No deal: Mike Lee to back House resolution after Trump vows to veto bill that would limit emergency powers

I won’t rehash the background to all this yet again. If you care about tomorrow’s big Senate vote on the House resolution to cancel Trump’s border emergency — and Trump certainly does — then you’ve probably read this post (and others) and know the story already.

The news about Lee answers a key question, though, which I asked at the end of that last item. Did he mean it when he proposed amending the National Emergencies Act to set time limits on future presidentially-decreed emergencies? Or was he offering that as a cynical alternative to the House resolution, hoping that centrist Republicans like Collins and Murkowski might support his bill instead of the House resolution, ensuring the latter’s defeat?

Answer: He meant it. Mike Lee is in earnest, as he seemingly always is.

I’d like to know exactly what Trump said when he called in. Did he say “I won’t support Lee’s bill unless you guys vote to block the House resolution” before being told that the four Republicans who support the resolution won’t change their minds? Or did he say “I won’t support Lee’s bill, period”? The first position would make sense, as it’d be strange for the president to promise to sign a bill limiting his own emergency powers going forward without Republicans doing him the favor of blocking Pelosi’s attempt to cancel the current border emergency.

But the second position would be moronic. Pelosi’s already vowed to ignore Lee’s bill in the House unless the Senate passes the House resolution. Trump could have called her bluff and placed the onus on House Democrats to show how serious they are about reining in presidential power simply by taking the first position instead. The House resolution would fail in the Senate and Lee’s bill would pass, backed by Trump’s endorsement; then, if Pelosi kept her word about blocking Lee’s bill in the House, Trump would have secured a total victory. He’d have managed to kill off Pelosi’s resolution and avoided having to keep his promise to sign Lee’s bill into law — and he could have blamed Pelosi for the whole thing. “I care about limiting presidential emergency powers more than she does!” he could have said afterward. “I was ready to sign Mike’s bill. Nancy wouldn’t pass it!”

That was the obvious play for President Deals. Was that the play he chose? Or did he pass up an easy political lay-up here by declaring that he wouldn’t support Lee’s bill under any circumstances, thus annoying Lee and Senate Republicans on the eve of the big vote and sparing Pelosi from having to make a tough decision on whether to block Lee’s bill in the House? The fact that Lee is now supporting Pelosi’s resolution makes me think Trump blew the lay-up, ruling out even a hypothetical willingness to sign an amendment of the National Emergencies Act into law. Which means the Senate is going to embarrass the president tomorrow by joining with the House to try to cancel his border emergency.

And so now the suspense mounts: How many other Senate Republicans are annoyed this evening and thinking of voting tomorrow with Pelosi as well? The White House’s greatest fear in all this has been a “jailbreak” among the caucus in which not just five or so Republicans join with Democrats in opposing him but more like 15. We may be on the verge of that now despite the last-minute attempts to cobble together some other alternative bill on how to fund the border wall.

Go figure, by the way, that Mike Pence wasn’t able to deliver on his promise to Senate Republicans that Trump would back Lee’s bill. It’s almost as if the president is an unreliable negotiation partner who changes his mind moment by moment. Exit question: Is Thom Tillis going to wimp out after declaring his intention to vote with the Democrats tomorrow? He was rooting for a deal on Lee’s bill, hoping that it would give him a way to oppose Pelosi’s resolution while also standing up for Congress’s prerogatives. But he’s up for reelection next year in a swing state and hearing it from Trumpers back home over his opposition to Trump on this. (“You have a Republican president, you expect your Republican senators to follow suit.”) He might cave and oppose Pelosi in the end, just to protect his standing with Republican voters.