President Donald Trump scuttled a final effort by Senate Republicans to avoid an intraparty clash on his emergency declaration this week, a move that could juice the number of GOP senators that vote to rebuke Trump on the floor.
The president delivered the news in a phone call to Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) during a Republican lunch on Wednesday, according to three people familiar with the call. Trump told the Utah senator that he would not be able to endorse Lee’s effort to change the National Emergencies Act to require congressional approval of emergency declarations — derailing a push by Republicans to find some way out of a confrontation with the president.
Story Continued Below
Lee later said he was going to vote for the disapproval resolution. And Trump said on Wednesday if senators vote against him it will be a “very bad thing.”
“I told Republican senators, vote any way you want. Vote how you feel good. But I think it’s bad for a Republican senator. I also think it’s bad for a Democrat senator to vote against border security and to vote against the wall. I think if they vote that way, it’s a very bad thing for them, long into the future,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
The move sparked the second blow of the day for Senate Republicans searching for peace with the White House. Earlier Wednesday, Democratic leaders moved to box in Republicans by publicly declaring that the GOP effort to curtail the presidential use of future emergencies would not fly with them.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called it a “fig leaf” deal, because Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) won’t take it up.
“Do you hear me, my colleagues, my Republican colleagues. This won’t pass,” Schumer said on Wednesday morning as he implored the Senate GOP to vote with all 47 Senate Democrats to disapprove of the president. “This fig leaf is so easily seen through, so easily blown aside that it leaves the constitutional pretensions of my Republican colleagues naked.”
With roughly a dozen Senate Republicans either committed to voting to disapprove of the president or weighing their options, Lee introduced legislation Tuesday that would end national emergencies after 30 days unless Congress votes in favor of it.
Republicans wanted Trump to endorse it and then would consider standing with him on the disapproval vote. It’s unclear whether that compromise would have caused the disapproval vote to fail, but it had the potential to significantly scale back defections.
Trump said that the GOP was missing the point of what’s become a political shirts vs. skins exercise.
“Republican Senators are overthinking tomorrow’s vote on National Emergency. It is very simply Border Security/No Crime – Should not be thought of any other way. We have a MAJOR NATIONAL EMERGENCY at our Border and the People of our Country know it very well!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said even if Trump had signed off on the changes he’d be “surprised” if enough Republicans switched their position to defeat the disapproval resolution. But he added it might limit the number of defections.
Yet Pelosi sought to render any commitment from Trump meaningless on Wednesday morning when she vowed that the House will not consider legislation scaling back national emergency powers for the president.
“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 in a statement. “The House will not take up this legislation to give President Trump a pass.”
John Bresnahan and Rebecca Morin contributed to this story.