US House fails to override Trump's veto over wall emergency

House Democrats fail to secure two-thirds majority vote to override Trump’s veto on his border emergency declaration.

    The Democratic-controlled House fell short on Tuesday in its effort to override US President Donald Trump’s first veto, handing him a victory in his effort to spend billions more for constructing barriers along the Southwest border than Congress has approved.

    The chamber voted 248-181 in favour of overriding Trump’s veto. That fell 38 votes short of the 286, or two-thirds, votes needed for Democrats and their handful of Republican allies to prevail. 

    The outcome, not a surprise, enabled Trump to move forward on an issue that was a hallmark of his 2016 presidential campaign and of his presidency. 

    The emergency declaration would let Trump shift an additional $3.6bn from military construction projects to erecting barriers along the border with Mexico. 

    House Democrats who tried to override Trump’s first veto say his plan to shift billions of extra dollars into building border barriers is a waste of money and an abuse of his powers. 

    Congress initially voted to provide less than $1.4bn for barrier construction, which fell short of the funding Trump had asked for. As a result, Trump allowed the government to shut down for 35 days, the longest of its kind in US history. Later in February, he declared a national emergency at the border to circumvent Congress. The national emergency is also being challenged in the courts. 

    US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday Congress will work through funding process to counter Trump’s action on national emergency and border wall.

    Diverting funds

    Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan announced on Monday that the Department of Defense had shifted one billion dollars from other military construction projects to build part of the barrier along the southern border.

    But Democratic Representative Adam Smith, the Armed Services Committee chairman, said the panel did not approve the proposed use of Pentagon funds.

    “The committee denies this request. The committee does not approve the proposed use of Department of Defense funds to construct additional physical barriers and roads or install lighting in the vicinity of the United States border,” Smith said in a letter to the Department of Defense.

    Smith announced the denial of the one billion dollars transfer in a statement as his committee held a hearing on the Pentagon budget.

    Smith told the hearing that Trump’s proposed $750bn defence budget would not pass as it was proposed. That budget included $100bn in a “slush fund” meant to fund ongoing wars but which the Pentagon intends to use to boost the amount of money it has available to avoid budget caps passed by Congress, worrying politicians. 

    Shanahan’s decision to shift military dollars in order to pay for the wall without consulting Congress could lead politicians to cut off the Pentagon’s authority to reprogramme funds.

    Setting a precedent

    Democrats were hoping to use the border emergency battle in upcoming campaigns, both to symbolise Trump’s harsh immigration stance and claim he was hurting congressional districts around the country.

    The Pentagon sent politicians a list last week of hundreds of military construction projects that might be cut to pay for barrier work. Though the list was tentative, Democrats were asserting that Republican politicians were endangering local bases to pay for the wall.

    Opponents of Trump’s emergency warned that besides usurping Congress’s role in making spending decisions, he was inviting future Democratic presidents to circumvent politicians by declaring emergencies to finance their own favoured initiatives.

    Trump supporters said he was simply acting under a 1976 law that lets presidents declare national emergencies.

    Trump’s declaration was the 60th presidential emergency under that statute, but the first aimed at spending that Congress explicitly denied, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks the law.

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