GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers

Republicans are digging in for a long fight over reining in the president's emergency powers, setting up a potential clash with both the White House and Democrats.

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE on Friday vetoed Congress’s attempt to block his national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border wall. With neither chamber expected to have the votes to override his veto, the president is poised to win round one of his fight with lawmakers.

But Republicans are already setting their sights on making it easier to terminate future emergency declarations — setting up an intriguing round two.

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“It’s an institutional issue, it’s a congressional authorities issue. We have the power of the purse,” said Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet On The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban Photos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris MORE (R-Ohio). “Under the National Emergencies Act, there was too much latitude that was given away … and we need to pull that back some and let it be used for legitimate national security purposes.”

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal Break glass in case of emergency — but not for climate change Democrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins MORE (R-Fla.) added that there is “unanimity” in the GOP conference about making changes to the law in the wake of the fight over Trump’s emergency declaration to construct the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (R-Ky.) has tapped Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Trump urged DOJ officials to call election corrupt 'and leave the rest to me' Chuck Todd is dead wrong: Liberal bias defines modern journalism MORE (R-Wis.) to craft legislation in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that could win the 60 votes needed for a bill to defeat a filibuster and ultimately pass the upper chamber.

Under the National Emergencies Act, Congress can force a vote on a resolution of disapproval if they want to try to block an emergency declaration. But a president can veto the resolution, setting up a difficult hurdle for Congress to overcome since a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber is needed to override a veto.

Even GOP senators who sided with Trump are interested in the broader issue.

“I would like to revisit the emergency powers that Congress has provided to the executive branch,” said Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsEight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor Schumer sets up key vote on bipartisan deal MORE (R-S.D.), who voted with Trump. “I do think it's going to be a healthy debate to have.”

McConnell told reporters after a closed-door conference lunch that there was “a lot of discomfort with the law” among Republicans and that they were “discussing” ways it could be altered.

“If Congress has grown uneasy with this law, as many have, then we should amend it. If the 116th Congress regrets the degree of flexibility that the 94th Congress gave the executive, the 116th Congress can do something about it,” McConnell added separately during a floor speech, announcing that he had asked Johnson to look into legislation on the issue.

Roughly a third of the Republican conference, including members of leadership, is already backing legislation from Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet House GOP stages mask mandate protest 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade MORE (R-Utah) that would require Congress to pass a resolution approving future national emergency declarations within 30 days. Without the approval, the resolution would be terminated.

“I don’t know of any president that likes to give up power, but clearly Congress has been asleep at the switch,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE (R-Texas), who voted with Trump but is supporting Lee’s legislation.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) added that “there is a lot of people, myself included, who believe that the National Emergencies Act ... needs to be reformed.”

A battle with Republicans would just aggravate Trump's existing problems with Democrats, who are suing him in court and plan subsequent votes to challenge his declaration for the wall.

A Democratic aide said the House would hold a vote to override Trump’s veto on March 26; meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done MORE (D-N.Y.) said Democrats would force a vote on blocking Trump’s national emergency every six months.

“We've got to be real careful and whether it's legislatively or in court, fight him every step of the way,” Schumer said.

Trump, as part of a failed eleventh-hour plea to get Republicans to vote against the resolution of disapproval, signaled that he could support making future changes to the National Emergencies Act, despite refusing to accept a deal earlier in the week.

Johnson, asked about Trump’s penchant for changing his mind on the issue, stressed that he would seek input from the White House.

“We’re going to need him because we want the administration to be taking a look at any exemptions that we might need to take a look at when we reclaim that authority,” Johnson said.

He added that he thought the “basic concept” of Lee’s bill was “correct” and could “pass constitutional muster” but that he expected others would have ideas on what the final legislation should look like.

“There’s a lot more complexity to this,” he said. “We’ll have a lot of input.”

An aide confirmed that Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Only two people cited by TSA for mask violations have agreed to pay fine Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill MORE (R-Ky.) is working on legislation that could draw support from Democrats, who have been skeptical of the Lee bill.

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban House adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban Photos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris MORE (D-Calif.) and Schumer both said their party would not back the Utah Republican’s bill.

But Schumer appeared to soften his stance slightly after Thursday’s Senate vote approving the resolution against Trump, saying he wanted to look at its details. Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, also didn’t rule out legislation on Friday, saying, “House Committees are reviewing the President’s unlawful use of the National Emergencies Act.”

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinCongress should butt out of Supreme Court's business Inmates grapple with uncertainty over Biden prison plan Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, predicted that Democrats would be “open” to changing the underlying law as long as it was separated from the fight over whether Republicans would back the resolution of disapproval.

“It doesn’t solve our current problem,” he added, “but it addresses the dilemma we face.”

Cristina Marcos contributed.