During the eight years of the Obama administration, Wyoming’s senators spent considerable time criticizing federal overreach. But accusations of overreach by the Trump administration in attempting to leapfrog Congressional authority on funding a southern border wall failed to sway Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi from voting Thursday against the president’s emergency declaration.
Barrasso and Enzi found themselves on the losing end of a 59-41 Senate vote to overturn a national emergency declaration President Donald Trump made last month in order to finance a border wall that Congress – which is tasked with the power of the purse – declined to finance. Twelve Republican senators joined Democrats in supporting the resolution, many saying they were uncomfortable with Trump’s effort to bypass Congress.
The House of Representatives had already passed the resolution with 245 ‘aye’ votes.
The vote, however, was largely symbolic. Trump took to Twitter after the vote to say he would veto the resolution.
Both chambers of Congress would need to reach a two-thirds majority – 290 people in the House, and 67 in the Senate – to override that veto, well beyond the tallies both managed to achieve.
The president has 10 days to decide on the fate of the bill. However, as of the close of business on Thursday, its fate was apparent.
“VETO!” tweeted Trump.
Reasons for the vote
Barrasso – a staunch supporter of the president – was long considered a “no” on the measure. Wyoming’s junior senator has concurred with the president that there is a crisis of rising violent crime, drug smuggling and human trafficking on the southern border, despite significant evidence to the contrary. Studies have shown undocumented immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born residents and that illegal drug trafficking most often comes through the country’s traditional ports of entry – not the open swaths of desert targeted by the administration.
In a statement on Thursday, Barrasso blamed Democrats for their inability to see the crisis as he and other Republicans saw it, while maintaining that the president was well within his bounds to declare a national emergency to override Congress – even if he did not like it.
“We have a security and humanitarian crisis on our southern border,” said Barrasso. “The president made a compelling case for why we need more border barriers to stop the flow of illegal immigrants and illegal drugs into our nation.
“I would have preferred a legislative solution to solve this critical problem,” he added. “However, Democrats who supported border barriers in the past refused to listen to border security experts and blocked the necessary funding. The president has the statutory authority to declare an emergency, and he is making good on his promise to secure our southern border and protect the American people.”
The legality of the emergency declaration was argued in a USA Today op-ed on Thursday penned by Attorneys General Ken Paxton, Curtis Hill and Jeff Landry, who argued the National Emergencies Act gives the president broad authority that was never defined by Congress, thereby “leaving it entirely at the president’s discretion to determine what constitutes such an emergency.”
“The president’s action is neither new nor extraordinary,” they wrote.
However, Trump’s declaration – which attacks head-on one of the principle functions of Congress – is unique, in that it directly challenges the Constitutional powers of the purse. Enzi, who often sides with Trump, chairs the Senate Committee on the Budget and expressed some apprehension on the president’s use of executive power to bypass the traditional duties of Congress. Last month, Enzi told the Star-Tribune that he recognized the potential to set “a bad precedent” in a move the president himself admitted was an unnecessary use of executive authority in a rambling press conference in the Rose Garden last month.
Enzi furnished the Star-Tribune with a similar statement after the vote on Thursday, saying he agreed with President Trump that the crisis on the border had risen to the level of a national emergency and that, ultimately, he believed that Congress provided the president with the power to act the way he had.
“I am disappointed that the House majority and Senate minority leaders put the president in a position where he believed he had no other choice but to issue an emergency declaration,” Enzi said.
The senators and executive power
Both senators’ votes on Thursday mark conspicuous departures from their attitudes toward the use of executive power under the administration of President Barack Obama, who grew to embrace the use of executive power in the later years of his presidency to break down protections for whistleblowers and to implement immigration reforms denied by Congress, which Trump criticized in a tweet in 2014.
During the Obama years, both Enzi and Barrasso were often vocal in their criticisms of Obama, chastising the president for declarations to increase overtime pay for workers, create significant reforms to the nation’s immigration system, and executive action to combat climate change, as well as efforts by the president to implement child labor restrictions for children on family farms and enact gun control.
Meanwhile, both lawmakers have made efforts or spoken in favor of reducing the amount of power retained by the executive branch. In 2011, Barrasso introduced a bill to limit the Obama administration’s ability to issue executive orders without a review of the potential impacts they would have and, five years later, penned an op-ed with Enzi arguing the president should not be entitled to a final Supreme Court confirmation before the end of his term, leaving that decision to the candidates for president to put to the voters.
In January, Enzi – with Barrasso as a co-sponsor – also introduced the REINS Act, which would “rein in unelected federal bureaucrats by requiring that Congress affirmatively approve every new major rule proposed by the Executive Branch before it can be implemented and enforced,” according to a press release from Enzi’s office describing the bill.
“Congress has given far too much power to unaccountable bureaucrats who implemented too many regulations, many that are harmful to our country and our economy,” Enzi said at the time. “The REINS Act would give Congress authority to review major rules and help reduce unnecessary and overreaching regulations.”
Follow politics reporter Nick Reynolds on Twitter @IAmNickReynolds