WASHINGTON — A small bipartisan group of senators planned to introduce a resolution Thursday aimed at blocking President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to finance additional miles of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The proposal is identical to the one-sentence measure the Democratic-controlled House approved earlier this week. The new legislation gives the Senate and the four centrist sponsors — two Republicans and two Democrats — a chance to put their stamp on congressional opposition to Trump’s move.
“It shows support from senators for the resolution, not just House members,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the measure’s sponsors.
The senators’ move was the latest evidence that significant numbers of lawmakers are not shying away from a fight with Trump.
The other sponsors are Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Only Murkowski does not face re-election next year.
Republicans say a Senate vote on the effort to thwart Trump is likely in two weeks.
Under a 1976 law, the resolution cannot be filibustered and would need only a simple majority of 51 votes to pass the Senate.
Senate opponents of the declaration moved within a hair later Thursday of having enough votes to prevail, and one Republican suggested Trump could face a rejection by the GOP-led chamber if he doesn’t change course.
Trump’s move would “turn a border crisis into a constitutional crisis,” veteran Sen. Lamar Alexander said on the Senate floor. But he stopped just short of saying he’d support a resolution blocking the president’s move. Had Alexander pledged his vote, it would probably be enough for the Senate to pass a measure repealing the emergency declaration.
Speaking later to reporters, Alexander, R-Tenn., warned about what might happen if Trump doesn’t settle for using other money he can access without declaring an emergency.
“He can build a wall and avoid a dangerous precedent and I hope he’ll do that,” Alexander said. “So that would change the voting situation if he would agree to do that.”
Exactly what the Senate will vote on remains unclear. Several Republicans said that behind closed doors, they were considering several options for alternative language, including making it harder for future presidents to divert federal dollars to projects of their choosing by declaring emergencies.
Trump has promised to veto the House-passed resolution. Congress appears all but certain to lack the two-thirds majorities in each chamber that would be needed to override his veto, but the showdown carries risks for GOP lawmakers.
Underscoring that, Trump warned Republicans against challenging him. While the wall and other Trump moves curbing immigration elicit wide public opposition, he remains wildly popular with hard-right voters and GOP lawmakers cross him at their peril.
“I really think that Republicans that vote against border security and the wall, I think you know, I’ve been OK at predicting things, I think they put themselves at great jeopardy,” Trump said in excerpts of an interview with Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” show released Thursday.
While congressional Republican are reluctant to challenge Trump, many say his move tramples Congress constitutional power to control spending. They also say it would set a precedent for future Democratic presidents to declare emergencies for their own purposes, and they worry that he would siphon money to barrier construction from home-state projects.
Alexander, a three-term senator who will retire in 2021 and is known for reaching across the aisle, has no re-election worries.
“I support what the president wants to do on border security, but not the way he has been advised to do it,” said Alexander, 78. “It is unnecessary and unwise to turn a border crisis into a constitutional crisis about separation of powers.”
Presidents have declared 58 national emergencies under a 1976 law. But never has one declared an emergency after Congress had explicitly denied the money in question.
Trump has said he needs additional barriers to halt drugs, human traffickers and unauthorized immigrants from slipping into the U.S. Congressional opponents say there is no real border crisis.
The emergency would let Trump divert $3.6 billion now intended for military construction projects to erect more border barriers. He’s invoking other authorities to transfer an additional $3.1 billion to construction.
In legislation that ended the 35-day partial federal shutdown, Congress limited spending for barriers to just under $1.4 billion. Trump featured the wall as a central plank of his presidential campaign and repeatedly said Mexico would pay for it, which has not happened.
Several lawsuits have also been filed aimed at derailing the declaration, which could at least prevent Trump from getting the extra money for months or longer.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.