national emergency declaration

Republicans Maneuver to Save Trump From an Embarrassing Vote on Emergency Declaration

Trump might have to sacrifice his (and future presidents’) emergency powers going forward to get quick Senate approval of his current declaration. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

It’s very likely that the Trump administration will lose a Senate vote later this week after the House passed a resolution today to disapprove the president’s national emergency declaration on the alleged “border crisis.” It’s also near certain that Republican defections (which according to one estimate could number as many as 15) won’t be large enough to sustain an effort to override the presidential veto (Trump’s first) that passage of the resolution will trigger.

These dynamics may tempt Senate Republicans to cast a harmless vote against Trump they can haul out and brandish as a sign of independence if, say, the Mueller report or House investigations turn up anything toxic. And that could be embarrassing to a president whose popularity in his own party is a big part of his self-esteem. So he’s lobbying undecided senators, according to The Hill:

[T]he White House wants to keep the tally [of defectors] as low as possible and the president is now putting skin in the game trying to sway undecided GOP lawmakers. 

“We talk to a number of members every single day, certainly at the presidential and the staff level, and we’re going to continue to engage with them in this process,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Monday. 

There’s a new wrinkle being circulated by a group of Republican senators that could make a difference, as Politico reports:

Republican senators queasy about the legality and precedent of Trump’s unilateral move to fund his wall are exploring whether the president will commit to signing a bill amending the National Emergency Act and curtailing presidential power. In exchange, they would consider standing with the president and potentially vote against the House-passed disapproval measure.

The proposal would stipulate that future emergency declarations would only take effect if Congress approves them (a version being proposed by Mike Lee would create a tight 30-day window for such approval), a pretty big shift from the current system in which Congress can only disapprove declarations via a joint resolution that the president can veto. While that may be too much of a restriction of his powers for Trump to go along with, some variation on the Lee plan appears to be under consideration at the White House, which is dispatching the vice-president to meet with Lee and fellow rebels Lamar Alexander and Thom Tillis in an effort to work something out. The change in procedures would have to be enacted by separate legislation, and its fate in the House is uncertain.

In effect, the deal on the table is for Trump to agree to tie the hands of future (perhaps Democratic) presidents — and possibly his own — to address conservative concerns that the border-wall emergency declaration sets a bad precedent that liberals will someday exploit. In exchange, he’ll minimize Republican opposition to the current declaration (though the courts may still impede it); he might even get enough votes to kill the resolution and avoid the messy necessity of a veto and an override effort.

How this comes out may give us a good indication of Republican willingness to break with Trump on paper (albeit without consequences), and of Trump’s interest in party unity. If he has any interest in triangulating against his own party in 2020, he probably won’t cut a deal at all.

Trump, Senate Republicans Negotiate on Emergency Declaration