President Trump with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Capitol Hill on March 26. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
Opinion writer

Senate Republicans, perhaps looking at some 2020 polling (e.g., an Emerson poll has Sen. Thom Tillis down by 7 points in North Carolina) and at disapproval of President Trump’s immigration and trade policies, are trying to get him to back off two very bad moves — another doomed nomination (following two Federal Reserve picks that went down in flames), and Trump’s harebrained idea to slap tariffs on Mexico to get them to do, well, it’s not clear what, but something on asylum seekers.

CNN, along with other outlets, reports that Senate Republicans are quietly telling Trump (and then leaking to the press) not to nominate Ken Cuccinelli to head the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “People familiar with the discussions said they have made clear to the White House that Cuccinelli would face serious difficulty in being confirmed. Lawmakers have reminded officials in the West Wing that Cuccinelli, a former Virginia state attorney general, once led a political action committee that supported a primary challenge against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.”

Once more, you wonder why Trump would pick someone so unpalatable to the Senate. If the past is prologue, it’s probably because no one bothered to vet Cuccinelli. The White House may be preparing for yet another nomination to go down before it’s formally announced. (“USCIS Deputy Director Mark Koumans has assumed the role of acting director in the wake of [L. Francis] Cissna’s forced-departure, which was led by Trump’s immigration adviser Stephen Miller.”

Ironically, at a time Trump is pointing to a crisis on the border, his own personnel moves have left the Department of Homeland Security rudderless. This is quintessential Trump: Create problems where there are none, then make existing problems worse by flaky management decisions. He hires the worst people.

Then there is Trump’s truly awful idea to attack the Mexican economy with tariffs, once more raising prices for American consumers and risking further strain on Mexico’s resources, which, in turn, will impede its ability to cooperate with border security.

Senate Republicans, already chafing at a trade war with China that is zapping farmers, businesses and consumers (and predicted to overwhelm any savings from his tax cuts), are publicly fretting — deeply concerned! — about the implementation of tariffs against Mexico next week as Trump has threatened.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) appearing on CNBC said, “I think actually what will happen is if the tariffs do go into effect on Monday, which is the first five percent, I do think Congress is likely to have a vote, because the president is doing this under these International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the IEEPA, which is going to require another vote of disapproval.” Portman recalled the previous vote of disapproval that Trump vetoed. He warned, “This time, it would be about imposing tariffs, which for a lot of Republicans, you know, it’s a tax, it’s a tax borne mostly by consumers, most people think, but it’s a different kind of a question so I don’t know how that would come out so I hope we don’t go down that road.”

Unlike Portman, however, the vast majority of Senate Republicans went along with Trump’s emergency ploy last time. He’d be excused in thinking the Senate Republicans would blink again.

The Post reports that Senate Republicans are steamed, at least privately:

“There is not much support in my conference for tariffs — that’s for sure,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He said senators hope that negotiations with Mexico will be “fruitful” and that the tariffs will not happen. Most GOP senators strongly oppose tariffs because they view them as taxes on Americans.

The contentious lunch meeting occurred just hours after Trump, during a news conference in London, reiterated his intention to impose the tariffs next week and said it would be “foolish” for Republican senators to try to stop him.

Senate Republicans would have more credibility both on the trade tax (tariffs) if they had a track record of challenging the president’s power grabs. Trump also has a credibility problem after so many empty threats and 180-degree turnarounds. In short, neither side takes the other at its word — nor should they. McConnell has turned the Senate into a do-nothing body (the House bills are piling up without any hope of Senate action) and, by and large, a rubber stamp for judges and executive branch appointees. The majority leader shouldn’t be surprised that Trump neither respects his chamber, nor fears it will challenge his imperial presidency.

Read more:

Dana Milbank: Will Republicans finally stop cowering before Trump?

Joe Scarborough: Disregard Trump’s ground noise. Focus on the signal.

William S. Cohen: When will the Republican silence on Trump end?

Paul Waldman: Why aren’t Trump and Republicans pilloried for failing to ‘reach out’?