GOP braces for showdown on wall emergency with Trump
Congress is on a collision course with President Trump over his national emergency declaration, setting the stage for the first veto of his administration.
A showdown appears all but inevitable with momentum building behind a resolution of disapproval, which clinched the votes needed to pass over the weekend and could pick up several additional Republican supporters ahead of a vote expected to take place in a matter of days.
Top Republicans signaled on Monday that they are resigned to it passing the GOP-controlled Senate, an embarrassing setback for Trump that will force him to use his first veto if he’s going to defeat the backlash from Congress.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that it’s “clear” the resolution of disapproval will pass the Senate but predicted that it would die in the House, where a vote last week fell short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto.
“I think what is clear in the Senate is that there will be enough votes to pass the resolution of disapproval, which will then be vetoed by the president and then in all likelihood the veto will be upheld in the House,” McConnell said at a press conference in Kentucky.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell, added that he thought the vote would be “close” but that the outcome was “predictable.”
And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close ally of Trump’s, predicted that the president wouldn’t be actively whipping senators since the veto override was likely to fail in the House.
“I don’t think he’s calling anybody,” Graham said.
The Senate is set to vote on the resolution of disapproval before they leave town for a weeklong recess on March 15. All 47 members of the Democratic Caucus are expected to support it, and four Republicans have now offered their public backing, providing a majority.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has cultivated a friendship with Trump despite being a perennial thorn for leadership, became the fourth Republican to say he will side with Democrats over the weekend, warning that Trump’s emergency declaration contradicted “the will of Congress.”
“I cannot support the use of emergency powers to get more funding, so I will be voting to disapprove of his declaration when it comes before the Senate,” he wrote in a Fox News op-ed.
In addition to Paul, GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) have said they will support a resolution of disapproval.
Roughly a dozen Republican senators remain on the fence about Trump’s emergency declaration. Underscoring the breadth of concern, the swath of undecided senators includes libertarian-leaning Republicans, moderates and typical McConnell and Trump allies.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Monday that the emergency declaration is “dead in the water” in the Senate.
“I may vote against it because we don’t know for sure how that’s going to affect the military,” Inhofe told KRMG, an Oklahoma radio station, on Monday.
Trump announced that he would declare a national emergency to construct the U.S.-Mexico border wall after Congress passed a funding bill that included $1.375 billion for physical barriers, well below the $5.7 billion the president requested.
He’s hoping to pull together roughly $8 billion for the wall by combining the money from Congress with executive actions and using the national emergency to reshuffle military construction funding.
Several undecided Republican senators said Monday that they hadn’t heard from the administration about the Senate’s vote.
“Maybe they’re considering it, hopefully,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), adding that he hadn’t heard back from the White House about his proposal calling on Trump to back down from his emergency declaration.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), another undecided senator, added that the White House had not reached out about how he would vote. Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), a member of GOP leadership who also hasn’t heard from Trump, defended the administration by noting they had sent Vice President Pence to meet with Republicans.
“They’re very much pushing it, or they wouldn’t be up here talking to the caucus,” said Grassley, who has described himself as “leaning no” on the resolution.
Trump’s emergency has placed Republicans in an untenable political bind. The party has been wary of breaking with Trump on border security, which has emerged as a lightning rod among the party’s base. But they’ve also been frank about their concerns that Trump is setting up a legal precedent a future Democratic president could use to jam through policies Republicans are opposed to.
McConnell, who is up for reelection in 2020, illustrated the political tightrope Monday by saying that while he was supporting Trump’s emergency declaration, he had also unsuccessfully lobbied the president against choosing the controversial step.
McConnell told reporters that he was “hoping the president would not take the national emergency route.”
“Yeah, I am, that’s one reason I argued, obviously without success, to the president that he not take this route,” McConnell added, asked if he was concerned about a future Democratic president using the precedent.
Republicans are trying to work through if they can make changes to the resolution of disapproval to make it more palatable to their caucus, but are basically in uncharted territory. Lawmakers previously threatened to challenge former President George W. Bush’s 2005 emergency declaration, but he backed down.
McConnell noted Monday that they are consulting the parliamentarian.
“It’s never been done before,” McConnell said. “We’ve been looking and talking … about what options there are if any.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, added that the resolution is “so narrow that I don’t think that’s a realistic possibility.”
“We’re not the final vote yet,” Blunt added. “I’d still like to see the president take another course if he could.”