It has been a bruising run of days for Donald Trump. The trouble began last Thursday with kicks to both kidneys, delivered by a cadre of his Republican Snuggle Bunnies in the House and Senate. The first, from the House, was a rare and resounding show of unity from that chamber when they passed a nonbinding demand that the Mueller report be made public.
The motion was carried by a thumping margin of 420-0, yet still had to gum its food for lack of teeth — but even its purely symbolic nature was still too powerful for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), who blocked the demand upon its arrival in the Senate. Why? He wants another investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails first, because of course he does.
Later that day, 12 Republican senators broke ranks and voted with every Democrat to nullify Trump’s emergency declaration, joining the 13 House Republicans who also voted with the Democrats to nullify it. Trump, in response, threw a tantrum that was incredible even by his lofty standards. In an aftermath interview with Breitbart, he went so far as to threaten the political left with violence from police, soldiers and biker gangs because he didn’t get his way.
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White supremacist terrorism in New Zealand derailed Trump’s rant, affording him the opportunity to offer victims of that attack something he called “warmest sympathy” (“thoughts and prayers” are apparently only available to stateside victims of white supremacist terrorism). The vote, however, stood, and Trump quickly deployed the first veto of his administration. Personally, I hope it tasted like ashes.
(The horrific anti-immigrant attack in New Zealand put the White House in a tight spot: How to explain away the antics of a racist-coddling president? Pro tip: When the top administrator in the executive branch feels compelled to tell Fox News the boss isn’t a white supremacist, and underscores that assertion with a complaint about how many times he’s had to say the boss isn’t a white supremacist, the boss is probably a white supremacist. At this point, the only people who buy what Mick Mulvaney was peddling are the ones who don’t know what the words mean. Even white supremacists are like, Dude, enough already, the cat’s all the way out of the bag.)
Because these are Republicans we’re talking about, there was as usual an abundance of absurdity freighting the Senate vote. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) in particular covered himself in obsequious shame and eternal ignominy during the process. A few weeks earlier, Tillis had authored an op-ed for The Washington Post announcing his intention to vote against Trump’s emergency declaration, stating any support for it had “no intellectual honesty.” Flash forward to Thursday, and Tillis — who is facing re-election next year – abruptly reversed himself and voted Trump’s way.
The funny part about Tillis’s vote is his explanation for why he did it. It appears the senator was “reassured” by “indications” Trump would be willing to tamp down presidential emergency powers via new legislation if his current declaration was allowed to stand. Where Tillis got these indications remains a mystery, because a group of GOP senators offered Trump a compromise to do exactly that just days before, only to have Trump curse at them before throwing them out of the building. My guess? Trump wants those emergency powers fully intact if he loses the 2020 election, but then again, I’m a worrier.
Thom “Against It For It” Tillis is a marvelous avatar for the modern Republican phenomenon. Television pundits were dislocating shoulders trying to pat themselves on the back because the GOP, according to those pundits’ oft-offered predictions, was finally coming around. Clearly, they claimed, this is a whole new day. Those 12 brave Republican senators and those 13 brave House members have finally thrown off the yoke of Trump’s tyranny and everything will be different now, you’ll see.
All-day wrong. The cowardice of Thom Tillis was not the exception, but the rule. Tillis is looking at tight 2020 numbers and is terrified of running for re-election with his name newly inked on Trump’s enemies list, so he folded. The senators and House members who voted against Trump were just doing their own electoral math and figured they were safe enough to survive his wrath. One way or another, we’ll know two Novembers from now.
In point of fact, this was maybe the easiest vote those 25 Republicans ever cast, because each and every one of them knows they have two sturdy firewalls backing them up. Trump vetoed the nullification of his declaration before the ink was dry, and a two-thirds majority in both chambers is needed to override a veto. Mathematically, that translates into 20 Republican senators voting with every Democrat and Independent to make 67, and 54 Republican House members voting with every Democrat and Independent to make 290, to reach the override threshold.
The possibility of finding those 20 Republican votes to override in the Senate is Oort-cloud remote, but you can still see it with a strong enough telescope. The chances of finding 54 Republican votes in the House, however, are quite simply nil. This is still politics, so circumstances could change in the intervening days, but I wouldn’t bet on it with free money.
That “whole new day” isn’t coming any time soon. “Haute Doormat” is still the fashion in D.C. Republican circles. There are no heroes in the GOP.