House Democrats’ effort to nullify President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration divided Georgia lawmakers along party lines Tuesday as attention shifted to the U.S. Senate. That’s where several Republicans, including three-term U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, continued to weigh the administration’s move to circumvent Congress to pay for a border wall on the Mexico border.
Georgia’s five House Democrats backed their party’s one-page resolution of disapproval, which cleared the chamber on a largely party-line vote of 245-182.
Several local Democrats framed their opposition in constitutional terms.
“This president is attempting to shake the very foundation of our democracy by disrespecting the fiscal authority granted only to Congress,” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, a prominent Trump critic. “It unhinges the separation of powers, a cornerstone of our democracy, and opens the door to widespread abuse, like that in historic authoritarian regimes in the Soviet Union, Chile, Libya, and the Philippines.”
All nine Georgia Republicans in the House voted against the measure, even though some had previously lambasted President Barack Obama for executive overreach or represent districts with military bases that could see construction funding diverted to help pay for new border barriers.
“President Trump has made it abundantly clear that effectively securing our border and ensuring the safety and security of our great nation remains paramount, and I stand behind his decision to use his constitutional authority as president to declare this national emergency,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Allen of Evans, whose 12th Congressional District is home to Fort Gordon.
The result was a victory for the White House and GOP leaders, who worked behind the scenes to tamp down on GOP defections over the past week.
The Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee previously estimated that $234 million in military construction projects in Georgia are eligible to have their funds diverted under a national emergency, although the White House has yet to release specifics of where it will take its previously announced $3.6 billion. Local lawmakers say they’ve been assured by the White House budget office that federal funding for the Savannah harbor deepening project, the state’s top economic development priority, will not be siphoned away to pay for the wall.
Georgia’s senators weigh in
Even ahead of House passage, much of the political intrigue surrounding the disapproval resolution was focused on the other side of the Capitol.
Assuming all 47 Senate Democrats back the bill, only four Republican defections are needed to send the legislation to the president’s desk. Three GOP senators — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — have already announced plans to vote against it, and several others have expressed deep misgivings about the emergency designation.
One of those lawmakers is Isakson. He previously expressed reservations about an executive having unchecked power, but on Monday he also fretted about Democrats’ political motivations since Trump doesn’t need Congress to weigh in to move forward.
“I’m saying this not as a criticism of anybody, but I tend to think the desire to have this vote is more for political reasons than practical reasons, since I understand (Trump) can do it anyway,” he said of the resolution of disapproval.
Isakson said he’s still reviewing the details of Trump’s emergency proclamation and has yet to make a final decision on the legislation.
“I want to make sure we understand whatever we do is going to apply to both parties — or no party — and anybody who gets elected president is going to have the authority to declare the emergency. And it’s going to set a precedent in terms of what that emergency might be,” he said. “Because of that, we have to be very careful.”
Georgia’s other U.S. senator, David Perdue, meanwhile, confirmed he’ll support the president’s position, citing his recent trip to the Texas border with U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana.
“I was not prepared for the amount of drug traffic that we saw,” said Perdue, a top ally of the president’s who is up for re-election in 2020.
“This is not a small thing for me because I know we may have a Democrat in the White House that I might disagree with” in the future, he said. “You have to look at it with all possibilities in mind, and I think we’ve got a full-blown invasion right now of illegal drugs.”
Since the president moved to declare the emergency earlier this month, groups of former Republican members of Congress and ex-national security officials have voiced their opposition to the designation.
Trump has also upped his pressure on GOP senators, tweeting on Monday that they should not fall into Democrats’ “trap” of “open borders and crime.” He’s vowed to veto the resolution of disapproval.
Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/news/georgia-government/.
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