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March 24, 2019

President Trump thumbs his nose at Republican effort to save face over certain rejection of national wall emergency

March 15, 2019
President Trump smiles as he walks on the South Lawn after stepping off Marine One at the White House on Sunday. (Alex Brandon / AP / AP)

WASHINGTON — President Trump all but guaranteed he will face an embarrassing bipartisan rejection of his border wall emergency declaration after shooting down a Republican olive branch meant to save it.

The House has already passed a resolution cancelling Trump’s emergency declaration. Now, it has enough Republican backers for the Senate to follow suit in a vote set for Thursday.

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Looking for a way out — and for a way to reign in future presidents — a number of Republicans offered a bill that would automatically end future emergency declarations after 30 days unless Congress votes to extend them.

The bill, drafted by Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, would make it all but impossible for Trump to declare further emergencies that most of Congress doesn’t support. Offering GOP senators such an option might have convinced enough Republican opponents of Trump’s wall declaration to stand by him on this one.

A spokesman for Lee, however, confirmed that Trump called the senator during a party lunch meeting Wednesday to reject the idea. The White House did not answer a request for comment.

Lee responded by announcing he will join the ranks of Republicans opposed to Trump’s emergency.

“It appears the bill does not have an immediate path forward, so I will be voting to terminate the latest emergency declaration,” Lee said.

“For decades, Congress has been giving far too much legislative power to the executive branch. While there was attention on the issue I had hoped the ARTICLE ONE Act could begin to take that power back,” he said, referring to his bill.

Lee is regarded in his caucus as a staunch conservative with a strict interpretation of the Constitution. His defection likely signals that other GOP lawmakers will join the revolt.

Earlier Wednesday, when there appeared a chance that Lee’s bill might give Republicans reason to stick with Trump, both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer slammed the idea.

“Republican senators are proposing new legislation to allow the President to violate the Constitution just this once in order to give themselves cover,” Pelosi said Wednesday. “The House will not take up this legislation to give President Trump a pass.”

“Our Republican friends are saying with this fig leaf, ‘Grant me the courage to stand up to President Trump, but not yet.’ And next time and next time and next time, they’ll say the same thing,” said Schumer. “Let’s tell the president he cannot use his overreaching power to declare an emergency when he couldn’t get Congress to do what he wanted, and let us not make a joke of this.”

With Trump’s rejection, Lee’s bill may never get a vote.

“I hope this legislation will serve as a starting point for future work on this very important issue,” he said.

There are at least four other Republicans who have declared opposition to Trump’s wall emergency, including Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine), and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis. There are others who have expressed serious doubts, as well, and are likely to vote with them.

If the Senate passes the measure rejecting Trump’s declaration, the president will almost certainly veto it. So far, there are not enough Republicans who oppose the declaration to override a veto, but Lee’s opposition is likely to raise that number.

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