SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's two senators were among a dozen Republicans voting Thursday to buck President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency for funds to build a wall on the southern border.
Both Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Mitt Romney voted for the Democratic measure to disapprove Trump's order, which passed 59-41. The Democratic-controlled House passed it last month.
Lee in a Senate floor speech blamed Congress for "voluntarily" relinquishing its legislative power to the White House over the years and said he "reluctantly" supported the resolution.
"This is not about the president. This is not about my disagreement with or disapproval of the president or his approach to border security or his approach to build a barrier along our southern border. I think all those things need to happen,” Lee, R-Utah, said.
"But this law, Mr. President, is wrong. It’s not President Trump's fault. It Congress'."
After weeks of holding his decision close to the vest, Romney, R-Utah, said early Thursday's that he would vote for the resolution to disapprove the emergency declaration.
"This is a vote for the Constitution and for the balance of powers that is at its core. For the executive branch to override a law passed by Congress would make it the ultimate power rather than a balancing power," Romney said in a statement.
Trump has his pen ready for what would be the first veto of his presidency. He tweeted one word shortly after the vote: "VETO!"
The president later tweeted, "I look forward to VETOING the just passed Democrat inspired Resolution which would OPEN BORDERS while increasing Crime, Drugs, and Trafficking in our Country. I thank all of the Strong Republicans who voted to support Border Security and our desperately needed WALL!"
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said he wouldn't expect any White House backlash against Lee and Romney, at least not long term.
"The Senate is so closely divided, President Trump will need all the Republican senators to pass legislation he cares about," he said. "He cannot afford to alienate two senators from a very red state."
And because they were two of 12 senators who voted against the president, "Trump is actually in a weak position to exact some sort of retribution," Karpowitz said.
Romney said his vote is not a vote against border security.
"In fact, I agree that a physical barrier is urgently needed to help ease the humanitarian crisis at the southern border, and the administration already has $4.5 billion available within existing authority to fund a barrier — even without an emergency declaration," he said.
Romney said he is "seriously concerned" that overreach by the executive branch is an invitation to further expansion and abuse by future presidents.
"We experienced a similar erosion of congressional authority with President Obama’s unilateral immigration orders, which I strenuously opposed," he said. "In the case before us now, where Congress has enacted specific policy, to consent to an emergency declaration would be both inconsistent with my beliefs and contrary to my oath to defend the Constitution.”
Lee said Wednesday that he would vote to reverse the emergency declaration after he didn't see a path forward for his own bill to reclaim legislative powers for Congress from the executive branch. Trump told Lee in a phone call Wednesday that he would not support his bill.
In his floor speech, Lee referenced a U.S. Supreme Court case that his late father and former U.S. Solicitor General Rex E. Lee argued that led Congress to remove legislative veto provisions from hundreds of laws and replace them with resolutions of disapproval, which are subject to a presidential veto.
"If he were here today, I would perhaps half jokingly acknowledge that maybe he’s in some ways to blame for this," Lee said.
Lee also said "liberal elitists' cult-like zeal" for a centralized government led to Thursday's vote. Congress, he said, has been "relegated to the back seat" when it comes to passing laws and making policy.
"Centralization is not unity," he said. "It’s surrender."160 comments on this story
Lee also avowed his support for Trump's immigration strategies, saying he agrees there is a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, favors the president's new "remain in Mexico" policy for asylum seekers and supports calling up military reservists to help border agents. He also encouraged full congressional funding for a wall.
Trump put out several tweets ahead of Thursday's vote.
"A vote for today’s resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!" he tweeted.
The president also tweeted, "If, at a later date, Congress wants to update the law, I will support those efforts, but today’s issue is BORDER SECURITY and Crime!!! Don’t vote with Pelosi!"