
He used the interaction to plug his campaign for immigration reforms that would switch to a merit-based system, potentially helping Indian professionals waiting for as much as a decade for green cards, but it would come at the cost of those seeking to immigrate as relatives of citizens.
He said: “We also have to change the laws. Because whether it’s visa lottery (for green cards), whether it’s chain migration (by relatives), whether it’s catch and release (of illegal immigrants), or anything else, they are horrible, horrible laws.”