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Democrats Push Back Against Trump's Plan To Declare A National Emergency

Feb 14, 2019
Originally published on February 14, 2019 8:15 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The White House says President Trump will sign the government funding bill that Congress passed today that averts another partial shutdown at the end of the week. At the same time, Trump is expected to declare a national emergency to unlock more money to build a border wall, money that Congress has refused to give him.

NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us from the White House. And Tam, where exactly do things stand at this hour?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Where do they stand? Well, we know that President Trump was not happy with the level of funding for the border barrier that congressional negotiators had come up with. It was $1.4 billion, which is about a quarter of what he had been asking for. At the same time, it was pretty clear that he didn't want to shut the government down because the last government shutdown did not go well for him, and it certainly didn't go well for the federal workforce.

So he was in a tough spot, and some outside folks, even some members of Congress, had been encouraging him to go this direction. Declaring a national emergency in theory will allow the president to free up funds from elsewhere, lets him go around Congress in a way to build the wall. And then he can go out and say that he isn't just accepting this pittance from Congress, that he is plowing forward with his campaign promise to build the wall.

KELLY: As just a very brief aside, are the optics of this surprising that it was Mitch McConnell who came out on the Senate floor and announced this and not the president at the White House or via his Twitter feed?

KEITH: It is a little bit surprising. But to know that the Senate was about to vote on this spending measure, that the Senate right before the last government shutdown was sort of led to believe at least that the president was likely to sign it and then he didn't sign it and there was this government shutdown, in some ways, you get Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, going out on the floor saying what he's been assured the president is going to do - it in a way forces the president's hand. Pretty quickly thereafter, the White House followed up and confirmed that in fact that was the president's plan.

KELLY: Got you, OK. So this money that the emergency - national emergency will maybe unlock to build a border wall - where does that money come from?

KEITH: We don't know yet. I think I asked about four or five different times to various White House officials as they walked by as I was waiting, trying to get information. They will have to cite certain statutes that they are using in order to get the funds, but they haven't done that yet. They say stay tuned. But I'll just say that this is a long way from the president's 2016 rallying cry that Mexico would pay for the wall. Then he was asking Congress to pay for the wall. And now he's going around Congress to declare a national emergency to get funding from elsewhere in the government to build the wall.

This use of an emergency declaration is highly unusual. I've spoken to numerous experts on this, and they say that although the president has nearly unlimited power to declare an emergency under the National Emergencies Act, in the 45 years that it's been around, no president has used it in this way to go against the will of congressional intent.

KELLY: So what kind of reaction are we expecting from Congress?

KEITH: Oh, it has come, and it has been strong and furious, particularly from Democrats. In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said declaring an emergency would be a lawless act and a gross abuse of power by the president. Here was Pelosi speaking at a press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

NANCY PELOSI: So the precedent that the president is setting here is something that should be met with great unease and dismay by the Republicans. And of course we will respond accordingly when we review our options.

KEITH: There are possible lawsuits or potentially a resolution to terminate the emergency order. But it's not just Democrats. Senator Marco Rubio from Florida said that he has grave concerns with this. In a statement, he said that he's worried. What would happen if there's a Democratic president who declares a national emergency?

KELLY: Right - if it's not your guy or gal in the White House the next time around. NPR's Tamara Keith, who is at the White House, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.