The Senate overwhelmingly passed a massive budget and border security deal Thursday, after President Donald Trump committed to signing the legislation but said he'd also declare a national emergency to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The $333 billion legislation passed 83-16, and it is expected to pass the House later Thursday, in time to avert a government shutdown slated to start Saturday.
Trump's commitment to sign the bill likely ensures that there will not be a government shutdown beginning Saturday, barring a reversal from the mercurial president or a surprise defeat in the House. But the president's decision to declare a national emergency, rumored for weeks, drew condemnation from Democrats and divided Republicans.
The vote followed drama in the Senate as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared suddenly on the floor to end hours of uncertainty, announcing that Trump had agreed to support the bill.
At the same time, McConnell told senators that Trump would be declaring a national emergency to circumvent Congress and get more money for his wall - and that McConnell himself would support the move, even though he's been outspoken in opposition to an emergency declaration. The legislation provides a fraction of the $5.7 billion Trump has sought for his border wall.
"I had an opportunity to speak with President Trump, and he, I would say to all my colleagues, has indicated he's prepared to sign the bill," McConnell said on the floor. "He'll also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time. I indicated to him I'm going to support the national emergency declaration."
After getting burned by Trump in December on a spending bill the Senate passed and the president disavowed, McConnell wanted to move as fast as possible to a vote following Trump's assurance of support. The majority leader was in such a hurry to announce Trump's backing and call the vote that he interrupted Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley in the middle of a speech about biofuels, drawing wrathful exclamations and glares from the longtime Iowa lawmaker.
Even as Democrats welcomed passage of the compromise legislation, they denounced Trump's plans to declare a national emergency to get more money for his wall than Congress has agreed to.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., accused the president of making an "end-run around Congress" and warned that a future Democratic president could do the same thing on gun-control issues.
Pelosi said Republicans should "have some dismay about the door that they're opening, the threshold that they're crossing," if they endorse Trump's emergency declaration, but she declined to say how House Democrats will respond, saying they're weighing their options.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted that the the declaration is "lawless act" and accused Trump of attempting to draw attention away from the president's unkept promise that the wall would be paid for by Mexico.
The House could pass a disapproval resolution to overturn the emergency declaration, and McConnell would be forced to put it on the Senate floor, an outcome the majority leader had hoped to avoid. McConnell had cautioned Trump privately about the scenario.
Senate Republicans were mixed on the looming emergency declaration from Trump.
"I'm not concerned, because I think the president is on the right track to secure the border," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and one of the lawmakers who negotiated the border compromise. "I think the president's on pretty solid ground."
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., criticized the spending deal as "massive, bloated (and) secretive" and called the emergency declaration "extraconstitutional." "I, too, want stronger border security, including a wall in some areas. But how we do things matters," Paul said in a statement. "Over 1,000 pages dropped in the middle of the night and extraconstitutional executive actions are wrong, no matter which party does them."
The 1,159-page legislation would fund nine Cabinet departments and dozens of other agencies through Sept. 30, removing - for now - the threat of another government shutdown and political brinkmanship over Trump's demands for his wall.
The compromise would provide $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new fences along the border in Texas, far short of the $5.7 billion Trump had sought for 234 miles of steel walls. The final number for border barriers is also less than deals that were on the table last year before Trump pushed the government into a record-long 35-day shutdown in an unsuccessful attempt to get all the wall money he wants.
Although few were enthused about the concessions both sides made in search of a compromise, lawmakers of both parties were eager to see the package pass so they can move on from months of wrangling over shutdown politics and Trump's wall.
The legislation was released just before midnight Wednesday, giving lawmakers and the White House little time to review it before it's put to a vote. Lawmakers defended the rushed timeline because of the impending deadline they face Friday night at midnight, when funding would expire for the Homeland Security Department and other agencies comprising about a quarter of the federal government - unless Congress and Trump act first.
Some liberals were unhappy with the bill, arguing that no money at all should go to border barriers. They're also unhappy that overall funding for the Homeland Security Department increases under the bill, and that the legislation does not do more to limit the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's detention authority.
Democratic negotiators included language they said should limit ICE's detention numbers over time, but Republicans say ICE will still have the flexibility to detain as many immigrants as agency officials deem appropriate. Some liberals and immigrant advocates agreed with the GOP assessment.
In a statement Thursday, freshman Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan announced their opposition to the legislation, citing Trump's "weaponization" of federal immigration agencies.
"The Department of Homeland Security does not deserve an increase in funding and that is why we intend to vote no on this funding package," the four lawmakers wrote.
White House officials have kept their precise plans closely held for weeks, insisting that they had legal ways to secure more than $5.7 billion in funds without congressional approval but refusing to say exactly how they'd do it.
One reason they were circumspect is because they were waiting for final details of the congressional deal to be made public, so they could ascertain the level of resources they would need to redirect from other programs. White House officials have looked at using money from Pentagon programs for the projects. Traditionally, moving money from one program to another requires congressional approval, but declaring a national emergency could give them more flexibility.
White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has described separate pots of money that they could try to tap, and each pot would be classified through a different legal threshold so some money would be harder to obtain than others.
The White House's goal for weeks has been to build more than 230 miles of wall along the Mexico border, and Congress approved roughly one-quarter of that in the new agreement. It's unclear whether Trump will try to secure the remainder of it through executive orders, try for a more narrower plan or attempt to do more than he has asked for in the past.
A central promise of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign was that he would somehow make Mexico pay for the construction of the border wall, but since becoming president, all of his efforts have focused on using U.S. taxpayer money to finance the projects. Trump has said that a pending revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada effectively fulfills his promise, but it is unclear whether Congress will approve that trade agreement. And there is no language in that trade agreement that would create a new funding mechanism to create money for a wall.
"President Trump will sign the government funding bill," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday, "and, as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action - including a national emergency - to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border."
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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