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Pence, GOP senators discuss offer to kill Trump emergency disapproval resolution

The Hill logo The Hill 3/12/2019 Alexander Bolton

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Vice President Pence is discussing an offer with Republican senators that could lead to the defeat of a Democratic resolution overturning President Trump's emergency declaration to build a wall on the Mexican border, according to GOP sources briefed on the matter.

Under the deal discussed between Pence and GOP senators, Trump would sign legislation reining in his power to declare future national emergencies if they defeat the resolution of disapproval.

Killing the resolution on the Republican-controlled Senate floor would spare the president a major embarrassment and avoid him having to issue the first veto of his presidency.

But there is some skepticism among GOP senators whether Trump will actually go through with it. And the plan is hurt by the fact that a bill to curb the president's power to declare national emergencies won't come to the Senate floor until after the March recess.

Pence met Tuesday with a group of Republicans, including Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the sponsor of legislation to curb the president's national emergency declaration power, as well as Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). Lee's measure would require Congress to vote to extend a national emergency declaration after a period of 30 days. It is still undergoing some revisions, according to GOP senators.

Senate Republicans familiar with the offer say there would have to be an ironclad promise from Trump to sign Lee's bill in order to flip Republicans who currently say they will vote "no."

So far, Trump himself hasn't made any such pledges, leaving the process in limbo.

Jarrod Agen, Mike Pence are posing for a picture: Pence, GOP senators discuss offer to kill Trump emergency disapproval resolution © Greg Nash Pence, GOP senators discuss offer to kill Trump emergency disapproval resolution Pence made "no commitment," according to a White House official familiar with the meeting and only said he would relay the possible deal to President Trump.

The vice president said he would be "happy to bring their concerns to the president but made zero commitments," according to the White House official.

The White House official noted that Tillis requested the meeting and Pence was happy to attend, emphasizing that the senators "pitched the VP a proposal" and that "he listened and said he'd take it to POTUS."

The vice president "encouraged the senators to vote against the disapproval resolution and indicated a vote for it would be vote against securing our borders," the source added.

A lunchtime meeting of the Senate Republican Conference on Tuesday failed to settle the internal debate over the emergency declaration and the resolution of disapproval.

"It was our usual circular conversation," said one GOP senator. "Everyone goes around and throws out proposals and nothing gets resolved.

"There is no plan," the source added.

Already, two of the "no" votes, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), say they won't change their minds. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) doesn't seem inclined to reverse herself, either.

"No, I think Congress should allocate the money and that's a very strong belief. It's also in the Constitution," Paul said when asked whether he might alter course and vote against the disapproval resolution.

Tillis, who is up for reelection in 2020 and could face a primary challenger, however, might change his mind if Trump gives a strong enough assurance that he would support future reform of the National Emergencies Act of 1976.

Tillis told colleagues at lunch Tuesday that he thought Trump was within his power to declare a national emergency to obtain $3.6 billion in additional funding for border barriers, even though he disagrees with the use of that power.

But there are at least a half dozen other Republicans who are considered strong possibilities to vote for the disapproval legislation, such as Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who say they have already decided how they're going to vote but haven't yet announced it.

Other potential defectors include Portman, Toomey, Alexander and Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.).

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who plans to vote against the disapproval resolution, predicted that it will get between 50 and 60 votes - enough to pass with the simple majority it needs.

"It will probably get over 50 but less than 60, I think," he said.

Republicans control 53 seats so the disapproval resolution will pass if four or more Republicans vote for it. All Democrats are expected to support it.

Paul, who has announced his support for the resolution, said the White House and GOP leaders are stepping up their pressure effort to keep Republicans in line.

"They're being beaten upright, so if you see anybody that's got blood dripping out of their ear, they may be changing," Paul joked.

He said there is still "a significant number" of Republicans willing to vote for the disapproval resolution but added "there are a lot of people being bruised and beleaguered. We'll see."

As of Tuesday afternoon, the only vote expected on Thursday is on the Democratic disapproval resolution.

"Right now, that's the only thing that's going to be voted on," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) after meeting with colleagues over lunch to discuss the path forward.

Lee acknowledged that he won't be able to get his bill to the floor before the March recess, which is scheduled to begin Friday.

That means any plan to trade votes on Thursday's resolution would have to wait at least for a couple of weeks.

Efforts to come up with an alternative Republican resolution that would state support for the president's efforts to secure the border while expressing disapproval of Trump's emergency declaration have failed to yield a concrete proposal.

Toomey, who is working on a GOP alternative resolution, however, is still working with colleagues to come up with something.

This story was updated at 5:16 p.m.

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