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The Power Of Congress After Trump's Emergency Declaration


President Trump's declaration of a national emergency along the southern border has been criticized by congressional Democrats, but some Republicans, conservative activists and thinkers are also voicing concerns. James Wallner is with the R Street Institute, a pro-free market conservative research group and joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

JAMES WALLNER: It's a pleasure.

SIMON: Do you have reservations or objections?

WALLNER: I think what we've seen over the past couple of days is really the epitome of dysfunction in our government at present. So I say, yes, I have a lot of objections to what we're seeing.

SIMON: Constitutional?

WALLNER: I think across the board. This is emblematic of the broader problem that we face, which is Congress not doing its job in pushing off issues that the American people want to adjudicate to the president who then uses dubious authorities to do things that he couldn't otherwise do. It's about the very basis, the very nature of our regime.

SIMON: What effect do you think this declaration of national emergency might have on that?

WALLNER: I think it makes everybody just a little more cynical, right? Here we have a situation where Congress has been facing this issue for months. We had the longest shutdown in American history. And they chose not to do anything about it. So far as I can tell, people who opposed the wall didn't try to win that debate. People who supported the war didn't try to win that debate. And the president didn't seem to be overly interested in trying to win that debate.

And then we have a Congress who just passed a bill knowing full well that this was the most likely outcome, and they chose not to even try to stop it. But now that the bill has passed, the shutdown has been prevented, the government has been funded, the president can come out and say he's going to do this now. And you have people saying that we're shredding the Constitution, that this is the end of the world, that we need to act, that we need to stop something.

Well, the time to act was before you pass a bill to give the president money to fund the government. The time to act - if you want to force a vote on this, if you want to force Republicans in the Senate to go on record if you're a House Democrat, for instance, then you put language in the bill saying the president can't use national emergency powers to build a wall.

SIMON: You mean senators - well, we could list their names - Susan Collins.

WALLNER: Right. I mean, don't vote for a bill that is going to make something that you think is really damaging to our country, to the Republic, more likely to occur. Just don't do it, No. 1. No. 2, actually go out and try to put things in the bill to prevent the thing that you think is so damaging to our republic from happening.

SIMON: You know the answer to that - they want to win re-election, and they're particularly concerned about primaries.

WALLNER: I think we overstate this, right? I really do. I think we overstate the threat that primaries pose, No. 1, to members. No. 2, what I would suggest is, OK, so what? That's your job. It's comes with the territory, right? And last time I checked, the Constitution wasn't written so that members could win re-election without threat, right? That's not the point.

The whole point - the whole basis of our regime of democratic accountability is so that members are held accountable for the decisions they make in office, not to push those decisions off elsewhere so that they can just keep winning. The only place where our views and our concerns are adjudicated in this wonderful nation of ours is in Congress. It's the only place. And if Congress isn't doing that, then Congress isn't doing its job.

SIMON: So you seem less concerned that the president is overreaching than that the Congress is sitting on its hands.

WALLNER: I think that is the much bigger concern. The president most certainly it appears to be overreaching, right? I mean, this law has been passed presumably not to do end runs around Congress when the president can't get what he or she wants. So if you want funding, it seems to me, the best way to get it is to actually bargain and haggle and try to - and refuse to sign bills that don't give you that funding.

That's the way the Constitution envisions the process working - not to say it doesn't matter. I'll just get it anyway when you fund the bill, when you send me that funding bill. And then the president's going to presumably not act. And he's going to lay down the shovels. And he's going to turn off the tractors at the border when the courts come along and probably issue an injunction. And so now we've even further undermined the Constitution. And then, all of a sudden, everybody gets upset.

And then we scratch our heads, and we look around, and we wonder why things are so heated when Supreme Court justices like Brett Kavanaugh are up for confirmation. Well, the political branches are pushing everything towards the courts. And that appears to me to be the trajectory we're on with this wall.

SIMON: James Wallner, senior fellow with the R Street Institute, former vice president for research at The Heritage Foundation, thanks so much for being with us.

WALLNER: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.