The Lead

In break with Trump, Pa. U.S. Sen Pat Toomey will vote to disapprove White House’s border wall grab

By: - March 14, 2019 1:36 pm

Mexico–United States barrier at the border of Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, USA. The crosses represent migrants who died in the crossing attempt. Some identified, some not. Surveillance tower in the background. WikiMedia Commons Image by Tomascastelazo.

Citing the danger of future precedent and Congress’ constitutional power of the purse, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey says he’ll vote in favor of a resolution, passed by the majority Democrat U.S. House, disapproving of President Donald Trump’s emergency border declaration.

“It’s very important we honor the constitutional responsibility assigned to Congress to determine spending,” Toomey, R-Pa., told Pennsylvania political reporters in the hours before an expected Senate vote on the resolution condemning the White House’s legislative end-run to access $3.6 billion to build a barrier at the border with Mexico. 

Toomey said he supports Trump’s efforts to build a barrier at the southern border and believes the White House should have been given the full $5.7 billion it sought to underwrite its construction. He is one of a dozen senators expected to defy the White House’s wishes, The Hill, a publication that covers Congress, reported.

But “this is not about border security. It’s about the process the president has chosen for funding that policy,” Toomey said. “It undermines a very important concept in our Constitution, which is the separation of powers,” and Congress’ responsibility “to determine” how federal money is spent.

Toomey had previously expressed concerns about the White House’s emergency declaration. But he had stopped short of outright opposition.

Toomey also said he feared that allowing Trump this emergency would open the door to abuse by future White Houses. He pointed to comments last month by Democratic presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, who said she’d use an emergency declaration to fight climate change.

“Who knows what kind of unauthorized spending she would choose to engage in if we let this stand,” Toomey said of Warren, who will also be voting on the disapproval resolution Thursday.

Toomey acknowledged that Congress will not be able to override the guaranteed presidential veto on the resolution. But he said it will send a message that the White House has overstepped its authority.

“Any authority granted to the president pursuant to the national emergency declaration is a congressional authority delegated to the president,” Toomey said. “It is not inherently a presidential authority. It’s entirely appropriate for Congress to insist that he honor Congress’ intent.”

Toomey said the showdown with the White House also points to the need to overhaul the 1976-vintage national emergency law that Trump invoked in his border grab.

The Hill reported Thursday that U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is sponsoring just such a reform measure. It would require the White House to seek congressional approval for declarations that last longer than 30 days.

Pennsylvania’s senior U.S. Senator, Democrat Bob Casey, of Scranton, is also a “yes” vote on the resolution, his office confirmed Thursday.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.