Pa. lawmakers voice concern about Trump’s plan to declare national emergency

'I never thought that was a good idea. I still don’t,' U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said.

  • Ed Mahon

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate and House passed a spending plan to avoid a government shutdown before the deadline at midnight Friday.

Here’s what you need to know about the potential impact in Pennsylvania — and the role of state lawmakers.

Last time

The shutdown began Dec. 22 after President Donald Trump and members of Congress failed to reach a funding deal for parts of the federal government. At the time, Republicans controlled both the U.S. House and Senate.

The shutdown continued into January, as Democrats took over the U.S. House.

There were some immediate ramifications, while others took weeks to start developing. For instance:

How it ended

On Jan. 25, Trump announced that he would sign a spending deal lasting through Feb. 15, without money for a border wall. At the time, he said without a “fair deal” the government would either shut down again or he would “use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”

A national emergency and other options?

Back in January, Trump offered mixed signals about one possible solution: Declare a national emergency and direct billions of dollars of funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Republicans from Pennsylvania didn’t sound too enthused about the idea.

“I’m not convinced it’s a great idea. … I think the president probably has the legal authority to do this, but it’s really stretching the intent of the law,” U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, said during a visit to Armstrong County in western Pennsylvania, according to the Leader Times.

Toomey also said, “It’s probably not illegal.”

But it has remained an option.

In a Feb. 7 telephone town hall, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican from southcentral Pennsylvania, talked about a potential deal.

“The question is: Will it satisfy the president? He has implied that he has other options available to him under the Constitution,” Perry said. “And it’s my opinion that he does.”

Trump, Perry said, could also instruct the U.S. Department of Defense “to help interdict with drug trafficking across the open portions of the border.”

Marc Levy / Associated Press

Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania listens to speakers at a party rally with volunteer canvassers, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018 in Harrisburg, Pa.

This time

Congressional leaders appear close to a deal that includes $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, NPR reported. Trump originally wanted $5.7 billion for 200 miles of walls, The Washington Post reported.

The Morning Call of Allentown reported that “Pennsylvania’s congressional lawmakers offered some cautious praise Tuesday” for the agreement.

On Thursday afternoon, Trump wrote on Twitter that he was reviewing the deal.

On Friday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he spoke with Trump, and the president plans to sign the bill while also declaring a national emergency.

 

 Senate votes

The U.S. Senate passed the spending plan Thursday afternoon with a 83-16 vote


U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., voted against the spending plan. But he suggested the border funding wasn’t his objection. Instead, he criticized other spending in the plan.

“Clearly there was no serious attempt to curb Washington’s addiction to overspending,” Toomey said in a statement. “Instead, this bill adds to our mounting debt, and I could not support it.”

As for the national emergency, Toomey said his view hadn’t changed. “I never thought that was a good idea. I still don’t,” he said, according to a New York Times reporter.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., voted in favor of the spending plan and he criticized Trump over the national emergency plan.

“President Trump’s national emergency declaration is a complete abuse of power,” Casey said on his Twitter account. “No President can be allowed to spend taxpayer dollars without authorization from Congress.”

House votes

The House passed the spending plan later on Thursday.

Here’s some reaction from members of Congress:

All of the House Democrats from Pennsylvania voted in favor of the spending plan.

U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Democrat from the Philadelphia suburbs, said she voted in favor of the legislation to maintain vital services and avoid another shutdown. She criticized the national emergency plans.

“Congress has the power to appropriate funds, and the President’s declaration is an obvious overreach,” Dean said in a statement. “The legislative branch is weighing a range of options to preserve our constitutional system of checks and balances, and we will take action.”

Republicans from Pennsylvania were split.

U.S. Rep. John Joyce, a Republican from Blair County, said the spending plan didn’t include enough money for barriers on the border and was drawn up in secret.

“President Trump has signaled that if he signs this measure he will then have to take unilateral action to provide the additional wall funding that is necessary for our national security,” Joyce said in a statement. “He should not be forced to do that. Congress has a responsibility to provide adequate funding to protect the American people rather than have the President bail us out.”

He voted against the spending plan. So did Reps. Dan Meuser of Luzerne County, Perry, Lloyd Smucker of Lancaster County, Guy Reschenthaler of southwestern Pennsylvania and Mike Kelly of northwestern Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Bucks County and Glenn Thompson of Centre County voted in favor of the spending plan.

 

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