Resigned to the reality that the measure could very well pass, the White House has kept its lobbying muted. Vice President Mike Pence met with a few GOP senators in the Capitol this week. But one lawmaker in the room, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations, said Pence was mostly listening to their concerns and seeing whether he could sway enough votes to spare Trump an embarrassing rebuke from his own party.
“This is not all hands on deck, pedal to the metal,” said one White House official, who similarly did not want to be named. Rather, the goal is “reminding our friends and foes alike what our thought process is here. People can vote their will.”
Read: Trump’s bizarre, rambling announcement of a national emergency
The White House has been quietly making a case to lawmakers that Trump’s national emergency is not an end run around Congress’s constitutional spending powers, as some lawmakers have alleged. White House talking points sent to Capitol Hill and reviewed by The Atlantic assert that “the President acted well within his discretion in declaring a national emergency at the southern border.” They go on to mention that former Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush all invoked national emergencies at various points to address crises as varied as the swine flu and political unrest in Cote d’Ivoire. “President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency concerning the southern border is fully in keeping with these precedents,” the paper reads.
But for some of the lawmakers Trump needs in his corner, that argument falls flat. Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri told me, “Previous emergencies have generally been well within the definition of an emergency. But here’s a case where the president has actually asked the Congress to do something, and Congress has chosen not to do it—and the president said he’s going to do it anyway.”
As senators consider their options—including legislation to rein in a president’s power to govern through national emergencies—they say they’ve heard little from Trump directly. Unlike in past fights, lawmakers haven’t been parading into the White House for bouts of televised arm-twisting. White House officials explain that Trump would gain no advantage by investing in a losing effort to defeat the resolution. In any case, Congress isn’t the real threat; the bigger danger comes from the courts. Lawsuits filed by blue states and other opponents are likely to at least delay Trump’s plans, if not scuttle them altogether.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Trump affirmed he hasn’t especially pressured Republicans to vote to uphold his emergency declaration.
“Nobody’s beaten up,” he said, though he added it would be a “bad thing” to vote to strike it down, according to a White House press-pool report.
Trump met in the afternoon with a group of Republican senators, though the main topic was trade, a White House official said.