The White House and GOP senators are in the midst of a last ditch scramble to save President Donald Trump from an embarrassing defeat – and Republicans from the political backlash of turning on the President.
A group of GOP senators is pushing a proposal that would limit future National Emergency Declarations, and are seeking a commitment that the President would publicly support it, in exchange for dropping their opposition to the current national emergency. The White House, so far, has declined to provide that commitment.
Bottom line: The effort to reach an agreement has fallen short up to this point, and all signs still point to major defections come Thursday’s vote. Just about everyone in the GOP conference is behind a proposal from Sens. Mike Lee and Thom Tillis, aides say, so if the White House comes around to it, it could be significant. But the White House counsel’s office, congressional aides say, has been skeptical to outright opposed. And there is zero indication, at least at the moment, Trump will come on board.
Reality check: “There’s really no way out of this,” one GOP senator, skeptical of the talks between the White House and Republican senators, told CNN on Tuesday night. The way this likely ends, the senator said, is the Senate votes on Thursday on the resolution of disapproval and GOP losses are around what we’ve been reporting for the last few weeks – somewhere between 10 and 15 Republicans.
The context here is that the proposal, led by Lee and Tillis, would move to limit executive authority on national emergencies. That is something, this senator said, “no White House counsel would ever agree to.”
That said, discussions are still ongoing and efforts to find some amenable resolution are ongoing.
What to watch
Senate Republicans will again meet behind closed doors for lunch Wednesday, where the discussion on this will continue, but there is a clear deadline.
It is worth pointing out – and several GOP senators have made this point to CNN over the last few days: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has made clear he didn’t like the idea of the national emergency declaration to begin with, has given his conference – and the White House – all the space in the world to figure out a resolution to this. Weeks of closed door conference debates, days of the White House ramping up its engagement to try and find a way to assuage very significant concerns from more than a dozen GOP senators.
That no solution has been reached yet, even given all that, underscores just how difficult a position Senate Republicans were placed in with the declaration – and how complicated this whole process has been. And senators are running out of time. The vote will be Thursday, agreement or not. As McConnell told reporters Tuesday: “The clock is running.”
The White House push
In tweets, calls and meetings, the White House has ramped up its efforts to try and head off significant defections. Vice President Mike Pence met behind closed doors Tuesday with five senators – including Lee and Tillis – who have voiced significant concerns or are outright opposed to the national emergency declaration. The group pitched the Lee proposal to Pence and White House officials, but Pence made no commitments, other than that he’d take their idea and discussion back to Trump.
Lee introduced the proposal Republicans have started to rally around Tuesday night. The gist:
- The bill would revise the National Emergencies Act to limit the length of time of a national emergency to no more than 30 days. If a President wants it to last beyond 30 days, Congress would have to explicitly vote to approve the emergency declaration.
- The proposal also would give Congress a limited, but real, avenue to amend an emergency declaration during the consideration of any approval resolution.
The Lee proposal would not be considered in tandem with the disapproval vote Thursday, but instead at some point in the future. That’s why a commitment from Trump to support it is so sought after.
Senators have been told the actual House-passed resolution is extremely limited in how it can be amended, according to the parliamentarian. So there’s few, if any, legitimate options to change it at this point, senators said. In other words, the Lee bill appears to be the only, and last, train moving to address concerns.
The Democratic response
House and Senate Democrats have made clear that they don’t support the Senate GOP bill as an off-ramp on the current emergency declaration vote, particularly because it would not apply to the current national emergency declaration.
“Republican Senators are proposing new legislation to allow the President to violate the Constitution just this once in order to give themselves cover,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday. “The House will not take up this legislation to give President Trump a pass.”
Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, also dismissed the effort outright.
“This is a question of where you stand as it relates to the constitutional authorities of the legislative branch and what they’re working on is purely a distraction,” Schatz said.
What would happen if the White House supports the Lee-Tillis bill?
There is no question it would significantly tamp down the GOP opposition to the bill. Asked if that would be the end result, Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of leadership and a veteran appropriator, said simply: “Yes.”
Would it satisfy enough GOP senators to actually kill the resolution outright?
“I wouldn’t know that,” Blunt said.
GOP aides are skeptical any agreement, if one would actually come to fruition would bring enough Republicans back into the fold to kill
Of note: McConnell, asked if he’d support the Lee measure, said he “may well” do so. Aides say the Republican conference, in the last few days, has mostly united around the concept of the bill. The wild card remains the President.
The rationale: The President’s emergency declaration essentially brought to a head a simmering, and growing, frustration from both parties about the amount of authority that has been ceded to the executive branch.
“This is another step in the continued direction of presidents using the emergency powers in ways I think Congress is increasingly concerned about,” Blunt said.