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Trump tries, fails to persuade senators on emergency declaration gambit

On his emergency declaration for the border, Trump demanded that Republicans follow his lead. He's failing in unusual ways.
The Capitol building at dusk.
The Capitol building at dusk.

When Donald Trump signed an emergency declaration last month, giving himself the authority to redirect funds to border barriers in defiance of Congress' wishes, he knew lawmakers would take up a resolution to block his plan. The president assumed, however, that his fellow Republicans would stick with him.

He assumed wrong. Thirteen House Republicans sided with Democrats last week to pass a measure rejecting the White House's policy, and as a percentage matter, GOP opposition in the Senate is likely to be even greater.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., conceded Monday that he believes the upper chamber will vote this month to terminate the national emergency President Donald Trump declared at the U.S.-Mexico border."I think what is clear in the Senate is there will be enough votes to pass the resolution of disapproval which will then be vetoed by the president and then all likelihood the veto will be upheld in the House," he said at a press conference in the Capitol.

As of last week, three Senate Republicans -- Thom Tillis (N.C.), Susan Collins (Maine, and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) -- signaled their support for the Democratic bill. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) strongly hinted he's prepared to do the same. Over the weekend, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced his intentions to vote for the resolution, too, making clear that the votes are in place to pass the measure -- whether Trump likes it or not.

We probably won't see a vote on the Senate floor until next week, but McConnell's rhetoric yesterday brought the political conditions into sharp focus. The Senate leader could've told reporters yesterday, "Well, there's still a fair amount of time, and we'll see how the debate plays out in the coming days," but he didn't bother.

McConnell took his caucus' temperature, he gauged the level of opposition, and he dropped any pretense about the outcome.

The result will be the first veto of Trump's presidency -- though that's not the only reason these developments matter.

The fact that the president tried and failed to persuade his own Republican allies is a rather brutal embarrassment. For all of Trump's bluster about being strong and commanding, he urged GOP senators to follow his lead, and several of them quickly replied, "No."

In fact, Rand Paul told reporters yesterday that he believes there are "at least 10" Republican senators who are prepared to reject the White House's scheme. (If this vote were held on a secret ballot, I suspect the final tally would be double that.)

This doesn't do McConnell any favors, either. He told Trump not to pursue an emergency declaration, and the president ignored him. McConnell then told his members to stick together, and some of them ignored him, too.

The Senate majority leader looks for fights that unite Republicans and divides Democrats, but this one obviously does the opposite.

There are also legal considerations to consider. Trump will veto the resolution, and it's unlikely opponents of the gambit will have the votes needed to override that veto, but as legal challenges to the policy move forward, courts will take note of the fact that bipartisan majorities in the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate both approved a resolution rejecting the president's scheme.

Finally, Aaron Blake raised a related point yesterday that's worth keeping in mind as the fight continues. We've occasionally seen Republicans, including former Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, rebuke Trump and let the public know they think he's gone too far, but this upcoming vote is qualitatively different. This isn't a symbolic resolution intended to signal dissatisfaction; it's a substantive resolution intended to block a presidential policy.

And it's going to pass.