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GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger On Why He's Behind Trump's National Emergency Declaration


We're going to hear now from one of the Republicans standing with President Trump on his emergency declaration. Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois voted no on the House resolution. I spoke with him earlier today and asked him what made up his mind.

ADAM KINZINGER: Well, I deployed to the border. I'm a National Guard pilot. I did two weeks of service. My unit was actually down there for two months. And as reservists, we got out and help them for a couple of weeks and went down and actually flew the mission.

And I went down neutral. You know, I have never been afraid to call the president out when I thought he was wrong. But, you know, what I saw there - a significant amount of drugs coming over the border and human trafficking. It really would break my heart to see...

SHAPIRO: Though if I could pause you, the numbers show that the majority of drugs pass through checkpoints and that...

KINZINGER: Yeah, 'cause they can detect them.

SHAPIRO: ...A wall wouldn't make a significant difference.

KINZINGER: Yeah. They can detect them through checkpoints. So that's where they confiscate them. That's where they can determine the amount of drugs coming through. When you have drugs come over a porous border wall and you can't detect it, it's kind of hard to tell.

I can tell you that the number of people that we intercepted, they did either drop bundles - in which case they run, and Border Patrol goes after them and try to retrieve the bundle - or they have drugs on them. My - one of my crews actually picked up somebody with 70 pounds of meth, and we were just a pretty small part of it. But...


KINZINGER: ...The human trafficking is the other big thing that I don't think people talk enough about.

SHAPIRO: Your colleagues who oppose the emergency declaration say Congress was fully aware of the situation at the border when they voted not to approve the full 5.7 billion that the president wanted for a wall. They call this, as we heard, an end run around Congress's constitutional authority to set a budget. What's wrong with that argument in your view?

KINZINGER: Well, no, look; I would have loved to have done it through Congress. I voted for doing it through Congress. But when I went down to the border and I saw what I saw and then I came up and looked at the law of national emergencies - I looked at some of the emergencies that exist currently - I said I think within the scope of this law, it's constitutional, and the president has the authority to do it.

That will be determined, obviously, in the courts. From my perception, he does have it. I saw an emergency myself, and that's why I've made the decision I've had. But I totally see what everybody comes at this on both sides.

SHAPIRO: In the budget that Congress passed and Trump signed, there was funding for drug inspection, extra Customs and Border Protection officers, more money for immigration judges to deal with the backup, money for humanitarian relief. So it seems like Congress did address much of what you're calling an emergency. They just chose not to fund all of the wall as a policy decision.

KINZINGER: Yeah, I agree. And, look; a lot of that is issues. They're all issues. But when the president has the right under Congress to declare a national emergency, he has the right to move funds, for instance, from Counterdrug, which can be moved in from other places. This is not new money. It's being spent. That does fall under the national emergency.

And I looked at what I saw, and I said, look; I have a decision to make. Do I want to terminate the president's national emergency, which is interesting 'cause this bill that we're going to vote on is terminating the national emergency, not saying that it's not constitutional? And I made the decision that I am not going to terminate it.

SHAPIRO: As a member of the military, are you worried that this move takes money away from important military projects?

KINZINGER: Well, if he ends up getting to the part of the money that is military construction - I don't think they'll get to that pot of money by the end of the fiscal year - then it'll be interesting to see on that because - but if you look at when it comes to building a border wall or securing a border wall, some of that can be considered military construction.

And while I never like to see the military lose any money, I'm sure there are projects - as I've seen many front gates of bases be rebuilt that don't need rebuilt - where we can find a way to do that.

SHAPIRO: Your fellow Republican, Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post where he said he supports President Trump's vision of border security, but as a member of Congress, he needs to preserve the separation of powers. He wrote, there is no intellectual honesty in now turning around and arguing that there is an imaginary asterisk attached to executive overreach, that it is acceptable from my party but not thy party.

How do you respond to that?

KINZINGER: Well, look; I mean, I respect Thom Tillis a lot. I respect people, and you've put - you've responded to me with every counterargument to what I'm saying. I respect all those counterarguments. I'm just saying when I look at having been at the border, when I saw what I saw - which a lot of people have never seen anything like it - and I'm faced with the decision of I'm going to terminate a national emergency or declare that it, under the law exists, that's the decision I made.

I think it's the right decision. I wish Congress would have appropriated this money. But I got to tell you, the human trafficking element of this - I wish people could go see it for themselves...

SHAPIRO: All right.

KINZINGER: ...When drug-funded coyotes leave people in the desert to die.

SHAPIRO: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, always good to talk with you. Thank you.

KINZINGER: You too. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.