It could have been much worse, as at least four Republicans whom you might have expected to vote yes ended up voting no. I don’t think the final tally was happenstance, either. I’m reminded of this bit from Politico’s story about Trump phoning Senate Republicans yesterday:
The president himself has told allies that he does not want to be “embarrassed” by a Senate vote on the national emergency resolution that garners over 60 votes and that he’s content to sign a veto on his signature campaign issue.
Sixty was, apparently, the magic number that was going to cause Trump to freak out if it was reached. And so the fencesitters likely all fell on the “no” side of the fence as the magic number was approached. Rebuking Trump is fine, apparently, so long as the rebuke doesn’t have real teeth.
The 12 Republicans who voted with the House:
Senate PASSES resolution to terminate President Trump's emergency declaration at the border, 59-41, sending it to Trump's desk for him to veto (as he has threatened to do).
12 GOP YES VOTES:
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) March 14, 2019
Trump took the news well:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 14, 2019
The bravest vote was cast by Susan Collins, the only one of the 12 set to face voters next fall. Collins had insurance, though: She probably calculated that her decisive vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh plus the fact that her home state is a tough battleground will deter conservatives from primarying her over this. Both senators from Utah ended up voting yes (although it didn’t have to be that way). And, surprisingly, so did Marco Rubio, a man often derided for talking a good game and then backing down when the moment for a tough vote arrives. He represents a purple state which Trump won and still pulled the trigger on “yes.” He showed some spine. He has three years now to make amends with Trump.
Now, the four wimps.
First, of course, is Ted Cruz. He’s from a state that’s turning more purplish, he doesn’t have to worry about facing voters again for six years, he styles himself a “constitutional conservative” — just like Mike Lee and Rand Paul, both of whom voted yes — and he’s expressed concerns about Trump’s power grab here. So why’d he cuck out? Because: He still dreams of being president and knows that 2024 rivals like Tom Cotton would have used this vote against him to get to his right with populists. He put Ted Cruz’s political interests above everything, including what he professes to believe. As usual.
Cory Gardner. Gardner has a strong electoral excuse: Like Collins, he’s a centrist who’s up for reelection next fall, but unlike Collins, he’s a first-term senator who might be relatively easily dislodged by a primary challenge from the right. (Colorado is also the home of Tom Tancredo, remember.) Gardner has crossed Trump on other matters and probably figured that he could purchase cheap grace with local populists by backing Trump this time, especially since his vote wasn’t needed to pass the resolution. How you feel about that depends on how you feel about the likelihood of Gardner being primaried, though. Are Colorado Republicans *really* going to toss out an incumbent in one of the few swing states won by Hillary in 2016, a state that’s trending bluer by the minute? It’d be political suicide. But it’s not like righty populists aren’t known to commit political suicide. (Right, Roy Moore?) Anyway, Gardner had no good options. He’ll probably lose next fall no matter what he did.
Thom Tillis. Not only was Tillis the fourth Republican to announce he’d support the House resolution — the 51st vote, guaranteeing passage, when he announced it in September — he actually wrote a sonorous op-ed defending his position. But he too faces the voters next year in a deeply purple state, North Carolina. Today, under immense pressure from his party back home in and allegedly facing warnings that he might be primaried by Trump crony Mark Meadows if he opposed POTUS here, he caved, changed his mind, and voted no. I hope Meadows primaries him anyway. Better to have an honest presidential servant in the seat than one who makes a pretense otherwise.
Finally, saddest of all, Ben Sasse. He had a long explanation for this vote this afternoon:
“We have an obvious crisis at the border — everyone who takes an honest look at the spiking drug and human trafficking numbers knows this — and the President has a legal path to a rapid response under the National Emergencies Act of 1976 (NEA). I think that law is overly broad and I want to fix it, but at present Nancy Pelosi doesn’t, so I am therefore voting against her politically motivated resolution. As a constitutional conservative, I believe that the NEA currently on the books should be narrowed considerably. That’s why I’m an original sponsor of Senator Lee’s legislation, and it is why I have repeatedly gone to the White House to seek support for NEA reform.
“I urge both the Majority and Minority Leaders to assist in moving this legislation through committee and quickly to the Floor for debate, negotiation, and passage through the full Senate. If this Congress is serious in its concerns about decades of executive overreach, we will devote ourselves to systematically reclaiming powers Congress has been imprudently granting to presidents of both parties for far too long. Today’s resolution doesn’t fix anything because the root problem here can’t be fixed with bare-knuckled politics but rather with a deliberate debate about the powers that Congress has been giving away and that the Executive has therefore claimed.”
Fine words, but Lee’s legislation is a nonstarter because of Trump, not Pelosi. Trump is the one who ruled out supporting it. Pelosi said she wouldn’t bring it to the floor if the Senate rejected her own chamber’s resolution. That’s why Lee voted with Democrats today: Supporting Pelosi’s resolution was the only way he could send a message that Trump shouldn’t have the power to re-appropriate funding on “emergency” pretexts. Sasse not only rewarded Trump for his opposition to Lee’s measure by voting with him on the House resolution, he’s being dishonest here in trying to pin it all on Pelosi.
Does this guy understand, I wonder, just how much damage he’s done to his image with the smallish group of dogmatic conservatives within the party who admire him?
When Sasse pulls stuff like this, he validates the people most invested in painting principles of limited government / separation of power as some kind of dodge or hustle. https://t.co/IQXu63jpCL
— Daniel Foster (@DanFosterType) March 14, 2019
The truth about Sasse, the only possible explanation, is that he’s decided to run for reelection in Nebraska and calculated that he wouldn’t be able to survive a primary challenge if he opposed Trump on this. There’s too much heat. Maybe he can survive one if he quiets down with the Trump criticism over the next 12 months and votes Trump’s way. Forced to choose between his brand as a constitutional conservative who wants to restore separation of powers and his job, Sasse made his choice. I don’t know what’s left of his ideological support after this.