GOP faces crunch time on Trump border declaration

GOP faces crunch time on Trump border declaration
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans have only 24 hours left to come up with a solution to stop a Democratic-backed resolution that chastises 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.

The Senate is slated to vote on the disapproval resolution Thursday, and four Republicans have said they will join all 47 Democrats to pass the measure blocking Trump’s emergency declaration to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Republicans are scrambling to iron out their strategy, hunting for an eleventh-hour escape hatch as they near a showdown with Trump, who has threatened to issue his first veto if the resolution of disapproval reaches his desk.

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.) predicted that votes in support of the measure could reach the high 50s, despite pressure from the White House.

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“They’re being beaten up right now. So, if you see anybody that’s got blood dripping out of their ear, they may be changing. There’s still a significant number, but there’s a lot of people being bruised,” Paul said about his GOP colleagues.

The White House is stepping up its efforts to sway the dozen GOP senators publicly on the fence and potentially flip the four detractors. Trump urged the caucus to “get tough” on border security, highlighting intraparty tensions on the issue, and Vice President Pence met with a handful of undecided senators Tuesday.

Senate 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.) said a vote on the resolution of disapproval will take place Thursday and Republicans would go down to the wire as they mull their floor strategy.

“It is no secret that the use of the national emergency law has generated a good deal of discussion, and we’ll continue having those discussions, but it will all come to a head on Thursday,” McConnell told reporters during a weekly press conference.

Senators emerged from a closed-door lunch saying their discussions on strategy were ongoing as Trump’s emergency declaration has dominated weeks of private caucus meetings, injecting late-game uncertainty into the Senate’s schedule.

“Both with respect to substance and process, no final decisions have been made, so we’ll see,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP rattled by Trump rally GOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator. “You’ve got a short window here for something to come together.”

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“They want us to vote against the resolution of disapproval,” added 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) when asked what the White House was requesting. “Some people want to express themselves in different ways.”

A handful of Republicans have been trying to come up with a plan to either amend the House-passed resolution or craft an alternative. But with the vote just a day away, no proposal has materialized.

Senators are also locked in discussions with the White House about separate changes to the National Emergencies Act, the 1976 law Trump invoked to declare his national emergency. Pence met with Republican Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanFighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Rising number of GOP lawmakers criticize Trump remarks about minority Dems MORE (Ohio), Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA 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 WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE (Pa.), 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.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderFinding a path forward to end surprise medical billing The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Republicans make U-turn on health care MORE (Tenn.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Health care moves to center stage of Democratic primary fight | Sanders, Biden trade sharps jabs on Medicare for All | Senate to vote on 9/11 bill next week | Buttigieg pushes for cheaper insulin Senate to vote on 9/11 victims bill on Tuesday Meghan McCain slams Rand Paul over blocking 9/11 compensation funding: 'This is a disgrace' MORE (Utah) on Tuesday ahead of a GOP lunch.

Tillis described the talks as a “work in progress” but said after the meeting that if they could reach an agreement on revising the National Emergencies Act, he would change how he votes on the resolution of disapproval. He is one of four Republicans who are expected to vote in favor of the measure.

If Tillis flips his vote and Republicans are able to prevent any other potential defections, that would result in a 50-vote tie, allowing Pence to reject the resolution of disapproval.

Republicans are eager to sidestep a showdown with Trump, who remains popular among the party’s base. For weeks they have grappled with how to avoid breaking with the president on border security while also voicing their concerns about the precedent being set with an emergency declaration that could help a future Democratic president force through proposals on issues such as gun control or climate change.

But the White House has an uphill climb if it wants to derail the resolution of disapproval. Members of Republican leadership on Capitol Hill appeared skeptical that even getting a deal to rein in Trump’s emergency powers could pave the way for defeating the resolution of disapproval, suggesting instead it would just minimize additional GOP defections.

“I think there’s probably still enough members” that it would pass, said Thune, asked if a deal on amending Trump’s emergency powers could result in the resolution failing in the Senate.

“I think there are some who ... would feel comfortable in the end voting against the resolution as long as they had something they could point to that actually is modernizing the underlying statue,” he added.

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.) hesitated when asked if he thought a deal could spike the resolution of disapproval, but said he thinks it would help drive down the number of Republicans who break with Trump.

“I think the two things that would be important would be the president indicating his support of that or something like it … and the leader committing that this would be something that would be on the floor,” he said.

In addition to Tillis and Paul, Sens. 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) and 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) have said they will support the House-passed resolution of disapproval. Collins and Paul said Tuesday that they were open to changes to the National Emergencies Act but viewed it as a separate issue because it would only apply to future national emergencies.

“The issue before us isn’t affected by amending the law in the future, so it does not change my views,” Collins said.

In addition to the four declared “yes” votes, roughly a dozen senators have yet to say how they will vote on the measure.

Lee on Tuesday introduced legislation that would rein in a president’s ability to issue future emergency declarations by requiring Congress to pass a resolution approving such a declaration within 30 days.

He voiced concerns about the constitutional issues sparked by Trump’s emergency declaration during a lengthy, rare hallway interview with reporters, but declined to say how he would vote on the resolution of disapproval.

“The time will come when we will be saying what we’re going to do,” he said. “In the meantime, there are other considerations here.”