GOP hunts for unified strategy in emergency declaration fight

GOP hunts for unified strategy in emergency declaration fight
© Stefani Reynolds

The fight over President TrumpDonald John TrumpMichael Flynn transcripts reveal plenty except crime or collusion 50 people arrested in Minneapolis as hundreds more National Guard troops deployed Missouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' MORE’s emergency declaration is opening new fractures within the Senate Republican caucus ahead of a showdown on the floor next week.

GOP senators are struggling to unify behind a strategy to address the declaration, even as they face pressures like fresh figures released by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that show a dramatic rise in apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Republicans are discussing the possibility of alternative measures that would let the caucus lay out its position on border security and offer a counterpoint to a House-passed resolution of disapproval blocking Trump. But instead of bringing Republicans together, they are struggling to agree on what an alternative would look like — underscoring the deep divisions sparked by Trump’s action.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSchumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe Comey, Rice, Clapper among GOP senator's targets for subpoenas amid Obama-era probe Schumer: GOP should 'stop sitting on their hands' on coronavirus bill MORE (R-Wis.) said a number of his Republican colleagues were working to draft a measure but voiced frustration that Majority Leader MItch McConnell (R-Ky.) isn’t more engaged in the talks. He said that by failing to offer their own proposal they were ceding “ball control” to House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi calls Trump's decision to withdraw US from WHO 'an act of extraordinary senselessness' House Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Khanna says President Trump threatening violence against US citizens; Trump terminating relationship with WHO MORE (D-Calif.).

“Why not do our own? I just don’t know why we’re giving ball control in the United States Senate to Nancy Pelosi, it makes no sense to me,” Johnson said.

He added that he wanted to see McConnell “engage on this, and I’m a little disappointed that he basically capitulated that we’re going to lose.”

The intraparty fight comes as a resolution of disapproval appears to have clinched the support needed to pass the Senate, with GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats gear up to hit GOP senators on DACA OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Unemployment claims now at 41 million with 2.1 million more added to rolls; Topeka mayor says cities don't have enough tests for minorities and homeless communities MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas MORE (Alaska), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSecond senator tests positive for coronavirus antibodies Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Tim Kaine tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies MORE (Ky.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits Tillis campaign releases first general election TV ad emphasizing 'humble' roots MORE (N.C.) saying they will join Democrats in supporting the House-passed measure.

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McConnell reiterated to reporters this week that he believes the resolution blocking Trump will pass the Senate, setting the stage for what’s expected to be the president’s first veto. But McConnell also tipped his hand to the intense debate that Trump prompted within the caucus, noting that it is dominating recent meetings.

“I would be less than candid with you if I didn’t say we’ve had a lot of spirited discussion … about this whole issue,” McConnell said. “There are a lot of different opinions.”

Trump last month declared a national emergency after Congress passed a funding bill that included $1.375 billion for physical barriers on the southern border, well below the $5.7 billion the president requested.

That created a Catch-22 for Republicans, who have been wary of breaking with Trump on border security but also have concerns that he is establishing a precedent for a future Democratic president to force through action on issues like climate change or gun control.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntWashington prepares for a summer without interns GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (R-Mo.) told reporters after a GOP leadership meeting that he thought Republicans would offer alternatives, even if those measures had to meet the challenging 60-vote threshold.

“There’s clear concern about the direction this is taking and multiple ways to express that could be helpful,” Blunt said on Tuesday.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas Castro, Warren, Harris to speak at Texas Democratic virtual convention Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell, added that “some people would like to be able to express themselves other than an up-or-down on a resolution of disapproval.”

Republicans are facing myriad complicating policy and political factors as they try to plot their strategy ahead of next week’s floor vote. Underscoring the fluidity of their discussions, GOP senators have considered everything from amending the House resolution, offering an alternative or even voting on both a House resolution and their own proposal.

Trump has warned that voting to block his declaration would be “very dangerous” because it would impact border security. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSchumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe Graham announces hearing on police use of force after George Floyd killing In a new cold war with China, America may need to befriend Russia MORE (R-S.C.) added on Tuesday that Trump characterized Republicans as “playing with fire” on the emergency declaration fight.

Further complicating their deliberations, the CBP announced Tuesday that there was a significant jump in the number of people apprehended while crossing the border, increasing from 47,986 in January to 66,450 last month. The spike could help feed Trump’s argument that there is a “crisis” along the southern border.

An alternative GOP measure could give Republicans a chance to thread the needle by backing Trump’s border strategy while airing some of their grievances on the national emergency.

“We do need a vehicle to express exactly what we feel. We definitely support the president in his desire to secure the border, provide better security for this nation, build better barriers, but we’re also concerned about the whole constitutional issue,” Johnson said.

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy NSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general MORE (R-Pa.) said Congress could create a conference committee to hash out differences if Senate Republicans are able to come up with their own proposal, and that he would support amending the National Emergencies Act.

“We’re having discussions about what our resolution ought to look like,” he said.

Talk of crafting a GOP alternative to the House-passed resolution comes as Trump’s actions have led to rumblings within the Senate Republican conference of amending the National Emergencies Act to claw back from the executive branch some of Congress’s spending authority.

Republicans indicated Tuesday that such changes could be included in their alternative. A spokesman for Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHouse punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate House cancels planned Thursday vote on FISA This week: Surveillance fight sets early test for House's proxy voting MORE (R-Utah) previously told The Hill that the senator was crafting legislation that would make it easier for Congress to cancel a national emergency declaration.

“I do think that we ought to revisit the incredible delegation of authority,” added Cornyn, who has said he will vote against the resolution of disapproval.

Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas Burr decision sends shock waves through Senate Lawmakers move to boost federal cybersecurity in annual defense bill MORE (R-S.D.) said he was willing to look at legislation amending the national emergency statute but also predicted that, in response to Trump’s declaration, “future appropriations bills will restrict his ability to use those funds.”

Republican discussions on floor strategy are expected to go up until the eleventh hour. A vote in the Senate will take place before March 15, when lawmakers leave for a weeklong recess.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFrustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US death toll nears 100,000 as country grapples with reopening GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill MORE (R-S.D.) said Republicans could offer their own alternative but added that where the conference might end up is a “work in progress.”

“Our members have had pretty robust discussions about this over the past several weeks and a path forward, we’re still charting that,” Thune said. “They want to help the president, they want to give him the funding he’s asked for. And the question is, what’s the best way to do that? That’s what we’ve been grappling with.”

Asked if there was enough unity within the conference for Republicans to agree on an alternative, Thune laughed, adding, “I wouldn’t say there’s one chosen alternative.”