Government & Politics

Blunt disinvited to GOP event in backlash over vote to block Trump’s emergency powers

‘Nobody gets everything they want,’ Blunt says as negotiators meet on border security

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, speaks during the first meeting of a group of lawmakers seeking to strike a bipartisan deal on border security that will fund the federal government beyond Feb. 15.
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Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, speaks during the first meeting of a group of lawmakers seeking to strike a bipartisan deal on border security that will fund the federal government beyond Feb. 15.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt has been disinvited from a local GOP gathering in Christian County, Missouri, next month amid a backlash over his vote to block President Donald Trump’s use of emergency powers to build a border wall.

The senior GOP senator from Missouri was one of 12 Republicans who joined Democrats in voting against Trump’s national emergency declaration, a move that has sparked anger within the president’s base. As a Republican sharing the ballot with Trump in 2016, Blunt squeaked out a narrow 3-point win on Trump’s coattails.

His vote on Thursday angered ardent Trump supporters across Missouri, who saw it as a betrayal.

“I am so disappointed in you now that I can hardly speak,” wrote Wanda Martens, a member of the Christian County Republican Central Committee, in an email to Blunt’s office. “Why could you not support my president in the emergency declaration? President Trump tried every available means to work the Senate to resolve the border issue and build the much needed wall. He is well within his presidential powers to do this.”

Martens serves as the local party committee’s events chair. She told the senator in her email, which was obtained by The Kansas City Star, that she did not want to see him when the local party holds its Lincoln/Trump Day Dinner on April 6 in Ozark, Missouri, one of the most conservative areas in the state.

State and local Republican groups traditionally hold annual Lincoln Day events, but the event in Ozark includes Trump in the name and places a drawing of the president’s face alongside Lincoln’s on the invitation.

“Please don’t try to tell me that I don’t understand. I understand completely,” Martens wrote. “I hate it when someone calls you the establishment and that you are part of the swamp, but maybe they were right.”

Martens wrote that she didn’t even call Blunt asking him to support Trump because she was sure he would. She declined to comment on Monday.

Chuck Branch, another member of the central committee, said he was frustrated by Martens’ decision to revoke Blunt’s invitation. Branch, the retired general manager of Christian County Headliner News, originally had been the one to ask Blunt to attend the dinner.

“I think that we absolutely need to stand by the people who we send to Washington. We don’t have to agree on policy,” Branch said. “Taking it to a personal level of not inviting him to a Republican event seems to be crossing a line in my view.”

Blunt, the only member of Senate Republican leadership to support the resolution, pointed to his opposition to executive overreach during the Obama administration. He also warned that the precedent would enable a future president to use the National Emergencies Act to enact gun control or strict environmental regulations opposed by Republicans.

“The same principle should apply regardless of which party occupies the White House,” Blunt wrote.

Blunt is on a congressional delegation trip and could not be reached for comment Monday. He is the fourth-ranking Republican in the Senate and is a senior member of the appropriations committee, which doles out federal funds.

In an interview on KCMO’s Pete Mundo Morning Show on Friday, Blunt said he had tried working with the White House to help Trump find the money for his promised border wall without declaring an emergency.

“There is an emergency declaration available. Presidents have used it about 58 times since 1976 when it was put into effect,” Blunt said. “But no president has ever used it this way, where (you) ask the Congress to do something, go through that whole constitutional process and then when you don’t get what you ask for that way, just decide, ‘Well, it’s an emergency.’”

He added, “The last power really left to Congress is the power to control appropriations, the power of the purse, which anybody’s ever looked at the constitution has heard that phrase over and over again. And I think it’s an important phrase.”

James Harris, a Jefferson City GOP strategist, said Blunt balanced his support for Trump’s policy goals against the long-term effects of ceding congressional power to the executive. Harris served as political director for Blunt’s son, former Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt.

“We are moving to a time when, let’s say Bernie Sanders or some Democrat is president, they can declare a national emergency on something conservatives hate,” Harris said. “I think Sen. Blunt is trying to balance the short term vs. the long term.”

Trump vetoed the congressional resolution on Friday and has been outspoken in his criticism of lawmakers who supported it.

The backlash against Blunt is widespread among conservative grassroots activists, said Ed Martin, a former Missouri Republican chair who serves as president of the conservative Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund.

“My people are like, what the heck?” Martin said.

A tweet Blunt posted last week on the resolution received thousands of replies. Some people thanked him for his vote, while many others heaped scorn on the senator and said they would never vote for him again.

“It’s people who don’t like Trump who are saying thank you for giving Trump a stick in the eye,” Martin said. “Anybody who is thanking Roy for doing that is probably against Trump.”

John Adams, a 74-year-old retiree who lives in south Kansas City, said he’s voted for Blunt in every election he has run for elected office. He’ll never vote for him again.

“I used to support Blunt. I just can’t do it anymore,” Adams said. “I’m sorry. He’s not supporting my president in the way that I anticipated.”

Adams said he’d support another Republican in the primary if Blunt runs again in 2022. And if Blunt wins the GOP nomination, Adams said he’d sit out Election Day rather than cast a ballot for Blunt again, even against a Democrat.

“I absolutely felt betrayed.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, joined Blunt in voting for the resolution, citing concerns about the constitutionality of Trump’s declaration.

The Kansas City region’s other two Republican senators, Pat Roberts of Kansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, both opposed the measure.

Mark Anthony Jones, former chairman of the Jackson County GOP, said the reaction to Blunt’s vote is mixed.

“There’s a fairly significant number of people that thought that the votes in our state would have gone the opposite direction from our senators — as in Hawley would have been the constitutional concern and Blunt would have just supported the president,” Jones said. “I was really shocked about that, to be honest with you.”

Jones noted that Blunt voted with GOP libertarian Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, a camp he typically would see himself in, but in this case Jones fully supported the president’s use of emergency powers to build the wall despite concerns that it was executive overreach.

“That’s unbelievable that our Congress will not secure our border — I mean we’re almost at a civil war breaking point and they’re worried about an executive order?” Jones said.

John Hancock, a former chairman of the Missouri GOP, said he’s not surprised that the more enthusiastic Trump supporters in Missouri would be disappointed in Blunt’s vote. Hancock, however, said he supports it.

“The legislative branch has ceded way too much power to the executive branch,” he said.

“Having said that, we’re in a very hyper-partisan time, and all of these votes that may be rooted in policy and ideology and philosophy end up becoming personalized and that’s just the world we’re in,” he said.

Hancock wouldn’t speculate whether Blunt’s vote could end up hurting him when he’s up for reelection in 2022. Trump won Missouri by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016.

“I would say that months and years have a tendency of diminishing the impact of things that seem in the moment to be huge,” he said. “At least that’s been my experience over the years. Now has that changed in this new era we’re in? I don’t know.”

Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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Lindsay Wise is an investigative reporter for McClatchy’s Washington Bureau. Previously, Lindsay worked for six years as the Washington correspondent for McClatchy’s Kansas City Star. Before joining McClatchy in 2012, she worked as a reporter at the Houston Chronicle, where she specialized in coverage of veterans and military issues as well as the city’s Arab and Muslim communities.
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