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Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon On Border Wall


Much of the reaction to President Trump's declaration of a national emergency has, unsurprisingly in these times, been along partisan lines. Democrats are outraged and want to investigate. Many Republican lawmakers are lining up behind Mr. Trump.

Representative Don Bacon, a Republican of Nebraska, a former brigadier general in the Air Force, sits on the House Homeland Security and Armed Services Committee. He joins us on the line from his home district in Nebraska. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Bacon.

DON BACON: Good morning. It's good to be with you.

SIMON: You have said in the past that there's a compelling case to be made for a border wall. The president says he has to declare a national emergency to build it. Do you agree?

BACON: Well, I agree that it needs more funding. I think the compromise that Schumer and Pelosi negotiated was very anemic. There should have been more money put towards the wall. But I don't agree that declaring a national emergency and getting funding that way is the right way to go. I mean, the Congress has the power of the purse, I believe, in checks and balances in our system.

And so I'm concerned - and not just for this president, but we've seen a series of presidents, when they can't get what they want out of Congress, do executive orders or national emergency - whatever it may be. And I just think it weakens our constitutional system and our republic.

So this isn't a direct criticism just of Trump. I just think I've been seeing this the last decade or two. But secondly, declaring a national emergency takes money out of the military construction and other areas that also need to be funded.

SIMON: $3.6 billion apparently.

BACON: Right.

SIMON: Yeah.

BACON: That's a significant amount. And so this will hurt military construction and some things that we need to be doing for our men and women defending our country. So I have concern in those two areas.

SIMON: Congress can rescind a presidential emergency declaration by passing a joint resolution, would you consider doing that?

BACON: I'll consider it. I haven't made up my mind yet because I do think there's a compelling case that we have a problem at our southern border. And I felt like it - the spending levels - the compromise should've been better. I was anticipating somewhere between 2 and 3 billion. And to see 1.37 billion I think it was, that was in the compromise, or 55 miles wall, I thought it was inadequate.

I thought the compromise should've been somewhere in the - more in the middle there. But having said that, I don't like working around our constitutional system and our checks and balances and the congressional Article I power of the purse to do so.

SIMON: Now, such are - the kind of joint resolution that some people are talking about would, in effect, be an up-and-down vote on the wall. Would that be a good thing for Congress and the American people?

BACON: You know, like I say, again, I have split feelings. We need to have more funding for the wall. But declaring a national emergency and taking it out of the military construction or working around Congress' Article I authorities, I don't think that's right either. So this is going to be something I'm going to have to really meditate and think on and work through and be a good listener.

I need to make sure I get both sides of this issue. I supported funding of the wall through the normal appropriations process. But declaring a national emergency, I just don't think it's healthy for our country and our constitutional system.

SIMON: Does declaring a national emergency create, without being histrionic, what amounts to a constitutional emergency?

BACON: I don't - I wouldn't go that far because we do have many examples of national emergencies. But we do have a bad trend. We have a Congress that's unable to act right now on hard issues because of gridlock, partisanship. And so tough issues aren't being settled by Congress. We're seeing presidents of both parties filling this void with executive action or, you know, unilateral decision making - or, in some cases, the judicial branch, legislating from the bench. And so I see an unhealthy trend. I think we have a constitutional problem.

I wouldn't call it a crisis, but some building up. Not just with this president - with President Obama, President Bush and President Clinton before that. So I want to go back to where Congress is an equal branch, one of three equal, you know, branches of our government. And right now you'll see a growing executive and judicial branch and a weakened legislative branch. And I don't think that's healthy. It's not what our Founding Fathers envisioned.

SIMON: Congressman Don Bacon of Nebraska, thanks so much for being with us.

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