Power Up: Trump’s pressure campaign falls short as Senate poised to rebuke national emergency

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NEW THIS MORNING: Beto O’Rourke is officially in the race. From The Post: “The former congressman who lost his 2018 bid to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, has entered the presidential race after months of speculation and meetings with high-ranking Democrats, including former president Barack Obama.” 

At the White House

HE ALONE *CAN’T* FIX IT?: President Trump is known for his “I alone can fix it” approach  — but it doesn’t appear to be enough to extinguish the political firestorm that’s about to erupt from the Senate.

Trump spent all week trying to convince Republicans not to cross him on border security — lunching with lawmakers, calling them directly, and firing off tweets and statements that were alternatively threatening and cajoling. Yet despite his best efforts, the Republican-controlled Senate is poised to rebuke Trump’s emergency declaration along the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • Veto is coming: A senior White House official told my colleague Josh Dawsey last night that they expected 10 to 12 defections on the vote today and that a veto is imminent.

‘Putting the squeeze on’: Trump’s allies on the Hill say Trump’s personal outreach frenzy is the latest evidence that Trump is running the White House as he would run the Trump Organization

  • “He’s his own director of legislative affairs, his own whipping apparatus, his own communications director, issues his own statements, and is his own chief of staff — there’s a reason he only has an ‘acting’ chief of staff,” a senior GOP Senate aide said. “It’s amazing.” 
  • “There are a lot of members who don’t agree with what the president did on this, but if they don’t vote against it they are seen as voting against the wall and you’ve got to be a little afraid of the quick Twitter finger in a primary,” another Republican Senate aide told Power Up. “That’s their reality. Trump’s putting the squeeze on.” 

No dice: Ultimately, though, these efforts are falling flat.

  • Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) announced yesterday evening that he’d be voting to terminate Trump’s emergency declaration, ensuring its passage to the president’s desk after the vote on the Senate floor today. 
  • Lee along with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Me.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) are expected to support the disapproval resolution. (My colleague Kate Rabinowitz is keeping track of defections here.) 

Uniquely Trumpian: Trump’s hands-on approach has been described by lawmakers and sources on Capitol Hill as uniquely Trumpian. 

My colleagues Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim and John Wagner report that Trump himself called Lee yesterday to “express his opposition” to his plan to restrain presidential emergency powers in the future. Lee’s measure, which would have expired national emergencies after 30 days unless Congress voted to keep them, was seen as a compromise that could limit Republican votes on the separate measure to nullify Trump’s current emergency. 

  • Pivotal phone call: “Trump called Lee to express his opposition as Lee lunched with fellow Republican senators at the Capitol, according to a person familiar with the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe it. Lee then relayed the information to his colleagues,” Erica, Seung Min and John report. 
  • Shortly after the call, Lee announced he would vote for the disapproval resolution on Thursday. 

  • “Lee’s announcement ensures there will be majority support for the disapproval resolution, which already passed the House,” my colleagues write. “Senate passage will send the measure to Trump, forcing him to issue the first veto of his administration to strike it down. Although Congress lacks the votes needed to override Trump’s veto, the Senate vote would still stand as an embarrassing rejection of a key Trump initiative at the hands of his own party.” 

Not the only defeat for Trump: The Senate also voted yesterday to rebuke of the Trump administration’s support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. 

  • “After more than two years of keeping his veto pen capped, Trump is going to have to put it to use — twice — courtesy of Republicans,” Politico’s Burgess Everett, Eliana Johnson and John Bresnahan report.

Exasperation on the Hill:  The president throwing cold water on Lee’s compromise plan on the border highlighted to some how, in Trump’s administration, it’s up to Trump to call the shots. 

  • Just the day before, at the invitation of GOP lawmakers, Vice President Mike Pence dined with a handful of Republican senators. There was some hope that Pence might be able to broker a deal with Trump in order to prevent the rebuke — and it sounded like Pence was at least entertaining Lee’s proposal.
  • My colleagues Seung Min and Erica had reported on Tuesday that in a meeting with Republicans that day that “Pence floated the prospect of revising the 30-day period to 30 legislative days, which could considerably drag out that timeline, according to one official familiar with the discussions.”

  • With the deal off, an exasperated GOP Senate aide told Power Up of the luncheon: “Pence doesn’t negotiate for Trump — he doesn’t speak for Trump. That’s obvious. This is the exact same movie we see constantly.”

Pushback: But a White House official made clear to Power Up that there was no deal for Pence to quarterback. 

  • “There is nothing to LD [legislatively direct],” the official said. “It’s certainly the Hill’s desire that Trump would move, revisit, or reform this but that at no point has been the White House’s posture because the president is dug in on this.” 
  • “The senators reached out to the Vice President and he made clear that he was happy to raise it with the president but the White House position is vote with the president. A vote against this is a vote against border security,” the official added. 

‘Simply a gross inaccuracy’: The letter below is a copy of the first page of a three-page letter that the White House distributed to GOP senators drafted by legal scholars who argued why Trump’s national declaration is not an unconstitutional power grab. 

  • “…it is simply a gross inaccuracy to claim that the President has no authority from Congress to take the steps he has proposed. Congress may wish it had not delegated such broad authority to the President, but it has, and unless the delegation itself is unconstitutional, then the statutory authority exists for the President to rely on. The claim that the delegation itself is unconstitutional is a more serious matter,” the four lawyers write. 

“SUCKED”: The FAA finally decided to follow our counterparts around the world yesterday in grounding the Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 after reviewing airplane data showing similarities between the deadly crash in Ethiopia last Sunday and the one that occurred in Indonesia several months ago, The Post reports

Trump made the abrupt announcement after Boeing and the FAA insisted earlier in the day on Wednesday that the planes were still safe to fly. 

  • Inside details: Privately, Trump shared his own personal — and pointed — opinion of the type of plane in question as he consulted with administration officials over whether to ground the plane, Toluse Olorunnipa and Josh Dawsey. “In his words, it ‘sucked,'” they report. 
  • “The president said Boeing 737s paled in comparison to the Boeing 757, known as Trump Force One, which he owns as a personal jet, according to White House and transportation officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations,” they report.
  • The president — an amateur aviation expert with no training in aeronautics — “questioned why Boeing would keep building the model and opined that he never would have bought a 737 for the Trump Shuttle, the small airline he briefly ran three decades ago that relied on 727s before going bankrupt,” officials told my colleagues. 

‘Unusual step’: Trump made the announcement as “there were growing questions about the slow response to the crisis and whether the nation’s top air-safety officials acted quickly enough to protect the flying public,” my colleagues Luz Lazo, Michael Laris, Lori Aratani and Damian Paletta report

  • “Trump took the unusual step of consulting personally with Boeing’s chief executive earlier this week,” my colleagues report. 
  • My colleagues Aaron Gregg, Jonathan O’Connell, Andrew Ba Tran and Faiz Siddiqui report that last November, Boeing executives gathered in Forth Worth Texas after a 737 crashed in Indonesia and “issued a bulletin disclosing that this line of planes, known as the 737 Max 8, was equipped with a new type of software as part of the plane’s automated functions. Some pilots were furious that they were not told about the new software when the plane was unveiled.”

The decision process: “Trump was inclined to announce a grounding on Tuesday, but he received pushback from the FAA, which had not yet reached a decision, according to officials familiar with the deliberations. But Trump also equivocated himself, telling advisers that grounding planes would cause panic and could hurt the stock market, according to two people who spoke to him,” Toluse and Josh report.

  • Aviation experts criticized the president for the extent of his involvement. And Daniel Wells, who sits on the board of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, told Toluse and Josh that Trump should not have been the person making the announcement that the FAA had ultimately decided to ground Boeing. 
  • “The president isn’t the right person to do it. Elwell or Chao should have made the announcement,” said Wells, whose group did not call for the planes to be grounded. “But it was Trump who said it. That tells you everything you need to know.”
  •  

 

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On The Hill

THE OTHER DEFECTION: The Senate’s other rebuke of the Trump administration — for its support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen– is a sign of growing frustration among lawmakers with Trump’s embrace of the Saudi monarchy, my colleague Karoun Demirjian reports

  • Second time: “The 54-to-46 vote marks the second time in recent months that the Senate has rejected the United States’ continued participation in Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, waged in the name of holding back Iran’s expansion in the region. But the Saudi-led effort, which has at times targeted civilian facilities and prevented aid shipments from getting to Yemenis, has been faulted by human rights organizations for exacerbating what the United Nations has deemed the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe,” per Karoun.
  • The breakdown: Seven Senate Republicans joined Democrats calling for an end in supporting Saudi efforts. 
  • “We should not be associated with a bombing campaign that the U.N. tells us is likely a gross violation of human rights,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
  • Next steps: The vote is unlikely to have a veto-proof majority from both chambers that would be needed in the likely case that Trump vetoes the resolution. But, if the resolution does pass both chambers, “it would mark the first time that Congress has successfully invoked the War Powers Resolution to end U.S. engagement in a conflict,” according to Karoun. 

The Investigations

WHEN ONE CHAPTER ENDS, ANOTHER BEGINS: That’s probably not the optimistic outlook that Paul Manafort had in mind but it does accurately describe the series of yesterday’s events.

  • The former Trump campaign chairman left Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s court on Wednesday with a 7 1/2 -year year prison sentence — and returned to his prison cell in Alexandria, Virginia only to face another indictment.
  • “Prosecutors in New York announced a 16-count grand jury indictment charging the former Trump campaign chairman with mortgage fraud, falsifying business records and conspiracy,” my colleagues Spencer Hsu, Rachel Weiner, and Ann Marimow report

Two judges, two different tones: Jackson’s remarks to Manafort differed sharply from the sentencing judge in Virginia, T.S. Ellis, who said Manafort had lived “an otherwise blameless life.”  

PREVENTING A PARDON: Manafort’s New York charges are “an effort to ensure he will still face prison time if Mr. Trump pardons him for his federal crimes,” the New York Times’s William Rashbaum reports

  • “No one is beyond the law in New York,” said Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance, adding that prosecutors in his office had “yielded serious criminal charges for which the defendant has not been held accountable.”

MEANWHILE, ON THE HILL: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told reporters after a closed door meeting with the former acting attorney general yesterday that Matthew Whitaker had been “directly involved” in “conversations about whether to fire U.S. attorneys, though the congressman didn’t specify which ones,” the Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus and Dustin Volz report.

  • Nadler said that Whitaker had been involved in discussions regarding “the scope of the Southern District attorney and his recusal” from the investigation into Michael Cohen and “and whether New York prosecutors ‘went too far’ in pursuing their campaign-finance investigation,” per Ballhaus and Volz. He did not specify who those conversations were with.
  • “The House Judiciary Committee believes it has evidence that Mr. Trump asked Mr. Whitaker whether Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman could regain control of his office’s investigation into Mr. Cohen, The Wall Street Journal previously reported.”

MUELLER REPORT WATCH: And for those of us searching for any sign of when the Mueller report will be released: NPR’s Carrie Johnson reports that one of his top prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, “will soon leave the office and the Justice Department, two sources close to the matter tell NPR…. The departure is the strongest sign yet that Mueller and his team have all but concluded their work.”

In the Media

What we’re reading: 

Viral

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