WASHINGTON (TNS) — With his first veto Friday, President Donald Trump defied Congress' bipartisan rejection of his declared national emergency at the southern border and insisted on his power to circumvent the legislative branch and direct billions of dollars for a wall there.
Defiant despite what was a remarkable rebuke from congressional Republicans as well as Democrats, Trump signed his veto before television cameras in the Oval Office, flanked by law officers and the parents of victims of crime and drug addiction. While Congress likely can't muster the votes to override his veto, the emergency declaration still faces challenges in federal court as an executive power grab.
Critics have called his declaration a violation of Congress' constitutional powers, but Trump condemned the resolution, terming it "dangerous" and "reckless."
He told reporters, "Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution and I have the duty to veto it."
The president had quickly signaled his action moments after the Senate's vote Thursday when he tweeted simply "VETO!" Both the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-controlled House, which initiated the resolution to terminate the emergency declaration, had approved it by majorities that fell short of the two-thirds margin needed to override a presidential veto.
Even so, Senate passage was by a significant 59-41 margin because of the defection of 12 Republicans who withstood pressure from the White House. Thirteen Republicans supported the resolution in the House two weeks ago.
In sending the resolution to Trump, Congress for the third time in the week took action standing up to him, a rare break after two years in which Republicans' deference to the president left him largely unchallenged by the legislative branch.
Despite another veto threat, the Senate on Wednesday passed a resolution to end U.S. support for the war in Yemen led by Saudi Arabia. And the House unanimously voted to demand release of any report from the special counsel that's been investigating Russia's election interference, Trump and his associates. Also, Trump's proposed federal budget for fiscal 2020 got a cool reception Monday on Capitol Hill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has blocked measures Trump opposes in the past, but he was unable to prevent a Senate vote to end the president's national emergency because a vote was required by the 1976 law on presidential declarations of emergency.
Trump's first veto comes after just over two months of split control of Congress, following Democrats' capture of a House majority in the midterm election, and there could be more vetoes to come.
President George W. Bush, who governed for his first six years with a Republican-controlled Congress, went his entire first term without a veto. In his second term, he issued 12, most after Democrats took over Congress for his final two years.
Bush's first veto was for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act in 2005, which religious and antiabortion conservatives opposed because it lifted funding restrictions for research using embryos. That issue also divided Republicans because more moderate members favored such research to enable medical advances.
Bush's successor, President Barack Obama, also issued 12 vetoes over his two terms, 10 in his final two years when Republicans had taken control of both houses of Congress.
Before the Senate vote, Trump had worked to limit Republican defections, tweeting "a vote for today's resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!"
Some Republicans who'd expressed opposition to Trump's declaration, calling it an executive usurpation of Congress' constitutional power of the purse, ultimately caved. None did so more dramatically than Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who'd said he was "standing on principle" and had gone so far as to write a column for The Washington Post on his opposition.
Yet ultimately, under fire from Trump supporters in his state, and worried about a conservative challenger next year when he faces reelection, Tillis voted against the resolution. The only Republican up for reelection next year who defied Trump was Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
Trump declared a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico frontier Feb. 15, after failing to pressure Congress into authorizing $5.7 billion for a physical barrier along the border. In December and January, he'd forced a 35-day government shutdown, the longest ever, by refusing to sign a government-funding bill unless Congress included the wall money.
Forced to retreat and reopen the government, Trump then declared a national emergency so he could assume power to redirect funds Congress has approved for other purposes toward the construction of a 230-mile segment of the wall.
In announcing the declaration in the Rose Garden last month, Trump admitted that he was using it to bypass Congress, and implied there was no emergency. "I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster," Trump said.