Senate Republicans Struggle to Quell Disunity on Trump Policies

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Republicans are scrambling for a way to avoid twin rebukes of President Donald Trump’s policies this week, with votes looming in the GOP-led chamber on U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen and on his declaration of a national emergency at the southern border.

The Senate on Wednesday is expected to approve a resolution directing Trump to withdraw U.S. military support for the conflict in Yemen within 30 days unless he gets congressional authorization.

Republicans are struggling to prevent a second Trump slap-down on Thursday when the Senate votes on whether to overturn his February national emergency declaration, which is designed to aid construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump met with a group of congressional Republicans at the White House Wednesday to talk about a rival measure curbing presidential emergency authority as a way to keep Republicans from voting to disapprove of his February order.

Senate Republicans Struggle to Quell Disunity on Trump Policies

The president was dismissive of the effort, even as he warned Republicans that it would be bad politics.

“I told Republican senators, vote any way you want, vote how you feel good,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “But I think it’s bad for a Republican senator.”

Crucial Votes

Even some of the president’s closest allies say that the chamber probably will vote to reverse the emergency. But Republican leaders are trying to minimize the number of defections. All 47 Senate Democrats say they’ll vote to overturn Trump’s emergency declaration, and at least five Republicans have said they would join them: Susan Collins of Maine, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah.

Senate Republicans Struggle to Quell Disunity on Trump Policies

Vice President Mike Pence met with Tillis and four other moderate Republican senators Tuesday to try to shift the debate in the president’s favor, and the White House may be getting a little traction. Asked Wednesday how he’ll vote, Tillis said only, “Work in progress.”

Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, indicated the die is cast.

“Everybody knows how they’re going to vote, and I don’t think the president is going to win this one,” he said after a closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans before Thursday’s critical vote.

Alternative Measure

Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said there will be an effort to offer an alternative to the emergency declaration that would require the president to build his wall with other funds. The president’s declaration would divert $3.6 billion from military construction projects to erect the new wall, a move opposed by many lawmakers in both parties.

It still isn’t clear whether the proposal, being crafted by Republican senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Ted Cruz of Texas, can even be offered, Rubio said.

Lee said in a statement that it appears his proposal to limit the president’s future emergency powers "does not have an immediate path forward." It would have ended any future emergency declarations after 30 days, unless Congress agrees to extend them.

That measure might have offered some cover for Republicans to stick with most in their party and with Trump over the border emergency declaration.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said Wednesday the House wouldn’t take up legislation along the lines of what Lee proposed. Her refusal to do so appeared to be an attempt to convince wavering Republicans to stick with their plan to rebuke Trump.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Wednesday morning continued to call on Senate Republicans to join with Democrats and defeat Trump’s emergency declaration. He called the rival Senate legislation bolstering the ability of Congress to end future declarations a “fig leaf,” to provide cover to those who want to stick with Trump on his recent move.

“What bunk,” Schumer said of the proposal. “What a fig leaf. That will not pass.”

Other Senate Democrats seem to be enjoying the potential for two rare displays of GOP defections from Trump in just two days. Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, mused it was almost like “peeling two Band-aids off at once, which maybe hurts less.”

“This will be the first two vetoes coming in rapid succession,” said Murphy, a lead sponsor of the Yemen legislation that has picked up support based on the administration’s handling of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “Maybe Republicans did notice the 2018 election, and maybe they have come to the conclusion that blindly following him isn’t great politics.”

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