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Senate Republicans want President Trump to back off on national emergency declaration


Senate Republicans are sending a pointed message to President Trump to back off from his national emergency declaration, arguing that he has $6 billion currently available from multiple funds — more than he requested — to build border barriers.

The eleventh-hour effort to persuade Trump to rescind his declaration will probably not work, but it reveals the growing anxiety within Republican ranks about a looming vote to rebuke the president’s move. It’s a tough spot for many Republicans who both don’t want to publicly cross Trump and also believe the emergency sets a bad precedent.

Republicans in the upper chamber argue the administration will have an additional $4 billion in fiscal 2020 to redirect to building border barriers when Congress replenishes a drug interdiction fund under the jurisdiction of the Defense Department.

“The amount of money that’s available to him without declaring an emergency does meet his request,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. “That is definitely the message.”

Capito represents a state that Trump won by 42 points in 2016.

“I think there’s an easier way to do this,” said a second Republican senator, who requested anonymity to make the argument that Trump’s national emergency declaration is unnecessary.

GOP lawmakers hope that Trump might relent and defuse a clash next week when the Senate is scheduled to vote on a Democratic-sponsored resolution disapproving of the president’s declaration.

As many as 15 Senate Republicans have serious misgivings over Trump’s declaration and are threatening to vote for the disapproval resolution, say GOP senators.

“A lot of people are concerned in our caucus,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who plans to vote for the disapproval resolution, said Wednesday. “There have been quite a few who have expressed concerns.”

GOP senators who are privately urging the administration to back off the emergency declaration note that the recently passed spending bill provided $1.375 billion for border barriers.

Trump announced last month that he would reprogram funds in a $600 million asset forfeiture fund under the Treasury Department’s jurisdiction and pull $2.5 billion from a drug interdiction fund at the Department of Defense. GOP senators say he can take as much as $4 billion from the drug interdiction fund.

Altogether, GOP senators say, that gives the president nearly $6 billion to build border barriers — more than the $5.7 billion he requested from Congress. But that message doesn’t appear to be having any effect on Trump, who instead is stepping up pressure on Senate Republicans to vote against the disapproval resolution.

“Senate Republicans are not voting on constitutionality or precedent, they are voting on desperately needed Border Security & the Wall. Our Country is being invaded with Drugs, Human Traffickers, & Criminals of all shapes and sizes. That’s what this vote is all about. STAY UNITED!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.

Vice President Pence bluntly characterized a vote for the disapproval resolution as undermining Trump’s security agenda.

“A vote against the president’s emergency declaration is a vote against border security. A vote against the president’s emergency declaration is a vote to deny the real humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border,” he said Wednesday during the Latino Coalition Legislative Summit in Washington.

“And so we call on every member of the United States Senate: Set politics aside. Stand up for border security. Stand with this president and put the safety and security of the American people first,” he added.

The White House also dispatched Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and a senior Department of Justice attorney to a Senate Republican Conference meeting Tuesday to argue for the urgency of the border situation and lay out the legal groundwork for the emergency declaration.

“Certainly they’ve sent more people to the Hill to talk about the legal issue,” observed Capito.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a close Trump ally who spoke with the president Sunday, said there’s no indication he will back off the emergency declaration.

“I think he’s made his decision. His decision will continue short of something changing,” he said.

Paul announced over the weekend that he would vote for the disapproval resolution, joining Collins and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), the three other Republicans who have announced their positions.

Republicans leaders are worried about an explosion from the president next week if there’s a lopsided Senate vote in favor of the disapproval resolution, with as many as a dozen or more GOP lawmakers siding with Democrats. While such a vote would be embarrassing for the president, Congress doesn’t have the votes to override what is expected to be Trump’s first veto.

Two lawmakers close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a trusted adviser on a host of issues, and Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — are working on putting together alternative resolutions that would give GOP colleagues cover to vote against the measure favored by Democrats.

Toomey is crafting a resolution that “would better reflect” the views of GOP colleagues that there is a crisis at the border that needs to be addressed, something the House-passed disapproval resolution makes no mention of, according to a Senate source familiar with the effort.

The resolution would state strong support for Trump’s desire to strengthen border security even while it would express disapproval for his declaration of a national emergency to shift around funds, which Republican senators say is unnecessary and violates the Constitution’s separation of powers.

Young said he believes Trump can get all the money he needs for border security without using the emergency declaration.

“We are looking for alternatives, as I’ve said publicly, to the emergency route in order to make sure we build all the wall and build it more quickly than would occur under the emergency powers act,” said Young, who is hoping to protect the Republican majority in the Senate next year.

A third component of a possible GOP alternative resolution would be legislation to limit presidential authority under the National Emergencies Act (NEA) of 1976.

One proposal pushed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) would be to put a time limit on future national emergencies and require a simple majority vote by Congress to extend them beyond a 30-day or a 60-day period.

A spokesman for Lee said, “He is in talks with colleagues on how to best secure a vote to make real substantive changes to the NEA.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who is also involved in the talks, said, “The goal here is what resolution or what different piece of legislation can we offer at the same time that unifies us by allowing us all to express what our concerns are.”

“I think what unifies us is number one, that we actually want to secure the border,” he said, but added there’s also “a fair amount of consensus” that Congress has “given the executive branch far too much” of its “constitutional authority.”