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Trump, Republicans take fight over border wall to the next level

Congress lacked the votes to reject Donald Trump's emergency declaration for the border. Now what?
The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Arizona, March 29, 2013.
The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Arizona, March 29, 2013.

With bipartisan majorities, the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate each passed measures intended to block Donald Trump's recent emergency declaration. The result was the first -- and to date, only -- veto of Trump's presidency.

Yesterday, lawmakers had a chance to override that veto. The result was predictable.

House Democrats on Tuesday failed to override President Donald Trump's veto of a measure to repeal his emergency declaration on the southern border.The 248-181 vote fell short of the two-thirds majority required to overturn a presidential veto. The GOP-controlled Senate would also be unlikely to reach that threshold, with Republican leaders there showing no inclination to bring it up for a vote in any case.

After the president, before lying again about Democrats, thanked House Republicans for "sticking together." That wasn't altogether true: during the original vote on Trump's emergency declaration, 13 House Republicans broke party ranks and voted with Dems. Yesterday, that total inched higher, to 14.

By the president's reasoning, these 14 GOP lawmakers, in addition to the Senate Republicans who endorsed the same measure, are now on record supporting "open borders, drugs, and crime."

Whether one considers the defections a lot or a little is a subjective matter. As we discussed last month, given the degree to which House Republicans have been radicalized, and many of their more moderate members were defeated in the 2018 midterms, the fact that 14 of them defied the White House's wishes seems like a rather robust number.

On the other hand, faced with a simple test of their own principles -- at issue was a commitment to congressional authority, the rule of law, and separation of powers -- 93% of House Republicans put Trump's demands above all other considerations. The GOP conference was challenged to defend its convictions, and in an embarrassing display, the party fell far short.

So, now what?

In the short term, the answer is simple: Trump's emergency declaration on the U.S./Mexico is now policy, which the administration intends to begin implementing. Indeed, as the Washington Post reported, those procedural steps are already underway.

The Pentagon announced Monday night that it has authorized the transfer of up to $1 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers to build additional barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, a move that drew sharp objections from Democratic lawmakers.The shift in funds, which the Pentagon justified under President Trump's declaration of a national emergency at the southern border, will facilitate the construction of 57 miles of "pedestrian fencing," road construction and lighting along stretches of the border in Arizona and Texas.The money, according to top Pentagon officials, was shifted from the Army after recruiters failed to hit targets that would have required the funds.

The administration's timing could be better: the Air Force is desperate for funds to repair bases damaged by weather, to the point the Air Force is prepared to start cutting projects and training. It needs $1.2 billion by June.

If the Pentagon has $1 billion it doesn't mind throwing around, I have a hunch the Air Force would appreciate the support.

What's less clear is whether the newly announced plans to construct 57 miles of fencing in defiance of Congress' wishes will actually happen. The fight now heads to the courts, where judges are likely to take note, not only of the Constitution and the legislative branch's power of the purse, but also of the fact that both houses of Congress passed a measure saying the president doesn't have the authority he's pretending to have.