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WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., conceded Monday that he believes the upper chamber will vote this month to terminate the national emergency President Donald Trump declared at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I think what is clear in the Senate is there will be enough votes to pass the resolution of disapproval which will then be vetoed by the president and then all likelihood the veto will be upheld in the House,” he said at a press conference in the Capitol.
The Senate is expected to vote on the resolution — which the House passed last week in a 245-182 vote — by March 15, before the Senate’s next recess. Thirteen Republicans joined Democrats in the House to vote in favor of the resolution.
McConnell is required to bring the resolution up for a vote because of the National Emergencies Act of 1976, under which Congress has the ability to try to end an emergency status instituted by the president. If such a resolution passes the House, federal law requires that the Senate take up the measure within 18 days.
Over the weekend, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky became the fourth Senate Republican to say that he expected to vote in favor of the resolution — a commitment that would ensure the measure was likely pass the GOP-controlled Senate.
“I support President Trump. I supported his fight to get funding for the wall from Republicans and Democrats alike, and I share his view that we need more and better border security,” Paul wrote in an op-ed article published by Fox News. “However, I cannot support the use of emergency powers to get more funding, so I will be voting to disapprove of his declaration when it comes before the Senate.”
“I would literally lose my political soul if I decided to treat President Trump different than President Obama,” he continued.
Paul also voiced his opposition to Trump's declaration in remarks Saturday to a crowd of Republicans at the Southern Kentucky Lincoln Day Dinner in Bowling Green.
“I can’t vote to give the president the power to spend money that hasn’t been appropriated by Congress,” Paul said, according to The Bowling Green Daily News. “We may want more money for border security, but Congress didn’t authorize it. If we take away those checks and balances, it’s a dangerous thing.”
Assuming all Senate Democrats were to support the resolution, only four Republicans are needed to defect for Democrats to secure the 51 votes needed to send it to the president’s desk.
The other three Republicans who have voiced support for the resolution are Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Susan Collins of Maine. Both Tillis and Collins are up for re-election next year.
However, there’s still plenty of time for any one of these Republican defectors to change their minds — and Paul has had a track record of reversing himself on key votes.
Last year, he threatened to vote against the nomination of Mike Pompeo to serve as the next secretary of state because of his support of the Iraq war. Before the committee vote, Paul tweeted that he had spoken to Trump several times and met with and spoke to Pompeo and received assurances that Pompeo now believed the war was a mistake; he ultimately voted to report the nomination out of committee.
Similarly, Paul had suggested he wouldn’t support Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, but eventually voted to confirm him.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, is intended to stop the president's use of billions of dollars in existing federal funds to build a wall on the southern border without congressional approval.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who does not plan to seek re-election in 2020, has also hinted at supporting the resolution. In comments on the Senate floor last Thursday, he urged Trump to ask his lawyers to take a second look at existing funding authorities that would not require a formal emergency declaration.
“I support what the president is doing on border security. I do not support the way he has been advised to do it,” Alexander said. “There has never been an instance where a president of the United States has asked for funding, Congress has refused it and the president then used the national emergency act to justify spending the money anyway.”
“There’s no limit to the imagination of what the next left-wing president can do to harm our country with this precedent,” he added.
Trump, for his part, railed against Democratic attacks on his emergency declaration in his more than two-hour-long speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, praising most House Republicans for defending him.
“There's a lot of spirit in the House, and I think in the Senate, too, but we're going to have to see because we have a vote coming up,” he said about the Senate vote. “And a lot of people talk about precedent. Precedent. That if we do this, the Democrats will use national emergency powers for something that we don't want. They're going to do that anyway, folks. The best way to stop that is to make sure that I win the election. That's the best way to stop that. They're going to do it anyway. They'll do it anyway.”
Meanwhile, 60 percent of Americans say they disapprove of Trump’s national emergency declaration, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal.
Last week, McConnell wouldn't definitively say whether he thought the president's decision was legal. He said that Senate Republicans had had a "robust, vigorous discussion" about the move's legality during a closed-door lunch with his conference, which was attended by Vice President Mike Pence and a lawyer from the Department of Justice.
"Well, we're in the process of weighing that," McConnell said then when asked if he thought the declaration was legal. "The lawyer was there to make his argument, there were some counter arguments. I haven't reached a total conclusion about [it].... but we had some real serious lawyers in there discussing that very issue."