On the last Friday in January, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) finally emerged from the hole in the ground where he hides from his legislative responsibilities. It had been a long winter for him and for Republicans thanks to President Donald Trump and a fired-up Democratic electorate. But while Punxsutawney Phil would predict an early spring just a day later, McConnell came out not with an optimistic message but with a dire warning.
President Trump had been bested by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who steadfastly refused to cave to his demands for an unnecessary border wall, a demand she made clear was not even going to be a topic of discussion so long as the federal government remained shut down. Watching his approval numbers plummet and after having his State of the Union address postponed, the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest deal-maker” folded and was subsequently savaged by those most vocal in his base (like Ann Coulter).
What made Majority Leader McConnell pile-on and approach Trump with a warning that Friday?
President Trump, after bragging and threatening, and then suffering a brutal humiliation at the hands of Speaker Pelosi, was doing what bullies often do. Once he wiped the away the tears and was safely where his vanquisher could not immediately reach him, he resumed his threats. Specifically, he threatened that if his renewed demands for border wall funding were not met, the reopening of the government would be short lived and he would consider declaring a state of emergency and proceeding with border wall construction without Congress approving the financing.
THAT finally got Leader McConnell’s attention, as well as that of prominent Republican Senators like John Cornyn (TX). They like being in the Senate majority, and they are getting late in their legislative careers. They know Trump’s gambit to declare an emergency is not just a losing proposition; it is a nightmare scenario.
Let me explain:
President Trump proposed to act under the National Emergencies Act (NEA) to redirect funds previously allocated to other projects for purposes that are either “essential to the national defense” or support “use of the armed forces.” He would then direct the Army Corps of Engineers to use that money to construct the sections of a southern border wall Trump deems essential for national defense.
That seems simple enough right, and something Speaker Pelosi would be helpless to stop?
Electing a political novice like Donald Trump probably sounded good to Republicans at the time, but Speaker Pelosi has been in Congress since Ronald Reagan was president (as has Leader McConnell) and she knows every trick in the book, including the dirty ones.
The NEA allows both chambers of Congress to pass a resolution terminating any presidentially-declared national emergency. Specifically, the wording of the NEA stipulates that if one chamber of Congress passes a resolution rescinding the state of emergency, the other chamber MUST act on that resolution within the time-frame provided.
That time-frame could be as brief as 36 days.
We all know Speaker Pelosi has the votes to pass such a resolution in the House, as Democrats would support it nearly unanimously and some vulnerable Republicans would as well.
That would move the resolution to Leader McConnell’s Senate floor.
There were suggestions before that Leader McConnell could punt and simply NOT bring the matter up for a vote, almost like a Senate version of a pocket-veto, but it was later clarified that the emergency statute would allow Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to force a vote on the Senate floor to fulfill the Senate’s mandate.
The Republican-led Senate could vote to oppose the House resolution. But with only 53 potential votes and some vulnerable Republicans likely to oppose supporting Trump’s emergency declaration, would they even have the votes?
Let’s say they do.
Now all the Republicans who voted against the House resolution and in favor of Trump’s emergency declaration are on-record supporting a national emergency everyone knows is a lie and that more than 2/3 of the country strongly opposes.
That would not be good for Senators like Cory Gardner (CO), Joni Ernst (IA), or Susan Collins (ME) who face serious challenges in 2020 but whose votes would be needed for the resolution to be defeated.
Ernst released a statement today speaking against the legislation, but in favor of Trump signing it, calling it a “key starting point that will allow the president to move forward on desperately needed border security efforts.”
Collins said the declaration “will be challenged in court and is of dubious constitutionality. It undermines the role of Congress and the appropriations process and it’s just not good policy.” Of course, Collins makes statements like this all the time before she votes ‘Yes’ anyway.
Gardner has not publicly commented.
The Republican-led Senate could pass the resolution the House sends them and send it along to President Trump for his signature. This would force Trump to issue the very first veto of his presidency, a veto against the rarest of pieces of legislation these days: a bipartisan resolution passed by a Democratic House and Republican Senate.
Such a veto would send the resolution back to the Senate where Republican Senators would need to publicly debate whether the try to override Trump’s veto. Would Senators like Marco Rubio, needled relentlessly by Trump during the 2016 campaign, delight in making an argument to significantly weaken Trump? Maybe this would be Marco’s revenge moment like the one John McCain had torpedoing the Obamacare repeal?
Which would go over worse with the base, Republicans snubbing Trump on his emergency declaration or Republicans publicly arguing to override his veto?
It seemed at the time a few weeks ago, after McConnell’s public rebuke, that Trump might just decide to shut the government down again and hope that the second time public opinion would turn on Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats instead.
Instead, having already felt the knives of the far-right pundits and survived, he agreed today to accept funding the government through the rest of the fiscal year with no direct border wall funding and just over $1.3 billion for fencing upgrades and other border necessities. That is barely more than 1/4 of what he was demanding and the money is specifically prohibited from being used for a wall of any kind. Pelois and McConnell did nothing to sweeten the deal with some other Trump priorities as a way of allowing him to save a little face. Ann Coulter predictably erupted on Twitter.
Who knows, Trump might just declare his emergency anyway as he has been threatening before and is promising now. He has proven time and again he cares about only himself, and that he would never act in the best interests of the Republican Party if those were not his best interests as well.
But if he does, he does so having been warned, and knowing his vanquisher will be waiting to reinforce the lesson he apparently did not learn well enough the first time, or the second time. Even worse for Trump, this legislation further debilitated an already weakened president, and reportedly contains some booby traps that will make it even more painful for Trump should he press ahead with his emergency declaration.
Sooner of later Trump has to learn, right? You don’t mess with Nancy…