Republicans went into a closed-door meeting with President Donald Trump’s top brass ahead of his Tuesday evening address to the nation and abruptly saw the light, experiencing a sudden “crisis of the heart” just hours before Trump dropped that same line in his Oval Office speech to the nation.
Or at least that’s what most of them would have us believe after echoing Trump’s script almost word-for-word.
The president’s Hail Mary that was carried live across the networks in primetime was intended to change the national debate that has recently been focused on the 800,000 or so government workers—and the services they’re usually paid to provide to all of us—directly impacted by the shutdown. On Tuesday night, he tried to shift the focus to his long-promised wall—the same one he failed to get built while his own party controlled the two most powerful branches of government before Democrats took over control of the House last week.
As part of that effort, Trump sent top administration officials to the Capitol earlier in the day to try and unify the rhetoric being deployed by the rank and file in the GOP ahead of his address, and it seems to have worked. Republicans of all stripes left that closed-door meeting, with the vice president, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, the president’s acting chief-of staff, and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway humming a new mantra.
When House Minority Whip Steve Scalise was exiting the meeting and repeatedly using the word “crisis”–a new addition to the lexicon of many of the Republicans exiting the briefing– The Daily Beast inquired why there’s now an urgency that wasn’t there last week, when Nancy Pelosi was minority leader; not speaker.
“Oh, this has been a growing problem,” Scalise responded. “He did sign the [government spending] bill last year, but also said this was the last time he was going to do it. So he laid the marker down a year ago that this has to be solved.”
Scalise and his security detail were able to hop on an elevator before The Daily Beast was able to point out that he was a leader in the majority party last year; hell, even last week. But Republicans still control the majority in the Senate, and the word “crisis” is now en vogue there too.
“Clearly we have a crisis at the border—a humanitarian crisis as well as a national security crisis,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), a member of the GOP leadership team in the Senate, told The Daily Beast.
This “crisis” is a rhetorical one to many. That’s because the crime rate for immigrants—undocumented and documented alike—is actually lower than the rate for those of us who were born here.
Some of the Trump administration’s top talking heads have had to pivot away from their laughable claim that terrorists—thousands of them, mind you—are trying to enter America through the southern border after Fox News’ Chris Wallace owned press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders after she tried to get away with pushing that lie this weekend. When Barrasso was confronted by The Daily Beast over the fact that the data he'd quoted on terrorists had already been debunked, he pivoted.
“People have questioned the numbers, but I don’t think people question the fact that it’s happened,” Barrasso said.
While party leaders on both sides of the Capitol are now twisting themselves into knots trying to keep up with the rapidly evolving talking points coming out of an array of top White House officials, the rank and file in the GOP’s conservative ranks are fully behind the old and new rhetoric being deployed by the White House.
“I can understand why people think it’s disingenuous, but I think this is a growing humanitarian and security crisis,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), the leader of the Republican Study Committee—the conservative caucus in the House that’s more moderate than the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus—told The Daily Beast.
Some feel this is worthy of a national emergency declaration that would enable Trump to use unspent military funds to build his wall. The Daily Beast asked more than two dozen Republicans across the spectrum why this is a “crisis” now and wasn’t a “crisis” when they were in power just a week ago. In response, many doubled down on the new talking points handed down from the White House and insisted this is in fact a “crisis” moment.
“It was a month ago! It was a year ago! It was five years ago!” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) told The Daily Beast. “All I can say is, right now a national emergency ought to be declared. I don’t know why President Obama didn’t do it. I don’t know why President Trump hasn’t done it.”
And Brooks says he supports drastic measures to address this political impasse that critics say is a “crisis” in name only.
“The massive loss of life—and the worse it has continually gotten on an annual basis—to me, justifies radical and effective means to protect our border,” Brooks continued.
And it’s not just southern conservatives. It’s also coming from some of the party’s remaining moderates who live thousands of miles from the southern border.
“It was a crisis then. It’s a crisis now. It’s not about politics,” Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) told The Daily Beast. “And shame on Republicans and Democrats for not dealing with this sooner. It’s time to deal with it.”
Reed wants Congress to address this through the normal legislative process and not an emergency declaration, though he contends a debate over whether to declare the southern border a national emergency —a declaration that would give Trump special powers to use a strong-arm approach—is justified.
Still, many Republicans oppose that route, especially those who serve on the military committees on Capitol, because Trump would be depleting the funds Congress has already allocated for what many argue are vital Department of Defense projects in order to build his shiny, new, steel paneled slat-filled “wall.”
“I’m worried about the needs that DOD has—they need to be met,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), who, as the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, speaks for many in his party, told The Daily Beast.
But the rush from many in the GOP to endorse the president’s new talking points about a “crisis” and the push from some on Capitol Hill to get him to declare that national state of emergency at the southern border has most Democrats warning that the GOP is playing with fire.
“If congressional Republicans end up supporting a national emergency, they’ll rue the day they turned the country into a banana republic,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told The Daily Beast. “This is a completely made up crisis underlaid by complete lies and fabrications about data. What would stop any president in the future from declaring a national emergency to get what they can’t get achieve politically, through Congress? This would be a turning point for the country.”