It didn’t need to be this way. Probably. Maybe?
The House will respond, Pelosi said earlier today:
House Republicans will have to choose between their partisan hypocrisy and their sacred oath to support and defend the Constitution. #FakeEmergency
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) March 15, 2019
They got 245 votes for the resolution that Trump just vetoed. To override the veto, they’d need 290, or two-thirds of the chamber. DOA.
But the override attempt raises an important question: Given that McConnell was required by Senate rules to bring the House resolution to the floor, will he also need to bring the new resolution attempting to override the president’s veto to a vote? According to Politico reporter Jake Sherman, yes — but only if it passes the House first.
Which means no, McConnell and the Senate GOP won’t need to take a second vote on it.
I’d be curious to know how Ben Sasse feels about that, having been pilloried yesterday by Trump-skeptic conservatives like me who can’t understand why he choked on a meaningless vote to stand up for separation of powers. His lame justification after the fact, that this was Pelosi’s fault because she won’t pass Mike Lee’s bill amending the National Emergencies Act, added insult to injury. He might get reelected in Nebraska next year — might, because Trumpers still hate him for constantly criticizing their guy — but he’ll never again be taken seriously by any wing of the party. An override vote would have given him at least a theoretical opportunity to reverse himself belatedly, although it would have made no sense for him to do so. Why go to the trouble of kissing Trump’s ass on the first vote only to offend him on the second?
When I said up top that it didn’t need to be this way, I’m not giving you my opinion, I’m giving you Lee’s. “He quite possibly could have gotten 50 senators voting no,” said Lee to reporters yesterday, lamenting Trump’s unwillingness to compromise with a caucus that really, really didn’t want to cross him on this. But POTUS wouldn’t play ball. Per Politico, Trump seemed more or less content for weeks to let Senate Republicans vote how they wanted, knowing that he could always veto the resolution and his veto wouldn’t be overridden. Only on the eve of the vote did he seem to get more agitated about the looming embarrassment. Supposedly Murkowski was interested in Lee’s offer to block Pelosi’s resolution in return for Trump agreeing to sign a bill that would have limited the duration of presidentially-declared emergencies in the future — but Trump wouldn’t go for it. As of a few days ago, Murkowski and Tillis were two of the four Republicans who had declared they’d support the resolution; Tillis ended up caving yesterday and Murkowski might have flipped, potentially leaving Schumer with just 49 votes for Pelosi’s resolution. That’s what I mean when I say a veto might not have been necessary.
WaPo reports that there were other ways the White House stiffed Senate Republicans who were looking for reasons to vote with him:
Trump’s personal pleas and pressure were among a number of missed opportunities and missteps by the White House that contributed to a defeat notably worse than the administration had hoped for in trying to limit defections, according to officials and lawmakers familiar with the efforts, many of whom requested anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
The administration, for example, failed to give opposing GOP senators legal opinions, project details and other information that they had requested about the national emergency, according to lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides. Vice President Pence was also unable or unwilling to make commitments on behalf of the president even while serving as Trump’s main emissary to negotiate with Republicans, people familiar with the debate said…
Republican senators pressed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for a list of military construction projects that could lose funding this year as a result of Trump’s emergency declaration. Nielsen told them the issue was largely the purview of the Pentagon — while Defense Department officials at the same time were deferring to Nielsen’s agency for information they needed to make a list of targeted projects.
There’s a funny story in there about Ted Cruz asking the White House in February for a legal opinion defending the constitutionality of the emergency declaration (“What if a President Elizabeth Warren declared a national emergency to seize oil wells in Texas?” Cruz wanted to know) and the White House blowing him off. The funny part is that Cruz ended up voting with Trump anyway, of course; Trump knows a toady when he sees one. But a forthright legal defense might have persuaded a more principled conservative like Lee. Trump didn’t bother. “In numerous calls with Republican senators in recent days, the president spoke of the battle almost exclusively in personal terms,” WaPo notes, which is quintessential Trump. Of course he viewed the vote as a referendum on him personally. It’s how he views everything. I imagine him looking at people like Lee who were interested in constitutional principle with that same confused head-tilt a puppy gives you when you pretend to throw the tennis ball. He can’t engage the caucus in principled terms so he ended up losing 59-41 and was forced into the spectacle of a veto today.
And although I’ve made this point before, it must be stressed again: It would have cost him nothing to offer to sign Lee’s bill. All he had to do to jam up Congress was say that he’d agree to amend the NEA provided that Senate Republicans blocked Pelosi’s resolution. If the Senate GOP did that for him, Pelosi would have killed Lee’s bill in the House. If the Senate GOP refused, Trump wouldn’t be under any obligation to sign Lee’s bill. As a pure political matter this could have been so much easier for him.
I doubt it bothers him much, though. Pitting himself against the weak RINO establishment is how he got populists excited about him in the first place in 2016. In a way, all today did was remind his fans why they voted for him. Plus, he must be relishing Sasse’s capitulation. It’ll be hilarious even to Trump-skeptics like me when he turns around and tries to get Sasse primaried anyway next year.
Exit quotation from the head of the ACLU: “Congress has rejected the president’s declaration, and now the courts will be the ultimate arbiter of its legality.”