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News Brief: Trump To Declare National Emergency For Border Wall

Feb 15, 2019
Originally published on February 15, 2019 12:57 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump is set to sign a bill this morning that would fund the federal government and prevent a second shutdown but...

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MITCH MCCONNELL: He will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time. And I've indicated to him that I'm going to support the national emergency declaration.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Republican Mitch McConnell made that announcement on the Senate floor. It is worth noting when McConnell said this, what he said and who was saying it. The Senate was about to vote on a border security defeat for the president. Lawmakers approved the bill without billions for a border wall. McConnell said the president will claim emergency powers to spend the money that Congress denied him. It's striking that McConnell was the one to support this end run around Congress since he is a leader in Congress and was widely reported to have - was widely reported to have advised the president not to do this.

MARTIN: NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis is in the studio with us this morning, along with national security correspondent David Welna, who's on the line. Good morning to you both.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: David, let's start with you. By declaring a national emergency, what specific authorities does that give the president?

WELNA: It gives him potentially many authorities. There are hundreds of statutes that Congress has been approving since the time of George Washington that lie dormant most of the time. They are only activated when the president declares a national emergency. By law, he has to cite which specific statutes he's going to be using. But when he does use these statutes, there's really no definition that Congress has ever given for what constitutes a national emergency. So it'd be hard to challenge him on the grounds that, no, this doesn't fall within what we consider a national emergency. Congress does have ways to block a national emergency. Both chambers would have to vote to do that and then send that to the president for him to sign. And if he doesn't, they'd have to override a veto from him. So really this sort of opens the way for him to tap those powers and try to get the money that Congress refused to give him in this bill that he is expected to sign today.

MARTIN: So, Sue, how is Congress reacting to this?

DAVIS: Well, as Steve noted, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supports it, which came as some surprise because we do know from our own reporting that he had expressed private concerns to the White House about this course of action. Not all Republicans are onboard. Republicans, like Susan Collins of Maine, have said publicly they do not support the president going in this path. Marco Rubio of Florida said that he believed that this could open - set a precedent for future presidents to use. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke to that dynamic.

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NANCY PELOSI: I'm not advocating for any president doing an end run around Congress. I'm just saying that the Republicans should have some dismay about the door that they are opening, the threshold they are crossing.

DAVIS: Democrats overwhelmingly oppose it. And Pelosi is saying to Republicans, like Marco Rubio, you are right to be concerned.

MARTIN: Because they could use a national emergency - if Democrats could take the White House back, they could declare a national emergency on climate change or gun control or any number of issues.

DAVIS: And she specifically mentioned gun legislation in her remarks.

MARTIN: So what does Congress do in this moment?

DAVIS: So they have options. The first option is the law that gives the power the president to do this gives Congress the power to take it away. They have the authority to pass resolutions of disapproval that would essentially block the president. The political reality is you would need a veto-proof majority in both chambers to do that, and they probably don't have that because Republicans control the Senate.

They also can challenge it in the courts. And Democrats are saying they are prepared to do that. How they challenge it goes to what exactly the president does. But remember, there's a constitutional challenge in question here. The Constitution is very clear in Article I that Congress gets to decide how money is appropriated, and the president is challenging what that means.

MARTIN: But, David, where is the money going to come from? I mean, the White House has suggested that there will be all kinds of pots of money that the national emergency will give the president access to.

WELNA: Right.

MARTIN: What pots of money?

WELNA: Well, it's most certainly not pots of money coming from Mexico to pay for a wall, despite all the president's earlier promises. These pots of money are all funding that Congress has already approved for other purposes. And mostly they seem to be associated with the Department of Defense, which gets about two-thirds of the money that Congress approves each year. We don't have the specifics yet from the White House, but it appears that Trump is going to try to raid other accounts to add more than $6 billion to the $1.375 billion that Congress has approved for a border barrier for a total of $8 billion. That's a lot more than the $5.7 billion he'd been seeking. And most of that money - $3 1/2 billion - is expected to come from the Pentagon's military construction budget.

And that's likely to anger a lot of defense hawks on both sides of the aisle because that money was all meant to be spent improving military bases. There's also about $2 1/2 billion in the Defense Department's drug interdiction program that Trump is expected to tap, as well as another $600 million from Treasury's drug forfeiture fund.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. So the president has been expressing concern about drug trafficking across the border, and he's going to take away drug trafficking interdiction money in order to build the wall. Is that correct?

WELNA: That's right. And I guess he would argue that while this is all about stopping drugs, and that's what the military money was meant for, that's what I'm going to do with it too.

MARTIN: Which is just fascinating - because if if that money were available, they would have appropriated it that way in the first place because, at its core, this is all a spending debate. This is all about creating the budget, as is Congress's writ to do. And if that money had been available, they would have done it the first time.

WELNA: Right. And they shortchanged the president on what he wanted. But it was saying basically Congress judges that this is as much money as you should get for this.

MARTIN: So there are national emergencies - I mean, it's nothing new, right? And there are dozens that are currently active - is that right, David? What are these?

WELNA: There are dozens that are active. But they're mainly actions that are freezing the assets of foreigners in U.S. banks - that kind of thing. President Trump has actually done a couple of those things. This is very unusual that a president would declare a national emergency to get money that Congress would not give him, effectively making it an end run around Congress. In fact, it's hard to find any other president who's ever done this. So we're in uncharted waters right now.

MARTIN: Sue, any inclination as to what happens, like, over the next hours and days?

DAVIS: Well, as David said, we really are looking for where exactly the president's going to draw all this money from. Remember. We knew the White House was thinking about this. So Democrats have also been prepared for this. In the response to the State of the Union, one of their responses - California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a former member of Congress, cited this national emergency threat and said if the president were to go forward on this, Democrats were prepared, and he would file action in court the day the president signs the declaration. So we're looking for the specifics on it and then who in the Democratic Party are going to bring these suits.

MARTIN: Interesting. I remember interviewing independent Angus King of Maine when the shutdown had just begun. And he predicted, as others did, that the only way that people could save face and keep the government open was this idea of a national emergency. And now they're going to have to deal with it. NPR's Susan Davis and David Welna. Thanks so much, you guys.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

WELNA: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: All right. When Amazon announced they were looking for cities to house their new headquarters, it was almost like a popularity contest.

INSKEEP: A very expensive popularity contest.

MARTIN: Indeed.

INSKEEP: Cities submitted proposals about all the amazing things they could offer Amazon. And in turn, the corporation promised a lot of jobs and an economic boost. After a long highly publicized search, New York was selected as one of two locations, along with Alexandria outside of Washington, D.C. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was delighted.

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BILL DE BLASIO: This was unprecedented. And Amazon had a national competition because they had something worth competing for.

INSKEEP: But just three months later, that relationship has come to an end because Amazon announced yesterday that it is canceling the plans for its New York City campus.

MARTIN: NPR's business correspondent Alina Selyukh joins us in studio to explain why. We should also note Amazon is an NPR underwriter. Alina, good morning.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So Amazon made a huge deal about the search for these locations and the announcement. You'd think they would have thought through all the potential pitfalls, right? What happened in New York?

SELYUKH: I think this really was quite the jarring development for everybody involved. I mean, we were hearing from some local groups who were meeting with Amazon officials as early as Thursday morning. And nobody in those meetings seemed to know that this was coming. The hugest sticking point in all of this for the critics was the fact that the city and the state were offering a really large subsidy package to Amazon - tax breaks of almost $3 billion.

MARTIN: Right.

SELYUKH: Add to that the upset city council. This was really big. Amazon had picked an approval process that involved the mayor and the governor but gave city council no real power over the deal - upset city council.

MARTIN: Right.

SELYUKH: And also in a way, this was a reflection of the rise of the progressive left. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had been an outspoken critic, and her district is near the area where Amazon wanted to build the new HQ. And there's something to be said about New York groups really knowing how to mobilize.

In this case, housing groups, union groups, all kinds of groups came together at those city council hearings where Amazon was just pummeled. And the supporters had their arguments too. A potential of 25,000 well-paying jobs is nothing to sneeze at - plus in the area of Queens that doesn't really have a tech presence. But supporters weren't as visible as the activists. And really in New York, this played out more like a political fight than a business negotiation.

MARTIN: So can I ask about the argument of AOC? It was just - we don't think Amazon is going to give enough back to our local community. It's not worth it - the tax breaks basically.

SELYUKH: Yes.

MARTIN: So what are we hearing from inside Amazon at this point about what it means for their headquarters expansions worldwide?

SELYUKH: Right. So they're saying they can't really do a project in a place where local elected officials don't want to work with them. And they will not be looking for a replacement location, although certainly other cities are probably calling them now. We saw Chicago officials publicly saying they'd welcome a reconsideration from Amazon. And even back in New York, while Amazon critics celebrated last night, many people were torn about how this played out. Maybe they didn't love the financials of the deal, but they didn't want Amazon to just walk away.

We spoke to Chris Hanway, executive director of a Queens-based nonprofit Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement. And he said he'd kept his mind open about the HQ deal and was sad about the lost job opportunities for Queens residents. But he also said Amazon hasn't been fully forthcoming with answers to some of the questions the local groups had.

CHRISTOPHER HANWAY: I think this is a real lesson for everybody who - whether you're on the organizing side or you're on the corporate side - about the importance of communication.

MARTIN: Communication - so, Alina, just briefly, this is a model for economic development. A lot of cities luring businesses with tax breaks. Is this going to change anything to that model?

SELYUKH: It's hard to say. The system that was run on tax incentives has existed for a long time. But because this will go down in history as such a high-profile failure to strike an agreement, I'm sure that the activists who opposed taxpayer-funded incentives will forever use this as fodder for the broad campaign against these kind of megadeals.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Alina Selyukh for us this morning - Alina, thank you.

SELYUKH: Thank you.

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