WASHINGTON — In a stunning rebuke, a dozen defecting Republicans joined Senate Democrats on Thursday to block the national emergency that President Donald Trump declared so he could build his border wall with Mexico. The rejection capped a week of confrontation with the White House as both parties in Congress strained to exert their power in new ways.
The 59-41 tally, following the Senate's vote a day earlier to end U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, promised to force Trump into the first vetoes of his presidency. Trump had warned against both actions. Moments after Thursday's vote, the president tweeted a single word of warning: "VETO!"
Two years into the Trump era, a defecting dozen Republicans, pushed along by Democrats, showed a willingness to take that political risk. Twelve GOP senators, including the party's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney of Utah, joined the dissent over the emergency declaration order that would enable the president to seize for the wall billions of dollars Congress intended elsewhere.
"The Senate's waking up a little bit to our responsibilities," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who said the chamber had become "a little lazy" as an equal branch of government. "I think the value of these last few weeks is to remind the Senate of our constitutional place."
Many senators said the vote was not necessarily a rejection of the president or the wall, but protections against future presidents -- namely a Democrat who might want to declare an emergency on climate change, gun control or any number of other issues.
"This is constitutional question, it's a question about the balance of power that is core to our constitution," Romney said. "This is not about the president," he added. "The president can certainly express his views as he has and individual senators can express theirs."
Thursday's vote was the first direct challenge to the 1976 National Emergencies Act, just as Wednesday's on Yemen was the first time Congress invoked the decades-old War Powers Act to try to rein in a president. Seven Republicans joined Democrats in halting U.S. backing for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the aftermath of the kingdom's role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
"Today's votes cap a week of something the American people haven't seen enough of in the last two years," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, "both parties in the United States Congress standing up to Donald Trump."
The result is a role-reversal for Republicans who have been reluctant to take on Trump, bracing against his high-profile tweets and public attacks of reprimand. But now they are facing challenges from voters — in some states where senators face stiff elections -- who are expecting more from Congress.
Centrist Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who's among those most vulnerable in 2020, said she's sure the president "will not be happy with my vote. But I'm a United States senator and I feel my job is to stand up for the Constitution, so let the chips fall where they may."
Trump's grip on the party, though, remains strong and the White House made it clear that Republicans resisting Trump could face political consequences. Ahead of the voting, Trump framed the issue as with-him-or-against-him on border security, a powerful argument with many.
"A vote for today's resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!" Trump tweeted. "Don't vote with Pelosi!" he said in another, referring to the speaker of the House.
A White House official said Trump won't forget when senators who oppose him want him to attend fundraisers or provide other help. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on internal deliberations.
"I don't think anybody's sending the president a message," said Jim Risch of Idaho, the GOP chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He blamed the media for "reaching" to view every action "through the prism of the presidency, and that isn't necessarily the way it works here."
Trump brought on the challenge months ago when he all but dared Congress not to give him the $5.7 billion he was demanding to build the U.S.-Mexico wall or risk a federal government shutdown.
Congress declined and the result was the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Trump invoked the national emergency declaration last month, allowing him to try to tap some $3.6 billion for the wall by shuffling money from military projects, and that drew outrage from many lawmakers. Trump had campaigned for president promising Mexico would pay for the wall.
The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse, and lawmakers seethed as they worried about losing money for military projects that had already been approved for bases at home and abroad. The Democratic-led House swiftly voted to terminate Trump's order.
Trump did tweet ahead of the vote that he would be willing to consider legislation to adjust the 1976 law at some later time.
That was enough of a signal for GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, who faces a potentially tough re-election in North Carolina, to flip his vote, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the private thinking and granted anonymity.
The end is nigh, at least in the case of Flagstaff’s search for a new city manager.
Over a year since former city manager Josh Copley resigned the position citing discourteous treatment on the part of some councilmembers, Flagstaff City Council is reviewing four candidates who applied to take the job.
Of the four, three are from outside Arizona while the fourth, Shane Dille, has been a deputy city manager for Flagstaff for the past three years.
Jill Keimach has previously worked in cities across California, John Craig currently works as a deputy manager in Rio Rancho, N.M. (part of the Albuquerque metro area), and Sara Hensley has worked as an interim assistant city manager in Austin, Texas.
One of the four will replace interim city manager Barbara Goodrich, who has been holding the position since Copley’s departure and is looking to retire.
While three new people have joined the council since Copley’s departure, three other councilmembers and the mayor remain. None of the candidates for city manager said they were particularly concerned about working with any of the councilmembers.
Keimack said she has been viewing many of the council meetings and was “impressed at how professional and civil they work, at least from the outside perspective, and I hope that is authentic and will continue into the future.”
Keimack added a good working relationship with Council is of particular concern to her.
Keimack left her previous position as the city manager in Alameda, California after she secretly recorded a dispute between herself and two councilmembers over who to hire as the new fire chief. Keimach alleged the two were threatening her job if she did not hire their preferred candidate for the position.
Recording someone without their knowledge is against the law in California, but not in cases where the recording is made with the belief that it may show certain criminal conduct, according to reporting by the San Francisco Chronicle. As such, Keimach was cleared of any wrongdoing by the D.A., and she received a $945,000 severance package from the city of Alameda upon her later departure.
Craig agreed with Keimach that he was not particularly concerned over treatment by Council but added that in such a position as city manager, some amount of conflict is inevitable.
“As an employee who reports to seven individuals, it is important to have an individual relationship with each of them so you know where they are coming from and what they’re thinking,” Craig said.
Dille, who worked at the city through that time, said he believed many of the councilmembers have learned a lot since that time and what he appreciates is that the council and the city as an organization still have a sense of how they can grow and improve.
He added that “when Council hires a manager, they should establish clear and well communicated expectations.”
Hensley said during her time as interim assistant city manager in Austin, dealing with problems was often and issue of communication and bringing all the stakeholders to the table.
“[It’s important to look] at where you want to have an urban feel and more commercial development and how important it is to engage your citizens about why the need for development, but in the right place and the right time,” Hensley said.
Keimack said she too has worked on issues related to development and housing throughout her career and hopes to bring some of that experience to Flagstaff.
“I have worked in the public sector for 30 years and I feel like 29 of those years I have been working on affordable housing and homelessness and transportation,” Keimack said. “They're sticky situations and hard-to-solve problems and there’s not one solution.”
At the same time, even as the priorities of the council change and its members rotate out, Hensley said it can be important to keep Council up to date on the progress staff members are making and the goals they set forth.
Both Dille and Craig agreed.
“[The] manager knows what’s going on every day and has to keep their bosses informed,” Craig said. “It’s important to communicate with Council what you’re going to do and why you’re going to do it.”
As the only internal candidate, Dille finds himself in a somewhat different situation than the other three candidates. But he said in his time at the city, he has had the opportunity to work with nearly every part of the organization.
“It has really given me a good depth of experience in terms of what our operations are and more importantly, what kind of issues the community faces,” Dille said.
FLAGSTAFF — The first female superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park resigned Thursday, less than three years after she took the helm of one of the country's most popular tourist destinations.
Christine Lehnertz's resignation comes months after she was reassigned amid a federal investigation that cleared her of allegations of creating a hostile work environment and wasting park resources.
In an email to Grand Canyon employees, Lehnertz said the past few months have been life-changing and she reassessed her priorities.
"My experiences have served to reinforce the core of my life's values — compassion, fairness, honesty, civility and respect — and I will always stay involved in protecting our nation's public lands and democratic principles," she wrote.
Lehnertz was the park's first openly gay, female superintendent and the second consecutive Grand Canyon chief to leave under pressure. She started the job in August 2016, tasked with changing what federal investigators said was a pervasive culture of sexual harassment.
She has said she was making strides to build a respectful and inclusive workplace by addressing the backlog of misconduct complaints and conducting healing circles. And she said she was proud of employees' progress.
She was reassigned within the National Park Service in late October while the inspector general of its parent agency, the Interior Department, looked into a subordinate's complaints that Lehnertz wrongfully proposed a one-day suspension, that she bullied or retaliated against male leaders, and that she wasted $180,000 to renovate a park residence.
Her Denver-based attorney, Kevin Evans, said Lehnertz also was ordered not to contact Grand Canyon's staff.
Investigators found Lehnertz did nothing wrong. She acknowledged that some employees found her personality harsh when she is stressed and that she asks detailed questions but said she had try to "check" herself, according to the investigative report.
Lehnertz was set to return to the Grand Canyon ahead of the park's centennial celebration in late February. But Evans advised her not to go back.
"If Chris has her preference, she would be back," Evans said. "But people can blame me for that."
Evans said he urged Lehnertz not to resume her role because he was concerned for her safety and wanted the park service and the Interior Department to "take appropriate action against people who make baseless and defamatory accusations about Chris and other top managers."
He pointed to the latest allegations and others in which a park safety manager alleged top officials at the Grand Canyon were covering up the risks of having three buckets with uranium ore stored in a building that houses archives and research collections. Experts say the concerns about radiation exposure were overblown.
Evans says he was negotiating with the park service on Lehnertz's employment status, but the talks fell through. Her last day is March 31.
The park service says it doesn't generally comment on personnel issues.
"We greatly appreciate the service Chris has provided the public and the National Park Service, and we wish her the very best in her future endeavors," spokesman Michael Litterst said in an email.
In a statement, Lehnertz said she would pursue what's important to her when she leaves the Grand Canyon, including empowering women, promoting social justice and supporting families challenged by Alzheimer's. Her mother had the disease, and Lehnertz learned of her death the day she was reassigned from the park.
Lehnertz succeeded Dave Uberuaga, who was forced to retire in May 2016 after federal investigators accused him of failing to properly look into and report complaints that male workers were sexually harassing female colleagues. He wasn't implicated in the allegations and kept his job during the investigation.
Another superintendent at a popular park was forced out in an apparent "punitive action" following disagreements with the Trump administration over how many bison Yellowstone National Park could sustain.
Dan Wenk initially planned to retire in March after being offered a transfer he didn't want but was replaced last year.