Whatever You Say, Mr. President

House Republicans might not like Trump’s trade war with Mexico, but they’re certainly not going to do anything to stop it.

Kevin McCarthy shakes hands with Donald Trump in the Rose Garden of the White House.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s got Donald Trump’s back.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Most Republicans in Congress believe President Donald Trump’s plan to impose escalating tariffs on Mexico until the country does, well, something or other about the U.S. border is a terrible idea. Their hope, still, is that Mexico offers the Trump administration some face-saving commitment to do more to stem the flow of migrants and that the administration accepts, soon, before tariffs go into effect on … let’s see here … Monday! Barring that, Republicans will have to decide whether to take legislative action to reject a policy they find abhorrent to their free-market beliefs and disruptive to the daily commercial flow of billions of dollars, or to just let Trump do his thing.

There’s a real possibility that Senate Republicans would provide a veto-proof majority to block the tariffs if it comes to that. Fortunately for Trump, House Republicans will likely remain as House Republican-y as ever, doing whatever he tells them to do and forcing a smile while they do it.

Senate Republicans, just about to a person, are apoplectic over the tariff proposal, which would start at 5 percent on all goods and increase each month until Mexico solves America’s immigration issues. The White House, in an effort that senators definitely interpreted as a slight, sent a couple of hapless lawyers to Senate Republicans’ Tuesday luncheon to field their questions about the policy. (The actual meaningful people in the administration were busy traipsing around England in silly little jackets.)

The lawyers were given a proper scorching. Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford said that the administration “is trying to use tariffs to solve every problem but HIV and climate change.” Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson told them that they would have trouble voting to sustain the president’s veto of a measure blocking the tariff. And Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose state would be particularly hard hit by the broad tariff on its neighbor, told the lawyers that he wanted them to take a message back to the White House: that they “didn’t hear a single yes” from the conference in support of the tariff.

In the president’s formal announcement of the plan on May 30, he said he would invoke emergency authorities available to him under the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act to impose the duty. If the president were to impose the tariffs through emergency powers, Congress could then use its own statutory powers, through the National Emergencies Act, to try to block the move. That’s what Congress tried earlier this year when the president declared a national emergency to unlock border wall construction funds. While the resolution of disapproval passed both chambers, it didn’t pass by enough in the House to override the president’s veto. And that’s likely what would happen this time, too, if House Democrats introduced a disapproval resolution, which they’re preparing to do.

The president on Wednesday morning tweeted a supposed quote from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that sounded an awful lot like a quote that Trump would fantasize one of his chief sycophants saying.

No one knows when or if McCarthy actually ever said this. But it’s close enough to where McCarthy stands on the issue, which is to have the president’s back. McCarthy is almost certainly praying that these tariffs never go into effect and that a deal is reached to avert them. But he’s not going to go against the president with his votes, on this or anything, because that’s not how Kevin McCarthy or the House Republican conference rolls.

Assuming all Democrats voted for the disapproval resolution, they would need about 55 Republicans to join them for a veto-proof majority. Only 14 Republicans joined Democrats in the border emergency veto-override vote in March. North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the far-right Freedom Caucus, predicted a measure to block the tariff would similarly come “nowhere near the 55 threshold.”

Consider the following quote from Texas Rep. Kenny Marchant, who, like much of the Texas delegation, is not psyched about slapping a tax on all goods from neighboring Mexico. But, alas, he has a “longtime policy” of not checking assertions of executive power with which he disagrees.

“I’m not going to vote on a disapproval of the president’s actions. That’s a longtime policy of mine,” Marchant told the Washington Post. “I never voted against the governor when I was in the statehouse.” He added that in order to break that sacred vow of allowing executives to do whatever they wanted, “It would have to be very egregious.”

I don’t look forward to the day that Trump has done something House Republicans deem egregious enough to stop.