reporter's notebook

How Many Republicans Will Buck Trump On His Emergency Declaration?

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) speaks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. A continuing resolution to fund the government has passed the House of Representa... WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) speaks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. A continuing resolution to fund the government has passed the House of Representatives but faces a stiff challenge in the Senate. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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February 20, 2019 6:00 a.m.

President Trump’s emergency declaration for the southern border could lead to the most visible rejection from key members of his party since he became president. The question is how many will decide to stand up to him.

Almost two dozen Republican senators expressed some level of reservation about Trump’s emergency declaration, with many of them wary about potential executive overreach. A half-dozen of them either face reelection fights in swing states where Trump isn’t particularly popular or plan to retire soon, giving Trump little power over them.

The declaration can’t be filibustered and needs just 51 votes to pass the Senate, meaning just four Republicans would need to cross Trump if all Democrats hold together on the vote. If it passes, that would put Trump in the awkward position of issuing his first veto — and generate another set of headlines drawing national attention to a move that polls show is unpopular with voters.

Among those two dozen were four who expressed clear opposition: Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT). All four have less reason to stay with Trump than many in their party. Paul and Lee regularly break with their party on issues they see as fundamentally unconstitutional or a violation of the separation of powers. Alexander, a pragmatic lawmaker who already bucked Trump on and voted with Democrats last month to reopen the government without border funding, is retiring. Tillis is facing a potentially tough reelection in a swing state.

Others may join them.

The most likely candidates: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was highly critical of Trump’s move. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) both expressed reservations about Trump’s border wall move, both of them face potentially tough reelection fights, and both voted with Democrats to reopen the government last month without giving Trump his wall money.

Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) voted with them and have criticized the deal. Romney has been happy to buck Trump, while Isakson is viewed as a retirement possibility in 2022, though he’s said he’ll run.

There are even more Republicans to watch, though they might not be as likely to split with their president, especially after the Democratic-controlled House passes the plan.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) also has been skeptical of Trump’s wall, criticized the president’s emergency declaration, and could face a tough 2020 race in a state where border politics are much more nuanced and complicated than they are nationally.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) sharply criticized Trump’s move, but has been more talk than action in standing up to the president. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) bashed Trump’s move as well, and doesn’t face reelection until 2022. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) also criticized Trump’s move, though a 2020 primary threat might make him wary of voting against Trump.

It’s unclear at this point when these votes will occur. The House will vote first, and the Senate by law under the National Emergencies Act must take up a vote within 18 days. Congress is on recess this week. That means a vote could happen sometime around the Ides of March next month — an inauspicious time for the president.

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