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 TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims 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 JohnsonDomestic extremists return to the Capitol GOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes Internal poll shows Barnes with 29-point lead in Wisconsin Democratic Senate primary 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 PelosiBiden pushes back at Democrats on taxes Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Of partisan fights and follies, or why Democrats should follow Manchin, not Sanders 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 CollinsWelcome to ground zero of climate chaos A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate Bipartisan blip: Infrastructure deal is last of its kind without systemic change MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiEmboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - DC prepares for Saturday of festivals & Jan. 6 demonstration Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee MORE (Alaska), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulWhite House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken Rand Paul: 'Hatred for Trump' blocking research into ivermectin as COVID-19 treatment MORE (Ky.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime How to fix the semiconductor chip shortage (it's more than manufacturing) 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 BluntGOP hopes spending traps derail Biden agenda A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Senate passes infrastructure bill, budget resolution; Cuomo resigns 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 CornynSenate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Democrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards Democrats to make pitch Friday for pathway to citizenship in spending bill 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 GrahamSenate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Trump offers sympathy for those charged with Jan. 6 offenses 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 ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote 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 LeeEconomy adds just 235K jobs in August as delta hammers growth Lawmakers flooded with calls for help on Afghanistan exit Afghanistan fiasco proves we didn't leave soon enough 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 RoundsMike RoundsThe 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill Senate passes T bipartisan infrastructure bill in major victory for Biden Senate votes to end debate on T infrastructure 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 ThuneSenate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Manchin-McConnell meet amid new voting rights push 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.”