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Analysis: How Declaring a National Emergency Could Hurt Some Republicans

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 2/2/2019 Andrew Duehren

© Jacquelyn Martin A national emergency declaration from President Trump could create a problem for some Senate Republicans.

Many Republicans have made no secret of their distaste for an emergency declaration, which the president has asserted he may declare to build a border wall if he is unsatisfied with a congressional compromise on border security. Not only would the move likely get tied up in the courts, but Republicans worry that such a strong display of executive authority could establish a troubling precedent when a Democrat occupies the White House.

More immediately, though, an emergency declaration could force Senate Republicans to take an unsavory vote on opposing the emergency declaration. Under the law governing national emergencies, Congress can vote to terminate the emergency. If the Democratic House were to pass a resolution terminating the emergency, the Senate would likely have to vote on it.

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For many Senate Republicans, especially those running in competitive re-election races this cycle, voting on such a resolution would leave no desirable option. On the one hand, voting against the resolution would give Democrats another opportunity to paint the vulnerable Republicans as lackeys to Mr. Trump in states where he is not popular. On the other, voting for the resolution to terminate the emergency — and bucking Mr. Trump — could anger the GOP base and potentially invalidate the emergency declaration.

In short, vulnerable Senate Republicans hoping to quietly distance themselves from the president, while not visibly opposing him, could be out of luck.

“I’m not going to speculate on what is and isn’t going to happen,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.), who is up for re-election in 2020 in a state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. “I think people should do our job in Congress, provide border security, keep the government open, and do what’s responsible.”

Other members of Senate GOP conference are less sympathetic. Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.) wants the president to declare a national emergency to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

“When I was elected they didn’t send me here to take easy votes. They sent me here to take votes,” he said. “There are too many people up here, you know what they care about most? Keeping their job. That’s the thing they care most about.”

Write to Andrew Duehren at andrew.duehren@wsj.com.

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