President Trump is entering a tumultuous stretch in his rollercoaster relationship with Congress, setting up some of his biggest battles to date.
Trump faces a multi-pronged fight with a newly empowered Democratic House majority intent on investigating his administration, all while Senate Republicans show signs of division on measures that could lead to embarrassing legislative defeats for the White House.
The Senate is poised to force Trump into the first two vetoes of his presidency, first on a measure overturning his emergency declaration to build a wall on the Mexican border, and then on another resolution ending U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen.
Republicans are wary of breaking with the president on border security —a potent issue among the party’s base. Yet they are also concerned about Trump establishing a legal precedent with the emergency declaration that could be used in the future by Democrats to jam through policy changes on climate change or gun control.
“Republican senators continue to look for a way that encourages the president to look for alternatives,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership.
Trump has gone on offense, warning GOP senators that voting to block his emergency declaration would be “very dangerous.” He dispatched Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Kirstjen Nielsen to a GOP lunch this week to talk about the “crisis” along the U.S.-Mexico border, and added in a subsequent tweet that Republicans should “stay united.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) added that Trump said in a conversation this week that he believed Republicans were “playing with fire” with the resolution of disapproval and “disappointed” that he had been unable to persuade the caucus on the emergency along the border.
“That’s his observation but he’s not out there calling people out,” Graham added, asked if Trump believed Republicans would face political backlash for voting to block the national emergency declaration.
Trump also looks set for defeat on the Saudi measure, which will need to pass the House again after a similar resolution hit a procedural roadblock last month.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who is cosponsoring the resolution, predicted that the vote would be “tight” but that he hadn’t seen a development in the years-long civil war that would peel away enough GOP support to sink the proposal, which passed the Senate in a 56-41 vote late last year.
The resolution, which requires Trump to withdraw any troops in or “affecting” Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda, could slip beyond next week because of procedural hurdles.
Asked if he thought Republicans would allow two bills that prompt vetoes to be brought up within the same week, Murphy quipped: “Maybe that’s why we’re doing it in the same week, trying to stack the bad news for the White House into one week.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said the Senate will take up the resolution of disapproval on the emergency declaration before leaving for a one-week recess.
“I don’t have a solution to how this ultimately ends other than a prediction that at the end of the day the president, in all likelihood, is going to get a measure that he will veto and will almost certainly be sustained, the veto will be sustained in the House,” McConnell told reporters during his weekly press conference.
The setbacks in the Senate come as House Democrats are stepping up their probes into the administration.
Trump has lashed out at the Democratic probes, accusing the party of “desperately trying to find anything they can.” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Democrats were “harassing” Trump.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee started a wide-reaching investigation this week into Trump’s family, campaign, business and administration that includes more than 80 requests for documents.
The investigation—which was announced as Trump was already playing defense on former attorney Michael Cohen’s public testimony—will focus on obstruction of justice, public corruption and abuses of power and include looking into a scheme to pay off two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump before the 2016 election.
Graham, speaking with reporters, said Trump thought Democrats were “out to take a wrecking ball to his life. …They’re going nuts.”
“He feels like nobody seems to want to solve any problems,” Graham added. “He said that a couple of times. He said he’s surprised.”
Democrats argue congressional committees have an oversight responsibility.
“I salute the committee for the action that they have taken,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters. “If we were not to exercise oversight over the executive branch we would be delinquent in our duties.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) added that Republicans had “shielded” Trump during the two years they controlled the House during his administration.
“We are going to be the check and the balance,” he said. “We are going to find out, we are going to lay out the facts for the American people.”
There are other problems for Trump with this Congress as well.
The president’s “NAFTA 2.0” trade deal with Mexico and Canada is stuck in Capitol Hill limbo, which could lead to a need to renegotiate the pact. Trump has threatened to withdraw the United States from the existing North American Free Trade Agreement if Congress does not vote on the new deal.
On Monday, the administration will introduce the president’s latest budget, which will face an even more difficult path forward than the first two with Democrats now in control of the House.
“I’ve seen those budgets come up, but I haven’t seen any of them enacted yet,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), asked about the forthcoming budget for the 2020 fiscal year. “It’s a proposal. Some people just think the president’s budget is the law … but most of the time it’s not.”