Terry H. Schwadron
March 15, 2019
The biggest debate of the week seemed to be whether the Senate had “rebuffed” President Trump or “rebuked’ him, not once but twice.
Both incidences will result in presidential vetoes, the first and second for the administration, and both suggest that while this president may get his way in the short run, he’s uncorked the kind of bipartisan legislative discomfort with him that eventually will work to trim his uncontrolled sails.
Despite heavy lobbying by the White House to avoid any sense of comeuppance by Senate Republicans, the Senate voted Thursday with Democrats who sought to block any Trump declaration of emergency over re-routing committed federal funds to building a campaign-necessary border Wall. The president tried remaining nonchalant about the loss in the Senate, but that behavior belied the heavy pressure and raw political threats against Republicans who might disobey.
In the end, a dozen Senate Republicans stood up to him, a number of “moderates” and libertarian-leaners, people who felt certainly that the President’s insistence on spending $5.9 billion on the Wall from already committed funds was a breach of presidential-legislative power separation. The dozen surprisingly did not include a couple of Republicans who had announced their opposition, but of course, Senators Thom Tilles, R-NC, and Ben Sasse, R-NE, face reelection next year, and threats about primaries and such were threatened.
It is interesting that such an idea of upholding the Constitution proved more important than addressing Trump’s fantasy of a border crisis. But, as even the president has said, he will veto the bill, sustain the veto and then face court reviews about the Constitutional issues.
For Trump, the issue was the border, plain and simple. There were no Constitutional issues.
Over time, the White House has sent mixed messages about how it will handle an emboldened Republican Conference increasingly willing to defy the president. The president himself has told allies that he does not want to be “embarrassed” by Senate votes.
Just a day earlier, the The Senate passed the Yemen resolution, which was a chance to denounce Trump’s lackluster response to Saudi Arabia‘s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with seven Republicans joining the Democrats.
The Yemen vote was, to some extent, a vote of no-confidence, at least over this issue. Involved was a resolution to cut off U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s bloody civil war.
Among the seven Republicans, there was a lot of talk about reasserting Congress’ authority to declare war, but to rebuke the Trump administration over its posture toward Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the murder of journalist Khashoggi.
The White House dispatched top Pentagon and State Department officials to Capitol Hill to convince lawmakers that the U.S. should remain involved in the conflict — but to no avail, as the War Powers measure will soon reach the president’s desk. Trump has already threatened to veto it.
Despite his stated goal to bring American troops home from war zones around the world, Trump has long opposed the Yemen War Powers effort, arguing that U.S. presence in the region is critical for counterterrorism operations and pushing back on Iran. The Saudi-led coalition has been battling Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in a civil war that has spurred a humanitarian crisis on the ground.
Plus we’re about to go through all of this again as the president has proposed spending $8.6 billion on the Wall in his new budget. Congressional leaders say it won’t happen, and points, in fact, towards another federal government shutdown.
All of this is happening as the drawn-out curtain-raiser for the 2020 election gets under way. Certainly immigration and the border Wall will be a central issue, but so too is presidential overreach, even outside of ethics or illegalities. Democrats who have seen no similar pushback from the GOP other than a handful of failed judicial nominations and the 2017 collapse of Obamacare repeal, must see some hope of broader shift — the ability of Senate Republicans to stand up to the president.
Several senators said privately they believed Trump wanted to fight with the GOP Congress, not cut a deal with them.
The president has been rebuffed or rebuked by his own folks for the first time. Perhaps these senators can become bolder about the effort.