Vulnerable Republicans Voted to Support Trump’s National Emergency

Among the 12 Republican Senators who voted against Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, the only one who is up for re-election in 2020 is Susan Collins of Maine. She had already been targeted for her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, so in a state that narrowly favored Clinton in 2016, that might have been the correct political calculation.

More interesting are some of the Republican Senators who will face voters in 2020 and decided to stand with the president. Thom Tillis of North Carolina—a state that has been trending purple—did a complete about-face.

At first, Tillis (R-N.C.) stood defiantly against Trump’s usurpation of congressional prerogative, declaring in a Washington Post op-ed almost two weeks ago that approving the emergency would “justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress.”

Then, over the past week, as political pressure mounted, Tillis moved into the undecided column in hope of a compromise with Trump. “I hate to be a broken record, but it’s a work in progress,” Tillis told reporters Wednesday.

By Thursday afternoon, as 12 GOP colleagues broke ranks with the president, Tillis instead fell in line.

Martha McSally, who was appointed to fill John McCain’s seat for two years after losing narrowly to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema last November, also made the decision to cast her vote in support of the president’s power grab. Democrats will be targeting that state in 2020, where McSally is considered vulnerable.

But the Republican who came as the biggest surprise was Cory Gardner of Colorado. That state has moved from trending purple to trending blue. In recent statewide elections, Hillary Clinton won by five points in 2016, Senator Michael Bennet won by six in 2016, and Governor Jared Polis by ten in 2018. That is why Gardner was already considered to be the most vulnerable Republican up for re-election in 2020. Nevertheless, he sided with Trump on this controversial vote.

For Gardner, the consequences began to take shape almost immediately when the Denver Post rescinded their endorsement based on this vote.

We endorsed Sen. Cory Gardner in 2014 because we believed he’d be a statesman. We knew he’d be a conservative voice in Congress, to be certain, but we thought his voice would bring “fresh leadership, energy and ideas.”

We see now that was a mistake – consider this our resolution of disapproval…

This is a bogus emergency that takes executive over-reach to an extreme not seen even under President Barack Obama. Trump’s declaration is an abuse of his power, a direct overturning of Congress’ deliberate decision to pass a federal budget without funding for a wall.

Put simply this is a constitutional crisis and one of Colorado’s two senators has failed the test.

Risking that kind of condemnation could be viewed as an error when it comes to re-election. But Senators like McSally and Gardner are calculating that November 2020 is still a long way off and voters aren’t likely to be zeroed in on this one vote. They are more worried about the primaries, which come sooner and will be dominated by Republican partisans who prioritize loyalty to the president.

That captures the dilemma Republicans will face in states and districts where Trump’s approval rating is underwater. They’ll have to play to the base in order to survive the primaries and make it to the general election, where their support of the president could pose a handicap.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.