Trump tried to make the GOP border emergency fight for him. He lost anyway.



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President Trump tried to gather his most powerful weapon – himself – to ward off what eventually became an embarrassing rejection from his own party for his state of national emergency declared at the border.

During numerous calls with Republican senators in recent days, the president has spoken of the battle almost exclusively in personal terms – telling them that they would vote against him while dismissing constitutional concerns about his attempt to reallocate billions of dollars. federal dollars to a border wall. He argued that a vote against the urgency would be perceived by GOP supporters as being opposed to border security and the wall and would hurt their own political fortunes, according to a person directly familiar with some of these calls.

The President and his staff continued to hammer this message before the Senate vote on the issue on Thursday. Asset tweeted the day before, the Republican senators "thought about it", stressing that it was only a matter of supporting border security. And the White House aides made it clear to the undecided Republicans that Trump was noticing those who opted to oppose him – especially if they were to be re-elected in 2020.

But that was not enough, as a dozen Republicans joined the Democrats to humiliate Trump by voting Thursday to cancel the national emergency, putting in place what may be the first veto of his Presidency.

The personal pleas and pressure of Trump were among the many missed opportunities and missteps of the White House that contributed to a much worse defeat than the administration would have hoped in trying to limit defections According to officials and lawmakers aware of the efforts, many of whom requested anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

The administration, for example, did not provide legal advice, project details and other information they had requested about the national emergency, according to legislators and assistants at Capitol Hill . Vice President Pence was also unable or unwilling to make commitments on behalf of the president, even though he was Trump's main envoy to negotiate with the Republicans, say people familiar with the debate.

And for some of the dissidents, it was not clear if anyone – including Trump – could have persuaded them to support the emergency declaration because of their constitutional concerns.

"If the White House did not rely on the emergency declaration to spend money that Congress had specifically spent for other purposes, the president could have got the $ 5.7 billion "said Senator Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) of Republicans who voted to reject Trump's emergency declaration. "And every Republican senator, I think, would have supported it with enthusiasm."

The deep concerns of some GOP senators about potential abuse of the separation of powers have been clear for weeks in the White House. In fact, White House and congressional aides wondered if the effort to influence them was worth it.

"It was the inevitable result, and we do not really know why we spent the effort or the political capital to avoid it," said Brendan Buck, former senior advisor to former Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). "There are no votes to cancel, so why bother negotiating?"

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) Asked to see any memorandum drafted by the Office of the Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice at a private lunch of the GOP at the end of February, in which he would expose the reasons why the administration stated that the emergency declaration was legal. , according to a manager who knows the discussion behind closed doors.

Cruz had raised a hypothetical question involving a Massachusetts Democratic senator, who was at the heart of some of their concerns: if a president, Elizabeth Warren, declared a national emergency to seize oil wells in Texas?

An official from the Ministry of Justice said that the White House had drafted a legal memorandum approved by the COL. When Cruz asked to see this document, Pence said that he would forward the request to Trump.

The White House has never provided this rating, according to a manager familiar with the discussions.

A similar scenario took place a week later, when Republican senators asked Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to compile a list of military construction projects that could lose funds this year due to the declaration of Trump's urgency. Nielsen told them that the issue was largely the responsibility of the Pentagon – while the Department of Defense officials were at the same time entrusting the Nielsen agency with the information they needed to develop a list of targeted projects. .

Senators have never had this list of projects either, and some Republicans doubted that there is one.

Nevertheless, Trump called the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Almost daily to urge him to indicate who was opposed to his statement – the time that White House officials are working to maintain the number of Republican defectors to a figure, according to two officials of the administration. .

McConnell yielded, refusing to pressure senators to focus on conveying the maximum of information to Republicans.

"He did not come and say, 'That's what we're going to do,'" said Senator James Lankford (R-Okla). About McConnell. "He listened to everyone as they were going through it."

Trump would not stop telling officials and senators of the White House that he would be willing to accept any proposal that would unite most Republicans and ensure that the vote relies on the resolution of disapproval of the Senate only 50, which would have failed the measure.

To this end, the administration and a handful of influential GOP Senators began to quietly debate the possibility of reaching a compromise on the flaws of a 1976 National Emergencies Act, on which Trump relied for invoke his state of national emergency.

But privately, Pence was vague about what the White House would agree to in terms of reviewing the law, people familiar with the talks said. The only commitment he has made is to report the information to Trump.

"None of the proposals have been approached," said one senior administration official. "We were all wasting our time."

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), One of the Senators who negotiated with Pence for days, acknowledged that the Vice President had a "hard job". Alexander voted against the statement.

"The president is very attached to his authority and many of us are very attached to the Constitution," he said. "So, I'm not sure if anyone could have done a better job than the vice president."

Even so, the administration avoided an even bigger defeat by working with some Republicans privately. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan assured Senator Martha McSally (R-Arizona), a pledge that he made public at a hearing on Thursday morning, that four military projects in Arizona would not would not be affected by the President 's emergency declaration.

In the meantime, Deputy Attorney General Steven A. Engel has been meeting with various Senate Republicans to directly expose the legal arguments, according to a GOP senator aware of the meetings. And the administration assured Lankford that he would not start taking $ 3.6 billion over at least six months for military construction projects.

Capitol Hill advisers feared that Mr. Trump would attack the senators who voted against, and Mr. McConnell and other leaders encouraged the president to focus on the issues that unite the party in the future, said two people close to the discussions.

"I think [the president] respect people with principle, "said Senator Mitt Romney (Utah), who told Trump at a private meeting of the Oval Office last week on China's policy that he would vote to reject his statement.

The efforts of the administration with Senator Thom Tillis (CR-N.) Have been most successful.

Shortly after the Washington Post published a provocative article by Tillis announcing his opposition to Trump's order of urgency, the senator contacted the White House to assess his willingness to amend the emergency law, which was complain a growing number of government senators.

Tillis has repeatedly asked the administration to commit to something in the future, pointing out that he wanted a reason to vote in favor of the statement, officials said. Finally, Tillis announced two days ago at the White House that he would support Trump, according to a senior administration official.

"The White House has been very kind – and, I must say, very patient given my initial position – to work with us and, still today, to ask a president to declare that he is willing to work with us, "said Tillis. said on the floor of the Senate before he reversed his position.

The other last-ditch efforts were more dramatic.

Three Republicans – Cruz and Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (SC) and Ben Sasse (Neb.) – presented themselves with little notice to the White House late Wednesday and interrupted a private dinner with Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, trying to sell the president on a the last argument that would give senators a way out of Thursday's vote. The senators had sought to come all day but had been scuttled by White House aides; finally, they just showed.

Cruz began to argue with Trump that the president could reprogram federal funds to spend even more funds without having to declare a national emergency, said people familiar with this episode. The meeting lasted more than one hour. White House advisers, including Legislative Affairs Director Shahira Knight and Lawyer Pat Philbin were summoned. Philbin told senators that the option would not work legally.

More and more frustrated, Trump told Cruz that he was not canceling the national emergency and that the senator could vote as he wished. Trump scolded the group for coming to the White House late at night and told them that they were wasting their time.

"God, if I had been him," Graham said Thursday morning, "I would have told us to go to hell."

Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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