As the bipartisan conference committee carries on behind closed doors, the Trump White House is already making plans to deal with the outcome—by ignoring it and declaring history’s slowest national emergency. At the same time, Republicans are trying to decide if they’re tired enough of Trump to tell him just where to stick his misuse of the National Emergency Act. And the answer might be yes.
Trump has made himself clear. Or at least, clear-ish, considering that his commitment to any position seems fixed with the resolute firmness of marshmallow fluff. As Congress sat down to its conference committee in hopes of heading off a repeat of Trump’s economy-crippling shutdown, he let it be known that he wanted them to emerge with a wall and only a wall. Nothing less, and nothing more. It says something about Donald Trump’s actual experience at negotiation that his instructions amounted to “Take a couple of weeks, and come back when you agree with me.” It also says something about his confidence in controlling the situation, that he’s already moving as if it will fail.
As Politico reports, the Trump White House is moving forward with plans to declare an emergency as soon as the inevitable “no wall” answer emerges from committee. Trump has been conducting not-so-secret meetings with acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget, chief cook and bottle washer Mick Mulvaney in a search for the right place to steal funds when Congress says no. White House lawyers have also been involved with the meetings, but whether they’ve let Trump know that he needs to include funds for a new atomic clock—for measuring the infinitely short time between when he issues his proclamation and when it is enjoined by a federal judge—isn’t known.
Team Trump certainly understands that his actions are unlikely to survive any form of legal challenge. It’s why they’ve been on the line seeding every alt-right outlet with talking points on how the action will be so very legal. Trump’s White House staff has also been moving among Republican groups, trying to build support. They want to be sure that when Trump stands up to say that the lowest level of traffic across the border since the Nixon administration requires an extraordinary kick tothe face of democracy, the same people who have walked away from every position the party ever held to support Trump will understand that Trump is the only thing they have left.
Trump’s Congress-defying prep hasn’t gone without notice. It was certainly intended to be noticed. But it’s not intimidating Democrats, and it’s increasingly irritating Republicans.
As the Washington Post reports, top Republicans are trying to send Trump a signal that’s equally clear: don’t do this thing. Trump may feel that he’s the GOP’s only choice in 2020, but Republican legislators can read a poll, and especially for those whose winning margins were not spectacular in the last cycle, following Trump into Ruth a second shutdown or an emergency declaration that’s little more than a signal of how little he thinks of them, does not seem all that thrilling.
It hasn’t eluded Republicans that not giving Trump what he wants was exactly the platform that brought Democrats a resounding victory in the House. And while Trump May claim to have ‘won’ the Senate, others can see clearly enough the special circumstances behind that narrow shift in the reddest of seats.
And it’s not just the conference committee that is getting the cold shoulder from the Trump White House. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has refused to appear before Congress. So has Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. So has Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Trump has also phoned up Nancy Pelosi to let her know that if the House carries on investigations into his Russian connections, he’s not going to negotiate. On anything.
Democrats, both on and off the committee, are secure in the idea that they’re negotiating on the same grounds on which they ran, and that voters sent them to Washington to oppose and out of control Trump. Republicans have to decide how comfortable they are to be standing on the side of abandoning Congressional oversight, abandoning the entire power of Congress … for Trump.
It may seem as if they have no choice. Having sat in the water this long, no matter where the dial was set, they’re pretty thoroughly cooked. But as Trump continues to defy Congress, demean his own intelligence officials, and create foreign policy that seems to serve no interest outside the Kremlin, even Republicans are getting rattled. It’s possible that, should Trump declare a national emergency over his inability to negotiate his way out of a manufactured crisis, he may have a shortage of congressional Quislings ready to stand at his shoulders as he usurps their branch of government.
But no. Probably not.