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White House works to limit GOP defections, criticism ahead of vote to nullify Trump’s emergency declaration

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says a resolution to end President Trump's border emergency declaration has the votes to pass the Senate. (Video: Reuters)

The White House told Senate Republicans on Monday to “keep their powder dry” ahead of a vote to nullify President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border as the administration worked to limit defections on a measure rebuking the president.

The message was delivered by Zach Parkinson, White House deputy director of government communications, in a meeting Monday morning with Senate Republican communications staffers, according to two people who attended the meeting.

It came as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) predicted that the resolution to overturn Trump’s emergency declaration would pass in the Republican-led Senate — but not survive a veto. Over the weekend, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) became the fourth Republican to announce he would vote for the disapproval resolution, ensuring its passage with unified Democratic support.

Graphic: Which Republican senators support nullifying Trump’s national emergency

But the White House is eager to contain further defections from members of Trump’s party on his signature issue of building a wall along the southern border. The emergency declaration is aimed at getting additional money for border barriers after Congress refused to grant Trump’s funding request.

President Trump declared a national emergency to fund his border wall. Here are some of the challenges that could crop up to block his declaration. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

At Monday’s meeting, Parkinson cautioned GOP Senate communications aides against public criticism from their bosses over the emergency declaration, saying that if senators are planning to vote to overturn it, they should contact the White House to get further information on Trump’s rationale, according to the two people.

And if GOP senators do not have anything good to say, Parkinson said, they should “keep their powder dry,” according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail the private discussion.

White House spokesmen did not immediately respond to a request to confirm the account or offer a comment.

Which Republican senators supported nullifying Trump's national emergency

At an event Monday in Kentucky, McConnell told reporters, “I think what is clear in the Senate is that there will be enough votes to pass the resolution of disapproval, which will then be vetoed by the president and then, in all likelihood, the veto will be upheld in the House.”

Sen. Rand Paul says he will vote for measure blocking Trump’s emergency declaration

The Senate vote is expected next week. The House passed the measure to block Trump’s declaration, but Democrats in the chamber fell well short of securing the two-thirds vote that would be necessary to overturn a threatened veto from Trump.

While Trump appears to have the votes to withstand a veto in the Republican-led Senate as well, passage of the measure would still serve as rebuke of the president’s policy — and large-scale defections by GOP senators could prove embarrassing for Trump.

In addition to the four Republican senators who have announced support for the disapproval resolution, numerous others have expressed serious reservations about Trump’s move, pointing to concerns about constitutional separation of powers and the potential for future Democratic presidents to declare national emergencies on other issues.

Paul joined Senate Republicans Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) in opposing Trump’s move. Paul announced his opposition to the emergency declaration at an event in Kentucky over the weekend and told reporters Monday at the Capitol that he expected 10 or more Republican senators to vote the same way.

“The Constitution’s very clear about some things,” Paul said, including that Congress has control over the nation’s spending. “I think it’s easy to argue that this emergency order, this executive order, goes against the will of Congress.”

Paul said he had spoken about his decision with Trump on Sunday and that they had a good conversation. But he said Trump appeared determined to stick with the emergency declaration — despite pressure from some GOP senators, including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), to withdraw it and find the wall money another way.

Paul said he held out hope that if GOP opposition in the Senate reached into double digits, Trump might be prevailed upon to change his view. Paul said that for himself, after he had accused President Barack Obama of exceeding his authority on immigration and other issues, it would be hypocritical to consent to Trump doing something similar.

Fifty-three senators caucus with Republicans and 47 with Democrats, meaning that four Republican defections are enough to ensure passage.

McConnell told reporters that he had hoped Trump “wouldn’t take that particular path” of declaring a national emergency.

McConnell said he agreed with Republicans who have argued that the declaration could set a precedent for future Democratic presidents to declare emergencies on issues on which they cannot have their way in Congress.

“That’s one reason I argued, obviously without success, to the president that he not take this route,” McConnell said.

The president’s national emergency declaration, issued Feb. 15 after Congress did not produce the border-wall money he wants, allows him to access $3.6 billion in funds allocated for military construction projects.

That money would be tapped after the administration exhausts funding from other sources, including $1.375 billion provided by Congress; $2.5 billion from a Pentagon counterdrug account that the administration can access without an emergency declaration; and $601 million from a forfeiture fund in the Treasury Department.

Trump has warned about negative political consequences for senators who go against him, telling Sean Hannity of Fox News last week: “I really think that Republicans that vote against border security and the wall — I think you know, I’ve been okay at predicting things — I think they put themselves at great jeopardy.”

Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.

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