The entire text of the legislation to terminate President Trump’s national emergency to build a Southern border wall reads as follows: “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That, pursuant to section 202 of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622), the national emergency declared by the finding of the President on February 15, 2019, in Proclamation 9844 (84 Fed. Reg. 4949) is hereby terminated.”
Were you able to read that entire sentence? Were you able to squeeze the reading of this sentence into your tight schedule, and to divine its meaning—that it would terminate Trump’s recently declared national emergency? Then you, reader, have gotten much farther along in your review process than a number of Senate Republicans.
After the House passes this resolution Tuesday evening, the Senate will be forced to take a vote on it in the coming weeks. It’s a vote that many Republicans wouldn’t like to take: They fear the precedent of allowing the president to use national emergency powers to secure money that Congress wouldn’t give him, but they also fear Trump being mad at them. Until they have to take that vote, many Senate Republicans would prefer to hold their votes close to the chest.
“I’ve not read the resolution yet,” Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran said. “My staff has given me some background on the constitutional, statutory law. I just have a lot more to know.”
“I haven’t seen it yet,” Florida Sen. Rick Scott said, “but I’m frustrated the Democrats didn’t fund border security, so I completely understand why the president did what he did.”
When I said, to follow up, that it was a one-pager that would terminate the national emergency, his spokesperson interrupted us, asked for my name in a less-than-chummy way, and joined his boss in the elevator.
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, the chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee who said in January that he would “hate to see” an emergency declaration, said “we’re going to see what it’s going to be like” when asked how he would vote on the resolution, adding that there was a lot of “ambiguity” in the law.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney: Still looking at the text.
Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, at least, was specific about which aspects of the emergency declaration he still needs to review: The specific accounts within the military construction budget from which the wall money would come.
“[Trump] has a justification where he’s said, ‘I’m declaring this a national emergency,’ and then we’re waiting for the legal justification and the line items,” Lankford said. “And none of us have seen that.”
Republican leaders, though, are telling those senators concerned about money for projects in their home states being diverted to “the wall” not to worry: They’ll just “backfill” the money immediately after.
“I predict there’ll be no trouble in the appropriations committee to backfill—make sure there’s no cut, ultimate cut—in military construction,” Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, chair of the appropriations committee, said. “That issue won’t stay alive long.”
The issue of where the money is coming from, in any event, is one that should be secondary to how a member votes on the resolution to terminate the emergency declaration. The question at hand is whether a president should be allowed to grab money from elsewhere to fund something that Congress refused to fund. This question isn’t particularly “ambiguous,” and the legislative vehicle for saying “no” isn’t a lengthy or tricky text. There is not “a lot more to know.” What the senators are really trying to backfill is their own justification for ceding the power of the purse to the executive branch.