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House rejects Trump's 'emergency' gambit, as GOP flunks test

With a vote on Trump's emergency declaration, House Republicans faced a test of their own principles. Most of them flunked.
Image: A statue of the United States first President, George Washington, is seen under the Capitol dome in Washington
A statue of the United States first President, George Washington, is seen under the Capitol dome in Washington January 2, 2013. The new 113th U.S. Congress...

At a White House event last week, Donald Trump was asked about upcoming congressional votes on his emergency declaration about the border. Would Republican lawmakers stick with him and oppose the Democratic resolution that would block his policy?

"Oh, I think they'll stick," the president replied. "Yeah."

The prediction was largely right, though not entirely.

The House passed a resolution Tuesday evening that would terminate President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency, voting 245-182.Thirteen House Republicans joined Democrats to vote in favor of the resolution.The measure, sponsored by Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, is intended to stop the president's use of billions of dollars in existing federal funds to build a wall on the southern border without congressional approval. The Senate, where the vote is likely to be close, is required to hold a vote within 18 days on the resolution, which Trump can veto if it passes Congress.

The full roll call from the House vote is online here. While 13 Republicans voted with the Democratic majority in support of the resolution, no Democrats opposed it.

A friend asked me last night whether 13 GOP votes, in this context, should be seen as a lot or a little, and that was a surprisingly challenging question. On the one hand, given the degree to which House Republicans have been radicalized, and many of their more moderate members were defeated in the 2018 midterms, the fact that 13 of them defied the White House's wishes seems like a rather robust number.

On the other hand, faced with a simple test of their own principles -- at issue was a commitment to congressional authority, the rule of law, and separation of powers -- 94% of House Republicans put Trump's demands above all other considerations. The GOP conference was challenged to defend its convictions, and in an embarrassing display, the party fell far short.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said yesterday, "If Obama had done this, Republicans would be going nuts." Hours later, Simpson voted against the resolution anyway.

So, what happens now?

The measure heads to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will have to schedule a vote, whether he likes it or not, and where the bill cannot be filibustered.

As things stand, every member of the Senate Democratic conference supports the resolution, and three Senate Republicans -- Thom Tillis (N.C.), Susan Collins (Maine, and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) -- have said they're prepared to vote for it, too.

That means just one additional GOP senator is needed to pass the bill. Many have said they need to spend time reading the text of the measure -- that shouldn't take long; it's very short -- though at last count, at least 20 Senate Republicans are on record criticizing the president's gambit.

As the debate in the upper chamber unfolds over the next two weeks, I'd recommend keeping an eye on Sens. Roger Wicker (Miss.), Mitt Romney (Utah), and Marco Rubio (Fla.), each of whom has suggested they might -- might -- support the resolution. By some accounts, a handful of other conservatives, including Sens. Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Mike Lee (Utah), may also be in the mix.

Finally, there are members like Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who recently described Trump's emergency declaration as "unnecessary, unwise and inconsistent with the Constitution." If he ends up toeing the party line anyway, the Tennessean is going to look pretty foolish, though it might very well happen anyway.

Postscript: At a Capitol Hill press conference yesterday, a reporter asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) why Republicans didn't think there was a national emergency at the border when the GOP controlled all of the levers of federal power in 2017 and 2018.

Relying on Trump-like grammar, the House Republican leader responded, "Well, times change as it moves forward."