Senate Republicans push plan to maintain national emergency at border
Mike Lee speaks to NBC (screen grab)

As the U.S. Senate prepared to vote on Thursday on a proposal to end President Donald Trump’s declaration of an emergency at the southern border, a Republican said he was gaining support for a second bill that would keep the emergency in effect temporarily.

Senator Mike Lee told reporters on Wednesday that support among Republicans was “very strong” for the bill he introduced on Tuesday evening. This could doom a House-passed bill terminating Trump’s declaration in the 100-member Senate.

A vote on Lee’s measure could come at some later date, according to an aide.

Four Republican senators previously said they back the House measure, and all their votes are needed to pass it, along with all 45 Democrats and two independents.

At stake is billions of dollars in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that Trump is demanding but Congress has refused to fully provide.

Under the emergency declaration Trump signed on Feb. 15, he would take money from other federal programs to build the barrier. There are also court challenges asserting Congress, not the president, decides how taxpayer money is spent.

Republicans who oppose the national emergency are worried that future Democratic presidents could usurp the power of Congress to fund the government and use the tactic to pass their own pet programs. Lee’s bill addresses that concern by ending future emergency declarations after 30 days unless Congress votes to extend them.

That 30-day approval window would apply after Trump’s current border declaration expires in one year, meaning it could remain in place for at least one year without congressional approval.

Vice President Mike Pence met with Republican senators this week to push Lee’s plan, saying Trump would support it. On Wednesday, Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas told reporters Pence’s offers “are probably worthless” while Lee said “we should know very soon” if Trump will support the bill.

On Wednesday, Trump said his administration would have a news conference at the southern U.S. border in the next three weeks. He also said in a tweet that Republican senators should vote for “Border Security/No Crime.”

Castro said Pence “doesn’t speak for the president and it’s clear from past occasions he doesn’t have the authority to negotiate for the president.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would not bring Lee’s proposal up for a vote, meaning it could not become law even with Trump’s support.

“Republican senators are proposing new legislation to allow the President to violate the Constitution just this once in order to give themselves cover,” Pelosi said in a statement.

“The House will not take up this legislation to give President Trump a pass,” she added.

Reporting by Amanda Becker, Richard Cowan, Doina Chiacu and Tim Ahmann; Additional reporting by Steve Holland, David Shepardson and Makini Brice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jeffrey Benkoe and David Gregorio