Senate GOP divided ahead of vote on disapproval of national emergency

At issue is how to amend the bill

By CNN'S KAITLAN COLLINS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
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President Donald Trump's border wall prototypes stand near the U.S.-Mexico border on July 16, 2018, in San Diego.

Senate Republicans remained sharply split Thursday on how to structure a debate over a disapproval resolution on President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency, just days before they must vote on the measure, which is expected to pass.

"We are having a robust discussion," said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, as he emerged from a closed-door meeting in the Capitol. "Lots of ideas, great ideas. But no conclusions."

At issue is whether and how to amend the disapproval language that passed the Democratic-controlled House -- or consider companion legislation -- to make it more palatable to GOP senators before they vote.

Republicans support or oppose Trump's declaration for a variety of constitutional, policy and political reasons. Some think the emergency declaration, through which Trump is repurposing existing funds to build a border wall with Mexico despite Congress voting down his request, is an unconstitutional power grab. Others worry it sets a dangerous precedent that future presidents could use anytime they lost a negotiation with Congress.

Before Thursday, Republicans weren't even sure if parliamentary rules would allow them to amend the disapproval measure, which is being used for the first time.

"You look at every option," said Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who said Republicans got an "initial opinion" from the parliamentarian that they could amend it by a simple majority vote. "Do you do an amendment? What does the amendment look like? What's the text of the amendment?"

He added, "At the end of the day this is a resolution of disapproval. So that is a yes-no question. And then whatever else is added to it, or around it, is defining positions, or directions or future directions."

Some Republicans don't want to change it at all -- just pull the Band-Aid off, they say -- even though it could be an embarrassment for Trump.

Four Republicans senators have already said they will join with the 47 Democrats to vote for the House resolution, and several more are still weighing what to do. This means the measure will pass and go to Trump's desk, where he will veto it. GOP leaders believe it ultimately will die in the House when they fail to get a two-thirds majority to override the veto.

Even with the veto threat, White House officials are attempting to limit the number of GOP defections in the Senate ahead of the vote by telling them the President is paying close attention to who votes against him. In recent days, White House officials have conveyed a stern message to GOP senators, especially those up for re-election in 2020: There will consequences if they vote with the Democrats and defy the President. They have vowed it will affect their standing with the administration and there will be retribution, including potential primary fights.

One reason the Republicans are wrestling so hard with how to finesse this vote is because under the law that allows a president to declare an emergency, there is a provision that allows Congress to vote to disapprove it every six months. So this could keep coming up as long as the declaration remains in place.

"Everyone is just trying to express their opinion on the best way to handle it,' said Sen. John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican.

"Lots of good discussion," said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Republican whip. "Marketplace of ideas is percolating."

A vote is expected sometime next week but has not been scheduled yet.

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