FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2019 file photo, construction crews install new border wall sections seen from Tijuana, Mexico. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., says the Pentagon is planning to tap $1 billion in leftover funds from military pay and pensions accounts to help President Donald Trump pay for his long-sought border wall. Durbin told The Associated Press, “it’s coming out of military pay and pensions, $1 billion, that’s the plan.”(AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)
New sections of the border wall are installed near Tijuana, Mexico in January © AP

The Republican-led Senate has issued a stinging rebuke of Donald Trump’s border wall, voting to block the president’s declaration of an emergency at the Mexican frontier and prevent him from accessing funds to start construction of the barrier.

The vote on Thursday pitted Mr Trump against some of the most prominent members of his own party and will force him to issue the first veto of his presidency if he wants to proceed with taking money from other federal agencies to fund wall construction.

In addition to some Senate Republicans who have bucked Mr Trump in the past — including Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski — Thursday’s 59 to 41 vote saw a wider array of party stalwarts turn against the president, including Utah’s Mitt Romney.

In total, 12 Republicans voted for the measure, including Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Lamar Alexander.

After Thursday’s vote, the president responded with a one-word tweet: ‘”VETO!”

“This is not a vote against border security,” Mr Romney said ahead of the vote, arguing that he was concerned about the precedent of the White House moving forward with a policy overtly rejected by Congress. “For the executive branch to override a law passed by Congress would make it the ultimate power rather than a balancing power.”

The measure passed by the Senate has already been approved by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, requiring Mr Trump to either sign the legislation into law or veto it. A veto would require two-thirds of both the House and Senate to override, which appears unlikely.

The vote nevertheless marks the president’s second big defeat in the Senate in less than 24 hours.

On Wednesday evening the Senate voted for a second time to end US military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen by a vote of 54 to 46, raising the possibility that Mr Trump will have to use his veto powers to block that resolution as well.

In the lead-up to the Senate’s vote on the emergency declaration, the White House launched a last-minute campaign to win over some of the body’s wavering Republican senators. On Thursday morning, Mr Trump issued one last stark warning to Republican senators who defied the White House.

“A vote for today’s resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime and the Open Border Democrats!” Mr Trump warned on Twitter.

Yet even Mr Trump appeared resigned to the fact that the eleventh-hour cajoling had failed to persuade enough Republican lawmakers to change their planned votes.

“I’ll probably have to veto,” Mr Trump conceded in the Oval Office a few hours after his tweet on Thursday morning, while continuing to defend the constitutionality of his decision. 

Mr Trump declared a national emergency at the border last month after failing to obtain a government funding deal that would secure enough money to pay for the border wall, a key promise from his 2016 presidential campaign. Already, more than a dozen US states have filed a lawsuit to block the president’s action.

The resolution passed by the Senate has already cleared the House of Representative by a vote of 245 to 182, with 13 Republicans joining House Democrats to back the resolution.

In the Senate, several Republican lawmakers who cast their vote in favour of blocking the emergency declaration said they supported Mr Trump’s plan to erect a wall or barrier on the border.

Lamar Alexander, a Republican senator from Tennessee, said ahead of the vote: “Never before has a president asked for funding, the Congress has not provided it, and then the president has used the national emergency act of 1976 to spend the money anyway.”

“By declaring a national emergency, the president’s action comes into direct conflict with Congress’s authority to determine the appropriation of funds, a power vested in Congress,” said Ms Collins, a Republican senator of Maine.

“This issue is not about strengthening our border security, a goal that I support and have voted to advance. [Rather] it is a solemn occasion involving whether or not this body will stand up for institutional prerogatives and will support the separation of powers enshrined in our constitution.”

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