The Senate Votes Down Trump’s National Emergency
When White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked on Monday what Trump was doing to whip votes, she could barely even be bothered to try to claim he was trying. “Certainly, we talk to a number of members every single day, certainly at the presidential and the staff level,” she said. “And we’re going to continue to engage with them in this process.” Likewise, a White House official told my colleague Peter Nicholas that the situation was “not all-hands-on-deck, pedal-to-the-metal” and that “people can vote their will.”
Instead, the White House dispatched Vice President Mike Pence to the Hill. While Pence was previously a member of the House, he has shown little ability to sway Congress in the past. Pence came near to cutting a deal with Senator Mike Lee, the Utah Republican who has expressed constitutional concerns about Trump’s declaration. Lee’s proposal would have effectively let Trump have this emergency, but it would have limited presidents’ authority in the future. But Trump rejected the idea, undercutting Pence, and Lee announced he’d vote for the resolution blocking Trump’s emergency declaration after all.
Trump’s outreach to senators was so minimal that on Wednesday night, The Washington Post reported, Senators Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, and Ben Sasse showed up unannounced at the White House, while Trump ate with the first lady, to plead with him, but they weren’t able to make any headway.
The result was that the rebels included not just constitutionally focused senators like Lee and Rand Paul, and not just moderates like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, but even senators like Mitt Romney, who has been personally opprobrious of the president but generally supports him on policy.
Everything may be possible, but Trump rolling up his sleeves remains highly improbable. Time and again, he has declined to put much effort into lobbying Congress, even on his top priorities. (His lack of interest echoes that of his predecessor, Barack Obama, who had a distant relationship with Congress.) The prime example in Trump’s term is the failed attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, during which Trump sent members mixed signals and declined to ever commit to any particular outline or strategy. He also didn’t bother to really press Congress for funding for the border wall when Republicans controlled both houses. (A cynic might conclude Trump was more interested in using the wall as a political bludgeon than actually building it.) The sole notable exception is the slate of tax cuts that Trump rammed through in late 2017—and those turned out to be a political and economic dud.