Sen. Thom Tillis on Monday said he would vote to block President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo
Just one more Senate Republican is needed to block Trump’s emergency declaration, though even critics are reluctant to buck the president.
Updated 02/25/2019 09:03 PM EST
President Donald Trump is on the verge of a bipartisan rejection of his emergency declaration at the border in what would be an embarrassing rebuke by a Congress opposed to his immigration agenda.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on Monday night said he would join Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, along with 47 Senate Democrats to block Trump’s attempts to secure billions for his border wall after lawmakers effectively stiffed him. Now just one more GOP senator’s support for a resolution to block Trump’s bid would send the measure to Trump’s desk and force a veto.Story Continued Below
“Conservatives rightfully cried foul when President Barack Obama used executive action to completely bypass Congress,” Tillis said in a Washington Post op-ed on Monday night. “There is no intellectual honesty in now turning around and arguing that there’s an imaginary asterisk attached to executive overreach — that it’s acceptable for my party but not thy party.”
Still, there is clear reluctance in the GOP to bucking Trump.
Numerous Senate Republicans say that, like Tillis, they despise Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency to get additional funding for his wall. But most aren’t ready to say they will vote to block him from doing so.
Interviews on Monday with more than a dozen GOP senators who have been publicly critical of Trump’s unilateral maneuver or warned him not to deploy it were cagey about their intentions for what would be a crucial vote in coming weeks on the Senate floor.
Many said they were undecided and still studying Trump’s move to circumvent Congress and score billions more for the border barrier. That suggests the resolution to block him remains just short of the simple majority needed for passage.
“It’s unnecessary, unwise and inconsistent with the Constitution,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s emergency declaration. As to how he will vote, he said: “I’m going to wait to see what the resolution says.”
“I haven’t even read it but I’ve said, ‘I don’t like what’s happened and I certainly don’t like using military money for it,’” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said he is “getting closer” to making a decision but said he could not divulge which way he is leaning. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, a vulnerable incumbent in 2020 issued a statement stating that he is “reviewing” the declaration. He said on Monday: “I’ve said all that I’m going to say on that.”
Some Republicans still privately expect the resolution to pass the Senate, but there was little enthusiasm to get out in front of a conflict with the president.
Though wavering senators reported no direct lobbying from the president, Trump made clear on Twitter that he expects them to back him and not fall for the Democrats’ “trap.” He also has vowed to veto any legislation from Congress halting his efforts.
Still, in an interview, Collins said she expects more Republicans to join her.
“There will be others. I think if you look at the comments made by several of my colleagues, I really don’t think I’m the only one,” Collins said. “I intend to vote yes as long as we’re sent a clean resolution.”
Murkowski said in Alaska last week she would also vote for the resolution if it is not amended with extraneous items when it is passed by the House on Tuesday.
But what’s perhaps more remarkable is that several strong critics of Trump’s unilateral plans said they anticipate backing the president.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said last month that an emergency declaration would set a “bad precedent.” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas called it a “dangerous step.” Yet both said on Monday they were leaning to support the president and vote against blocking him.
“I didn’t want it to come to this, because I think it’s probably going to get tied up in court. And I said it wasn’t a practical solution,” Cornyn said. “I’m probably going to come down on the side of voting against the resolution of disapproval.”
Still, Cornyn seemed resigned to it passing the Senate: “All it takes is four right? You can do the math as well as I can.” From there, it would go to the president’s desk, where Trump would likely veto it and prompt a veto override battle. Right now, no one expects enough GOP defections in either the House or Senate to provide the two-thirds voted needed to override the president’s veto.
But the fight is roiling the GOP nonetheless as Republicans weigh whether to be consistent on the executive overreach they decried during Obama’s presidency or to pick a fight with a president who views party loyalty as a must. For some like Tillis, Collins and Gardner, showing independence from Trump could be useful to their reelection campaigns in blue states. And Alexander is retiring, giving him more room to vote without regard for political consequences.
But for so many other Republicans, any vote will be fraught with political peril.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it shouldn’t be hard for the Senate to muster a big bipartisan rejection of Trump’s actions.
“We’ve come together before in bipartisan ways, if there was ever one that cries out for bipartisan rejection of an overreach of power, this is it,” he said on Monday.
Republicans will have fewer than three weeks to make up their minds. After the House passes the resolution, it will be referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee, though it can’t be bottled up in committee to avoid a floor vote. The resolution can also be amended, Republicans believe, though there are parliamentary restrictions on that.
“We’re checking right now with the parliamentarian whether it’s amendable,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “There’s all kinds of gray area.”
There’s lots of uncertainty in the GOP whip count, as well.
Johnson, Romney, Gardner, Rubio and GOP Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah were among those who still haven’t said how they will vote. And there are signs that the administration’s whipping operation is ramping up.
On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence will attend the Senate GOP weekly lunch, and the president’s emergency declaration will be top of mind among the Republicans in the room.
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