Republican senators rushed to distance themselves from President Trump’s border wall declaration Thursday, saying that while they agree the immigration situation has grown out of control, they don’t want to take money from the Pentagon to pay for his new fence.
With a vote looming later in the afternoon, one GOP lawmaker after another announced they would vote to block his move.
“This declaration is a dangerous precedent,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican known as a careful student of government powers.
Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, said he agreed with Mr. Trump on most points — including the need for better border security, that Democrats have treated the president unfairly — but he said the president’s emergency declaration “under these circumstances is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.”
Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, said he thought Congress should have approved the $5.7 billion the president asked for this year for border walls — but said he couldn’t back what he called an “unprecedented” attempt to rearrange money by emergency declaration.
Mr. Trump seemed resigned to a major defeat.
“I’ll probably have to veto,” he told reporters Thursday morning.
Mr. Trump last month signed a spending bill that includes $1.375 billion in border wall money approved by Congress. He then issued a declaration calling the border situation an emergency, triggering powers under the National Emergencies Act to shift money around.
He directed the Treasury Department to shift $601 million from a forfeiture fund to wall-building, then ordered the Pentagon to tap as much as $2.5 billion in drug interdiction money and up to $3.6 billion in military construction money.
The emergency declaration applies to the construction money.
Mr. Trump says he has independent powers under other parts of the law to shift the other money around. The drug interdiction money specifically allows it to be spent on fencing in drug smuggling corridors.
GOP senators who opposed Mr. Trump said Thursday that when combined, the non-emergency funds give the president access to nearly all of the money he asked for originally.