Editor’s note: Story updated with U.S. House vote and comment from U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers.
Arkansas’ U.S. Senators split their votes Thursday (Feb. 14) on a compromise bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security and a portion of President Donald Trump’s controversial border wall. U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., voted for the bill, with U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., against. Neither Senator commented on Trump’s promise to enact a national emergency to find additional wall funding.
Democratic leaders said they are planning a legal challenge to Trump’s effort to direct more money to a border wall by declaring a national emergency.
The U.S. Senate voted 83-16 on the resolution that sets aside $1.375 billion for a 55-mile border barrier, which was less than the $5.7 billion Trump wanted for more than 200 miles of wall on the southern border. In his recent State of the Union joint address, Trump called on funding for new security along the nation’s southern border. The divisive topic was at the center of a partial federal government shutdown for nearly 35 days at the end of 2018 and in the early days of 2019 following Trump’s late December rejection of what was then a compromise bill between GOP and Democratic leadership.
The U.S. House voted 300 to 128 late Thursday night for the resolution. The four members of Arkansas’ House delegation were split on the resolution, with U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, and Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, voting against it, and U.S. Reps. French Hill, R-Little Rock, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, voted for.
Congressional leaders in the House and Senate worked on this new compromise ahead of a Feb. 15 deadline that could have resulted in another partial government shutdown.
“While far from a perfect bill, passage of this legislation ends the uncertainty by fully funding the government while supporting additional resources to secure our nation’s borders,” Boozman said in a statement. “The bill includes nearly $23 billion for overall border security. It provides an unprecedented level of funding for immigration enforcement agencies to ensure that our law enforcement officials have the resources they need to keep the American people safe, protects our ability to detain criminal illegal aliens and includes nearly $1.4 billion in funding for 55 new miles of physical barriers in the most needed areas along the southern border. This is an important step, considering the initial resistance on the part of Democrats to additional border security funding and their insistence that no money for a physical barrier would be provided.”
Sen. Cotton said the compromise bill is not enough.
“While I’m pleased this bill makes a down payment on border security, I can’t support its limits on the construction of physical barriers as well as law enforcement’s authority to detain and deport criminal illegal aliens. Congress must act to fully secure our border and stop the flow of illegal aliens and deadly drugs into our country,” Arkansas’ junior Senator noted in a statement.
Trump Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed that Trump had told U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky that he planned to sign the bill and declare a national emergency.
“President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action — including a national emergency—to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border,” Sanders wrote in a note to the media. “The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York issued a joint statement on Trump’s move toward declaring a national emergency.
“Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall. It is yet another demonstration of President Trump’s naked contempt for the rule of law. This is not an emergency, and the president’s fearmongering doesn’t make it one. He couldn’t convince Mexico, the American people or their elected representatives to pay for his ineffective and expensive wall, so now he’s trying an end-run around Congress in a desperate attempt to put taxpayers on the hook for it. The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities.”
Boozman spokesman Patrick Creamer told Talk Business & Politics that Boozman “is waiting to see what the scope and perimeters of the emergency order would be before he weighs in on that.”
Westerman, R-Hot Springs, was critical of Democratic tactics.
“Although we don’t have time to digest everything that’s in the bill, we do know what’s not in it. Even with hundreds of pages and provisions, the bill somehow still fails to give President Trump the resources he requested to secure the Southern border,” Western said prior to Thursday night’s House vote. “Not only that, but Democratic leadership has also waited three weeks to act on border funding, and in the eleventh hour – as the government is on the brink of needlessly shutting down for the second time this year – they negotiate a bill and attempt to force it through the legislative process.”
Westerman also said he hopes a national emergency declaration would not be made.
“I hoped it wouldn’t get to a point where the president contemplated declaring a national emergency, and for the sake of precedent, I hope he doesn’t have to do it. This is a failure of Congress, plain and simple. We must return to regular order and pass clean appropriations bills in a timely manner. Anything less is political gamesmanship and harmful to the American people.”
Womack said the funding avoids another shutdown and provides a “stronger base” for future border security efforts.
“Tonight, Congress fulfilled its constitutional duty and fully funded the federal government. While not perfect — as no compromise is — this deal prevents another costly shutdown and confronts resistance to securing the southern border. We are delivering more resources to secure our border, support our law enforcement agents, and keep America’s communities safe. Importantly, these steps forward also give us a stronger base to work from in the next fiscal year,” Womack noted in his statement.
Crawford and Hill did not respond to requests from Talk Business & Politics for comment.