What the hell was Sasse doing there? Don’t he and Trump hate each other?
And what were Graham and Cruz doing there? We all know they won’t dare cross Trump on today’s big vote to cancel Trump’s border emergency, whatever their constitutional or prudential misgivings may be.
Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Ben Sasse (Neb.) unexpectedly arrived as Trump was having dinner in the residence with family, according to two people familiar with the episode, who requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
The senators argued for a last-minute proposal aimed at satisfying concerns of senators who are inclined to vote Thursday afternoon for a measure nullifying Trump’s declaration, the people said. Details on their proposal could not immediately be learned.
The people familiar with what transpired said a White House lawyer was brought in to explain why the proposal wouldn’t work, and the discussion was ultimately unsuccessful, irritating Trump, who renewed his veto threat with an early morning tweet on Thursday.
He … does sound irritated:
A vote for today’s resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 14, 2019
He tweeted that eight minutes after his old pal Mitt Romney finally showed his cards on today’s vote: He too will vote yes on the House resolution, bringing the number of Republican votes in favor to six.
My statement on today’s emergency declaration vote→ pic.twitter.com/QbP7VCL81S
— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) March 14, 2019
Lamar Alexander has since chimed in as the seventh vote.
Maybe Graham and Cruz, both allies of Trump, were there because they have reason to believe there are more Senate Republicans than anyone expects who are preparing to vote yes on Pelosi’s resolution. One estimate going around last night was that as many as 12 might oppose Trump on this, still not terribly close to the 20 Schumer would need for a veto-proof majority (there’s no veto-proof majority in the House in any case) but an embarrassment for the White House. Twelve Republican defections would put the final tally in the Senate at 59; Trump apparently told Senate Republicans yesterday that he doesn’t want to see 60 yes votes. Graham and Cruz might have been watching the whip count, knowing that a dozen Republicans were ready to oppose Trump unless he worked something out with Mike Lee, then scrambled to cobble something together after Trump finally rejected Lee’s offer of a deal.
As for why Sasse was there, he’s up for reelection next year and might feel duty-bound to vote for the House resolution if it’s the only option on the menu. Opposing Trump on this will make the odds of a primary challenge even higher — possibly so high that he ends up in a Jeff Flake situation where reelection becomes impossible. It’d be in his self-interest for Trump to back down on the border emergency and agree to some alternate plan on funding the wall. No dice, it looks like.
What exactly did Cruz, Graham, and Sasse propose to Trump? I can’t find any account of it online and the WaPo story above doesn’t say. I assume it was something along the lines of what Mick Mulvaney called “legal executive authority” to move money around in lieu of declaring an emergency under the National Emergencies Act. Lamar Alexander proposed something like that too. Rubio allegedly alluded to an eleventh-hour effort to revive it yesterday:
Rubio says there’s going to be “an effort to potentially” offer an alternative resolution from Alexander/Lee in support of redirecting $5.7B for the wall by not declaring an emergency. This is what Alexander urged Trump to consider a few weeks ago.
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) March 13, 2019
Republicans don’t like the idea of a president using emergency powers to make bold policy moves since it sets an obvious precedent for Democratic successors on subjects like climate change. Executive authority that’s specific to immigration policy bothers them less since the precedent involved is more limited. (Although presumably President Beto could use “legal executive authority” to tear down any wall Trump manages to build.) But if the lawyers say it’s infeasible, oh well. Even if it was feasible, imagine Trump backing down on an emergency decree at the last minute in the face of a Senate revolt.
I still can’t understand why he didn’t offer to sign Mike Lee’s bill if Senate Republicans agreed to kill Pelosi’s resolution for him. It would have cost him nothing! Either centrist Republicans would have defied him and passed Pelosi’s resolution anyway, thus canceling Trump’s support for Lee’s legislation, or they would have blocked the resolution and Pelosi would have retaliated by killing Lee’s bill in the House — in which case it would never have come to Trump’s desk. It would have been a good talking point for POTUS: “I’m not against limiting executive emergency powers in principle. I offered to sign Lee’s bill, didn’t I?” Instead he seems to have ruled out Lee’s bill entirely yesterday. Baffling.
Here’s Lou Dobbs suggesting that every Republican who opposes Trump on this be removed from office. Culling a bunch of incumbents for taking a meaningless vote in support of separation of powers would be a smart way to hasten a Democratic takeover of the Senate next year and fully open borders.