Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump

Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump
© Getty Images

Democrats say that when it comes to Republicans in Congress standing up to President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE, they'll believe it when they see it. 

The latest test is on trade, where GOP senators have expressed open hostility to Trump’s plan to impose escalating tariffs on imports from Mexico. 

Democrats are needling their GOP colleagues to do more than complain about it, saying they are doubtful that the GOP will take concrete steps to block the president.

“I’m hopeful, but I’m also skeptical. If past is prologue, my Republican friends will ultimately back down,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHealth care workers account for 20 percent of Iowa coronavirus cases Pressure mounts on Congress for quick action with next coronavirus bill Schumer names coronavirus czar candidates in plea to White House MORE (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday, adding that he hoped “they will actually stand up to him.”

The internal GOP strife is an opportunity for Democrats, who hope to capitalize on what they say is a Republican inability to stand up to Trump, even on issues such as trade that have been core to the GOP for decades.

In next year's elections, they are likely to cast every Republican running for office in the House and Senate as a loyal foot soldier to Trump, highlighting the party's reluctance to take the president on.

“I’m sure they’ll lay down and let him walk over them,” said Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellOne year in, Democrats frustrated by fight for Trump tax returns Hispanic Caucus campaign arm unveils non-Hispanic endorsements Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins MORE (D-N.J.), who serves on the House Ways and Means subcommittee that covers trade.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), whose state counts Mexico as its largest trade partner, noted that trade was among the key areas of disagreement between the president and his party, but expressed similar skepticism of the GOP.

“If they're having an epiphany they should run it all the way through. It would be a first," he said.

But he did say that the issue of trade seemed to resonate with Republicans. 

“Of all the indignities that this president has done, this seems to be the one that has stimulated them to say something out loud and pretend they're going to do something to reel him back,” he added.

A senior Democratic aide said that when it comes to standing up to Trump, “Republican talk is cheap.”

There are reasons why Republicans are loathe to challenge Trump that go beyond mere fealty to the president.

Trump has been a force in GOP primaries, and anyone challenging him on a major issue knows that in doing so, they risk giving a primary opponent momentum.

Former Rep. Mark SanfordMark SanfordTrump becomes presumptive GOP nominee after sweeping primaries Boston Globe endorses Trump's GOP challenger Bill Weld Trump challenger Bill Weld rules out 2020 independent bid MORE (R-S.C.) lost his seat in a primary after criticizing the president, while Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally campaign to suspend TV ads, canvassing amid pandemic Coronavirus isn't the only reason Congress should spend less time in DC Trump Jr. says he inherited 'Tourette's of the thumbs' from his father MORE (R-Ariz.), another Trump critic, retired after seeing his chances of winning his primary upended. 

Both were ultimately replaced by Democrats.

Republicans such as Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanPhase-four virus relief hits a wall GOP senator to donate 2 months of salary in coronavirus fight Senators pen op-ed calling for remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic MORE (Ohio) said that if the tariffs go through on Monday, he expects a vote to block it. This would likely be done in the form of a disapproval resolution.

But Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonRemembering Tom Coburn's quiet persistence Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner GOP seeks up to 0 billion to maximize financial help to airlines, other impacted industries MORE (R-Wis.), a vocal opponent of the tariffs, predicted Congress would not have the votes to override a Trump veto.  

“I don’t think there’s a possibility for a veto override,” he said.

Congress has failed to override Trump’s veto on other disputed areas, such as a rebuke of his use of emergency power to reprogram funds for his proposed border wall and a bill blocking support for Saudi Arabia's campaign in Yemen's civil war.

There has been some talk that the Senate could get 67 votes to overturn a Trump veto on something related to the tariffs on Mexico.

But doing so would be much tougher in the House, where Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Phase-four virus relief hits a wall House GOP leaders back effort to boost small-business loans MORE (R-Calif.) offered support for Trump’s efforts and criticism of those complaining about the tariffs. McCarthy said such criticism was undercutting Trump’s position with the Mexican government.

“End of the day, we should support the president so we can get an agreement so we don’t have tariffs,” McCarthy said. “Them talking about not supporting him undercuts his ability to do that.”

Trump’s emergence as the GOP presidential nominee caused some Republicans to essentially leave the party and created a universe of “Never Trumpers.”

These voices have often criticized congressional Republicans for betraying conservative principles to stand with Trump. Conservative pundit George Will said the GOP had become “a cult” for Trump.

“Conservatives said we're for free trade. Trump said, 'By the way, you're not anymore.' And they said, 'OK, we're not for free trade anymore,' ” he told MSNBC.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Overnight Health Care: Trump calls report on hospital shortages 'another fake dossier' | Trump weighs freezing funding to WHO | NY sees another 731 deaths | States battle for supplies | McConnell, Schumer headed for clash Phase-four virus relief hits a wall MORE (R-Ky.) has expressed hope that Trump will back off his threat following meetings with Mexican officials.

“Most of us hope that this Mexican delegation that’s come up here and discussed the challenges at the border — and what the Mexicans might be able to do to help us more than they have — will be fruitful and that these tariffs will not kick in,” he said Tuesday.

Indeed, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told CNN Wednesday that the “tariffs may not have to go into effect precisely because we have the Mexicans' attention." 

McConnell is pushing for a behind-the-scenes solution, which would give his caucus a reprieve. 

“There is not much support in my conference for tariffs, that’s for sure,” he said.