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Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin On Border Wall


Let's hear some responses to news announced yesterday on the floor of the United States Senate. Lawmakers were preparing to vote on a border security measure when Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky stood at his desk. He said President Trump will sign that measure but will also declare a national emergency and claim money for a wall that the bill does not include. McConnell said he supports this, even though he has said in private it is a bad idea. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said that in public.


NANCY PELOSI: It's important to note that when the president declares this emergency, first of all, it's not an emergency. What's happening at the border, it's a humanitarian challenge to us. The president has tried to sell a bill of goods.

INSKEEP: Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland may not have been entirely surprised it's moving in this direction because he said last month that a national emergency declaration might be the best bad option. And Congressman Raskin is joining us from Maryland to talk about that.

Good morning.

JAMIE RASKIN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What makes this a better option than anything else that might have happened?

RASKIN: Well, I was speaking in the context when Trump was hell-bent on shutting down the government of the United States and keeping 800,000 federal workers idle or compelling them to work with no pay. So it was, I guess, the best bad option for channeling the president's mental energy. But look. This is a square peg in a round hole. This is not an emergency contemplated by any of the statutes the president is trying to invoke. These statutes deal with situations of war or, you know, some kind of national weather emergency, something like that. It's obviously not an emergency at the border when you've got historically low immigration levels taking place - illegal immigration levels. And, you know, it's down 60 or 70 percent from where it was in 2000. So the president's got a political emergency. But we don't have a military emergency.


RASKIN: That's ridiculous.

INSKEEP: OK. So this was a better idea than, say, another government shutdown but still something you're going to oppose, it sounds like.

RASKIN: Well, yes. It doesn't fit. And constitutionally, it's foreclosed to the president. There's a case that's directly controlling and on point called the Steel Seizure Case from 1952, where President Truman tried to convince Congress to give him the power to seize people's private property, specifically the steel mills. And Congress said no. Then he went around the backs of Congress to try to do it anyway. And the Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional. And that's precisely what's happening here. He tried to convince us like he tried to convince the Mexican government to start spending billions of dollars for a wall, which we don't think is necessary, much less a response to an emergency. And now having not gotten his way with Congress, he wants to usurp our appropriations power, which is built into the Constitution, in order to say he's just going to go ahead and spend the money from other places.

INSKEEP: That...

RASKIN: And that's plainly unconstitutional.

INSKEEP: That steel case is a great case because President Truman famously said at that time, the president has the power to keep the country from going to hell. And the Supreme Court said, actually, no, you do not. You have to get permission from Congress or in some law in order to do what you want to do. But then the question comes up for you, Congressman. How are lawmakers going to effectively oppose this, if at all?

RASKIN: Well, first of all, we're going to make clear that - what we just did, which is we have passed an appropriations bill that includes some money for some border reinforcement fencing. But we specifically rejected the idea of the wall. That's what the president's shutdown was all about. We said we're refusing to do that. And he said, well, then I'm going to hold my breath until my face turns blue. And everybody knows that's what happened, but we still said no. And a bipartisan majority after a conference committee came back and recommended to Congress that we not build it. So this is where we are. You know, the Constitution's set up in such a way that Congress gets to appropriate the people's money. And the founders were determined that that stick with the representatives of the people.

INSKEEP: But you probably don't have a veto-proof majority to stick it back at the president, which you could, theoretically, do. What do you do? Do you sue? Is that what you do?

RASKIN: Well, we're looking what the legal options are. Obviously, in, you know, this period of history, everything is new. Everything's a case of first impression. And we've got to decide what to do because we've never had a president, I think, in the 43-year history of the National Emergencies Act try to spend money for a purpose that's been specifically foreclosed to it by Congressional action. It was...

INSKEEP: But you did have - if I might interrupt you. We've just got a few seconds left. You did have a president - President Obama - who acted on a much bigger issue involving immigration having to do with people who were brought to the United States illegally as children. He went around Congress on that occasion. In about 30 seconds or so, was that a bad precedent to set?

RASKIN: Well, there was no declaration of an emergency. And there was no attempt to specifically violate a policy that had been established by Congress. And so Congress here has said, we're not building a wall. And the president is trying to do it without our authorization. And we just can't have that in our constitutional democracy.

INSKEEP: So the difference here to you is that you just voted to do the opposite of what the president is going to do. And it has to do with spending. Congressman, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

RASKIN: Totally my pleasure, Steve.

INSKEEP: Jamie Raskin is a member of the House of Representatives from Maryland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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