WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats are moving on two fronts to block President Donald Trump from using special emergency powers to transfer money from military base construction projects like new schools to pay for new fences along the U.S.-Mexico border.
First, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York announced Tuesday that he will force a vote to reject the plan, saying the vote would give lawmakers a chance to block Trump “from stealing military funding from their states to foot the bill for an expensive and ineffective wall he promised Mexico would pay for.”
A similar measure passed this spring with 12 Senate Republican votes but was vetoed by Trump. The rules allow Schumer to retry every few months and don't allow Republicans to block the vote.
Perhaps more ominously for Trump is a potential vote on Thursday in the powerful Appropriations panel, where several members agree with Democrats that Trump is overstepping by reordering spending decisions by Congress to fund wall projects that have otherwise been rejected.
A top Appropriations Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, said he will move to amend a $694 billion Pentagon funding bill to block Trump from diverting money intended for military projects to the wall.
The Pentagon last week identified $3.6 billion worth of military construction projects it's willing to kill to build 282 kilometers (175 miles) of border wall. The projects included a $63 million middle school in GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's state of Kentucky though most of them are located outside the continental U.S.
“The cancellation of these projects is based on a national emergency declared by the president that was rejected on its face by both house of Congress on bipartisan votes,” Durbin said. “Congress cannot and should not be silent when the power of the purse is undermined in this way. Why are we here?”
Durbin would prevail in the vote if panel Republicans like Roy Blunt of Missouri and Susan Collins of Maine vote like they did in March — a development that would embarrass top Republicans like McConnell and Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby.
In remarks caught on a live microphone after a panel vote on the whopping defense measure Durbin implored Shelby to work with him to stop Trump's maneuver. Shelby was clearly sympathetic.
“I'm going to do everything I can,” Shelby said. “Listen, I'm going to talk to McConnell, and you talk to Schumer and let's see if we can get together.”
A Shelby spokeswoman said the Alabama Republican was talking more generally about moving the appropriations process — which would fill in the details of this summer's bipartisan spending and debt deal — forward. Shelby is also pushing ahead, for now, to deliver Trump's full $5 billion request for new wall funding in the upcoming round of spending bills, though it's a non-starter with Senate Democrats and powerful House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Schumer's move in the full Senate to force a repeat vote could put some Republicans in a difficult spot. For instance, endangered Republicans Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona supported Trump in the earlier vote in March but stand to each lose funding for a home state project.
“This rises to a large and vital constitutional issue: Does our country truly have checks and balances, particularly important when we have such an overreaching president?” Schumer said.
Trump says a wall would stop immigrants from entering the United States illegally. He promised repeatedly during his 2016 presidential campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico refused.