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Texas senators stuck between conservative principles and Trump

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, talks with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, during a break in hearing testimony from then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, Sept. 27, 2018.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, talks with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, during a break in hearing testimony from then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, Sept. 27, 2018. AP

A day out from the Senate’s vote on a measure to disapprove President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration, Texas’ two GOP senators were still grasping for solutions to keep colleagues from dealing Trump the biggest rebuke of his presidency.

Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn each joined onto a last-minute effort, led by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, aimed at restricting the president’s power of emergency in the future. That bill, which Republicans hoped could offer a bargaining chip to conservative skeptics of Trump’s moves, was rejected by the White House in a meeting with GOP senators Wednesday.

Cruz was also working a separate effort with Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander to amend House Democrats’ resolution of disapproval and bring additional Republicans on board, according to Sen. Marco Rubio. Cruz’s office declined to provide any details of that proposal.

As it stands the disapproval resolution crafted by Texas Democrat Joaquin Castro is expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate with the help of at least four GOP senators.

“This is probably the most consequential vote that we will take, probably in the last generation, in terms of the balance of power between the executive and the legislative branches of government,” said Castro, a San Antonio congressman and potential Senate candidate in 2020.

“If this (Trump’s declaration) stands, I’m convinced that in 20 years, we will look back on the results of this resolution and this emergency declaration and point to it as a time when the presidency gained incredible power and the expense of the legislative government,” added Castro.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, author of a resolution to buck President Donald Trump’s use of the emergency declaration to fund a border wall, attacks Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz for voting against it in the Senate, March 14, 2019.

Republican leaders in the Senate hate the prospect of a public rebuke of the president, whose staff has aggressively lobbied lawmakers against joining Democrats on the resolution.

Even among Trump’s most loyal supporters in the Senate, however, plenty of Republicans share Castro’s concern about the implications for White House power.

“Standing up for the separation of powers is important… this is a discussion that needs to be had,” said Lee, the Utah Republican, who began crafting his bill to restrict emergency powers days after Trump’s declaration.

Lee’s proposal drew immediate interest from the Senate’s conservative wing, many of whom spent their careers railing against White House overreach. By Wednesday, Lee’s bill had at least 15 co-sponsors, including Cornyn and Cruz.

Cruz, who still views himself as a leader in the conservative movement, told the Star-Telegram earlier this month that he was weighing the White House’s legal arguments for the emergency declaration.

Cornyn, who is seeking re-election in Texas in 2020, on Wednesday continued to chart a careful path between appeasing conservatives and maintaining sensitivity toward moderate and independent voters. Trump has warned he will work against lawmakers who oppose him during the next election cycle.

“I’ve heard concerns raised by my constituents and colleagues about the use of emergency powers in this situation, and I share some of those concerns,” said Cornyn, who has for weeks pledged to support the president on the resolution. “I think our discussion should focus on the structure of emergency powers laws moving forward and whether Congress has delegated too much power not just to this president, but to any president, under these circumstances.”

When Cornyn votes on the resolution Thursday, Castro, a potential Democratic challenger, plans to be among those watching from the Senate floor.

“The people of Texas and the private property owners of Texas have the most to lose if President Trump is allowed to unilaterally go and build his border wall with an emergency declaration,” said Castro.

“I hope that Senators Cornyn and Cruz, but also the other United States senators, stand up for the constitution, and stand up for Texas,” said Castro.

Lesley Clark and Bryan Lowry of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

Andrea Drusch is the Washington Correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She is a Corinth, Texas, native and graduate of the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism at Texas Christian University. She returns home frequently to visit family, get her fix of Fuzzy’s Tacos and cheer on the Horned Frogs.