GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration

The months-long battle over a proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall is set to escalate dramatically when President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE declares a national emergency.

Talk of an emergency declaration immediately sparked division, and in some cases outright rebuke, from the GOP senators Trump will need on his side.

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Senators on both sides of the aisle are steeling themselves for an entrenched, messy fight, with the declaration likely serving as an opening salvo in a high-profile political and legal battle.

Several Republicans panned talk of Trump moving forward with the plan, an option he has kept on the table as conservative allies fume that the deal to fund the government included only $1.375 billion for border barriers, instead of the $5.7 billion for a wall sought by the president.

“I believe it’s a mistake on the president’s part. I don’t believe that the National Emergencies Act contemplated a president repurposing billions of dollars outside of the normal appropriations process,” said Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report MORE (R-Maine), characterizing Trump's decision as "of dubious constitutionality."

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (R-Alaska) added that she didn’t “think that this is a matter that should be declared a national emergency.”

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' McConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch Overnight Defense: Iran seizes British tanker in latest escalation | US, UK to discuss situation | Trump says 'no doubt' US downed Iranian drone after Tehran's denials | Pentagon's No. 2 policy official to leave | Lawmakers worry about Defense vacancies MORE (R-Ky.), who has worked to cultivate a friendship with Trump, also characterized himself as “not in favor of operating government through emergency,” and insinuated that the move could violate the Constitution.

Trump has long floated that he might declare a national emergency to construct a U.S.-Mexico border wall if Congress wasn’t able to come up with a funding deal, despite pushback from top leaders on Capitol Hill.

The White House was reportedly exploring other ways Trump could try to circumvent Congress to get more money without declaring a national emergency.

But top GOP allies on Capitol Hill warned that would not get Trump to $5.7 billion, and signaled they believed he would ultimately carry out the controversial move.

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsLawmakers request documents on DC councilman ethics investigation House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran MORE (R-N.C.), who is close with Trump, said Wednesday that it “would be political suicide” for Trump to sign the funding bill without taking executive action to reroute funds toward the wall.

“I think there's very little political liability from conservatives,” Meadows said about Trump coupling his signature of the bill with executive action.

In a boost for the president, Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch Funding a strong defense of our nation's democratic process can't wait The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants MORE (R-Ky.) announced on the Senate floor he would support Trump’s decision, a political U-turn from weeks ago when McConnell warned against an emergency declaration.

“I’m for whatever works, which means avoiding a shutdown and avoiding the president feeling he should declare a national emergency,” he said two weeks ago during a press conference with reporters.

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Many congressional Republicans said they were taking a wait-and-see approach, and that their support or opposition would depend on the specifics of Trump’s declaration.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Hillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school MORE (R-Texas), who is close to McConnell, said he wanted to see what form Trump’s action took but noted that he previously raised concerns about executive action.

“My concerns about an emergency declaration were the precedent that’s going to be established,” Cornyn said. “I also thought it would not be a practical solution because there will be a lawsuit filed immediately.”

Cornyn noted that McConnell’s floor announcement came after hours of back-and-forth talks between the GOP leader's office and the White House about whether the president would sign the funding bill and under what circumstances.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonMystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia Trump may intervene in Pentagon cloud-computing contract: report Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp MORE (R-Wis.) also shrugged off McConnell’s decision to support the emergency declaration, saying, “That’s obviously one of the things the leader believes he has to do to get the president to support” the funding bill.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite Rubio criticizes reporters, Democrat for racism accusations against McCain MORE (R-Fla.) said his stance will depended on the “structure” of the declaration, but added that he generally doesn’t “think that’s a good approach, but we’ll have to deal with it.”

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants GOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Schumer warns Mulvaney against drawing hard lines on budget deal MORE (R-Ala.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and was among the four legislators who finalized the funding deal, gave full-throated support to the move.

“I’m not concerned because I think the president is on the right track to secure the border, which I share. I like what he’s doing,” Shelby said, adding that presidents going back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt have expanded the power of the executive.

The decision for Trump to declare a national emergency left lawmakers in a familiar pattern: Being asked to react to something the president will do while largely in the dark themselves about the details.

And news of the president’s plans came at an already chaotic moment in the Capitol, as police officers were escorting senators through the basement to elevators that would take them to the Senate floor to vote on the funding deal.

“I’m going to wait and see exactly how he does it and what he does,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime MORE (R-Mo.), an appropriator. “There are ways you could transfer funds that I could be fully supportive of, and there are other ways that I have a lot of problems with.”

Democrats are likely to challenge Trump’s executive order in Congress, in addition to legal challenges in the courts. Though rare, lawmakers believe they could pass a resolution of disapproval by a simple majority; it would be subject to a veto.

“He’s trying an end-run around Congress in a desperate attempt to put taxpayers on the hook for it. The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities,” House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump telling aides to look at potential spending cuts if he wins reelection: report Budget talks between White House, Pelosi spill into weekend Trump says he won't watch Mueller testimony MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement Thursday.

To get a resolution blocking the action through the GOP-controlled Senate, Democrats would need to remain united and flip at least four Republicans.

They excoriated the move on Thursday, warning Republicans that supporting Trump now could haunt them down the line.

"A Democratic president can declare emergencies, as well," Pelosi said Thursday. "So the precedent that the president is setting here is something that should be met with great unease and dismay by the Republicans."

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Energy: USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move west | EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution | Agency eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move to Kansas City Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens MORE (D-Md.), an appropriator, said a declaration would be “a gross abuse of power” and that it was “likely illegal.”

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives MORE (D-Mont.), a moderate from a Trump-won state, said the decision was “not smart at all.”

“I think it sets a standard for declarations of emergency that just about anything could fit into, and he isn’t going to be the president forever,” Tester said. “I think it takes power away from the legislative branch, so it’s a failure on all sorts of fronts.”