House OKs bill overturning Trump’s “national emergency”
After today's House vote, with one GOP defection in the Senate, both houses of Congress will have cancelled Trump's national emergency. The president is expected, however, to veto the bill, forcing the issue into the courts. | AP

WASHINGTON—With a bipartisan vote – at least one Republican joining every voting Democrat – the Democratic-run U.S. House was poised on Feb. 26 to overturn GOP President Donald Trump’s “national emergency,” which he wants to use to grab $6 billion in federal funds to build his Mexican Wall.

And the GOP-run Senate may well follow that lead, since under the federal emergencies law senators must vote on the joint resolution against the emergency. Republicans hold 53 of the 100 Senate seats. The 45 Democrats and both independents oppose Trump’s emergency and two Republicans do, so far.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., openly oppose the emergency. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has defied Trump more than other Republicans, told Alaska media that “as currently written,” she would vote for the anti-emergency resolution and against Trump. She didn’t say so, but Murkowski’s state would lose the most: $230 million in military construction money alone.

Other Republican senators are on the fence, opposing usurpations of congressional power in general, but not this emergency in particular — yet.

But one leaner, Utah’s Mike Lee, is uttering the same words about Trump’s emergency that he is about Trump’s backing the Saudis in the Yemen War: That it’s time for Congress to reclaim its constitutional duty and its powers. In this case, over emergencies. In that case, by cutting off support for war.

Trump declared his emergency on Feb. 15 after Congress refused his demand for $5.7 billion for his Mexican wall, a project foes term both racist and ineffective. He’s since escalated the amount.

But even if Congress votes to dump Trump’s emergency, he could veto the measure. Many sources, including a lawmaker who was a political science professor, predicted the mess would wind up in court.

Opinion polls, statements from one top union leader – Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry – and other groups show majority opposition to Trump’s national emergency. Polls report between 51 percent and 60 percent of those questioned believe there is no crisis at the border, with the same percentages calling Trump’s emergency an abuse of power.

“President Trump is deliberately causing chaos and division, and illegally undermining our nation’s democracy,” Henry said. “There is no emergency at the southern border, and pretending otherwise erodes our nation’s fundamental values, our laws and our Constitution.”

“The real crisis in America is people working full-time who can’t support themselves, immigrant families being torn apart and working families who struggle to afford the healthcare they need. Working people are sick of attempts to distract and divide us by scapegoating immigrant families and blaming them for all of our nation’s problems. They sent that message loud and clear in November and now President Trump is trying to undermine their will,” Henry added.

The Working Families Party urged its members to call lawmakers, especially House Republican urge votes against Trump’s emergency and pile up the opposition to him in general. This time, WFP said, the GOP can’t duck taking responsibility for Trump’s actions.

And the Poor People’s Campaign for National Renewal announced a second National Truth and Poverty Emergency Bus Tour through various cities, including the border city of San Diego, to call attention to the true emergency in the U.S.: Widespread poverty affecting 140 million people.

“Instead of tackling the real emergencies of systemic racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation, the president is diverting funds to build a monument to white supremacy at our southern border,” said the Rev. Liz Theoharis, campaign co-chair with the Rev. William Barber.

Barber said Trump really wants $8 billion for his wall – money the campaign calculates could “provide 3.36 million children or 2.25 million adults with low-income health care for one year, fund 897,800 Head Start slots for children for one year, or power 9 million homes with wind energy for one year.”

“We have real socio-political and moral emergencies. They are the ongoing realities of systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation the war economy/militarism and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism,” added Barber. “These are not left or right, but moral issues that must be addressed. Democrats haven’t done enough to make things better and Republicans do too much to make things worse.”

Those real emergencies affecting both the poor and workers didn’t come up in the House debate. The Constitution did.

“This resolution of disapproval” of an emergency “should in no way be interpreted as an indication the president’s declaration of an emergency, or his invocation of specific statutory powers pursuant to that declaration, is even lawful in the first place,” said its lead sponsor, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus chairman.

“The Constitution provides Congress with the power of the purse and expressly prohibits the president from spending funds Congress has not appropriated. Here, Congress has not authorized or appropriated funding to build a wall on the southern border. Indeed, Congress has repeatedly chosen not to do so in response to the president’s multiple requests.”

Rep. David Price, D-N.C., who is both a veteran House Appropriations Committee member – his panel actually helps dole out federal funds – and a Duke University political science professor on leave, took up the constitutional cudgel against Trump, too.

“Since neither Mexico nor Congress will pay for his ridiculous 2,000-mile border wall campaign promise, President Trump set a dangerous precedent by declaring a phony ‘national emergency’ that circumvents the will of Congress and the American people,” he said. Trump’s “emergency” shows how the president “still fails to comprehend the powers and responsibilities entrusted to him under our laws and the Constitution. His reckless action will be swiftly challenged in the legislature and the courts.”

After visiting the border, in New Mexico and San Diego, with other lawmakers two weeks ago, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., declared on Feb. 25 that “there is no crisis” there. He asked fellow lawmakers to “stand up for what the founding fathers wanted.”

“They did not want King George. They had enough of King George telling them what to do, and so they created this extraordinary government – separation of powers, where each had their responsibility and the other could not tread on that responsibility and authority.

“That’s what (the) vote is about: Not a wall, but the Constitution.”

“I will work with my colleagues to reverse this unconstitutional action,” added veteran Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a member of the House leadership. “This president is out of his mind. Thankfully a Democratic House majority is standing in the way of his tyrannical actions.”

Before his “national emergency” declaration, Trump had shut down one-third of the federal government for five weeks – forcing some 400,000 workers to toil without pay and locking out another 400,000 – to blackmail Congress into giving in. It didn’t work. Congress gave Trump $1.375 billion for “enhanced border security” and humanitarian measures there, but nothing specifically for his wall.

Leaders of the unions whose members were locked out or forced to work without pay for the 35 days did not comment on Trump’s “emergency” or the vote.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.