Historically, fewer than 10% of all presidential vetoes have been overturned, or 106 in total.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted 245-182 to overrule Donald Trump's declaration of national emergency regarding immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump declared a national emergency on February 15 in hopes to redirect up to $8 billion from military funds and the Treasury to fund a border wall. While unprecedented, the tactic could theoretically manipulate the Constitution's funding laws to successfully bypass Congress and allow a sitting president to reallocate funds without congressional permission. Even though the House passed the resolution to terminate the declaration of emergency, Trump has vowed to veto the resolution if it should make it to his desk. So how can Congress overrule a veto, and how rarely is it done?
When a president vetoes a bill, Congress can only override the veto by taking a second vote in both chambers and passing the bill with a two-third majority in both houses. Historically, fewer than 10% of all presidential vetoes have been overturned, or 106 in total. The last time Congress over-ruled a veto was October 11, 2000, when Bill Clinton's bill Energy and Water Development Appropriations.
The rarity of a veto override is attributed to the bipartisan conflict of each chamber of Congress. For example, in 2000, the Republicans held a majority in both the Senate and the house when they overruled the sitting Democrat president. The current Congress is divided between a Democrat-lead House (235-199) and a Republican-led Senate (53-45). Achieving a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress is simply unlikely when they are led by separate parties.
As for the resolution to overrule Trump's national emergency, the Senate is set to vote on the resolution before March 18. Since it's a privileged measure, no filibustering is allowed; only a majority will pass or defeat the resolution. The crux of the matter is whether enough Republican Senators can be swayed to vote with the Democrats. As of Friday, three Republican Senators have vowed to to do so: Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Only four more would be needed to send the resolution to Trump, assuming all Democrat Senator voted with their party. According to Five Thirty Eight, if Trump vetoes the measure, then both chambers of Congress are short of the votes needed to override (50 short in the House and 20 short in the Senate).
Thom Tillis wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post explaining his position to vote against party: "As a U.S. senator, I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress," Tillis explained. "As a conservative, I cannot endorse a precedent that I know future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms."
Prior to the House vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed House Republicans, "Is your oath of office to Donald Trump or is it to the Constitution of the United States? You cannot let him undermine your pledge to the Constitution."
It turns out national emergencies are very subjective.
The Trump administration has laid bare many of the failings of our government.
All three government branches are privy to partisanship. Our checks and balances may not necessarily work as intended. But most alarmingly, American presidential power might be far less defined than most people realized.
Historically, dictatorial regimes have utilized "national emergencies" as excuses to consolidate and reinforce power. We've seen this playbook employed by Erdogan in Turkey and by Duterte in the Philippines. But could this happen in America? The answer is murky. In fact, national emergencies are murky territory in general, the main problem being that most of the terminology involved is broad and ill-defined.
In a video posted by The Atlantic, Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, explains, "There's no legal definition of emergency, no requirement that congress ratify the decision, and no judicial review." In other words, the decision to declare a national emergency are almost entirely up to a president's personal discretion. Normally, we assume that our elected officials have the best interest of the people in mind, and would not declare a national emergency for personal or partisan political gain. But considering Donald Trump's noted praise of dictators like Erdogan, coupled with his extreme penchant for partisanship, we can no longer simply rely on the president's best judgment.
The question then becomes, "If the president declares a national emergency now, what powers can he abuse?"
1. The Power to Take Over Wire Communication
During a national emergency, the president has the power to shut down or take over radio stations. Assuming there's a threat of war (which, again, can be determined at the president's own discretion), that power expands to any and all wire communications. This executive power was last used during WWII, before most people utilized daily wire communication in any meaningful way beyond the occasional phone call.
Today, given the vagueness and broad applications of "wire communications," declaring a national emergency could allow the president to control Internet traffic in the US. This could include shutting down websites he didn't like, blocking emails to and from dissidents, and altering search results to only display pre-approved propaganda. Doing so would be akin to removing free speech from the Internet, and during a national emergency that would be completely within the president's power.
2. Sanctioning American Citizens
Imagine going to work, only to discover you've been fired because you can no longer legally be employed. You go back to your apartment and find out you're being evicted. So you go to the bank to take out cash for a hotel, but your funds are frozen. Turns out you're on a list of US citizens suspected of providing support to foreign threats. That's the potential reality of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
This act allows the president to declare a national emergency to "deal with any unusual extraordinary threat" that "has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States." It gives the president the power to freeze assets and block transactions where a foreign nation or foreign national might have a vested interest. George W. Bush used this after 9/11 to sanction those being investigated (sometimes wrongly) of helping terrorists. Were a president to declare "illegal immigrants" a national emergency, the implications could be disastrous.
3. Deploying the Military Within the US
The idea of armed soldiers marching down your city street to hunt down civilians might sound like something out of a dystopian novel. But during a national emergency, it could be an American reality. The Insurrection Act states that during a national emergency, the president can deploy military troops inside the US to suppress any "unlawful combinations" or "conspiracies" that "obstructs or hinders the execution of the law." The problem, again, is that the terms are so vaguely defined.
President Eisenhower once used this law to enforce desegregation in schools. But a president with different sentiments could just as easily use it against protestors or undocumented migrants. For instance, if Trump were to decide Black Lives Matter constituted an "unlawful combination" during a state of emergency, sending the army to suppress them would be fully within his power. Alternatively, a sanctuary city harboring illegal immigrants might be interpreted as a "conspiracy" and therefore subject to military rule.
In many ways, the limits of an American president's power during a national emergency have not been tested. On one hand, theoretical checks and balances do exist which could allow Congress to end a national emergency that was being abused. On the other hand, this would require a majority that a largely partisan Senate would likely not have. There also might be opportunities for the courts to block various moves made during a national emergency but, again, the legality here is largely untested.
Ultimately, as citizens, we must keep a watchful eye on our president's actions should he declare a national emergency. And if things go south, we must keep this in mind the next time we vote. After all, when one person who is supposed to represent all of us holds so much power, we must make sure it is a person of strong enough character and mental capability to understand the repercussions of his or her actions.
In a closed vote House Democrats spotlit Pelosi with overwhelming support, 203-32.
Nancy Pelosi secured the Democratic nomination on Wednesday, regaining her position as Speaker of the House. Pelosi, 78, ran unopposed on a secret ballot when the House Democrats cast a 203-32 vote in a closed door meeting.
Still, Pelosi was opposed by a small faction who charge that the Californian lawmaker is too divisive a figure to represent the party. Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) was an initial detractor, but he turned to voice his endorsement of Pelosi last week.
Higgins told reporters, "Democracy is a sloppy mess. ... There are a lot of differing views, even within the Democratic Caucus. The ability to pull that together is not clean and efficient all the time, and everyone has laid on the table what they are looking for." He added, "Everyone here, 435 members in the House, has one legislative tool and that is their vote."
The House of Representatives will elect a new speaker on January 3. Even with Democrats holding a majority of the 435 seats, it's still possible for Pelosi to lose the final vote; those 32 opposers are enough to tip the scales if Republicans unanimously reject her. Pelosi has until the new year to win over more representatives like Higgins.
Democrats have control of the House for the first time in eight years. Now, they have a mandate to push for a bold agenda on infrastructure, healthcare, immigration, and voting rights.
After months of warnings, the "Blue Wave" finally came to shore. Democrats took back control of the House, gaining 32 seats, a number that could increase to 38 or 39, depending on the results of the uncalled races. With the party back in charge of the lower chamber, much of the discussion around what their priorities should be has revolved around investigating the president and his myriad of financial and political scandals. House Democrats have a clear mandate to fulfill their constitutional duty to provide oversight of the White House, but Democrats also have a mandate to address a number of major legislative issues. Though it's unlikely Democrats that will get any of these priorities pushed before the president and a Republican Senate, it's crucial that they signal to their voters what they want to done should they win the presidency and the Senate in the future.
As a candidate and in the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump promised to tackle the nation's crumbling infrastructure. That, of course, has gone nowhere and every "Infrastructure Week" ended in some scandal, quickly becoming an ongoing joke. But the state of America's infrastructure is nothing to joke about. Infrastructure spending has long been a Democratic Party priority before Trump attempted to co-opt it. Democrats should push that issue once again, proposing a bold infrastructure plan to repair crumbling roads and bridges, modernize public transportation systems, expand access to high-speed, fiber-optic Internet, and invest in green energy projects like wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.
Such an infrastructure plan would signal the party's commitment to investing in neglected communities and funding renewable energy projects such as a broader plan to combat climate change—not to mention open the door to the many economic benefits of infrastructure spending. It would also establish a clear contrast with Trump's previous infrastructure plan that's been criticized as a giveaway to private contractors. The president has said he is willing to work with Democrats, so why not press him to keep his word? Democrats would be wise to pressure the president and his Republican supporters to prioritize infrastructure, or face political consequences.
No other issue played a bigger role in the Democrats' midterm success than healthcare. Their electoral message on healthcare was simple: Protect people with pre-existing conditions, expand coverage and stop proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Now they must deliver on these promises. House Democrats can immediately pass legislation to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, pressuring Trump and other Republicans who have vowed to do the same to keep their word. With a full repeal of the Affordable Care act now temporarily off the table, Democrats should push to expand coverage and address the limitations of the ACA. These can range from introducing incremental policies that get support from more moderate Democrats, like legislation to stabilize insurance markets, to bolder policies that attract the progressive wing of the party, like allowing Medicare more power to negotiate drug prices and proposing a Medicare buy-in for 55 to 64-year-olds.
While the long-term goal for the party should be to push for a Medicare for All system, these are positive steps toward a goal that still has a lot of opposition from within the party. Finally, any budget proposed by House Democrats should reverse any funding cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats have an ideal opportunity to push for a positive vision on healthcare and continue to have the upper hand on the issue heading into 2020.
Bitter political battles over immigration, especially over funding for the border wall and the fate of DACA, will be a prominent feature of politics the next two years. Democrats are right to be alarmed over the administration's immigration policies like family separation and ending DACA, but now it's crucial they advocate for an immigration agenda in contrast to the Republican agenda. With the fate of DACA likely in the hands of the Supreme Court, Democrats must push for a long-term legislative solution. The most stable solution is the passage of the Dream Act. It would also be politically beneficial for the Democrats to bring it to the floor cleanly, without a compromise on funding for the wall. Furthermore, Democrats should schedule hearings about the family separation policy and Trump's pre-election decision to bring troops to the southern border in response to the migrant caravan. Democratic voters have become more liberal on immigration, and it's important the party signal to its base that they are willing to find solutions on the issue without compromising its core values.
Much of the post-election analysis has focused on the effects of voter suppression, notably in Georgia, North Dakota, and Florida. These voter suppression efforts have only increased since the Supreme Court struck down the section of the Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of racial discrimination to get permission from the Department of Justice when enacting any changes in voting laws. In response, states around the country immediately passed strict voter ID laws. Fortunately, the Supreme Court decision left the door open for future legislative action. House Democrats can immediately take action and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. They would also be wise to propose legislation to make Election Day a federal holiday, or move Election Day to a Sunday, as it is in most places around the world. While Republicans are busy spreading conspiracy theories about voter fraud, Democrats should take the opposite path and make it clear they will fight continuing discrimination in voting. For strategic and moral purposes, the party has an obligation to extend democracy in every way when voting rights are under tremendous pressure.
Dan is a writer, thinker and occasional optimist in this random, chaotic world. You can follow him on Twitter @danescalona77.
It was an election night of firsts.
While the midterm elections didn't bring the overwhelming blue wave Democrats had hoped for, they managed to win an important moral victory, electing several representatives from demographics that had never before been represented in Congress.
In the 2018 midterms, the U.S. elected its first Muslim congresswomen, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, both Democrats. Kansas and New Mexico elected the nation's first Native American women to join congress, Democrats Deb Haaland (KS) and Sharice Davids (NM). South Dakota and Maine elected their first female governors, Tennessee and Arizona sent women to the Senate for the first time, and Massachusetts and Connecticut elected their first-ever black women to the House. These milestones are joined by America's first lesbian mom in congress (Angie Craig, Minnesota), the first openly gay man elected as a state's governor (Jared Polis, Colorado), and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, twenty-nine-year-old Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY).
As NPR reports, "record numbers of Native Americans, Muslim Americans and women, including many women of color, ran for office in 2018. A 'rainbow wave' of LGBTQ candidates also sought office. And after the ballots were cast, all those groups notched notable firsts."
These candidates can likely thank a record turnout by women and young people for their victories. The polls found that voters under 30 favored Democrats by a 35-point margin over Republicans, compared with an 11-point margin in 2014, and women chose the Democratic Party by 19 points — the largest margin in the history of US midterms — compared with their margin of four points in 2014, according to network exit surveys from CNN.
Despite these Democratic victories, Trump can take comfort in the fact that Republicans managed to retain control of the Senate, exposing an America deeply divided. As CNN points out, the midterm results "underscored a political and cultural gulf among diverse and affluent liberals living in big cities and their suburbs and the mostly, white, working class and rural conservative bloc of voters for whom Trump remains an iconic figure." The midterm elections proved that the extreme polarization of political leanings, to which many attribute Trump's 2016 election, are still alive and well in America.
But even with consistent support from his base, this new influx of progressives to Washington spells bad news for the Trump administration, as Democrats are prepared to closely scrutinize Trump's policies on immigration, education, and healthcare. But progressive leaders have also made it clear that they don't plan to immediately pursue impeachment, as former House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi said that a call for impeachment "would have to be bipartisan, and the evidence would have to be so conclusive."
Despite this, Trump has already begun threatening Democrats with retaliation if they move to investigate him, tweeting:
If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else, at the Senate level. Two can play that game!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has also picked up this defensive tune, telling reporters Wednesday morning that he cautioned Democrats against engaging in "presidential harassment."
In response, Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the likely leader of the House Judiciary Committee, cautioned Republicans that the election was about accountability for Trump. "He's going to learn that he's not above the law," Nadler said.