Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). (Alex Brandon/AP)
Opinion writer

My suggestion on Tuesday that "now would be a really good time for Mitt Romney to round up a few R’s and step forward to say a declaration of emergency would be egregious violation of Constitution and [separation] of powers” engendered a robust response — some hopeful and some snidely cynical. Well, let’s ask him, I thought. Alas, my inquiry to the Republican senator from Utah’s office about the president’s ability to use emergency powers, to gin up an emergency to bypass the first branch of government, was met with silence.

It seems the cat got the tongues of many Republicans, especially those with the most to lose in 2020 when they appear on the ballot. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)? Hmm, he’ll get back to me. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.)? Crickets. Sens. Thom Tillis (r-N.C.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)? Mum. Maybe voters in their states should inquire whether these senators are in favor of eradicating Article I of the Constitution.

There was a sole exception. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) replied, “Although the President has certain emergency powers under the National Emergencies Act of 1976 and other laws, the Administration should not act on a claim of dubious constitutional authority.” She added that President Trump “should get authorization from Congress before repurposing such a significant sum of money for a border wall. Such a unilateral action would surely by challenged in the courts.” She has also spoken out in favor of reopening the government.

Meanwhile, CNN reported that the usually reticent Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), when asked whether he would support invoking emergency powers, responded: “No. It’s a much wiser idea to negotiate something out, because if it’s done it will be tied up in the courts for a long time, and it would not be successful in achieving the objective. Plus it’s cumbersome.”

So, at least a couple of senators are willing to defend their body as a coequal branch of government. Romney and others apparently prefer to hide under their desks.

On a related but not identical topic, Collins and Gardner previously stated that they wanted the government reopened. On Tuesday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) issued one of the more forceful pleas to reopen the six other departments closed in the shutdown, other than Homeland Security. “I am supportive of a process that is going to allow us to get these six bills through and if we need ... to do something different with Homeland [Security] ... then let’s do that.”

All of this occurred prior to Trump’s weak, awkward Oval Office address. I cannot imagine that will encourage Republicans to rally around the shutdown or become supportive of a presidential power grab. If anything, Trump abandoned the phony “terrorists coming over the border” claim, resorting to a plea to stem a humanitarian crisis. That, however, would not justify a wall, which is intended to stop illegal crossings by migrants who do not present themselves with asylum claims.

In short, Trump was bleeding support from Republican senators before the speech. Some are willing to step forward to warn him against a presidential power grab while others agitate simply to open the government. Other traditional sources of support are also peeling off. The Post reports, “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to lawmakers Tuesday urging Congress and the Trump administration to reopen the government, throwing its support behind a deal that would combine border security measures with protections for ‘dreamers’ brought here illegally as children and those in the temporary protected status program.”

House and Senate Republicans can end this debacle right now. In the House, they can join Democrats to reopen the government. In the Senate, they can join Democrats in demanding a vote on House measures and refusing to vote on other Senate business. Neither Trump nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has the skill or nerve to end this, but other Republicans can. Otherwise, Collins, Ernst, Gardner and others will see their reelection chances vanish.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: An ‘emergency’ power grab would only add to Trump’s problems

Jennifer Rubin: Trump’s ‘emergency powers’ threat reveals the GOP’s dismal state

Andrea Pitzer: If Trump declares a state of emergency, he might actually cause one

John Q. Barrett: How Congress can stop Trump’s ‘emergency’