Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a senior and influential Republican, implored President Donald Trump on Thursday to find other pots of money available to him to build a border wall with Mexico and avoid going forward with his declaration of a national emergency.
Alexander said doing so would mean there would not be a “dangerous precedent” of a president using the emergency declaration to go directly over the will of Congress, which in this case voted to deny him those border wall funds.
It would also avoid a possible constitutional clash between the legislative and executive branches, as Congress weighs a resolution of disapproval to kill the emergency declaration with a key vote in the Senate expected sometime in the next two weeks after it passed the House Tuesday.
Alexander, who has not announced how he will vote on that resolution, raised his concerns the same day another Republican senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, signaled he may vote against Trump on the issue.
“What I would like him to do is take another look at his existing authority and if he has sufficient funds to build 234 miles of wall, to use that,” Alexander told reporters after delivering a floor speech on the issue. “From his point of view, it should avoid litigation, make sure the wall gets built, and avoid this dangerous precedent that I believe is unnecessary.”
Alexander added that, “Many Republican senators share that view.”
So far, three GOP senators have said they will join with the 47 Democrats to vote in favor of a resolution of disapproval of the national emergency, meaning if one more Republican – from a long list of undecideds – signs on, it will pass the Senate after passing the House earlier this week.
While Trump would veto it, and an override effort would likely fail because two-thirds super majority of each chamber would have to vote to against the President, the initial vote would be a rebuke of Trump and a message that even Republicans think he is overstepping his constitutional bounds.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said senators aren’t looking forward to the vote.
“People are caught between the need for border security and agreeing with (what) the President’s trying to do, but not how he wants to do it,” Grassley said.
Alexander, a member of the influential Appropriations Committee and who is retiring at the end of this term, said his proposal, which would draw on existing funds at the Treasury Department and Pentagon, would allow “Republican senators who want to support him on border security to be able to do that and also to keep our oath to the Constitution involving separation of powers.”
He said the country is in uncharted territory with Trump’s declaration.
“We’ve never had a case where a president has asked for money, been refused the money by Congress, then use the national emergency powers to spend it anyway,” Alexander said. “To me that’s a dangerous precedent.”
After being swarmed by reporters after his floor speech, Alexander would not reveal whether he would be the 51st vote for the resolution of disapproval.
“I will announce how I’m going to vote when I know what we’re going to be voting on,” Alexander said, adding, “I learned a long time ago not to announce how will I will vote on something when I don’t know what the vote will be.”
Paul said he is concerned about constitutional overreach by the executive branch and appeared poised to vote against Trump’s emergency declaration.
“I think it’s a bad idea to run government by emergency and the power of the purse should remain with Congress,” he said, stopping short of announcing how he will vote.
Alexander said he delivered copies of his floor remarks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a close ally, and the White House counsel’s office before his speech.
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.