Facing a potentially embarrassing political rebuke, the White House is scrambling to rein in nearly a dozen Republican senators who have indicated they may vote to reject President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the border with Mexico.
The Senate will take up the issue next week, following the House’s vote last week in favor of a resolution to terminate Trump’s declaration. The White House expects to lose the Senate vote, leading to Trump’s first veto, but the administration is confident that Congress will be unable to override the veto.
Even so, in what Politico’s Burgess Everett and Eliana Johnson call a “slow-motion freakout,” the White House is reportedly pressuring Republican senators to toe the line and keep defections to a minimum. While the White House knows it will likely lose four GOP senators – Rand Paul (KY), Thom Tillis (NC), Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) – it wants the rest to stick with the president.
Administration officials are calling senators to ask for their support, and Trump is “taking names” of those who oppose him, The Washington Post’s Erica Werner and Seung Min Kim report, with a special emphasis on those senators who will be running for reelection in 2020.
GOP senators on the fence: Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on February 15 allows the White House to redirect roughly $3.6 billion in military construction funds toward the border wall. Some senators are bothered by the constitutional issues raised by the move, which could constitute executive branch interference with the legislative power of the purse. In addition to the potential legal issues, some senators are worried about taking federal money currently appropriated for dozens of defense projects, some in their own states. The administration has claimed that all redirected funds would be “back-filled” in Trump’s upcoming federal budget request, but there are doubts about how effective that would be.
Need more details: There are still lots of unanswered questions about the details of the emergency financing and how the vote will proceed. Senators are hoping the White House will spell out exactly how it plans to redirect funding, with a list of every military construction project that would be affected, but the administration had so far failed to provide a promised list. Some lawmakers are pushing the administration to find the money elsewhere, citing the roughly $4 billion available from forfeiture and anti-drug funds that do not require an emergency declaration to access. And senators are still unsure about their legislative strategy, with open questions about whether they will amend the House resolution or create companion legislation.
The bottom line: Trump is expected to lose the vote in the Senate next week, the only question is by how much. A presidential veto will likely keep Trump’s national emergency declaration in place even as court challenges continue. While there’s still uncertainty about which projects would be affected by Trump’s declaration, the current battle between the White House and GOP senators is also over power, appearances and pride.