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Balance of Power

Upcoming votes on wall ‘emergency’ also about preserving functional democracy

This afternoon marks the most consequential vote of the Trump era when it comes to preserving the rule of law and the balance of powers – two essential ingredients in a functional democracy.

The House is expected to vote around sundown on a measure that would countermand President Trump's declaration of a national emergency. His order would reallocate congressionally approved spending to a border wall Congress has made clear it does not want.

Passage is a virtual certainty, because the Democrats have 235 votes (17 more than the minimal majority) and "no" votes from any of them would be a huge surprise. So all eyes will be on the Republican side, where members are palpably aware their votes will be remembered for reasons that have only a little bit to do with toughening the American posture against illegal immigration.

A vote against the legislation may fairly be portrayed as a vote in favor of permitting a president to redefine the meaning of the rule of law, by allowing him to overtly bypass Congress even after it's made quite clear it's not going to give him his way.

In addition, opposing the "resolution of disapproval" may be dispassionately described as a vote in favor of giving away more of the legislative branch's own prerogatives, by permitting the executive branch to wield a "power of the purse" that is supposed to be the sole province of lawmakers under the Constitution's Article I.

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The odds remain super long that 55 Republican House members and 20 GOP senators would vote against President Trump – the numbers that would be required to assure an override assuming he gets his chance to veto the pending legislation.

Any ultimate acquiescence by the Republicans would have consequences extending well beyond the current presidency. But they would also have repercussions in the near term. That's because once again putting their intense partisan loyalties ahead of their clear institutional self-interests would signal that a critical mass in the GOP may never coalesce to confront Trump – maybe not even in the sort of constitutional crises matters that could yet flow from special counsel Robert Mueller's findings or the work of other federal and state prosecutors.

Only one House Republican, the libertarian Justin Amash of Michigan, is co-sponsoring the measure to thwart Trump's $4 billion wall spending workaround. The leadership is working to keep the number of GOP "yes" votes to fewer than a dozen, hoping that relatively small number would tamp down the momentum for the measure in the Senate.

At least two dozen or more Republicans have publicly expressed disapproval of Trump's move but not committed to opposing him. In an attempt to woo them, Politico reports, "Democrats have circulated a spreadsheet of hundreds of military construction projects that the White House could potentially take money from for its border project. The document shows billions of dollars are at stake in red states from Alaska to Georgia to Texas."

Under special rules for efforts to reverse presidential emergency declarations, senators must vote on the House-approved measure within 18 days and no filibuster is permitted. If the 47 Democrats stick together (the one possible defector looks to be West Virginia's Joe Manchin) then four Republicans would be needed to get the bill on Trump's desk.

Three of those GOP votes are now in hand: Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, who both face tough re-election fights next year, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. The others who look most likely to join them are Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who's retiring next year; Cory Gardner of Colorado, who's expecting a tough race in 2020; Marco Rubio of Florida; and Mitt Romney of Utah. At least half a dozen other Republicans have not announced how they would vote.

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