Has Mitch turned against the wall? He warns Trump GOP may vote to kill it

Reports suggest Mitch McConnell has warned Trump many Republican senators will resist an "emergency" declaration

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published February 5, 2019 6:30PM (EST)

Mitch McConnell; Donald Trump (AP/Getty/Salon)
Mitch McConnell; Donald Trump (AP/Getty/Salon)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging President Trump to be cautious about declaring a state of emergency to build his border wall, warning that Senate Republicans may not support him. On the other hand, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is threatening “war” on any Republican senators who back a vote to deny Trump wall funding.

Trump is expected to make another case for the wall during his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, even as public opinion on the idea has soured. Congressional negotiators have made progress on a budget deal, but not on the wall, and Trump is reportedly considering declaring a state of emergency that would allow him to use funds allocated for other things for border wall construction.

The New York Times reports that McConnell warned Trump in a meeting last week that such a declaration would “almost certainly spark a rebellion within his party — and a vote to overrule him.”

Trump is not expected to declare the state of emergency during Tuesday's speech, but is still considering diverting funding from military and infrastructure projects to fund part of the wall, The Times reported.

McConnell, who shielded Trump from Senate revolts during the government shutdown and on bills that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller, warned Trump that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could force him to hold a vote in the Senate on denying Trump the power to declare the emergency, the Washington Post reported.

Under the National Emergencies Act, Congress can pass a resolution to terminate any declared national emergency. If Pelosi holds such a vote in the House, which would almost certainly pass, the Senate would then be required to vote on the resolution within weeks. McConnell could do nothing to stop it short of changing the Senate rules, the Post noted.

The Times reported that McConnell told Trump that he would have to hold a vote within 15 days and that as many as 10 Republican senators might side with Democrats against the president. Republicans currently hold a 53-seat majority in the Senate.

Trump could then veto the resolution and challenge the Senate to override it, which would require an improbable two-thirds supermajority. Democrats are also expected to challenge the move in court.

Republican senators have expressed anxiety about a possible emergency declaration and worry about the precedent it could set for future presidents to declare emergencies to fund their pet projects without congressional approval.

“It would be a bad precedent, I think, for the president to decide to invoke national security as a way to bypass a congressional logjam,” Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey told The Times. “And I can imagine future presidents using that for purposes I would find very objectionable.”

“The whole idea that a president — whether it’s President Trump or President Warren or President Sanders — can declare an emergency and then somehow usurp the separation of powers and get into the business of appropriating money for specific projects without Congress getting involved is a serious constitutional question,” added Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a close adviser to McConnell.

McConnell himself has publicly urged Trump not to “go down that path.”

Even as Senate leaders try to dissuade the president from declaring an emergency, Graham, who has embraced Trump more than any other senator in recent months, warned that Republican defections on the emergency declaration could spark a “war” within the party.

"To every Republican, if you don't stand behind this president, we're not going to stand behind you, when it comes to the wall,” he said at an event in South Carolina Monday. “This is the defining moment of his presidency. It's not just about a wall, it's about him being treated different than every other president.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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