How did Donald Trump get Mitch McConnell to sign off on an emergency declaration? After all, McConnell had initially warned Trump that it would precipitate a civil war in the GOP and that Trump might well lose a vote to sustain it. By yesterday, though, McConnell ended up with the task of announcing the decision to the world on the Senate floor. Quite a journey indeed from Cocaine Mitch.
That doesn’t make him enthusiastic about it, former House Intel chair Mike Rogers told CNN this morning. The retired Republican congressman said it looked like McConnell was being forced to eat a “manure sandwich” in order to avoid a second shutdown:
“You’re watching Mitch McConnell eat a manure sandwich in this whole process” -former House Intelligence Chairman @RepMikeRogers on McConnell saying Trump would sign bill to avoid a shutdown and declare a national emergency at the same time. https://t.co/ufFuK0DgjO pic.twitter.com/PQrSXfS9l3
— New Day (@NewDay) February 15, 2019
CNN’s Stephen Collinson also wonders just how much heart McConnell has for this fight:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did manage to avert the political disaster of a new government shutdown by securing a pledge Thursday that President Donald Trump will sign a federal funding bill that lacks money for his wall. But he may be paying the price for years to come.
That’s because the President’s response to a futile effort to squeeze lawmakers for wall funding is to obliterate a constitutional guardrail in a way that could fundamentally alter the power balance between the presidency and Congress. …
McConnell’s institutional concerns are also likely matched with an acknowledgment that the President’s coming power grab is unpopular among a majority of Americans. About 66% of Americans said in a CNN/SSRS poll released earlier this month that Trump should not declare a national emergency to build the wall. And only 64% of Republicans thought the President should go ahead — a figure far lower than Trump’s approval numbers with GOP voters.
It’s not a bad question. McConnell generally tends to being an institutionalist, inclined to defending the prerogatives of Congress. Rogers did seem to capture the tone of McConnell’s announcement, in which he blandly stated that he had “indicated to [Trump] that I’m going to support the national emergency declaration.” It was not exactly a rousing endorsement.
The House will almost certainly pass a resolution under the 1976 National Emergencies Act to cancel out Trump’s declaration. The main question will be who gets to bring it first. Rep. Joaquin Castro jumped into the Twitter lead yesterday:
If @realdonaldtrump declares a national emergency to fund his border wall, I’m prepared to introduce a resolution to terminate the President’s emergency declaration under 50 U.S.C. 1622. (National Emergencies Act) #FakeEmergency
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) February 14, 2019
If it passes the House — and it’s all but certain to do so — the Senate is required to take up the bill. Allahpundit noted that provision of the 1976 statute two weeks ago. Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate, but there are already signs that the civil war McConnell predicted might erupt when the bill arrives:
“I think it’s a mistake,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “The National Emergencies Act was contemplated to apply to natural disasters or catastrophic events such as the attacks on our country on 9/11. For the president to use it to repurpose billions of dollars that Congress has appropriated for other purposes and that he has previously signed into law strikes me as undermining the appropriations process, the role of Congress and being of dubious constitutionality.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, called the declaration a “dangerous precedent” and said he would back a disapproval resolution.
“I don’t believe that’s the way we should be doing these sorts of things,” Rubio said. “I actually think that there’s a real constitutional question about it . . . I think things should be delegated to Congress; that’s the way the system was set up.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) echoed those concerns, though he didn’t say if he would back a resolution rebuking the president: “It’s not an ideal state. This is a pretty dramatic — it would be a pretty dramatic expansion of how this has been used in the past.”
That’s two and potentially three votes in support of revoking the emergency declaration. How about Lisa Murkowski? Will she go along with it? Will Rand Paul vote to expand executive emergency power at the expense of Congress? How about Lamar Alexander, who will be retiring at the end of this term, or Pat Roberts who will also retire? Lindsey Graham is a safe no, and so is James Risch and Tim Scott, but McConnell knows that there’s at least a decent chance Trump’s going to lose before this ever gets to court.
Perhaps that’s why McConnell decided to throw in the towel on the idea in the first place. It manages to avoid another government shutdown, and in the meantime Trump can use other means to supplement the relatively paltry amount of funding Congress allocated for border barriers. To use Rogers’ colorful metaphor, McConnell may hope that he only has to chew the manure sandwich for a while without actually having to swallow it.