Senate GOP Leaders Say They Want Border Deal Whether Or Not Trump Backs It

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05:  U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (C) speaks to members of the media as Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) (L) and Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Thune (R-SD) (R) listen after a weekly Senate Republican Policy Luncheon at the U.S. Capitol February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. Senate GOPs held the weekly policy luncheon to discuss Republican agenda.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images North America

Senate Republican leaders said Tuesday that they want the bipartisan group working on avoiding another shutdown to reach an agreement on border security funding — regardless of whether President Trump agrees to support it.

“Obviously it would be great if the president decided to sign the bill,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters Tuesday afternoon, just hours before Trump was to deliver his State of the Union speech. “I think we don’t yet know what his view is on this. But I think the conferees ought to reach an agreement and then we’ll hope that the president finds it worth signing.”

Senate Republicans have been allowing a hint of daylight between themselves and President Trump on border security since the government shutdown. The government will enter another partial shutdown if lawmakers can’t reach a deal by the end of the day on Feb. 15 that Trump will sign off on.

McConnell also notably wouldn’t say how he would vote if President Trump declares a national emergency on the border and the Senate votes to overrule him. Because of the way the emergency declaration law is written, if Trump does declare a border emergency, Congress can vote to overrule him. When the House votes do so, as is likely, the Senate would have to vote — and a simple majority would be enough to pass there, though Trump could then veto the bill.

Many Republicans have been pushing Trump not to make an emergency declaration and attempt to seize funds to construct a border wall, though he has talked more and more about doing so in recent weeks. In recent days, McConnell himself privately warned Trump not to declare a national emergency. Republican leaders worry that enough rank-and-file members might defect on the vote for it to pass, a result that would be a black eye for Trump and further undercut the president

“We don’t know what route the president is going to take so I’m not going to speculate on it at this point,” he said. “I’m going to withhold judgment on that until we see what he does.”

And as has been his custom, McConnell talked about more broadly defined border security rather than specifically demanding border wall funding, something Trump has done from the start and Democrats say is a nonstarter.

Trump has continued to demand $5.7 billion for a border wall, but Republican senators haven’t been sticking to those exact terms. The president has also called the bipartisan, bicameral group working to find a deal a “waste of time.”

McConnell wasn’t the only member of Republican leadership who showed a bit of daylight with Trump.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is in leadership as well as the bipartisan working group. He said the $5.7 billion “is not a magic number.”

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), another leadership member, said that the bipartisan, House-Senate group currently working to find a deal should keep doing so and hope Trump supports it rather than predicate any deal on what Trump says.

“I hope if there’s a deal struck by the conference, the president would be willing to sign it,” he said.

Thune, like McConnell, wouldn’t say how he’d vote if Trump declares a national emergency.

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