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Democracy gets a workout over president's emergency declaration

President Donald Trump, right, leans over to talk

President Donald Trump, right, leans over to talk with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., second from right after he arrived on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. Credit: AP/Susan Walsh

As every gym rat knows, muscles must be exercised or they lose their power.

So we were encouraged to see the U.S. Senate lock arms with its House colleagues Thursday by voting to overturn President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration of a crisis on the Southern border.

It’s been a while since both houses of Congress have flexed that muscle, called the separation of powers and defined in the Constitution. More exercising likely is on the way. The Senate vote followed by one day another rebuke of Trump when the chamber voted to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military action in Yemen, which has spawned an epic humanitarian crisis. The House is virtually certain to follow suit.

If they keep it up, they might even develop some muscle memory.

The issue with Trump’s declaration wasn’t so much whether there is a crisis, but what he wanted to do with it — divert $3.6 billion Congress allocated to military construction projects to build his wall. But spending money is the province of Congress. So is declaring war.

It was heartening to see 12 GOP senators reject Trump’s power grab. It was dismaying, but hardly surprising, that more Republicans who call themselves constitutionalists did not join them. With its 59-41 vote, the Senate rejected both Trump’s false contention that a yes vote would be a vote for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as the hypocrisy epitomized by his administration’s promise to Arizona Sen. Martha McSally that wall money would not be taken from any projects in her state if she supported the president in the vote.

With Trump promising a veto, the dispute eventually seems bound for the Supreme Court, where his own picks, based on their rulings and writings, might also defy him.

That, too, would be the democratic process at work. And the more it works, the stronger it gets.  

— The editorial board