On Trump's emergency, Toomey eyes a third way

Rebecca Klar
York Dispatch
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., center, joined by, from left, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks about the Senate Finance Committee's work on overhauling the nation's tax code, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republican senators find themselves with two options as the vote to block the president's national emergency declaration approaches: oppose a president who's popular with the GOP base or sanction a potentially problematic constitutional precedent. 

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., is suggesting a third option. 

Toomey is leading a charge to draft alternative legislation that would rebuke President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration — which would divert funds for a wall along the southern border —  while supporting a border wall that the president has promoted for years, according to The Hill. 

"I'm working with my colleagues to fashion legislation next week that will address that, that will make sure we get the funding we need to build the wall we need but not in a way that violates constitutional responsibility," Toomey said Wednesday, March 6, on the Gary Sutton radio show. 

Toomey's effort might also seek to restrict the executive branch's ability to call future national emergencies without congressional input, according to reports. 

The senator has been publicly hesitant to support Trump's national emergency declaration. He has not indicated how he might vote on the House resolution, which passed the lower chamber by a 245-182 vote on Feb. 26. 

Several Senate Republicans have said Trump's emergency violates Congress' power of the purse. But the White House and its allies have claimed that there is an emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, citing a spike in migrants over the past month. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen made the administration's pitch Wednesday in Congress.

"This is not a manufactured crisis," Nielsen told the House Homeland Security Committee. "This is truly an emergency."

Toomey said he supports Trump's $5.7 billion request for border funding. However, he said it is possible for the president to use his legal authority to make use of $5.7 billion he has access to without declaring a national emergency. 

Toomey did not expand on where that $5.7 billion would come from. 

When asked for comment, Toomey's office directed The York Dispatch to the radio appearance.

Toomey's attempted workaround might not pan out in reality. 

"I know what he's trying to do, I just don't know where it goes," said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Center for Politics and Public Affairs. 

Even if Toomey's plan were to survive the Senate  —  which includes several Republican members who support the House version — Madonna said he can't believe House Democrats would take it up. 

"The House is stuck where it is; they're not going anywhere," he said. 

Madonna added that while Toomey has raised concerns over the national emergency declaration, it would be surprising if he were to break from Trump. 

A vote against Trump, whose 43 percent approval rating is about as high as it's been since taking office, according to Gallup, could mean political implications for lawmakers who rely on Trump's base. Trump touts a 90 percent approval rating among Republicans, Gallup reports. 

More:Study: York County's GOP lawmakers up to snuff; Casey exceeds expectations

More:Smucker, Perry vote against measure to block Trump's national emergency

More:Toomey displeased with Trump's border emergency, breaks with Smucker, Perry

On the flip side, giving in to the president's national emergency declaration sets a dangerous precedent for Republicans who fear a future Democrat in the White House could use the same process to pass policies without Congressional approval, such as gun restrictions, Madonna said.

Trump also has said he will veto the House bill should it pass the Senate. A number of Republican senators have indicated they will vote for the bill to block the declaration, with some reports suggesting there might be enough GOP dissent to override Trump's veto in the Senate. 

A veto override in the Senate, even one that fails to reach the two-thirds threshold in the House, would be seen as a political win for Democrats, Madonna said. 

— Rebecca Klar can be reached at rklar@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter @RebeccaKlar_.