WASHINGTON ― Republicans are mounting a last-minute effort to save face on a potentially embarrassing vote in the Senate later this week disapproving of President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration, which would let the administration divert billions of programs from the Department of Defense to build his wall on the southern border.
Several GOP senators who expressed concern about the declaration on constitutional grounds met privately with Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday to discuss possibly amending the National Emergencies Act to reassert Congress’ role in the process in the future. The group included Sens. Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), who publicly said the declaration ran afoul of the Constitution earlier this month, as well as some members who have raised concerns in private, like Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Mike Lee (Utah).
Tillis, who is up for re-election next year, did not say whether he was backing off his vocal opposition to the declaration after meeting with Pence on Tuesday.
“He didn’t have to change my mind,” he told reporters when asked if the vice president had done so.
GOP senators also discussed a number of different proposals to revisit the law ― either before the disapproval vote or at a later date ― during a weekly conference lunch, in hopes of alleviating concern among about a dozen members who are said to be weighing whether to oppose the president on the matter. It’s unclear, however, whether Republicans can reach agreement on how to amend the law and get Trump on board before the expected Senate vote on Thursday.
“Members are continuing to work on different approaches that can deal with that,” Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), a member of GOP leadership, told reporters when asked about the discussions on Tuesday. He added that leadership is hoping to receive a “signal from the White House” about what kind of change it would be willing to support.
Some GOP senators view the matter of the disapproval vote and a change to the National Emergencies Act as a separate issue, one that will most likely require further debate after this week. Other members, however, have said that some sort of change in the law could help them as they decide how to vote on the resolution.
“It would certainly be an improvement,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who remains publicly undecided on the vote, told HuffPost on Tuesday.
Cruz said he was co-sponsoring a measure with Lee to revise the law to allow a president to declare a national emergency, but would require a subsequent vote of approval by Congress within 30 days for the emergency declaration to continue. Such a change would have no effect on Trump’s wall declaration, which is facing several legal challenges in courts.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he “may well” support amending the National Emergencies Act but that any changes “wouldn’t apply to the current situation.”
“We’re looking at some ways to revisit the law. There’s a lot of discomfort with the law,” McConnell added.
Trump himself has also engaged in the matter by urging party unity on Twitter, a marked change since last week when few members of his party reported hearing from the president about it. On Monday, he chided GOP senators to “get tough” and stand with him on what he called “a very easy vote this week.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an opponent of the declaration whose mind has not changed despite new pressure from the administration, remarked on Tuesday that some of his colleagues may be wavering on the matter.
“They’re being beaten up right now, so if you see anybody that’s got blood dripping out of their ear they may be changing,” Paul said.
He predicted, however, that Trump would still lose this week and be forced to issue the first veto of his presidency.
“It’ll probably be a straight-up vote and I think you’ll get around mid-50s to high 50 as far as disapproval numbers,” he added.