Trump issues his first veto on Congress’ resolution blocking emergency order to build border wall

By JILL COLVIN, LISA MASCARO and ALAN FRAM Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump issued the first veto of his presidency on Friday, overruling Congress to protect his emergency declaration for border wall funding.

Flanked by law enforcement officials as well as the parents of children killed by people in the country illegally, Trump maintained that he is not through fighting for his signature campaign promise, which stands largely unfulfilled 18 months before voters decide whether to grant him another term.

Trump said: "It is a tremendous national emergency," adding, "our immigration system is stretched beyond the breaking point."

A dozen defecting Republicans joined Senate Democrats in approving the joint resolution on Thursday, which capped a week of confrontation with the White House as both parties in Congress strained to exert their power in new ways. It is unlikely that Congress will have the two-thirds majority required to override Trump's veto, though House Democrats have suggested they would try nonetheless.

Trump wants to use the emergency order to divert billions of federal dollars earmarked for defense spending toward the southern border wall. It still faces several legal challenges in federal court.

Trump is expected to issue his second veto in the coming weeks over a congressional resolution seeking to end U.S. backing for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition fighting in Yemen. The resolution was approved in the aftermath of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The 59-41 tally on Thursday, and the Senate’s vote a day earlier to end U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, promised to force Trump into the first vetoes of his presidency as he faces a now-divided Congress. The House is planning a vote to override the expected veto on the national emergency, which is likely to occur on March 26 following next week’s recess. But it is unlikely that Congress will have the votes to override it.

Two years into the Trump era, a dozen Republicans, pushed along by Democrats, showed a willingness to take the political risk of defecting. The 12 GOP senators, including the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney of Utah, joined the dissent over the emergency declaration order that would enable the president to seize for the wall billions of dollars Congress intended to be spent elsewhere.

"The Senate's waking up a little bit to our responsibilities," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who said the chamber had become "a little lazy" as an equal branch of government. "I think the value of these last few weeks is to remind the Senate of our constitutional place."

Many senators said the vote was not necessarily a rejection of the president or the wall, but protections against future presidents — namely a Democrat who might want to declare an emergency on climate change, gun control or any number of other issues.

"This is constitutional question, it's a question about the balance of power that is core to our constitution," Romney said. "This is not about the president."

Thursday's vote was the first direct challenge to the 1976 National Emergencies Act, just as Wednesday's on Yemen was the first time Congress invoked the decades-old War Powers Act to try to rein in a president. Seven Republicans joined Democrats in calling for an end to U.S. backing for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in the aftermath of the kingdom's role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Even without the numbers needed to override a veto, the twin votes nevertheless sent a message from Capitol Hill.

"Today's votes cap a week of something the American people haven't seen enough of in the last two years," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, "both parties in the United States Congress standing up to Donald Trump."

The result is a role-reversal for Republicans who have been reluctant to take on Trump, bracing against his high-profile tweets and public attacks of reprimand. But now they are facing challenges from voters — in some states where senators face stiff elections -- who are expecting more from Congress.

Centrist Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who's among those most vulnerable in 2020, said she's sure the president "will not be happy with my vote. But I'm a United States senator and I feel my job is to stand up for the Constitution, so let the chips fall where they may."

Trump's grip on the party, though, remains strong and the White House made it clear that Republicans resisting Trump could face political consequences. Ahead of the voting, Trump framed the issue as with-him-or-against-him on border security, a powerful argument with many.

"A vote for today's resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!" Trump tweeted. "Don't vote with Pelosi!" he said in another, referring to the speaker of the House.

A White House official said Trump won't forget when senators who oppose him want him to attend fundraisers or provide other help. The official was not authorized to speak publicly on internal deliberations so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trump brought on the challenge months ago when he all but dared Congress not to give him the $5.7 billion he was demanding to build the U.S.-Mexico wall, threatening a federal government shutdown.

Congress declined and the result was the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Against the advice of GOP leaders, Trump invoked the national emergency declaration last month, allowing him to try to tap about $3.6 billion for the wall by shuffling money from military projects, and that drew outrage from many lawmakers. Trump had campaigned for president promising Mexico would pay for the wall.

The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse, and lawmakers seethed as they worried about losing money for military projects that had already been approved for bases at home and abroad. The Democratic-led House swiftly voted to terminate Trump's order.

Senate Republicans spent weeks trying to avoid this outcome, up until the night before the vote, in a script that was familiar — up until the gavel.

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Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Catherine Lucey, Zeke Miller, Padmananda Rama and Andrew Taylor in Washington and Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed.

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