WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives voted Tuesday to block the White House from redirecting federal funds toward building a border wall, and the Senate inched closer to doing the same, raising the specter of President Trump exercising his veto power for the first time.
As newly empowered House Democrats moved to assert congressional authority over government spending, there appeared to be nearly enough Republican support for the measure to clear the Senate in the coming weeks.
rump has already said he would veto the measure should Congress send it to his desk.
The House vote was the first of its kind since lawmakers in 1976 authored the National Emergencies Act, which allows Congress to terminate an emergency declaration. The law also limits an emergency to 180 days unless the president renews it.
The measure cleared by a vote of 245-182, with a handful of Republicans joining Democrats.
Trump recently declared a national emergency over the southern border after Congress passed a spending bill that appropriates $1.38 billion for 55 miles of barriers —significantly less than the $5.7 billion he had demanded.
Dissatisfied with the lower figure, the president said he would pull together $6.7 billion from the military and other sources, saying it was needed to properly secure the border.
Democrats said their effort to block the president was about upholding the checks and balances in the Constitution, which bestows upon Congress the power of the purse.
“The president’s actions are manufactured, manipulative and represent a misappropriation of taxpayer resources inconsistent with the United States Constitution,” said Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D., N.Y. “There is no crisis at our Southern border.”
Republicans in the Senate said they sympathize with Trump’s desire for more money for a border wall and view migrants who enter the U.S. illegally as a legitimate concern. But many disapprove of Trump’s declaring a national emergency as a means to address it.
Senate Republicans said that Vice President Mike Pence and a Justice Department lawyer mounted a vigorous case at a closed-door lunch Tuesday about the statutory basis for Trump’s declaration. But many Republicans left the lunch still undecided over how they would vote on the House resolution.
Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, twice, that he wasn’t sure how the chamber would vote on the measure. Asked by a reporter if he was encouraging Republicans to vote against the House measure, McConnell responded: “I personally couldn’t handicap the outcome at this point.”
Though several Senate Republicans have yet to say how they will vote, many are wavering, citing concerns ranging from a desire for separation of powers to whether it was wise to siphon funding away from the military.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Thom Tillis of North Carolina have committed to support the House bill.
If just one more Republican adds support along with all 47 Senate Democrats, the resolution would pass the Senate by a simple majority.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, sought to dismiss concerns that the military would lose out on funding because of Trump’s national emergency, arguing Congress would find another way to keep military construction projects funded. But it wasn’t clear where Republicans would find such funds, or whether Democrats would agree.
“If it’s military construction projects, we’ll backfill that so fast,” Shelby said. “I predict there’d be no trouble in the appropriations committee to backfill, make sure there’s no cut — ultimate cut — in military construction.”
Asked where the funds would come from to backfill military funding, Shelby responded: “From money. Where do we fill everything else?”
Senate Republicans are also worried Trump was setting a dangerous precedent.
Tillis wrote in a Washington Post opinion article on Monday: “Republicans need to realize that this will lead inevitably to regret when a Democrat once again controls the White House, cites the precedent set by Trump, and declares his or her own national emergency to advance a policy that couldn’t gain congressional approval.”
Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the commander of U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for the military response to the national emergency, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee as lawmakers were gearing up for the vote in the House.
O’Shaughnessy refused to say whether he considered border security a national emergency or what his recommendations were to the president. But when asked what he considered the biggest national-security risk to North America, he said Russia, not the border.
Democrats have long cast doubt that there is an emergency on the border, recently citing Trump’s own words in the Rose Garden earlier this month, when he said he “didn’t have to do this.”
Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday: “An emergency by definition is something you need to do.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he was “leaning no” on the resolution, citing Border Patrol agents’ reports of drugs crossing the border. “The No. 1 responsibility of the federal government is to protect the American people,” Grassley added.
Overriding a veto by Trump would be a tall order, as it requires supermajorities in each chamber. It would likely require about 289 votes in the House, meaning many Republicans would have to join with the chamber’s 235 Democrats. In the Senate, overturning a veto would require 67 votes if all 100 senators were present and voting. Republicans hold a 53-47 advantage in the Senate.
Shelby, the Senate Appropriations chairman, said he didn’t think the Senate could muster the votes to override a veto. “I think it’d be hard.”
Natalie Andrews, Nancy A. Youssef and Andrew Duehren contributed to this article.