Over the last few months, more than 20 Republican senators expressed opposition to or significant reservations about President Trump declaring a national emergency to build a border wall.
On Thursday, they had a chance to register their disapproval. And 12 Republicans did vote against Trump’s measure. But some who spoke in dire terms about the potential impact of the national emergency took a pass and voted with Trump. One of them, in fact, engaged in a flip-flop for the ages.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)
What he said before: Tillis took the bold step of not just opposing Trump’s national emergency, but actually writing a Washington Post op-ed explaining why. After the senator, who is up for reelection in 2020, got some pushback from fellow Republicans, he told The Post’s Seung Min Kim: “It’s never a tough vote for me when I’m standing on principle.”
By midweek, though, it was clear Tillis was looking for a way out. He tried to help forge a compromise in which a president’s national emergency powers would be curtailed so he and others could vote with Trump.
What he did Thursday: Even though no compromise was reached, Tillis pulled a complete reversal and voted with Trump.
“A lot has changed over the last three weeks,” Tillis maintained. “A discussion with the vice president, a number of senior administration officials, a lot of collaboration with my colleague from Utah [Sen. Mike Lee] that’s a serious discussion about changing the National Emergencies Act in a way that will have Congress speak on emergency actions in the future . . . As late as today the president makes a statement that he’s willing to work with us.”
He maintained after the vote that this was not because he was worried about a primary challenge.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.)
What he said before: “We absolutely have a crisis at the border, but as a constitutional conservative I don’t want a future Democratic president unilaterally rewriting gun laws or climate policy. If we get used to presidents just declaring an emergency any time they can’t get what they want from Congress, it will be almost impossible to go back to a constitutional system of checks and balances. Over the past decades, the legislative branch has given away too much power and the executive branch has taken too much power.”
What he did Thursday: Without much fanfare, Sasse signed off on the national emergency — and said it was because Democrats declined to rein in a president’s emergency powers.
“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),” Sasse said in a statement. “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.”
So to protest Pelosi’s lack of action on curtailing a president’s broad national emergency powers, he’s . . . voting to support a president’s broad national emergency powers?
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
What he said before: “I would prefer we get it done through the legislative process rather than a presidential emergency, because I just think that’s not the path we want to go down, and the president or every president can decide if they want to use that or not. Presidents have used it in the past on things where there was complete bipartisan agreement.”
What he did Thursday: Voted to go down that path.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
What he said before: McConnell both said publicly he opposed a national emergency and privately cautioned Trump against it. “I’m for whatever works, which means avoiding a shutdown and avoiding the president feeling he should declare a national emergency,” McConnell said.
What he did Thursday: It has been known for a while that McConnell backed down, supporting Trump’s national emergency as a means to avert another shutdown showdown. And he voted accordingly Thursday.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.)
What he said before: “The president’s going to get sued, and it won’t succeed in accomplishing his goal . . . Pelosi will introduce a resolution of disapproval that will pass the House and come over here and divide Republicans. It strikes me as not a great strategy.”
What he did Thursday: All of that has now come to pass — with Cornyn’s vote to support Trump.