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Senate hands Trump an embarrassing defeat on emergency declaration

Trump demanded that the Republican-led Senate follow his lead on his emergency declaration. He failed rather spectacularly.
Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda
U.S. President Donald Trump casts shadows on the wall as he walks with Poland's President Andrzej Duda at the end of a joint press conference, in Warsaw,...

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."

That's plainly not what happened.

The Senate voted 59-41 on Thursday to cancel President Donald Trump's national security declaration to fund a wall on the border, picking up the support of 12 Republicans to put the measure over the top.Trump has vowed to veto the measure, which would block him from making an end run around Congress to obtain billions of federal dollars to build the wall that has been set aside for other purposes.The vote represents an unusual bipartisan Senate rebuke to Trump's methods, which could play a role in coming lawsuits against the emergency declaration.

As the dust settles, there were a total of 12 Republicans who broke party ranks and supported the resolution: Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Susan Collins (Maine), Mike Lee (Utah), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rand Paul (Ky.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mitt Romney (Utah), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), and Roger Wicker (Miss.).

There would have been 13, but Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who said he'd vote "yes," and wrote an entire Washington Post op-ed stressing how important his principles were, flip-flopped shortly before the vote and ended up toeing the party line.

For the White House, the embarrassment is as unusual as it is deep.

The West Wing didn't just dispatch officials to Capitol Hill to twist GOP senators' arms, Donald Trump personally launched an aggressive p.r. campaign, demanding that his Republican brethren endorse his legally dubious gambit.

Before the White House lobbying campaign began in earnest, four Senate Republicans supported the resolution to block the president's policy. After the White House lobbying campaign, 12 Senate Republicans supported the resolution.

The result is the most direct congressional rebuke of Trump's agenda since he took office 26 months ago.

The resolution now heads to the president's desk, where it will receive the first veto of Trump's presidency. The measure will then return to Congress for a possible veto-override vote, which is very unlikely to pass.

The issue will then move to the courts.

Does that mean all of this legislative drama was just for show? That's now how I see it. For one thing, as we discussed a couple of weeks ago, courts will likely take note of the fact that bipartisan majorities in the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate both passed a resolution rejecting the president's scheme.

Since this is a controversy in which the president is granting himself powers to spend money in defiance of Congress' wishes, formal congressional disapproval of the White House's policy is no small development.

What's more, while we've occasionally seen Republicans offer rhetorical rebukes of Trump, this is qualitatively different. The resolution does more than signal dissatisfaction; it's a substantive resolution intended to block a presidential policy.

And it passed easily, despite Trump stomping his feet and demanding that everyone respect his authority.