A floating city of fishing tenders, in town for the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery, is pictured near the Sitka Channel breakwater Tuesday. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Senate Follows House, Says No to Emergency

Associated Press
    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-run Senate firmly rejected President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southwest border today, setting up a veto fight and dealing him a conspicuous rebuke as he tested how boldly he could ignore Congress in pursuit of his highest-profile goal.
    The Senate voted 59-41 to cancel Trump’s February proclamation of a border emergency, which he invoked to spend $3.6 billion more for border barriers than Congress had approved. Twelve Republicans joined Democrats in defying Trump in a showdown many GOP senators had hoped to avoid because he commands die-hard loyalty from millions of conservative voters who could punish defecting lawmakers in next year’s elections.
    With the Democratic-controlled House’s approval of the same resolution last month, Senate passage sends it to Trump. He has shown no reluctance to casting his first veto to advance his campaign exhortation, “Build the Wall,” which has prompted roars at countless Trump rallies. Approval votes in both the Senate and House fell short of the two-thirds majorities that would be needed for an override to succeed.
    “VETO!” Trump tweeted minutes after the vote.
    Trump has long been comfortable vetoing the measure because he thinks it will endear him to his political base, said a White House official, commenting anonymously because the official wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
    Though Trump seems sure to prevail in that battle, it remains noteworthy that lawmakers of both parties resisted him in a fight directly tied to his cherished campaign theme of erecting a border wall. The roll call came just a day after the Senate took a step toward a veto fight with Trump on another issue, voting to end U.S. support for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition’s war in Yemen.
    In a measure of how remarkable the confrontation was, Thursday was the first time Congress has voted to block a presidential emergency since the National Emergency Act became law in 1976.
    Even before Thursday’s vote, there were warnings that GOP senators resisting Trump could face political consequences. 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.
    At the White House, Trump did not answer when reporters asked if there would be consequences for Republicans who voted against him.
    “I’m sure he will not be happy with my vote,” said moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a GOP defector who faces re-election next year in a state that reveres independent streaks in its politicians. “But I’m a United State senator and feel my job to stand up for the Constitution. So let the chips fall where they may.”
    Alaska’s Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski issued a statement from her office explaining her position on the emergency order override, which she co-sponsored in the Senate:
    “I take very seriously my oath to uphold the Constitution, and my respect for the balance within the separation of powers,” Murkowski said in the statement. “Article 1 provides that the power to appropriate lies with the legislative branch. When the executive branch goes around the express intention of Congress on matters within its jurisdiction, we must speak up or legislative acquiescence will erode our constitutional authority. We can and must address the President’s very legitimate concerns over border security, but we must not do it at the expense of ceding Congress’ power of the purse.”
    Alaska’s junior Senator Dan Sullivan, also a Republican, disagreed with the bipartisan majority.
    “There is no doubt that a crisis exists at the border,” Sullivan said in a statement from his office. “With the influx of drugs, crime, and human trafficking as a result of a porous southern border, I could not vote for a bill that, in effect, would block the President’s attempt—using authority authorized by Congress and previously invoked by numerous Presidents—to better secure the border and keep Americans safe.”
    Underscoring the political pressures in play, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., one of the first Republicans to say he’d oppose Trump’s border emergency, voted Thursday to support it.
    Tillis, who faces a potentially difficult re-election race next year, cited talks with the White House that suggest Trump could be open to restricting presidential emergency powers in the future. Tillis wrote in a Washington Post opinion column last month that there’d be “no intellectual honesty” in backing Trump after his repeated objections about executive overreach by President Barack Obama.
    Still, the breadth of opposition among Republicans suggested how concern about his declaration had spread to all corners of the GOP. Republican senators voting for the resolution blocking Trump included Mitt Romney of Utah, the party’s 2012 presidential candidate; Mike Lee of Utah, a solid conservative; Trump 2016 presidential rivals Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a respected centrist.
    Republicans control the Senate 53-47. Democrats solidly opposed Trump’s declaration.
    Presidents have declared 58 national emergencies since the 1976 law, but this was the first aimed at accessing money that Congress had explicitly denied, according to Elizabeth Goitein, co-director for national security at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice.
    Trump and Republicans backing him said there is a legitimate security and humanitarian crisis at the border with Mexico. They also said Trump was merely exercising his powers under the law, which largely leaves it to presidents to decide what a national emergency is.
    “The president is operating within existing law, and the crisis on our border is all too real,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
    Opponents said Trump’s assertion of an emergency was overblown. They said he issued his declaration only because Congress agreed to provide less than $1.4 billion for barriers and he was desperate to fulfill his campaign promise on the wall. They said the Constitution gives Congress, not presidents, control over spending and said Trump’s stretching of emergency powers would invite future presidents to do the same for their own concerns.
    “He’s obsessed with showing strength, and he couldn’t just abandon his pursuit of the border wall, so he had to trample on the Constitution to continue his fight,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
    Republicans had hoped that Trump would endorse a separate bill by Utah’s Sen. Lee constraining emergency declarations in the future and that would win over enough GOP senators to reject Thursday’s resolution.

Gov Says All Alaska To Feel Budget Cuts

Associated Press
    JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed sweeping budget cuts Wednesday that he said are necessary to resolve an ongoing deficit. Critics called his plan reckless and said it would devastate key services such as education.
    Dunleavy, a Republican, said sacrifices are needed to resolve a deficit that has been forecast for the coming fiscal year at $1.6 billion.
    “This budget is going to impact all Alaskans,” he told reporters.
    Dunleavy is proposing deep cuts to public education, the university system, Medicaid and Alaska’s ferry system. He also proposed changes in petroleum property tax collections that would benefit the state while affecting some boroughs and municipalities.
    University of Alaska system President Jim Johnsen said the system faces a cut of more than $130 million, which could force layoffs of up to 1,300 people and the elimination of programs. As a point of reference, the system said it could close the University of Alaska Anchorage and still not meet that level of cut.
    NEA-Alaska, a major teachers’ union, said cuts of more than $300 million for K-12 schools and early education “would fundamentally alter the course of public education in Alaska.”
    Dunleavy’s plan also would cut state support for the marine highway system, a major transportation artery in rural southeast Alaska, with hopes that another management option will be found.
    The state also is eyeing changes to Medicaid, including lower reimbursement rates and restructuring. Dunleavy’s budget office said state health commissioner Adam Crum was working with the federal government on a proposal.
    Mike Barnhill, a policy director in the budget office, said there are no current plans to eliminate coverage for those on Medicaid. “It’s reducing provider rates and finding a new way of providing coverage at a reduced cost to the state,” he said.
    Budget documents show plans to eliminate adult preventative dental benefits under Medicaid, which Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow said is an optional service. He said everyone in that population would remain eligible for required services, including emergency dental coverage.
    Becky Hultberg, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, said Medicaid is a major linchpin for the state’s health care system. She said several small hospitals last year had less than 10 days cash available.
    “You can’t cut rates and services and expect that they’re going to be able to survive,” Hultberg said. If those services are lost, there may be people without access to emergency care or specialists, she said.
    The budget release came 30 days into a scheduled 90-day session. Lawmakers will now vet the plan and come up with their own version.
    Alaska has experienced years of multibillion dollar deficits, with lawmakers blowing through billions in reserves to help fill the gap.
    Last year, however, with options dwindling and ongoing disagreements over continued budget cuts and taxes, the Legislature began dipping into earnings from the state’s oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund, to help cover costs. That has created tension because earnings also are used to pay the annual dividend Alaskans receive from the fund.
    Dunleavy has said spending should match revenue. He has resisted talk of any new taxes and called for a full dividend payout.
    Under a law that seeks to limit how much can be withdrawn from permanent fund earnings, $2.9 billion will be available to be spent among government and dividends in the coming fiscal year. A full dividend payout alone would account for $1.9 billion of that.
    Critics of that law have said it could be ignored. However, many legislators, particularly in the Senate, have bristled at the idea of treating fund earnings as an easy-access piggy bank and overspending from it.
    Jay Parmley, executive director of the state Democratic party, called Dunleavy’s proposals reckless. But Ryan McKee, grassroots director for Americans for Prosperity-Alaska, said Dunleavy has recognized the state’s fiscal reality.
    “It’s simple, our government can’t spend more than it has,” McKee said.

House Ends Standoff, Finally Picks Speaker

Associated Press
    JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska state Rep. Bryce Edgmon, who changed his party affiliation from Democrat to undeclared earlier this week, was elected House speaker today, ending a standoff that had paralyzed the chamber.
    The 21-18 vote came on the 31st day of the legislative session — the longest stretch the House had gone without electing a permanent speaker. It also came the day after Gov. Mike Dunleavy released a budget proposal with sweeping cuts.
    The House was limited in what it could do without a permanent speaker and majority organization. While lawmakers held private and informational public meetings, they had yet to hear a single bill.
    Edgmon, who is from Dillingham, was speaker during the last Legislature, when he led a largely Democratic coalition that also included currently serving Republican Reps. Louise Stutes and Gabrielle LeDoux and independent Dan Ortiz.

Alaska State House of Representative Rep. Bryce Edgmon, of Dillingham, listens during a floor session on January 22 in Juneau. Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tompkins, Sitka, is in the background. (Sentinel Photo by Klas Stolpe)

    A state elections official said Edgmon changed his party affiliation from Democrat to undeclared earlier this week. Edgmon told reporters Thursday that helped get a majority organization together.
    The Republicans supporting Edgmon for speaker Thursday were Stutes, who is from Kodiak, and Anchorage Reps. LeDoux, Jennifer Johnston and Chuck Kopp. Edgmon said Johnston and Kopp will be part of the majority, with Kopp slated to be majority leader.
    It was not immediately clear how large the organization would be. But Edgmon said he expected Fairbanks Republican Rep. Steve Thompson and North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson to be a part of it.
    Edgmon said Thompson was set to be House Rules chair and that Wilson and Democratic Rep. Neal Foster of Nome would be House Finance Committee co-chairs.
    He said lawmakers have strived to put together a diverse coalition to attack issues that “may be among the most challenging that any Legislature has had to face, perhaps even in the history of Alaska.” The budget, the annual dividend Alaskans receive from the state’s oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund, and crime are big issues this session.
    In 1981, a permanent speaker wasn’t elected until the 22nd day of session, but that organization was tenuous and the speaker was later replaced.
    Thursday’s vote followed multiple failed efforts to elect a speaker this session.
    During a floor speech, Kopp said Rep. Dave Talerico, whom Republicans had repeatedly offered for the role of speaker, is a good friend. But Kopp said the gridlock had gone on too long and something needed to change.
    While Republicans hold 23 of the House’s 40 seats, three Republicans, Stutes, LeDoux and Rep. Gary Knopp, had not aligned with the GOP caucus and Talerico could never muster the necessary support. Knopp was excused from the floor session Thursday.
    Republican Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla said Alaskans wanted change, and a vote for Edgmon would be “flying in the face of the request of voters in this last election.”
    Johnston said she was doing what she thought was right for Alaska in voting for Edgmon. “And what’s right for Alaska is that we get this House in order and we make it functional,” she said.   

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