Wicker breaks with Trump, Hyde-Smith and GOP majority in vote against emergency declaration for border wall funding

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker speaks to media on behalf of Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith after her debate against Mike Espy inside the Farm Bureau Federation auditorium Tuesday, November 20, 2018.

In a rare break with the president, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker voted to overturn President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency along the country’s southwestern border.

Wicker, one of 12 Republican senators who joined Democrats on the bipartisan vote, said he supports the president’s plan to build a wall along the southern border. But he said he is “concerned about the precedent an emergency declaration sets.”

“I had very cordial conversations with the president yesterday and this morning. I shared with him that I strongly support his plan to build walls on our southern border, but that an emergency declaration was the wrong approach. The president already has almost $6 billion available that can be used to build border walls,” Wicker said in a statement on Thursday.

Forty one other senators, all Republicans, including Mississippi’s junior Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, voted in favor of the president’s declaration. Although she expressed reservations about the method of border funding, she said waiting to address the “crisis” was not an option.

“An emergency declaration may not be an ideal course of action, but an objective look at surging unlawful border crossings and illegal drug trafficking indicates we are facing a crisis that will get worse before it gets better,” Hyde-Smith said in a statement Thursday.

The final vote, 59-41, was a blow to Trump’s declaration, which would provide $3.6 billion in federal funds for security along the U.S. border with Mexico. The House, which is ruled by a Democratic majority, already voted against the declaration. But neither congressional vote was decisive enough to overrule the possibility of a presidential veto, something Trump signaled shortly after the Senate’s vote Thursday, writing in a tweet: “VETO!”

This would be the first veto of Trump’s presidency.

During the president’s first two years in office, Wicker’s votes aligned with Trump’s agenda more than 96 percent of the time, making him one of the most reliable votes for Trump in the Senate.

But Thursday’s vote marks the second time in 2019 that Wicker has not only deviated from the president’s agenda but done so on an issue of national security. In February, after Trump had called for a military draw down in Syria and Afghanistan, Wicker joined a bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans to oppose the withdrawal of U.S. troops from those areas. In his press release that day, unlike Thursday, Wicker, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, did not reference the president, instead framing his decision as a straightforward support for U.S. military stability in unstable regions.

“The strong bipartisan support of this proposal sends a message to America’s allies that our nation is united in its approach to security challenges in the Middle East,” Wicker said in a statement.

But the creation of a wall along the U.S. Mexico border was arguably the most indelible of Trump’s campaign promises, and in the hours leading up to the vote the president positioned opposition to his emergency declaration as opposition to the president, himself, writing Thursday morning in a tweet: “A vote for today’s resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for (Democratic Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!”

But ultimately some of Trump’s staunchest supporters in the Republican party couldn’t shake concerns that Trump’s decision to defy Congress, which had appropriated just over $1 billion for border security in January, at best would upset the balance of power between Congress and the president and, at worst, would be unconstitutional.

“I regret 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,” Wicker said in his statement.