Senate Republicans are in a bind. President Trump on Wednesday refused to help them out of it.
The Senate is slated to take up a resolution Thursday disapproving of Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the border with Mexico. Four Republican senators have already come out in favor of the resolution, and their votes, combined with those of Senate Democrats, would be enough to terminate Trump’s emergency, forcing the president to issue his first veto.
The problem for the GOP: Many Republican senators are uneasy about Trump’s declaration, concerned that it violates the constitution’s separation of powers and tramples on Congress’ budget authority. But they’re also uncomfortable with the idea of publicly rebuking the president and voting to terminate his emergency — and fearful of the political blowback such a vote could bring.
Republicans thought they had found some middle ground that might get them out of their political jam. Legislation proposed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and reportedly backed by more than a dozen of his Senate GOP colleagues would revise the National Emergencies Act of 1976, reining in the power of presidents by ending national emergencies after 30 days unless Congress votes to keep them.
That bill could have allowed Republicans to signal their concerns about executive overreach — and allay fears that a future Democratic president could take advantage of the precedent set by Trump — while avoiding an outright confrontation with the president and the anger it would create among the GOP base.
If Trump had endorsed the effort — and agreed to cede some presidential power — he might have limited the number of defections on the resolution of disapproval, though it’s still not completely clear whether he could have peeled off enough votes to avoid passage of the resolution.
But the president on Thursday refused to endorse the Lee bill, scuttling the GOP senators’ efforts to buy themselves some cover. Instead, Trump ratcheted up the political pressure on Senate Republicans — and perhaps ensured an embarrassing congressional rebuke of his emergency declaration.
"I told Republican senators, vote any way you want. Vote how you feel good. But I think it's bad for a Republican senator. I also think it's bad for a Democrat senator to vote against border security and to vote against the wall. I think if they vote that way, it's a very bad thing for them, long into the future," he told reporters on Wednesday, according to Politico.
Trump also tweeted: "Republican Senators are overthinking tomorrow’s vote on National Emergency. It is very simply Border Security/No Crime - Should not be thought of any other way. We have a MAJOR NATIONAL EMERGENCY at our Border and the People of our Country know it very well!"
Earlier Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also turned up the pressure on Republicans by announcing that she would not bring Lee’s legislation up for a floor vote if it passes the Senate. “Republican senators are proposing new legislation to allow the president to violate the Constitution just this once in order to give themselves cover,” she said in a statement. “The House will not take up this legislation to give President Trump a pass.” Her move effectively rendered the GOP efforts around the disapproval resolution an exercise in messaging with no legislative bite.
The collapse of the Senate GOP’s prospective deal leaves little time for Republicans to find another escape route.
The latest Morning Consult/Politico poll highlights the political peril they face with the party’s Trump-supporting grassroots. Seven in 10 GOP voters say they’d be more likely to vote for someone who supports Trump’s emergency declaration — but 60 percent of Democrats and independents say they’d be less likely to back such a candidate, meaning that falling in line with the president could also alienate key swing voters.
Either way, voters say they’ll be thinking about the issue when they go to the polls, with 78 percent saying it will factor into their ballot choices in the next election. By contrast, less than two-thirds of voters in 2017 surveys said that the GOP tax plan or the party’s failed Obamacare repeal efforts would factor into their election decisions. So the border issue is clearly resonating with, and sharply dividing, the electorate.