Don’t mind that op-ed from last week.
Congressional Republicans offered up two conflicting storylines yesterday, and it’s worth keeping both in mind.
1) Multiple senators hypocritically supported President Trump’s emergency declaration for a border wall.
Thom Tillis of North Carolina was the most blatant. Two weeks ago, he opposed the Trump move as an unacceptable power grab, writing in a Washington Post op-ed: “There is no intellectual honesty in now turning around and arguing that there’s an imaginary asterisk attached to executive overreach — that it’s acceptable for my party but not thy party.”
As recently as Wednesday, his staff sent nasty emails of denial to Aaron Blake of The Post when Blake described Tillis as turning “wobbly.”
Yesterday, however, Tillis caved. He did so after conservatives began talking about supporting a primary challenge to him in 2020 if he voted against Trump. “This is Trump’s party,” Rachel Bitecofer of Christopher Newport University notes.
Of the seven Republican senators facing competitive races next year, six voted with Trump yesterday. They are evidently more scared of losing a primary than of losing a general election, as Jonathan Bernstein of Bloomberg Opinion points out.
Cory Gardner of Colorado was another Republican who supported the emergency declaration yesterday. The Denver Post’s editorial board, which had backed Gardner in his 2014 campaign, responded with: “Our endorsement of Cory Gardner was a mistake.”
2) And yet Trump is a weak president.
As nervous as congressional Republicans may be about primary challenges, they also keep showing that their support of Trump is almost purely self-interested — and not very deep.
Even with the hypocritical support, 12 Republicans voted against Trump’s declaration, allowing the measure to pass 59-41 and presumably forcing him to issue a humiliating veto. The vote, The Times editorial board writes, “is a big deal. In practical terms, it could fortify the multiple lawsuits pending against Mr. Trump’s absurd declaration, a faux emergency so nakedly political that even he admitted it was unnecessary.”
Not long before the Senate vote, the House yesterday passed a resolution — in a 420-to-0 shutout — demanding that the Justice Department release the Mueller report.
The combination of the two votes was a remarkable rebuke. Yes, congressional Republicans are doing far less than they should to stand up to Trump. Many of them, like Tillis, have made themselves look foolish in the process. But it’s also the case that Trump receives less support from his own party than any other president in recent history.
His presidency, as Bloomberg’s Bernstein has written, is entering “a dangerous phase” for him.