The Slatest

Democrats Are Forcing Vulnerable Republicans to Take Their First Tough Vote of the 2020 Campaign

Protesters hold signs like "This [Donald Trump's face] is the emergency."
Demonstrators participate in a protest against President Donald Trump’s immigration policy at Union Square on Monday in New York City.
Johannes Eisele/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives will vote on a resolution to terminate President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration to build a Southern border wall. The resolution will pass. It may even pass the Senate. It would then be met, however, with the president’s first veto, and it’s doubtful there will be enough votes to overrule him. That wouldn’t be such a fruitless end for Democrats, though: The emergency resolution could still be blocked in court, and at the very least, Democrats will have gotten numerous vulnerable House and Senate Republicans on the record casting a very difficult vote.

Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, the sponsor of the terse, one-page resolution terminating the emergency, told reporters on Friday that his measure already has 226 or 227 co-sponsors, including one Republican, the libertarian-leaning Michigan Rep. Justin Amash. That’s enough to pass the bill, but Democrats would need many more House Republicans—55, specifically—to make it veto-proof.

“My staff has been making calls [to Republicans] furiously,” Castro said. “I’m going to be making calls between now and then, making the case that we should join together as Americans and as members of Congress to stop what I consider a parasitic action by this president” to siphon off dollars Congress intended to be spent elsewhere.

To get those votes, Democratic leaders have been avoiding framing this fight in partisan terms. The issue here, they say, isn’t whether it’s stupid to erect physical barriers, or whether gun control or climate change are more pressing national emergencies. The issue is maintaining the separation of powers, something Republicans and Democrats should, hypothetically, all get behind.

“This isn’t about politics, it’s not about partisanship,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said to reporters on Friday. “It’s about patriotism.” She noted that her recent letter encouraging members to co-sponsor the resolution wasn’t just sent to Democratic colleagues. It went to all members.

“All Members take an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution,” the letter read. “The President’s decision to go outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process violates the Constitution and must be terminated.”

So far, these stirring appeals to constitutional principles from Nancy Pelosi do not appear to be registering with House Republicans, whose political careers Donald Trump controls. Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, issued a statement Friday observing that Trump’s declaration is just fine, and Democrats are a bunch of bozos. If this is the posture from senior Republicans with jurisdiction over the matter, it seems difficult to envision 55 House Republicans breaking ranks with Republican leaders and the Republican president.

It’s a similar situation in the Senate. Even if the measure passes, forcing Trump to issue his first veto, it’s difficult to envision the necessary 20 Republicans voting to terminate Trump’s policy, especially with Mitch McConnell now a supporter of the emergency.

A decent betting outcome for this process, then, would be that the House comfortably votes to terminate the declaration, the Senate narrowly votes to terminate it, Trump vetoes the resolution, the House fails to override the veto, and the Senate doesn’t even need to bother voting again. That will be that. Onward to the courts.

But all is not lost for Democrats. House Democrats will be able to force the 32 sitting Republicans they’re targeting in 2020 to record a vote on the unpopular president’s unpopular policy. Senate Republicans facing competitive re-election races in Colorado, Iowa, Georgia, Maine, Texas, and Arizona will have taken the same difficult vote, which is the whole reason why McConnell didn’t want Trump to pursue this path in the first place. This resolution may not kill off Trump’s emergency declaration, but it will be the first major vote of the 2020 campaign cycle.