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Even Mitch McConnell isn’t sure if Trump’s national emergency is legal

The Republican majority leader openly admitted as much during a weekly press briefing.

Senate Lawmakers Address The Media After Their Weekly Policy Luncheons
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to members of the media during a luncheon on February 5, 2019, at the Capitol.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Trump’s national emergency declaration is already facing a ton of pushback from Democrats. But even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, pressed by reporters on Tuesday, wouldn’t say for sure whether he thought Trump’s decision to declare an emergency to fund a border wall was legal.

“I haven’t reached a total conclusion,” McConnell said, when he was asked about his perspective on the declaration’s legality, going on to downplay his legal expertise: “I wouldn’t go to me for a simple will. I did go to law school, but we had some real serious lawyers in there discussing that very issue.”

McConnell’s comments followed a weekly party lunch that included a visit from Vice President Mike Pence and a Justice Department attorney, both of whom made the case for Trump’s emergency declaration. Democrats, meanwhile, have argued that the declaration bypasses Congress’s constitutionally authorized “power of the purse,” and are intent on advancing a congressional resolution that would terminate the emergency.

The House is set to vote on this resolution on Tuesday evening, setting it up for a vote in the Senate in the coming weeks.

“As of the moment, I couldn’t handicap the outcome of the vote,” McConnell added about the Senate’s consideration of the resolution. “All I can tell you is it certainly will occur.”

Senate Republicans will be the linchpin in the vote over the emergency declaration. If the House passes the termination resolution, as it’s expected to do, just four Republican senators would need to join the 47-member Democratic caucus to pass the measure in the upper chamber.

As the White House indicated Tuesday, however, Trump is expected to veto the resolution even if it passes both chambers. This would mark the first veto of Trump’s presidency, if he actually follows through on it.

Despite his personal aversion to both shutdowns and the use of a national emergency to fund a border wall, the majority leader has been loath to publicly confront the president on either issue. “I’m for whatever works, which means avoiding a shutdown and avoiding the president feeling he should declare a national emergency,” McConnell said in January, before going on to support the president’s decision to move forward with an emergency shortly thereafter.

A Washington Post report had also noted that McConnell privately counseled Trump about the use of a national emergency to obtain more border wall funding and warned that it could split the Republican Party. As McConnell predicted, a number of Republicans have voiced concerns about the precedent this national emergency could set for future Democratic presidents, with a handful vowing to block it.

His comments on Tuesday seemed to highlight just how much distance there still is between him and the White House on the subject.

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