Murkowski, Sullivan split on resolution to end Trump’s border emergency

Alaska's U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted Wednesday in favor of ending President Donald Trump’s February emergency declaration on the border, calling the decision a matter of upholding separation of powers between Congress and the president.

The emergency declaration allowed the president to divert some $3.6 billion that had been slated for military construction projects, including $102 million in Alaska-specific projects, to pay for his controversial border wall, a campaign promise that some border security experts say won’t be effective.

Murkowski has similarly been skeptical about the president’s desire to build a physical wall on the border, but has been supportive of his efforts to combat immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“My vote today is about ensuring we respect the separation and balance of powers that are fundamental to our democracy. The U.S. Constitution distinctly gives the legislative branch the power to appropriate,” she said in a prepared statement. “From the outset, I noted my opposition to this emergency declaration and what that meant, including my concern over diverting funds already appropriated for prioritized military construction projects. The administration’s recent announcement regarding the diversion of funds not only impacts important military construction projects in Alaska, but also many others across the nation.”

Of the $102 million in Alaska projects that have been diverted to pay for the wall are, according to a report by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, “two repair projects for central heat and power at Eielson Air Force Base, slated for January 2020 and February 2021; a project to improve the Eielson Combat Arms Training and Maintenance Range for small arms training set for January; and an effort to expand Missile Field 1 at Fort Greely, which was set to receive funding in January 2021.”

The Senate voted 54-41, falling short of the barrier needed to overcome a presidential veto.

One of the 41 votes against the resolution came from Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, who has supported Trump’s efforts on the border. Sullivan responded to the news that Trump would be diverting funds from Alaska projects by blaming the Democrats.

“While I do not agree with the decision to defer any military construction in Alaska, it should be noted that the Democrats’ obstruction to fund much needed border security has forced the Trump administration to undertake these measures,” Sullivan said at the time.

Why it matters

It’s one more time where the moderate Murkowski is being put at odds with the far more conservative Sullivan, President Trump and the Republican Party in general. This time, though, she’s not quite as far out on a branch as she was when she and Sens. Susan Collins and John McCain thwarted the Senate’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Murkowski was joined by 10 other Republicans in voting in favor of the resolution.

Like many of the ongoing fights between the Alaska Legislature and Republican Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy, this feud seems to largely be about where the constitutional authority to appropriate and spend money rests. At least, that’s how Murkowski has framed it.

“This is not about whether or not I support the President’s very legitimate concerns over border security, because I do. This is about the administration overstepping Constitutional authority, forcing Congress to relinquish power that is fundamentally ours,” she said. “We have and will continue working to address border security—by securing all our borders. But, in the interest of ensuring America can trust the system of checks and balances we have in place, we must do so through the appropriate channels.”

Still, add it to the long laundry list times Murkowski has run contrary to the wishes of Trump that will likely come up in 2022 if Republicans get serious about trying to once again give the moderate the boot in the party’s primary.

As for Sullivan, this vote will be framed as yet another example of the Republican siding with Trump over Alaska’s interests. While blaming Democrats for forcing Trump to defund Alaska projects, he’s also pointed out that the Alaska projects aren’t technically canceled because of president’s actions but only delayed until funding becomes available. Expect this vote to carry over into his 2020 election effort.

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