Trump Government Shutdown (copy)

AP file photo of President Donald Trump walking to the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.

When it comes to President Donald Trump, Republicans in Congress are finally starting to show a little spine.

Last week was marked by a stunning unanimous vote in the House to make Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report public.

Democrats and Republicans still offer different spins on the probe of Russian influence and Trump’s finances, with most Democrats expecting a damning conclusion and many Republicans predicting it will all come to nothing. U.S. Rep. and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise justified his support for disclosure in typically pro-Trump terms: “After taking nearly two years, costing tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, and providing limited public information about its scope, I am especially concerned about what would happen if the report was not made available to Congress. Since the investigation began, Democrats have used it as an excuse to fundraise, fear-monger, and peddle conspiracy theories about collusion with the Russian government.”

Still, the important thing here is that both parties united in supporting transparency — that is, until noted Trump apologist Lindsey Graham of South Carolina put up a hold in the Senate.

The other revealing action in Congress was the Senate’s vote to overturn Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to fund the border wall that he once promised Mexico would pay for — and that Congress has consistently refused to budget, including during the entire two years when both houses were under GOP control.

The encouraging news is that a dozen Republicans bucked pressure from the administration, joining with Democrats to hand Trump a major defeat and, more importantly, standing up for their constitutional role as proper stewards of the nation’s purse.

The disappointing but not surprising news is that neither Louisiana senator chose to be in that number.

John Kennedy essentially labeled constitutional concerns — not to mention the likelihood that future presidents, Republican and Democrat, would use the precedent to subvert congressional decisions — as much ado about nothing.

“Declaring a national emergency was never my first choice for addressing the crisis at the border, but I don’t share the same hysteria of some of my colleagues about the president’s use of the National Emergencies Act. It doesn’t scare me,” he said.

Bill Cassidy had to do some more contorting to try to explain how his vote against the resolution was actually a vote for the rule of law. In an opinion piece published in The Advocate, Cassidy noted that the president has the right to declare an emergency, and argued the far more tenuous point that the situation on the border meets that definition. As for the key question of whether the president can unilaterally overrule Congress’s spending decision, the best he had to offer was that, while lawmakers didn’t allocate funding for the wall, nor did they explicitly prohibit Trump from moving money from other Defense Department needs for the questionable purpose.

What Cassidy omitted is the political backdrop to all of this. There’s widespread agreement among experts that a wall would not fix real problems with immigration, which both parties want to address. Yet the president has turned the wall into symbol of American toughness and his own, and pushed for it using alarmingly nativist language and policies. That’s turned it into a symbol of intolerance on the other side.

Another major political angle is that Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to overrule Congress is yet another example of his willingness to violate norms — too often with his congressional supporters’ cooperation. The third piece of the puzzle is that Cassidy’s up for reelection next year in a state in which Trump remains popular.

In an ideal world, larger concerns would trump all that. Congress did take a few baby steps in that direction, but it’s still got a long way to go. 


Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.