Washington • President Donald Trump said Wednesday he opposes Republican legislation to rein in presidential emergency powers — crippling an attempt at compromise on the eve of a crucial Senate vote. And, in the process, he lost the support of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Trump made his views known in a phone call with Lee, as the conservative senator lunched with fellow Republicans at the Capitol, according to a person familiar with the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe it. Lee then relayed the information to his colleagues.
The development came a day before the Senate votes on a disapproval resolution that would nullify the national emergency Trump has declared at the U.S.-Mexico border as a way to circumvent Congress and get billions for his long-sought border wall.
Lee’s effort to craft legislation limiting the scope of presidential emergency powers going forward was seen as a way to limit GOP defections on the separate disapproval resolution vote.
But without Trump’s support, it’s unclear that Lee’s legislation will give GOP senators the comfort level they are looking for to back the president on the emergency declaration. Before Wednesday, four GOP senators have announced plans to vote against Trump and for the disapproval resolution Thursday, giving it the majority support needed to pass.
Make that five.
Lee told a reporter for The Hill that he’ll vote for the disapproval resolution.
“We tried to cut a deal," Lee said. “The president didn’t appear interested."
In a statement issued later, the Utah senator said, "Unfortunately, it appears the bill does not have an immediate path forward, so I will be voting to terminate the latest emergency declaration. I hope this legislation will serve as a starting point for future work on this very important issue.”
He added, “For decades, Congress has been giving far too much legislative power to the executive branch. While there was attention on the issue I had hoped the ARTICLE ONE Act could begin to take that power back.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is among a handful of Republicans who have yet to announce how they’ll vote.
One of the other Republicans in opposition, however — Thom Tillis, R-N.C. — had indicated his vote could be in play depending on the outcome of the Lee legislation. That raised the possibility that GOP senators could limit defections enough to keep the disapproval resolution from passing.
That outcome now looks less likely, although several senators declined to predict Wednesday whether the disapproval resolution would in fact pass.
“That’s my understanding, that [the president] is not interested in Senator Lee’s bill,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said as he exited the GOP lunch.
The disapproval resolution has already passed the House. Senate passage would send it to Trump's desk, forcing him to issue the first veto of his presidency to strike it down.
Congress does not have the votes to override Trump's veto.
"We'll see whether or not I have to do the veto," Trump said Wednesday at an event at the White House.
"It will be, I think, all very successful, regardless of how it all works out," Trump said. "A lot of money's being spent right now. We have access to a lot of money, and more money is coming in, and people are starting to see it."
Trump expressed his frustration with the GOP in a tweet Wednesday, pressing them to stand with him on the U.S.-Mexico border wall and reject the resolution.
“Republican Senators are overthinking tomorrow’s vote on National Emergency. It is very simply Border Security/No Crime — Should not be thought of any other way. We have a MAJOR NATIONAL EMERGENCY at our Border and the People of our Country know it very well!” Trump tweeted.
Earlier Wednesday, in another blow to Lee's efforts, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that her chamber would not consider Senate legislation to rein in presidential powers, characterizing it as an attempt to give Trump "a pass" on violating the Constitution.
Many Senate Republicans had started to align behind Lee's measure, which would amend the National Emergencies Act to say an emergency declaration would automatically expire after 30 days unless both chambers of Congress affirmatively vote to keep it.
If passed into law, Lee's bill could impact Trump's national border emergency in the future, since ongoing national emergency declarations must be reaffirmed annually.
In remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the measure crafted by Lee a “fig leaf.”
“Our Republican friends are saying with this fig leaf, ‘Grant me the courage to stand up to President Trump, but not yet,’ ” Schumer said. “And next time and next time and next time, they’ll say the same thing. So let’s do the right thing. Let’s tell the president he cannot use his overreaching power to declare an emergency when he couldn’t get Congress to do what he wanted.”