PBS NewsHour


Senate majority blocks Trump's emergency declaration

The Senate defied President Trump on Thursday, with 12 Republicans helping form a decisive majority to block his declaration of a national emergency over immigration. But the 59-41 vote wasn't a large enough majority to overturn a veto, and Trump vowed immediately to use one--the first of his presidency. Judy Woodruff talks to Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor about the "stunning rebuke."

AIRED: March 14, 2019 | 0:06:57

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump has run into bipartisan pushback in the United States Senate.

Today's vote on his border emergency order went against him, 59-41, and he quickly vowed

a veto.

Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

MAN: The joint resolution is passed.

LISA DESJARDINS: Rebuking President Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate voted today

to block his declaration of a national emergency at the southern border.

Twelve Republicans voted with Democrats to terminate the president's order.

Maine's Susan Collins was one of them, arguing that, here, the president is usurping Congress'

power of the purse.


SUSAN COLLINS (R), Maine: We must stand up and defend Congress' institutional powers,

as the framers intended that we would.

LISA DESJARDINS: The one dozen Republicans who voted to end the president's emergency

declaration were a spectrum of moderates, conservatives and libertarians.

Hosting Ireland's prime minister ahead of the vote, President Trump vowed to veto the

measure, defending his declaration and saying it addresses a security issue.

DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States: The world is laughing at the laws that were

passed, with respect to us, and we're going to have a very strong border very soon.

We're building a lot of wall.

There's a lot of wall going up.

LISA DESJARDINS: By declaring this emergency, President Trump aims to move $3.6 billion

away from other military construction projects and use it to build more border wall.

The 1976 National Emergencies Act gives the president the power to declare emergencies,

but there is debate over whether President Trump is misusing that law.


TOM COTTON (R), Arkansas: We have reached a moment of crisis.

LISA DESJARDINS: Some Republicans, like Arkansas' Tom Cotton, say the president has the authority

to address what they see as a real emergency at the southern border.


TOM COTTON: It's not a constitutional crisis.

It's a crisis on the border, a crisis of American sovereignty.

When hundreds of thousands of foreigners arrive at the southern border and demand entry, that's

not migration.

That's an emergency and a threat to our sovereignty.

LISA DESJARDINS: But Democrats have said, from the beginning, President Trump's declaration

was both unnecessary and illegal.

Tom Udall of New Mexico co-sponsored the resolution ending the emergency.


TOM UDALL (D), New Mexico: What is at issue is our oath to support and defend the Constitution,

whether any president can toss Congress aside and raid critical funds at will.

We have an opportunity to stand up to an unconstitutional power grab.

LISA DESJARDINS: The vote today was the largest Senate rejection of a Trump administration

policy so far, but it fell well short of the 67 votes needed to override a presidential


And one is coming, as President Trump himself tweeted, adding an exclamation point to a

single word, veto.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Lisa joins me now, along with our White House correspondent, Yamiche


Hello to both of you.

So, Lisa, this was apparently a difficult vote for a number of Republican senators.

Take us through who voted against the president and why.

And one of these senators changed his mind at the last minute.

LISA DESJARDINS: This was a bruising vote.

These senators who were on the fence were under incredible pressure from the White House.

And just minutes before the vote, in the half-hour before the vote, Senator Thom Tillis of North

Carolina changed his vote, Judy.

There were only a few reporters in the chamber at that point, and we all looked at each other

and said, are we understanding this correctly?

Because, Judy, Tillis wasn't just someone who was opposing the president.

He wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post in February saying that this was a matter of

constitutional imperative.

He wrote it would be intellectually dishonest to support this emergency declaration.

Why does he say he changed his vote today?

Well, he says he's in discussions with the president.

He thinks that they can change the entire way national emergencies are approached.

At the same time, conservatives have been very clear and have told him point blank they

want to run a primary opponent against him, perhaps someone, popular Mark Meadows of North


He says that's not the reason.

Maybe we will learn more in a few days.

I want to turn from, who voted with the president today, to a Republican who voted against the


Jerry Moran of Kansas wrote this also unusual handwritten letter of why he voted to end

the emergency declaration.

And note this line right here.

He wrote: "I take one oath, to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

I believe the use of emergency powers in this circumstance violates the Constitution."

His staff says Moran took this unusual step of putting out his own handwriting because

he wanted his voters to know how personally involved he was.

He wanted to reach out to them personally.

Fascinating, Judy. Moran -- President Trump won in Kansas by 20 points.

Thom Tillis, President Trump only won by four points there.

What's the difference?

Thom Tillis is up for reelection in 2020.

Jim Moran is not.

Every Republican up for reelection voted with the president today, except for Susan Collins.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very telling, very telling.

So, Yamiche, we know the president has said he plans to veto this.

He's made that very clear.

But how is he dealing with these senators who went against him?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, this was really a stunning rebuke of President Trump delivered

by members of his own party.

And the president had been trying really, really hard to avoid this.

And they had been calling, the White House and aides and the president himself, talking

to lawmakers, urging them to not vote against the president.

I want to read two tweets that I think really articulate the president's message to lawmakers.

The first was before the vote.

He tweeted: "Don't vote with Pelosi."

Then, after the vote, when it was clear that the Senate wasn't going -- was going to be

doing that, it said -- he said: "I thank all of the strong Republicans who voted to support

border security and our desperately needed wall."

There, he's saying, thanks for sticking with me to the Republicans that did stick with


But it's telling that he's not talking about the 12 Republicans who voted against him.

The White House is also not really acknowledging these Republicans who were using words like

dangerous and king to describe the president's national emergency declaration.

I was speaking to a senior campaign official for Trump -- for the Trump campaign.

That person told me the optics of this aren't great, but that the great thing about this

is that there will not be a veto override and that the president has enough Republicans

sticking with him, so that he doesn't have to face a full rebuke from Congress.

The White House also says tonight that the president is likely going to be vetoing this

bill sometime in the very, very near future.

There's no exact timing.

It's important to note that President Trump - - President Trump, this is going to be his

first veto.

President Obama had 12.

So the White House is saying, hey, this is part of the job.

We have to do this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, a new situation for this president.

Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, we thank you both.