Senators gave a backhand approval Thursday to President Trump’s border emergency wall building plans by failing to override his veto, marking the latest instance when the White House has outmaneuvered Congress.
The president’s opponents mustered 53 votes to overturn the veto, with 10 Republicans siding with Democrats, but it still fell far short of the two-thirds needed to force Mr. Trump to retreat from his marquee campaign promise.
At stake is billions of dollars in money Congress allocated to the Pentagon in 2019, but which Mr. Trump, in his February emergency declaration, said is better spent at the U.S.-Mexico border, erecting hundreds of miles of wall.
Democratic leaders have tried twice to block him by canceling his declaration, and each time Mr. Trump’s veto has thwarted them.
“As long as my colleagues continue to give him the green light, President Trump will continue to put his ‘big and beautiful’ wall ahead of the needs of the U.S. military,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who is chairman of the subcommittee that oversees Pentagon spending.
There may be other hurdles.
A federal court in Texas ruled last week that Mr. Trump’s proclamation was unlawful. That judge is still deciding what action to take and has asked both sides to file briefs on what powers a court has to restrain the president, the head of a co-equal branch of government.
And Mr. Trump’s building plans have not made much progress in expanding existing fencing.
Since Mr. Trump took office, Customs and Border Protection has erected 71 miles of wall — but all of that is replacement of old fencing. Officials say no new miles of the border have been sealed off beyond the 652 miles he inherited from President Obama.
The wall is also coming in over budget, congressional Democrats said this week.
They said the $6.1 billion Mr. Trump siphoned away from the Pentagon with his emergency declaration didn’t take into account overhead and bureaucracy costs, and the administration notified them last week that it’s going to grab another $129 million in money that was supposed to go to fight drug production in Afghanistan.
That’s in addition to the $6.1 billion that was coming out of military projects across the globe.
Democratic campaign operatives swung into action Thursday to chastise Republicans whose districts stand to see money drained from their local military bases.
The White House says Congress could easily restore the money for those projects in the 2020 budget.
But Democrats say to do so would mean giving Mr. Trump’s wall money grab an imprimatur. Most Democrats voted last month against a non-binding measure that would have urged replenishment of the funds.
Democrats chide Mr. Trump for having to turn to U.S. taxpayers for funding, saying he promised during the 2016 campaign that Mexico would bear the financial burden.
Mr. Trump says Mexico is doing just that, indirectly, through terms of trade.
The White House requested another $5 billion in border wall money in its fiscal 2020 budget. The House, controlled by Democrats, has erased those funds from its Homeland Security spending bill. The Senate has included the money in its version, but that bill has yet to clear the chamber.
Minutes before the veto override failed, Senate Democrats also lost their bid to overturn Mr. Trump and reinstate Obama-era global warming restrictions known as the Clean Power Plan.
The Obama regulations were designed to limit fossil fuel-intensive energy production, particularly coal-based production. The Trump administration released a policy undoing the Obama rules, and Democrats sought to attempt a congressional veto.
“Time is running out for the United States to meet the existential threat posed by climate change,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.
But he couldn’t keep all his Democrats in line, much less win over Republicans, and saw his effort doomed on a 51-43 vote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, cheered the outcome, saying it saved the country as many as 125,000 jobs and prevented double-digit increases in energy costs.