GOP senators think Trump would win vote on emergency declaration

Republican senators predict that when push comes to shove, their conference will back President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE and turn aside any resolution from Democrats that seeks to stop his use of an emergency declaration to build a wall on the border. 

Republicans say Democrats will probably need five GOP votes if they are to win passage of a disapproval resolution, as Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump Manchin warns he'll slow-walk government funding bill until he gets deal on miners legislation MORE (D-W.Va.) says he supports a national emergency declaration. 

That’s a high bar, GOP lawmakers say, particularly on Trump’s signature issue. 

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And while a number of Republicans have sought to dissuade Trump from declaring a national emergency, they may not embrace a public fight on Trump’s signature issue — which risks earning the wrath of his conservative base ahead of the 2020 election.   

GOP lawmakers also predict that Trump can win over some Republicans by presenting the declaration as something dictated by an urgent need at the border instead of an effort to simply circumvent Congress. 

The president can further bolster his argument by assuring Republicans that funding will not be reprogramed from top-priority defense accounts, such as the military construction account, which pays for defense facilities and family housing. 

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerOn The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst on trade deal Republicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-N.D.) on Tuesday predicted the vast majority of his Republican colleagues will wind up backing Trump if Democrats manage to force a vote on a resolution blocking a declaration.

“I think most will, in fact maybe an overwhelming amount will,” said Cramer.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) on Tuesday also said his fellow Republicans will likely fall into line.

“I’ve learned in this place talk’s cheap,” he said on CNN.

“Let’s see how they vote,” he added. “If the president does it, I’m willing to bet you a lot of Republicans who are saying it’s a bad idea and he shouldn’t do it, they’ll vote to support him.”

Cramer acknowledged colleagues are worried about the precedent and that for some it’s a “really big deal.”

But he added that the president’s power to reallocate funding is set up under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, which also gives Congress the power to terminate his decision. 

“The Constitution and our laws provide, the statutes provide this opportunity, provide this oversight,” he said. “If he does this, it’s not my view the constitutional Republican will collapse.”

Trump has threatened to call an emergency to fund a border wall if a special Senate-House conference fails to reach a deal he would accept by Feb. 15, when 25 percent of federal funding is due to expire. 

Negotiators are making progress but significant issues remain unresolved, in addition to the main sticking point of the border wall itself. They also have yet to agree on how to pay for additional border security.

Conferees will receive a special closed-door briefing from experts on Wednesday about what they think is needed to secure the border.

Under the National Emergencies Act, a resolution terminating Trump’s declaration of national emergency would be deemed privileged and guaranteed a vote on the Senate floor.

Even if it passes, Trump could veto it, and Republicans are confident they have the 34 votes it would take to sustain it on the Senate floor. But it could set up an ugly and public fight.

Manchin, a leading Democratic centrist, on Tuesday reiterated his support for Trump declaring a national emergency, arguing it is preferable to another government shutdown.

“If that’s what it takes not to shut this government down again and let the courts weigh in and decide, so be it,” he said. “I’m not going to deny him. Everything else has failed. We can’t seem to operate on our own very good.”

With Vice President Pence providing the deciding vote in case of a 50-50 tie, Democrats would need to pick up five defectors to pass a disapproval resolution.

Many Republicans say their votes would depend on how Trump frames his request.

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Lawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities Senators sound alarm on dangers of ransomware attacks after briefing MORE (R-Ohio), who served as White House budget director under President George W. Bush, said Trump has “about a half-dozen different options” on how to direct funding to build a border wall without express authority from Congress. 

One possibility would be to use funds that are not already obligated to other priorities instead of declaring an emergency, Portman said. 

Traditionally, reprogramming executive branch funding requires the sign-off of the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate and House appropriations subcommittees of jurisdiction, but a senior Democratic aide acknowledged that Trump could break with precedent and go forward without such congressional approval. 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPentagon to take bigger role in vetting foreign students after Pensacola shooting Overnight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons Rand Paul: 'We need to re-examine' US-Saudi relationship after Florida shooting MORE (R-Ky.), one of Trump’s staunchest allies, warned “the separation of powers between spending power being a congressional power and not a presidential power is a pretty big one.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump McConnell says he'll be in 'total coordination' with White House on impeachment trial strategy MORE (R-Ky.) declined to say Tuesday how he would proceed if Trump declares a national emergency. 

“We don't know what route the president's going to take, so I'm not going to speculate on it at this point,” said McConnell, who reportedly warned Trump in a face-to-face meeting last week against declaring an emergency to build the wall. “I'm going to withhold judgement about that until we see what he does.”

If the president moves forward, he will have a powerful ally in Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyLawmakers strike spending deal to avert shutdown McConnell accuses Democrats of stonewalling funding talks with wall demands  On The Money: Pelosi, Trump tout deal on new NAFTA | McConnell says no trade vote until impeachment trial wraps up | Lawmakers push spending deadline to Thursday MORE (R-Ala.), who argued Tuesday that the president is within his power to declare an emergency.

“I believe that he’s got some standing under the Constitution to do that and also the statute,” Shelby said. “If we don’t settle and solve the problem or try to solve the problem of the border security and the president does it — something we fail to do — I would support the president.”  

Shelby said that staff have exchanged several offers and that the Senate and House conferees have boiled the talks down to what he called “central stuff.”

“The central stuff is barriers, walls, fences, more people, more technology, the whole comprehensive approach,” he said. 

Asked about how Congress would pay for beefed up security measures, Shelby said, “We haven’t got a lot of it figured out but we’re trying and time’s ticking away.” 

Jordain Carney contributed.