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Rep. Chuck Fleischmann On Spending Deal And Emergency Declaration


President Trump will appear in the Rose Garden later this morning, where he will acknowledge his approval of a bill to avoid another government shutdown. But the real point of the pomp and circumstance is to declare a national emergency that, essentially, undermines the very bill he's going to sign. The legislation gives him far less money for a border wall than he demanded.

So as he threatened, the president is declaring a national emergency to get the rest of the money he wants. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the move lawless and told reporters that the president was making an end run around Congress.


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.

MARTIN: For more on the deal and the challenges ahead, we're joined by NPR's Susan Davis, who covers Congress. Hi, Sue.


MARTIN: How are Democrats - are Democrats, rather, going to fight this - the president's declaration of a national emergency?

DAVIS: They will, and they will on a couple of fronts. First, the same law that gives the president the authority to declare a national emergency gives Congress the same authority to take it away. They can do this by passing in the House and Senate resolutions of disapproval. If the House passes it, the Senate is forced to act. The political reality is it is unlikely Congress has the veto-proof majorities it would need to overrule the president here.

So in that regard, the Democrats are also looking to the courts. What exactly the president announces later today will determine that legal response. But Democrats, including California state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, have already said that they will file suit against the president once he makes this official.

MARTIN: Although this isn't just Democrats, right? Not all Republicans are on board with the declaration either.

DAVIS: It's not. They are divided. To some degree, there was surprise that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would support the president on this because we know he had expressed private reservations about it. Republicans are, potentially, rightly concerned about the precedent it could set if the president is allowed to go around Congress and redirect federal funds. There is a constitutional question here. And the Constitution is pretty clear in Article 1 that Congress gets to appropriate money. And if the president is able to challenge that successfully, it could mean all kinds of repercussions in the future of this country.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Susan Davis. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

MARTIN: We're joined now by Congressman Chuck Fleischmann from Tennessee. He is one of the Republicans who helped draft the legislation compromise that the president is expected to sign. Congressman, thanks for being back.

CHUCK FLEISCHMANN: Good morning - great to be with you.

MARTIN: So what do you make of this? I mean, do you believe the declaration of a national emergency undermines the bill that you just worked so hard to craft?

FLEISCHMANN: Well, let me basically take a thank you lap - not a victory lap but a thank you lap. This was a committee that came together Republicans and Democrats, Senators and House members. We worked well. We worked cordially. And we actually got a bill crafted that passed by overwhelming majorities in the House and the Senate.

MARTIN: But is it all for naught?

FLEISCHMANN: No, not at all. It actually keeps the government open and funds it. Now, look at it from a constitutional standpoint. The president has a role. Our judiciary has a role. But we, as the legislative branch, have a role. I believe constitutionally, that power is vested in us, in the legislative branch in Article 1. However, the president may have different views about that.

But our friends in Article III - the Supreme Court and the judiciary - may have other views. I want to see how the president responds before I either criticize or give him acclaim for this. I will give him praise for signing the bill because it was a very contentious but positive negotiation process. And we were successful.

MARTIN: And it does avert another government shutdown. But do I hear you correctly then? You haven't decided whether or not you support the president declaring a national emergency.

FLEISCHMANN: I want to see the context of it. I have not seen his rhetoric. The actual - if I were waiting on a bill from Congress, I'd wait to read it. I want to hear the president out, and then I will judge. Having said that, I do believe we were successful. Republicans got more border wall funding. We kept the ICE beds up. Democrats got some key priorities. Another thing that we worked together on was aid to Israel. There was a lot in this bill. There was tremendous common ground. So...

MARTIN: But the whole point was to come up with a compromise on how much money to devote to border security. There's a reason that it was only, you know, a fraction of what President Trump wanted. Initially, he wanted $5.7 billion for a wall. There's a reason Congress decided not to give him that money. So as a member of this body - Congress - what do you make of the fact that he is now saying, I don't care what you say, Congress? I'm going to do it this way.

FLEISCHMANN: I don't think the president is saying that. I think the president is saying, thank you for what you've given me now. Thank you for what you've given me in the past. Some people called this a down payment on the wall. It's more of a continuing payment on the wall. The wall is being funded. I've actually been to the border in several states and looked at it. This is nothing new. Wall funding is not something that just sprung up, so there's continuing...

MARTIN: Then why is it a national emergency?

FLEISCHMANN: Well, because if you've been to the border, as I have been - Congress is aware of the crisis at the border. Let me call it a crisis. It's a humanitarian crisis. It's a process crisis. We are seeing - I saw men, women and children in offices because there were no places to hold them. I talked to Border Patrol agents who are trying to stop drugs coming in. And they have to, basically...

MARTIN: But you're saying...

FLEISCHMANN: ...Go to the hospital.

MARTIN: ...That this is pedestrian funding of border security, that this is - you're trying to give the impression that this is something that was going to happen anyway. But the president is declaring a national emergency.

FLEISCHMANN: Well, the president - we elect the president to lead. We elect him to be the commander in chief. And we will wait and see where the constitutional lines are either drawn, blurred or held. And that's very important. And again, will the courts be involved? Probably. Will the legislature be involved? I have to go back to work right away as the ranking member - the highest Republican - on the homeland security subcommittee, work with Mrs. Roybal-Allard to craft a new bill in 2020.

MARTIN: We only have seconds left.

FLEISCHMANN: Yes, ma'am.

MARTIN: I should just note that the intelligence chiefs did not call it a security crisis in their recent threat assessment. I need to ask you about the precedent, though, that this may set. I mean, Democrats and Republicans have said if the president uses this power this way, what's to stop a Democratic president from declaring climate change or guns a national emergency?

FLEISCHMANN: That is a very valid concern from a constitutional standpoint. I think any time we look at executive power where there's the use of an executive order, under the Obama administration or other administrations, I was concerned. I want to see how this is articulated before I judge it. But I am going to continue to advocate for Article 1 for the legislature. That is my role. So I'm a big fan of Article 1. And I'm a big fan of the Constitution. Let's see how this plays out.

MARTIN: Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, Republican of Tennessee, thank you so much for your time, sir.

FLEISCHMANN: It's always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.