Border rebuke looms for Trump

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout MORE (R-Ky.) isn’t going to use political capital to fight a Democratic-sponsored resolution disapproving of President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE’s emergency declaration for the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Instead, the GOP leader will bide his time and pick his battles carefully, avoiding a confrontation with fellow Republican senators who think Trump’s use of the emergency declaration to build border barriers is a policy mistake that sets a bad precedent. 

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At the same time, McConnell isn’t sitting on the sidelines for what’s shaping up as one of the biggest fights of the 116th Congress. He has briefed Trump on what to expect when the Senate takes up the disapproval resolution and has warned the president that he is likely to lose the simple-majority vote in the upper chamber, according to a source familiar with McConnell’s advice. 

This would lead to Trump’s first veto and would generate negative headlines for the White House. It could also hurt the administration’s case in the courts on lawsuits challenging the president’s emergency declaration.

The House is scheduled to vote on the resolution of disapproval on Tuesday. The Senate then must take up the measure within 18 days after House action. The legislation cannot be filibustered.

McConnell is looking ahead to a possible veto override vote, when his chances for success will be much greater as he would need to win only 34 votes to sustain a veto. 

But before McConnell starts whipping votes to sustain Trump’s veto, he will wait to see whether Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Al Green: 'We have the opportunity to punish' Trump with impeachment vote MORE (D-Calif.) can pass the resolution through the House with a veto-proof majority — which is unlikely. 

This makes Tuesday’s vote in the House on the resolution a key test of what to expect in the Senate. 

Republicans control 53 Senate seats and would lose the first vote on the resolution of disapproval if four GOP senators break ranks and Democrats stay unified. 

Already, three Senate Republicans — Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight 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 PBS premieres first nationally distributed kids' show with Native American lead MORE (Alaska) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisRepublicans scramble to contain Trump fallout McConnell says Trump is not a racist, but calls for better rhetoric GOP senator: 'Outrageous' to say Trump's tweets about Democratic congresswomen are racist MORE (N.C.)— say they intend to support the disapproval resolution, and at least a half dozen more are a threat to do the same. Two other likely defectors are Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout MORE (R-Colo.), who faces a tough reelection in a state won by Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump thanks 'vicious young Socialist Congresswomen' for his poll numbers Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE, and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Republicans make U-turn on health care Trump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid MORE (R-Tenn.).

Tillis warned the emergency declaration would “set a new precedent that a left-wing president would undoubtedly utilize” while Alexander, who is retiring, called it “unwise” and “inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution.” 

All Senate Democrats are expected to support the resolution. A spokesman for Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Kentucky Democrat says primary challenge to McGrath 'might be helpful' McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments MORE (D-W.Va.), one of the most conservative members of the caucus, said Monday his boss would vote for it. Manchin, who has voiced support for the president’s border wall, represents a state that Trump won by 42 points in 2016.

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Josh Holmes, a GOP strategist and McConnell’s former chief of staff, said McConnell is unlikely to waste political capital on a losing battle and will focus instead on the veto override vote — if Pelosi is able to demonstrate there are enough votes to override a veto in the House. Democrats would need more than 50 defections in the House to reach that magical number and the chances of that are remote at best.

“The most significant early action on this is whether House Democrats pass this with a veto-proof majority. If they fail to do that, this conversation is over,” Holmes said. “If they do, the entire ball of wax would be settled in a [Senate] veto override vote. At that point there would have to be a significant amount of work to ensure that Republicans win.”

He said the “name of the game of the leader” is to “preserve your asks for the right time and if they become unnecessary you probably don’t need to ask people to do things they’re uncomfortable” doing. 

Scott Jennings, a McConnell adviser, said, “My instinct is he personally supports the president and will vote that way, but a simple majority most likely exists in both chambers to express disapproval.” But he said it’s highly unlikely that Democrats will be able to muster 67 votes in the Senate — securing the defections of 20 Republicans — to override Trump’s veto. 

“My presumption is that Sen. McConnell will just let that process play out given the realities and everyone can vote how they feel they need to vote and move on,” he said. 

“It won’t change the ultimate outcome, which is an emergency declaration that winds up being litigated in the courts, and that’s who ultimately makes the final determination about whether the president went too far,” he added. “So few Republicans have to defect in the Senate to express disapproval that I don’t think it would do any good to whip it.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal White House abruptly cancels Trump meeting with GOP leaders MORE (R-Texas), a member of McConnell’s leadership team, predicted the resolution will likely pass the upper chamber but will fail to overcome the two-thirds threshold in the House to override Trump’s veto. “It may well end up being a veto override scenario and my assumption is it will die in the House, so the president will get what he wants,” he said.

Asked about the likelihood of the resolution getting a simple majority in the Senate, Cornyn said, “all it takes is four, so you can do the math as well as I can.” 

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerLawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US Colombian official urges more help for Venezuelan migrants MORE (N.Y.) said last week that identical companion legislation to the House disapproval resolution will be introduced “soon” in the Senate. 

A Republican aide said McConnell is in no rush to get to a vote, giving Trump plenty of time to whip GOP senators into line.

The president fired a couple of salvos at the Senate on Monday when he warned Republicans via Twitter not to “get led down the path of weak and ineffective Border Security.” 

“Without strong Borders, we don’t have a Country - and the voters are on board with us. Be strong and smart, don’t fall into the Democrats ‘trap’ of Open Borders and Crime!” he tweeted. 

Al Cross, a journalism professor at the University of Kentucky and a longtime commentator on Kentucky politics, said McConnell has to manage GOP colleagues “who are torn between their loyalty to the Senate and arguably the Constitution and the desire to avoid a vote that could be damaging to both them and the caucus.”

“I think part of McConnell’s argument is probably going to be this is a vote that doesn’t really matter because the issue is going to be decided by the courts,” he said.  

Cornyn, who emerged as a vociferous critic of using an emergency declaration to fund border barriers, on Monday said he would likely vote against the disapproval resolution because of its partisan overtone. 

“I think this is Schumer’s and Pelosi’s way of painting the president in the corner,” he said.

Cornyn, whose reelection campaign was endorsed by Trump last week, said he had not heard from the White House on the upcoming vote.