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Trump Appears Poised To Declare A National Emergency To Get Wall Built


Today the partial government shutdown has hit a record. It is now tied for the longest shutdown in U.S. history. And it's almost certain to set a new record as the longest ever, with chances of a breakthrough in talks seeming more remote than ever. In fact, President Trump appears ready to declare a national emergency in order to sidestep Congress and build a border wall.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency, the lawyers have so advised me. I'm not prepared to do that yet. But if I have to, I will. I have no doubt about it. I will. This is a crisis.

GREENE: All right. We have NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis in the studio with us. Good morning, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: OK, so it seems like a stalemate - not much action. But there's been some action on Capitol Hill to try and reopen the government, right? So what is happening, and why are there - the hope's pretty dim that it'll mean anything?

DAVIS: There had been a flurry of activity this week, particularly in the Senate, among senators who thought they might be able to come up with a compromise to put forward to the president and to Democrats. They've kind of abandoned ship on that. One of the senators involved in that effort is Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. And he essentially came out publicly yesterday and said, I do not see any path forward for a deal; the only way out of this is for President Trump to declare a national emergency - and essentially encouraged him to do so.

GREENE: OK, so this national emergency - I mean, I have so much to ask you here. I mean, there are questions about whether the president has legal authority to do this. But this may actually be an opening to get government workers back to work, right?

DAVIS: It could in theory. If the president declares an emergency and says he's going to marshal resources to build the wall and sidestep Congress, it could allow them to reopen government because it would take the wall issue out of the budget debate. It does create, however, an entirely separate legal question of, would it be challenged in the courts? Would it be held up in the courts? You know, would it - would they have to pause until the court would weigh in on this? And also this question of executive overreach, which has been, for most Republicans on Capitol Hill, a really big concern in recent years. Particularly, it's something that they accused President Obama of doing - of essentially sidestepping the legislative branch to enact policy that Congress simply hasn't approved.

GREENE: Oh, interesting. So Republicans could be in a weird spot where Democrats would be saying you complained about this with Obama for eight years; look at what your president is doing.

DAVIS: And they would likely stand behind President Trump on this as they have on most issues even when they feel uncomfortable about it.

GREENE: But so if he goes ahead and declares this emergency, you're saying this could become, like, a prolonged legal battle. And it's not clear if an actual emergency could go into place until the courts actually addressed it.

DAVIS: That's right. And it's weird because I don't think there is a dispute that the president has broad powers when he declares a national emergency. They gave - he has this power for reasons. But often when the president has invoked these powers, it has been after 9/11 or after Hurricane Katrina - moments when, I think, the country as a whole recognized we were in a state of emergency, and there was no dispute to invoking those powers.

GREENE: We've been talking about our current state of politics - the tribalism...

DAVIS: Yeah.

GREENE: ...The anger, the partisanship, the gridlock. I mean, this feels like it's a new moment - to sort of take stock of that - if the only way out of a debate over how to open the government is to have a president declaring an emergency.

DAVIS: I also think it goes to the symbolism of the wall. There's so much about this debate that isn't really a policy fight. It's really a political fight. And it's a political knife fight, increasingly. And the White House and his advisers see the wall - if he gives up on the wall, if he walks away from that, it will so dispirit his base that it could cripple his presidency. Senator Lindsey Graham has said as much.

On the other end, Democrats just won a big election in which the president weaponized immigration and the border in the closing weeks of the campaign. And Democrats won big, and they took control of the House. And they see the public on their side. And they see no reason to compromise with the president, knowing what it could mean for him if he loses on the wall.

GREENE: And one other thing to note in news out of Congress - we have the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen who's going to be testifying on Capitol Hill next month it's sounding like now. That could be interesting.

DAVIS: It will be the first in what is expected to be a year of high-profile intense hearings from Capitol Hill now that Democrats are in control. They have oversight authority. They have subpoena power. They intend to use it. We know much of what Michael Cohen has said, but most of it - it has been read. He was into the courts, and it was not on television. He will have a chance to testify publicly. And he issued a statement, noting yesterday, he is coming up voluntarily. And he is looking eager to talk to Congress.

GREENE: NPR's Susan Davis. Sue, thanks.

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

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Susan Davis
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.