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Rep. Joe Courtney On Trump's Emergency Declaration


Democrats and even some Republicans in Congress are now wondering how to handle President Trump's new power. On Friday, he declared a national emergency and granted himself the authority to take U.S. military funding and redirect it to the southern border, where he hopes to build a wall. Congress has the power of the purse, so will it act to overturn the president's emergency declaration? White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller told "Fox News Sunday" the president would veto any attempt to strip this emergency.


STEPHEN MILLER: He's going to protect his national emergency declaration, guaranteed.

GREENE: Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Joe Courtney of Connecticut. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman, welcome.

JOE COURTNEY: Good morning.

GREENE: So is there going to be a formal response from Congress to the president's declaration?

COURTNEY: Absolutely. The House Armed Services Committee has already been actively pursuing with the Department of Defense what exactly is the list of military construction projects that the White House and the Department of Defense is going to defund in order to pay for the 3.6 billion that the president proposes to divert from military construction. Again, this is funding which is hard-fought and precious, and it goes through a Pentagon vetting process for military value.

So for the White House to just come in and raid that account without any list or any explanation is something that the committee is going to definitely focus on like a laser. And, you know, as far as all of us that are taking a look at this with Mr. Smith, the chairman, and others, this is a complete misuse of that - of the statute. So it's a misuse of two statutes, one declaring the emergency and secondly diverting these funds.

GREENE: Well, I want to ask you. I mean, the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, was speaking to reporters over the weekend. And he...


GREENE: He said what you said. The Pentagon is still reviewing this, but they have not yet determined whether a wall is a, quote, "military necessity," which made me wonder. Is it - is there a chance here the Pentagon might come out and contradict the commander in chief?

COURTNEY: Well, they should in my opinion because, as I said, the list of projects is not congressional pork or earmarks. The process starts at the installation level, goes up to the regional offices for the different military branches, then to the Pentagon and then to Congress. So - and again, military value is the test. It's not political value. And so for the Pentagon to now come in and defund these projects that have been scrubbed so hard is something that, you know, they're contradicting themselves. And I'm glad to hear...

GREENE: But is it possible - sorry to interrupt you.

COURTNEY: Go ahead.

GREENE: Is it possible they'll come up with a list that might be acceptable to you if they say, you know, these are not things that have to be funded right now - this is money that could be available to the president?

COURTNEY: So right - last year, the Pentagon testified that there is $116 billion of unfunded facility requirements right now throughout the entire armed services, and 32 percent of facilities are in poor or failing condition. Again, I represent a military district, the Groton sub base. I know what these military construction projects involve, which are new piers, new training facilities, like the submarine escape trainer that they have down there.

I mean, this is not frills. This is not, you know, gold - you know, silver sneakers. This is real stuff that military installations need. And I will tell you that a lot of my colleagues on the Republican side are very upset about MILCON being basically used as a piggy bank for this effort.

GREENE: But I want to read just a few words from the federal statute that President Trump has cited, that the law says that when an emergency is declared, quote, "the secretary of defense, without regard to any other provision of law, may undertake military construction projects." At the end of the day, even if you disagree with the list the Pentagon comes up with, couldn't President Trump working with the secretary of defense basically say there's money, and they're going to use it to build a wall?

COURTNEY: Well, the statute also says that it has to be used for supporting the use of armed forces in an emergency. So for example, after 9/11 or Operation Desert Shield, that statute was invoked by the two Bush presidents for about $1 billion. And again, it was done to upgrade security after 9/11, some facilities overseas. There was clearly, you know, kinetic military operations and a - an emergency that every American would stipulate to.

In this case, you know, the military doesn't own the property on the borders, which is also another requirement in the statute, that it - these projects have to be on property that is owned by the military. And again, there is, I think, a high degree of skepticism that in fact...

GREENE: Congressman, you still with us?

COURTNEY: ...The same category. Yeah. I'm sorry. That the wall...

GREENE: Sorry. We lost you for a second.

COURTNEY: OK - that the wall falls into the category of, you know, what we saw back at 9/11 and Operation Desert Shield.

GREENE: OK. So a disagreement over whether or not this is an emergency. I want to just ask you, though. I want to take you back to 2012. President Obama was frustrated that Congress hadn't come up with a comprehensive solution on immigration. You know, he had a priority, which was to protect DREAMers, people who were kids when they came into the U.S. illegally.

And he took executive action. And he said, in the absence of immigration reform from Congress to fix our broken immigration system, what we've tried to do is focus our immigration enforcement resources in the right places. I know President Trump's priority is obviously different. But how is his position different?

COURTNEY: Well, first of all, Obama did not tap into MILCON funds to implement that order, which, again, is a second level of statutory, you know, action by the executive branch and again, you know, creates a whole new set of legal issues, which I don't think the president has demonstrated so far anyway that, you know, he satisfies the statute.

And secondly, I mean, I just feel that, you know, the DACA order that the president issued really was about the Justice Department and immigration authorities in terms of using discretion about whether to deport kids. This is - this falls into a totally different realm of moving money around in accounts that Congress has already authorized and appropriated and, again, on very shaky legal basis.

GREENE: Congressman, we'll have to stop there. Congressman Joe Courtney of Connecticut, thank you so much.

COURTNEY: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.