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4 Southern GOP senators defy Trump on border emergency; North Carolina’s Thom Tillis makes about face to support president
Rubio, Paul, Wicker and Alexander break with Trump in voting to overturn emergency declaration
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the support of four Southern Republicans and all four Southern Democrats, the U.S. Senate has voted to overturn President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to find money for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But one GOP senator who had come out publicly in favor of overturning the declaration — Thom Tillis of North Carolina — reversed course and voted no, after intense lobbying from the White House and an avalanche of criticism from Trump partisans back home.
Trump has vowed to veto the resolution overturning the declaration, which passed by a 59-41 margin in the Republican-controlled Senate on March 14. The House passed it in late February by a vote of 254-182.
However, opponents of the declaration do not have enough support in either House to override Trump’s veto, which will be the first of his presidency.
Frustrated by the unwillingness of the Democrat-controlled House to vote money for the border wall, Trump declared a national emergency on February 15, which will allow him to shift $8 billion from other federal programs and use it for wall construction. Most of the money will come from appropriations for military construction and drug interdiction.
In a floor speech before the vote, Alexander said he objected to Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to provide border wall funding after Congress failed to appropriate the money.
“The problem with this is that after a Revolutionary War against a king, our nation’s founders gave to Congress the power to approve all spending so that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a crucial source of our freedom,” Alexander said.
Rubio said he agreed with Trump that an emergency exists at the border but said he objected to shifting money out of the military construction budget to finance the border barrier.
“This would create a precedent a future president may abuse to jumpstart programs like the Green New Deal, especially given the embrace of socialism we are seeing on the political left,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
Paul and Wicker also cited constitutional considerations as the reason for their vote to overturn the declaration.
“I stand with President Trump on the need for a border wall and stronger border security, but the Constitution clearly states that money cannot be spent unless Congress has passed a law to do so,” Paul said in a statement.
Wicker said he regretted “that we were not able to find a solution that would have averted a challenge to the balance of power as defined by the Constitution.”
“The system of checks and balances established by the Founders has preserved our democracy. It is essential that we protect this balance even when it is frustrating or inconvenient,” he said in a statement.
Tillis made a splash when he published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on February 25 saying he would vote to overturn the emergency declaration because it would set a precedent that “future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.”
Tillis faced an avalanche of criticism from the president’s supporters in the Tar Heel State and was facing the likelihood of a primary challenge in his 2020 re-election race.
“A lot has changed over the last three weeks — a discussion with the vice president, a number of senior administration officials … a serious discussion about changing the National Emergencies Act in a way that will have Congress speak on emergency actions in the future,” Tillis said.
Republican senators had considered changing the National Emergencies Act to make it more difficult to declare emergencies in the future, but the plan faltered when House Democrats came out against it.
Tillis said he concluded that the crisis at the border was sufficiently serious to warrant the emergency declaration.
“We have narcotics flooding our country, poisoning our children and adults of all ages, and a lot of it has to do with the porous border and the seemingly out of control crossings,” Tillis said.
But Democrats back home pounced on Tillis for his change of heart.
“Tillis again reminded the entire state who he is — a spineless politician who won’t keep his promises and looks out for himself instead of North Carolina,” said Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard in a statement.
Rubio and Paul do not face re-election until 2022; Wicker’s current term lasts through 2024.
Among the Democrats who voted against Trump, Jones is the only one who is running for re-election in 2020. Warner isn’t up for re-election until 2022, and Manchin and Kaine’s current terms last through 2024.
Jones is considered among the most vulnerable Democrats up for election in 2020, in a state where Trump remains popular.
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Southerners are part of a group of 44 former senators who penned an open letter in the Washington Post
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Twelve former Southern senators have joined an open letter calling on current senators “to be steadfast and zealous” in guarding democracy amid “serious challenges to the rule of law” flowing from investigations of President Trump and his administration.
“It is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security,” wrote a bipartisan group of 44 former senators in the letter, which was published December 10 in the Washington Post.
The former senators cited a “convergence” between special counsel Robert Muller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and additional investigations likely to be launched by the incoming Democrat-led House.
“We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake, and the rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld,” they wrote.
“At other critical moments in our history, when constitutional crises have threatened our foundations, it has been the Senate that has stood in defense of our democracy. Today is once again such a time.”
The letter was signed by 32 Democrats, 10 Republicans and two independents who served in the Senate between the 1970s and 2015. Among the signatories were 12 Southerners, including 11 Democrats and a lone Republican, John Warner of Virginia. The list includes:
- Arkansas: David Pryor (D, retired 1996) and Blanche Lincoln (D, defeated 2010)
- Florida: Bob Graham (D, retired 2004)
- Georgia: Sam Nunn (D, retired 1996), Wyche Fowler (D, defeated 1992) and Max Cleland (D, defeated 2002)
- Louisiana: Bennett Johnston (D, retired 1996) and Mary Landrieu (D, defeated 2014)
- Tennessee: Jim Sasser (D, defeated 1994)
- Virginia: Warner (R, retired 2008) and Chuck Robb (D, defeated 2000)
- West Virginia: Jay Rockefeller (D, retired 2014)
The seats of all of the Southern Democrats who signed the letter, except for Robb, are now in Republican hands. Warner’s seat is now held by a Democrat.
Jones is first Alabama Democrat to sit in the Senate since 1997
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Democrat Doug Jones has been officially sworn in as a U.S. senator, capping the remarkable and improbable political feat of capturing a Senate seat in one of the nation’s most Republican states.
Jones, flanked by former Vice President Joe Biden, was sworn in on January 3 by Vice President Mike Pence, alongside Democrat Tina Smith, who assumed the Senate seat from Minnesota vacated by Al Franken. The ceremony was then re-enacted in the Old Senate Chamber, where Jones was accompanied by his family.
Jones assumed the seat once held by his mentor and former boss, the late U.S. Senator Howell Heflin, who was the last Democrat to represent the Yellowhammer State when he retired in 1997.
With Jones in the Senate, Republicans will hold a scant 51-49 advantage. With Pence available to break ties, Democrats need just two Republican votes to stop the majority from passing legislation.
Jones, 63, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, was given little chance to win the seat when a special election was called in April to pick a permanent replacement for Republican Jeff Sessions, who resigned to become U.S. attorney general.
But interest in Jones began picking up after the man picked to fill Session’s seat on a temporary basis, Luther Strange, was defeated in a Republican primary runoff by Roy Moore, the controversial former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. And then, a month before the December 12 election, the race was rocked by allegations that Moore had sexually pursued teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
Moore vehemently denied the charges. But GOP Senate leaders quickly disavowed him and tried to push him out of the race, to no avail. Alabama Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby was among Moore’s detractors, saying publicly that he would not vote for Moore.
Almost alone among Republicans, President Donald Trump stood by Moore, telling his supporters that letting a “liberal” like Jones into the Senate would harm his agenda. But Republican defections, coupled with a strong turnout by African American voters, put Jones over the top by 22,000 votes.
Jones is one of only five Democrats representing Southern states in the Senate, joining U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Bill Nelson of Florida. The other 23 Southern senators are Republicans.
Jones will now serve the remainder of Sessions term, which comes up for election again in 2020.
Paul is taking names of potential plaintiffs on his Web site — names that could be the foundation of a 2016 White House bid
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is organizing a class-action lawsuit against the National Security Agency over its surveillance programs — a novel political gambit that could lay the groundwork for a 2016 White House bid.
Paul is soliciting potential plaintiffs for the suit on two political Web sites he operates — Rand Paul 2016 and RAND PAC. His stated goal is to get 10 million Americans to sign up for the class-action suit.
However, an unnamed senior Paul advisor told Politico that any names collected may also be added a database for Paul’s future political campaigns.
That would give him access to a ready pool of voters upset by NSA surveillance — voters who would be inclined to support Paul. He’s also asking them for donations.
Paul, 51, is in his first term in the Senate. He is up for re-election in Kentucky in 2016, but he is also being mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate.
A champion of the GOP’s libertarian wing, Paul has been a harsh critic of NSA programs that sweep up phone records of millions of Americans for use in terrorism investigations.
Last week, President Barack Obama announced changes to the program to provide more judicial oversight — changes Paul insisted do not go far enough to protect Americans’ constitutional liberties.
In his solicitation for plaintiffs, Paul said he was “outraged” by the surveillance and “that’s why I’m going to do everything I can to stop this madness.”
“So please sign below and join my class-action lawsuit and help stop the government’s outrageous spying program on the American people,” Paul said.
“After you sign up, please make a generous donation to help rally up to ten million Americans to support my lawsuit to stop Big Brother from infringing on our Fourth Amendment freedoms.”
People who sign up will have their name, email address and ZIP code put in Paul’s political database. All of those fields are required.
A Paul adviser told Politico that more than 300,000 have signed on as possible plaintiffs.
If Paul does seek the White House in 2016, his presidential ambitions may be complicated by a Kentucky law that prohibits him from running simultaneously for Senate and president.
State Republicans currently aren’t in a position to change that law because Democrats control the state House.
The law would only apply if Paul was successful in getting the Republican nomination. If he ran in the presidential primaries and didn’t win, he would be free to run for re-election to the Senate, as his father, Ron Paul, did in his U.S. House seat in Texas after he sought the White House in 2008.
Paul’s camp maintains the Kentucky law is unconstitutional because of a 1995 Supreme Court ruling that a state can’t impose its own restrictions in races for federal offices.