WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- President Donald Trump is prepared to issue the first veto of his term if Congress votes to disapprove his declaration of a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border, a top White House adviser said Sunday.
White House senior adviser Stephen Miller said on Fox News Sunday that "the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration." Asked if that meant Trump was ready to veto a resolution of disapproval, Miller added, "He's going to protect his national emergency declaration, guaranteed."
The West Wing is digging in for fights on multiple fronts as the president's effort to go around Congress to fund his long-promised border wall faces bipartisan criticism and multiple legal challenges. After lawmakers in both parties blocked Trump's requests for billions of dollars to fulfill his campaign pledge, the president declared a national emergency Friday to shift billions of federal dollars earmarked for military construction.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on ABC's This Week that his state would sue "imminently" to block the order, after the American Civil Liberties Union and the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen announced Friday that they were taking legal action.
In Washington, lawmakers, including some members of Trump's party, are divided as to whether the emergency declaration is legitimate or constitutes a power grab that must be stopped. Democratic members of Congress are preparing a joint resolution to repeal the national emergency in the coming weeks, and they are expecting some Republicans will cross the aisle to approve it.
"Frankly, the president is trying to take the power of the purse away from the legislative branch," Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said Sunday on This Week. "We are co-equal branches of government, and he is trying to do a type of executive overreach, and it's just really uncalled for."
Trump made his case for the action Friday during a Rose Garden speech, saying the United States is dealing with "an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people" and that a wall was absolutely necessary.
"I could do the wall over a longer period of time," Trump said then. "I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster."
Democrats and other critics have seized on those comments in particular as proof that Trump didn't need to declare a national emergency and, in doing so, was overreaching his executive authority.
Miller defended Trump's move, arguing that "this would not be even an issue if the president was invoking that statute to support some foreign adventure overseas."
When host Chris Wallace pressed him on Trump's own words, Miller insisted that there was an emergency at the southern border, saying there was an "increasing number of people crossing" and "a huge increase in drug deaths" in the years since George W. Bush was president.
When Wallace countered with government statistics that showed attempted border crossings were actually at the lowest levels in nearly four decades and that the overwhelming majority of drugs were caught at ports of entry, Miller demurred.
"You don't know what you don't know, and you don't catch what you don't catch," Miller said. "But as a matter of national security, you cannot have uncontrolled, unsecured areas of the border where people can pour in undetected."
Miller said that by September 2020, "hundreds of miles" of new barriers will have been built along the border.
"If the president can't defend this country, then he cannot fulfill his constitutional oath of office," Miller said.
Democrats are planning to introduce a resolution disapproving of the declaration once Congress returns to session, and it is likely to gain approval in both chambers. Several Republican senators are already indicating they would vote against Trump.
Duckworth said it was unclear whether there would be enough members of Congress to override a presidential veto on such a resolution but added there were many senators alarmed at the emergency declaration. She said that, even if a person agreed with Trump that there is an emergency at the southern border, a wall would not be the most effective way to address it.
"If he wants to appropriate more money to put folks -- more agents at the border to put more people at the ports of entry ... we can have those conversations," Duckworth said. "But to take money away from [the Department of Defense] in order to build this wall that is essentially a campaign promise, I think, is really wrong priorities, and I think it's very harmful to the country."
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., pointed to Trump's comments that he didn't need to declare a national emergency.
"He's pretty much daring the court to strike this down," Schiff said. "It is going to be a real test for my GOP colleagues in Congress and their devotion to the institution. If we surrender the power of the purse, there will be little check and no balance left. It will not be a separation of power anymore -- it will be a separation of parties."
Some Trump aides acknowledge that Trump cannot meet his pledge to build the wall by the time voters decide next year whether to grant him another term, but they insist his base will remain by his side as long as he is not perceived to have given up the fight on the barrier.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said on CBS' Face the Nation that he believes Congress needs to act to "defend" its powers of the purse.
"I do think that we should not set the terrible precedent of letting a president declare a national emergency simply as a way of getting around the congressional appropriations process," he said.
Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, a critic of Trump's border policies, said he would support legislation to review Trump's emergency declaration, adding, "It sets a dangerous precedent."
"My concern is our government wasn't designed to operate by national emergency," he said on CBS.
Republicans have been split on the issue, with some fully backing Trump and others cautioning that allowing an emergency declaration now would set a precedent for future Democratic presidents to do the same for myriad other issues.
"This is an emergency. I mean, what are we on now? The fifth caravan?" Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Sunday on This Week, referring to groups of migrants from Central American countries who have marched toward the United States' southern border, mostly to seek asylum.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday on Face the Nation that he supported Trump's decision, even if the diversion of military construction funds to build a border wall meant jeopardizing projects such as the construction of a middle school in Kentucky and housing for military families.
"I would say it's better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border," Graham said. "We'll get them the school they need. But right now we've got a national emergency on our hands."
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., echoed other Republicans who said the president has the authority to declare an emergency to stop human trafficking and to prevent drugs and migrants from crossing the southern U.S. border.
"It is a crisis and emergency along our border," McCarthy said on Fox's Sunday Morning Futures.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he's heard from Republicans concerned that Trump's declaration is unconstitutional and might take money from government projects they've supported.
"Republican after Republican is telling us that privately," Brown said on CNN's State of the Union. "We will have a vote on this, likely in the next two or three weeks, to see if those Republicans show the backbone they generally haven't shown in standing up to the president in the past. This is more serious because it's a constitutional question."
Several groups have already filed lawsuits.
On Friday, the advocacy group Public Citizen filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, seeking to block Trump's declaration, on behalf of three Texas landowners and an environmental group.
Another advocacy group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, sued the Justice Department on Friday for withholding documents -- including legal opinions and communications -- related to the president's decision to declare a national emergency.
On Saturday evening, the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, filed another lawsuit in federal court, saying the president hasn't identified the legal authority to take such an action.
The group's complaint also warned that a border barrier would prevent wildlife from being able to freely pass in its natural habitat "and could result in the extirpation of jaguars, ocelots, and other endangered species within the United States."
The American Civil Liberties Union said it was preparing a lawsuit for this week, arguing that Trump cannot legally redirect taxpayer money during an "emergency" unless it's for military construction projects that support the armed forces.
Information for this article was contributed by Zeke Miller of The Associated Press; by Amy B Wang, Felicia Sonmez, Missy Ryan, Romm and Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post; and by Mark Niquette, Christopher Condon, Ben Brody, Tom Schoenberg and Hailey Waller of Bloomberg News.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., with her baby Maile Pearl Bowlsbey leaves the Senate floor after a voting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 19, 2018.
A Section on 02/18/2019
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