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Week In Politics: Trump's National Emergency Declaration

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

So now we're going to talk more about the political response to all of this, and for that I'm joined by Matthew Yglesias of Vox. Welcome back to the studio.

MATTHEW YGLESIAS: Glad to be here.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times - welcome back, David.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.

CORNISH: OK, so let's talk about the response. First of all, it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who announced this yesterday, and people were trying to read something into McConnell being the one to say this since it had been reported that he was against the idea. David, what was your read on what the majority leader was doing?

BROOKS: Well, I've lived through many - we've had many national emergencies - Valley Forge, Pearl Harbor, now the battle for Donald Trump's ego. I don't think this is anything like a national emergency. It's just - he's awarding himself a performance trophy because he lost the shutdown. And so there's more to me about his state of mind.

I don't think there's a Republican senator in the Senate who in - deep in his heart of hearts thinks this is anything other than a gross attack on any concept of conservative governance and the Constitution. But this was the prize they gave Trump in exchange for really not inviting him to be part of the - to the budget negotiations.

CORNISH: Matthew?

YGLESIAS: Well, I mean, it's extremely telling that in the actual budget negotiations, they not only didn't give the $5.6 billion that Trump had been asking for. They came up with a money - money for border security that was less than the deal he had rejected months ago, right? So you can tell Senate Republicans were not that invested in this whole concept. And I think they reached the conclusion that letting Trump or saying that they would support the emergency declaration was the quickest way out of this. And then we're going to leave it for the courts to sort out.

CORNISH: Now, we know that Democrats have said that they want to essentially file a resolution that could block the president from doing this. We also heard Nancy Pelosi's response, which was very specific. I want to play it for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: Let's talk about today, the one-year anniversary of another manifestation of the epidemic of gun violence in America. That's a national emergency. Why don't you declare that emergency, Mr. President? I wish you would. But a Democratic president can do that.

CORNISH: That little not-so-subtle reminder that this could be a tool that could be wielded by a Democratic president, and you guys should all think about that - is this a moment for Republicans to reassert authority over the party, to basically take that step. If you say, David, that they are all against, are we really going to see them be - put the vote on the line?

BROOKS: They probably will not. They should, but they are supine. They did have the guts not to really invite anybody from the White House to negotiations. They do not have the guts to stand up to Donald Trump publicly. And so you're seeing a lot of Republicans who warned him not to do this suddenly embracing it.

You'll see an awful lot of Republicans who were really apoplectic when Barack Obama did something remotely like this about immigration and the DREAMers, but they - the - it has been an erosion of institutional power in Congress over the last 20 or 30 years. I do not know why they don't seize power. They were elected just like anybody else. But for some reason, they almost run away from any seizure of their constitutional rights.

CORNISH: Matthew, I don't know what that leaves you.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: David Brooks calls everyone supine and says, give it up, guys.

YGLESIAS: I think it's important to understand, though, that Pelosi and Democrats to some extent are posturing here. There's no legal mechanism through which a president could use a state of emergency to take meaningful gun control actions, right? I mean, this is a real statutory authority. The emergency is fake.

CORNISH: But her use of that example is not subtle, right? I mean, she's trying to use some keywords there that should terrify conservatives.

YGLESIAS: Exactly. I just - I don't think it's realistic. I mean, don't expect the next Democratic president to actually do that. I think what you should expect is a new round of appropriations fights, right? Trump is using emergency declarations to raid a military construction fund and a drug interdiction fund in order to do wall construction.

If Democrats lose in the courts, they're going to come back to Congress next year, and they're going to attach a legal stipulation to the military construction fund saying under no circumstances going to be used for border security or else they're going to not want to appropriate money for military construction at all. There's no ultimate loophole out of the conflict with Congress here.

BROOKS: I'm not quite sure I agree with that one. When you degrade norms, when you degrade standards, they tend to continue to degrade.

CORNISH: That was my question, right? Is this a tenting tool for the next party basically?

BROOKS: For any president who wants to appropriate money to some favorite project, he has now the established credibility. And he's - he can do it or at least he has the precedent. And so I tend to think he will do it. This is just one more step in the degradation of institutional power. Once - Congress has the power of the purse, and if Congress is not willing to enforce that power, then presidents are going to grab it again and again and again.

CORNISH: OK. The potential block to that - right? - the courts. And see you in court was a refrain used by more than one Democrat today, including California Governor Gavin Newsom. What are the political risk for the president that come with yet another protracted legal battle, one he clearly acknowledged today in his speech?

YGLESIAS: I mean, it seems like this is what Republicans are sort of hoping for is that they can - instead of them having a conflict with the president, that the courts will put a stop to this that will prevent Democrats from using this as a precedent in the future. And they can all just sort of say they're mad at John Roberts, right?

BROOKS: Yeah. And one of the odd things here is it's - this is the perfectly awful political judgment of Jared Kushner. Before this, he was in favor of firing Comey. And so everyone's sort of casting blame on him. He ginned up his father-in-law. And I do think Republicans are secretly hoping the courts will just make all this go away.

CORNISH: One thing of note - people asked the president about whether he'd been listening to the debate on conservative media, how much it had shaped his views on the national emergency. Here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They don't decide policy. In fact, if I went opposite, I mean, have somebody - Ann Coulter. I don't know her. I hardly know her. I haven't spoken to her in way over a year. But the press loves saying Ann Coulter.

CORNISH: He ran through the names of many others - right? - on the conservative media side. And it felt like it - it felt like he felt like he had to address this. Has that pressure been more real than he's acknowledging here?

BROOKS: I think a little. I should say I was - my mentor was William F. Buckley, and now Ann Coulter's the chief conservative columnist. This is decline. You know, I do think there's been a shift - and this has been constant throughout the Trump era. Every conservative magazine is against this. National Review, they're all writing very strong editorials against this. In the public - the broadcast TV media, they're a lot more on his side. And he has to - I think he weirdly fears an Ann Coulter run from the right in the primaries.

YGLESIAS: Yeah. I mean, he's clearly interested in what conservative media has to say. And, you know, he may not have spoken to Ann Coulter in over a year, but it's widely reported that he speaks with Sean Hannity very frequently. He regards Fox News hosts in particular as critical allies.

CORNISH: And they had been critical of the compromise deal.

YGLESIAS: Exactly. And this is important to him to maintain their support.

CORNISH: That's Matthew Yglesias of Vox and David Brooks of The New York Times. I'm sure we'll be talking about this more in the future. Thanks, guys.

BROOKS: Thank you.

YGLESIAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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