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Sen. Kaine Responds To Trump's Emergency Declaration


Just a short time ago, President Trump stood in the Rose Garden and declared a national emergency to secure funding for his long-promised border wall.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So we're going to be signing today and registering national emergency. And it's a great thing to do because we have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people. And it's unacceptable.

MARTIN: This, of course, comes after Congress struggled to come up with a compromise to avoid another government shutdown. And the compromise was to give President Trump $1.375 billion for fencing or other barrier - not a wall, explicitly. And that was less than the president wanted. So he HAS now declared a national emergency in order to secure the remaining funds. I'm joined now by Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat and a member of the Armed Service Committee. Senator Kaine, thanks for being here.

TIM KAINE: You bet, Rachel. Glad to talk.

MARTIN: What struck you about the president's remarks? Anything surprise you? I guess you assumed that this was coming. You knew it was coming.

KAINE: Well, it seems so. And so we're certainly going to challenge the emergency declaration. But here's what struck me about the remarks. When he talks about the national emergency, the first thing he said was because of drugs coming into the country. The president is proposing to strip $2.5 billion away from the DOD's drug interdiction program to help pay for this vanity project. So if drugs are really a problem, he's going to take $2.5 billion out of drug interdiction? And then the second thing for your listeners - $3.5 billion out of military construction projects. Last year, the secretary of defense said there's $116 billion backlog of these projects. Thirty-two percent of DOJ facilities are either poor or failing. We just had a hearing this week about deplorable conditions in housing on military bases - black mold, lead, all kinds of other problems. And the president is taking money away from these troops and their families to fund this vanity project. We're going to challenge him in the Armed Services Committee.

MARTIN: Although it's our understanding there is no hard and fast definition or description of what the standard is to declare a national emergency. So he is technically within his powers to declare this. At least that's how it appears on its face.

KAINE: Well, that's certainly what he is saying. And as your correspondent indicated, there are different components. It may be that for access to some of the Treasury asset forfeiture funds, he doesn't even need an emergency declaration. But he certainly needs the emergency declaration to pull out all these military construction projects. And this testimony of military families this week from Virginia and elsewhere about deplorable conditions and housing on our military bases - hurricanes last fall decimated two bases - Lejeune in North Carolina and Tyndall in Florida that need to be rebuilt. Diverting one-third of the military construction moneys for the entire year when we have all these significant needs to fund this vanity project is a big mistake. And the Armed Services Committee is going to be on top of him about it.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Senator, this is Scott Detrow.

KAINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: Looks like we're going to have a Senate vote in the next few weeks on this resolution pushing back at the president's emergency declaration. A lot of Senate Republicans are saying they're not comfortable with this decision by President Trump, that they disagree with it. We've seen so many instances where Republicans in the Senate have not liked a policy but ended up voting along with the president. Have you had any conversations with your Senate Republican colleagues that indicate that this might be different, that President Trump might lose this vote in the Senate?

KAINE: Yes. I haven't vote counted on the Republican side, but they're worried about two things - one, that it just seems like a breach of the constitutional power that Congress should appropriate money. But also, if you let the president - if you let this president declare an emergency, the next Democratic president will be declaring emergencies, as well. I think they're afraid of that. The House will, I think, reject this effort. And it's going to be a very close one in the Senate. We'll push hard against the president using the power in this way.

MARTIN: Senator Tim Kame (ph) - Tim Kaine, rather - Democrat of Virginia. Senator, always great to have you. Thanks so much.

KAINE: Thanks, guys. Take care.

MARTIN: And NPR's Scott Detrow is still in the studio with me. So we heard Senator Kaine there sound, from a Democrat's perspective, optimistic that he can convince some Republicans to abandon the president on this issue. That'd be a big deal.

DETROW: That's true. And that would probably be the first bill that President Trump vetoes since he's taken office. You know, I think the politics - we've talked a lot about the fact checking already here. I think some of the political angles are interesting. President Trump really lost a lot of points in his approval rating over the course of the shutdown. It was not popular. By and large, voters blamed the president for it. There's been a lot of polling on the idea of an emergency declaration. And it has been resoundingly unpopular. Something like 65 percent of voters, if I'm recalling a CNN poll correctly that was from a few weeks ago, opposed this idea. So President...

MARTIN: As a national emergency.

DETROW: Yes. So President Trump is once again making a decision that I think, by and large, voters across the country would be unhappy with, though, of course, as is the story in so many policies he's taken, that core group of Trump supporters are onboard with this. So he's making another calculation here. And I'm very curious to see how this plays out politically, especially if Congress does send him a bill to veto in the coming weeks.

MARTIN: Well, I found it notable that he did not come out and declare the national emergency. He had a long preamble where he talked about the trade negotiations with China, talked about the itinerary for his North Korean summit in Thailand. It didn't seem like confident posturing ahead of an announcement like this.

DETROW: He has been warned by a lot of allies in Congress - Republican allies - that they think this is a bad idea for the reasons that Senator Kaine and others were just explaining. It really seemed like this was the only political choice left for President Trump other than just signing the bill that was sent to him and moving on and trying to fight for border wall funding in the next round of appropriations next fall. All reports from our reporters and others are that President Trump does not love the position that he's in. But this seems like his only choice left from his point of view on this border wall fight that began back in December.

MARTIN: All right. NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow for us. And we were listening to President Trump as he declared a national emergency to secure border funding. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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