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Trump Declares National Emergency; Legal Challenges to the Emergency Declaration; Interview with John Kasich. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 15, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Brianna Keilar starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, President Trump declares a national emergency in an attempt to get billions for a border wall. In a rambling Rose Garden speech, the president turned to past talking points to make his case that a wall is necessary and that he has the authority to redistribute money to pay for it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to be signing a national emergency. And it's been signed many times before. It's been signed by other presidents. From 1977 or so it gave the presidents the power. There's rarely been a problem. They sign it. Nobody cares. I guess they weren't very exciting. But nobody cares. They signed it for far less important things in some cases, in many cases. We're talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs.


KEILAR: White House correspondent Abby Phillip with us now from the North Lawn.

So this plan from the president, Abby, calls for a total of $8 billion from -- or some of it from the compromised border security bill, only about 1.3 billion there, the rest from other sources.

So what are these other sources of about $6.5 billion?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, as we've been reporting for several weeks now, the White House has been looking around the federal government, trying to identify pots of money that they can use in order to put towards wall funding. Some of this money is going to come from places that are easy for the president to acquire, the smaller pots. For example, about $600 million from the Treasury Department's asset forfeiture program. But then there are larger pots of money, like $3.6 billion from the Defense military budget, another $2.5 million from drug interdiction programs that the White House is cobbling together and they're going to use all of that money to add to the $1.375 billion that Congress appropriated in order to build the wall.

Now, some -- as I mentioned, some of these pots of money might be uncontroversial, but there are going to be some complaints from Democrats and Republicans, particularly when you look at the defense department budget that is being siphoned off in order to fund this effort. And the White House says they think that they are on solid, legal ground. But you heard President Trump earlier today acknowledging there are going to be lawsuits and there are going to be appeals. He believes they're going to lose some, but ultimately win the broader goal. At the end of the day, what that means is that this process could be hold up for many, many months, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, and, Abby, Jim Acosta pushed back against the president's claims about crime along the southern border. Tell us about this exchange.

PHILLIP: Well, at the central crux of this is, what is the justification that President Trump is using as characterize what's happening at the border as a crisis. He talks about crimes, he talks about drugs, but he doesn't give much in the way of statistics. And our own Jim Acosta asked him to show, what is his proof, what is his evidence for the claims that he's making.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There's a lot of Department of Homeland Security data out there that shows border crossings at a near record low, that shows --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's because of us. But it's still --

ACOSTA: Undocumented immigrants committing crime at lower levels --

TRUMP: Excuse me, it's still massive numbers of crossings.

ACOSTA: That shows undocumented criminals or undocumented immigrants committing crime at lower levels than native-born Americans. What do you say to --

TRUMP: You don't -- you don't really believe that stat, do you? Do you really believe that stat?

ACOSTA: What do you -- what do you say to your critics who say that you are creating a national emergency, that you're concocting a national emergency here in order to get your wall because you couldn't get it through other ways?

TRUMP: I ask the angel moms. What do you think? Do you think I'm creating something?

Ask these incredible women who lost their daughters and their sons, OK, because your question is a very political question.


PHILLIP: And president -- so President Trump there is disputing the premise of the statistics that Jim cited, which come from the Trump administration. But he didn't provide his own. And I would note, on the last point that he made about the prison population, he's talking about federal prisons, which only account for about 10 percent of all crimes are committed in this country. So there's a real big gap between President Trump's claims and what we actually know about what's happening in terms of crime and drugs in this country, Brianna.

KEILAR: There sure is.

Abby Phillip, thank you.

Now, opponents of this emergency declaration inside the halls of Congress, outside the halls of Congress, they are at work right now strategizing on legal options. That's something that President Trump obviously has already anticipated.

[13:05:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will have a national emergency. And we will then be sued. And they will sue us in the Ninth Circuit, even though it shouldn't be there. And we will possibly get a bad ruling. And then we'll get another bad ruling. And then we'll end up in the Supreme Court and hopefully we'll get a fair shake.


KEILAR: Former federal prosecutor Kim Wehle with us. We have A.B. Stoddard, "RealClearPolitics" associate editor, we have Nancy Cook, "Politico's" White House reporter, and CNN's senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson with us.

All right, let's start with the legal challenges, Kim, because he's expecting them. There's no doubt they're going to happen. But he says, like the travel ban, I'm going to get a victory when it goes to the Supreme Court.

KIM WEHLE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think that's going to be a really tough win for him honestly because as has been reported, the question here has to do with the appropriations clause of the United States Constitution. We have a congress that did not appropriate this money. He's going around that process using a statute to declare a national emergency. The argument is going to be, that's inconsistent with the plane language of the Constitution, which has Congress decide how to spend that kind of money. If Congress is not on board, the president has to do something different.

Now, he declared something, a national emergency, the statute does not define the word "emergency." So I think that's going to be a question that a court would take into account, if the court even takes the case. There's a possibility a court could say, listen, this is a political question, I'm not going to take it. But under President Truman, there's a case called Youngstown Sheet and Tube in which the court said that taking over steel mills to help with the Korean War, to make sure we had enough steel --

KEILAR: During a strike essentially, right, or --

WEHLE: During a strike.


WEHLE: Exactly. That was unconstitutional. So I think it's going to be really tough, even with this Supreme Court, to get around Youngstown Sheet and Tube.

KEILAR: And, you know, Charlie Dent, Republican, former congressman, who was an appropriator, said on our air not too long ago, A.B., that you can't take money for a non-defense purpose and -- you can't take it for this non-defense purpose when it's supposed to be for a defense purpose. It's just illegal. What do you think?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": I listened to Charlie's explanation. And it was very helpful to people who need to understand that the Congress has a constitutionally mandated power of the purse and that you are responsible for taking care of all these necessary projects around the country, especially when it comes to military construction. These things don't turn around in seven weeks. They're on a five-year planning pipeline. You don't just throw a monkey wrench in and start throwing the money around.

These have to do with the lives of our troops. And they are necessary. And so the idea that a Republican, who's still hanging on in the House, Brianna, that might have won with under 5 percent in a district that used to be safe, who's looking at the 2020 head winds and saying, you're going to take the project away that I just funded for my district, for my hardworking constituents? A very, very, very tough argument to make with members of Congress.

KEILAR: And let -- it's such a good point you make. And let -- I mean let's talk -- "Military Times" actually has a really good sort of bit by bit on the kind of projects that we're talking about because, yes, there is some of this drug money, drug project money from the DOD, but the stuff that would be really easy to get is the construction money. So we're talking a new vehicle maintenance shop in Kuwait, in Camp Arifjan, dry dock repairs at Pearl Harbor, a hanger improvement in Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, ongoing hospital construction at Landstuhl and new family housing builds in South Korea, Italy and Wisconsin.

And you have seen the state of some of the housing in the military. This is a crisis for a lot of these families. It's hard to imagine, Nancy, that that is going to fly. So where does the president go from there with this reality?

NANCY COOK, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "POLITICO": Well, the White House has been purposely trying to sort of keep this under wraps and they were asked explicitly about this on a phone call this morning with reporters, where will the military money come from? And they sort of dodged the question. But I think that that will be a real firestorm for them because, you

know, each of these military projects has constituencies, as A.B. said, you know, in Congress who want to be able to say, yes, we're taking care of military housing in Wisconsin. And people, once they realize the detailed plans of that, there will be backlash from both Democrats and Republicans on The Hill.

KEILAR: So is it just a messaging thing then, Nia? Is it just that they don't actually plan on getting to the point where they're dealing with what would be hugely unpopular issue that would obviously come out, covered by the media? Are they assuming this gets hung up and really this is just -- appears like President Trump is doing something?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, in some ways -- I mean you heard the president there in that sort of sing-songy voice go through what he thought was going to happen in terms of the courts. I think there is a perspective here that the president just wants this fight. He wants to be caught trying, as Bill Clinton would say, caught trying to get this wall and going around Congress, going around Democrats who he sees as obstructionists. And if he can keep that fight going, this idea of not build the wall right now, he at least is saying it's finish the wall, and he's going to be fighting in the courts, he's going to be fighting Democrats, he's going to be fighting, in some ways, probably (INAUDIBLE) Republicans as well.

[13:10:08] And that's what we know about this president. That's the stance he always likes to fight, particularly on this core issue of immigration and building the wall.

KEILAR: He said something that was key where he says -- I want to play this. He says that it would have been easier if we did this sooner. Can we play that?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It would have been great to have done it earlier, but I was a little new to the job. A little new to the profession. And we had a little disappointment for the first year and a half. People that should have stepped up, did not step up. They didn't step up, and they should have. It would have been easy. Not that easy, but it would have been a lot easier. But some people didn't step up. But we're stepping up now.


KEILAR: All right, paging Paul Ryan.

COOK: Right.

KEILAR: We know -- we know who he's talking about. What do you think?

HENDERSON: Yes, I think that's right. He's trying to pin the blame on Paul Ryan. This, again, is what the president often does. The buck never stops with the president, it stops somewhere else, in this case Paul Ryan. I mean the president promised a free wall, right? I mean that was --

that was the idea that through his masterful negotiating skills he could bend the Mexican president to his will or somehow get it through remittances or something like that. That never happened. They never really tried to do any of that.

And the fact is that Republicans didn't necessarily support this wall, which is why it's taken so long and why, at this point, he's having to make this end run around Congress to get the more billion dollars that Congress wouldn't give him.

KEILAR: Did he say anything that was problematic to his case, A.B.?

STODDARD: Yes, he said it so many different ways. He said this is about 2020. He said I didn't have to do this. He said I'm doing it because Congress isn't working fast enough. He called it a non- emergency, a fake emergency so many ways multiple times. Infuriating the lawyers he's hired to help defend this, and, you know, obviously to the delight of the people on the other side who are going to be working to block it.

He really undermined his case, I mean, in many, many different ways, basically saying explicitly this was sort of a political reaction. He said it's not a promise I'm fulfilling, but he said everyone blew it -- you know, obviously Paul Ryan, and so now I have to do this because I don't like the way the Congress is dragging its feet and this is about the presidential election.

WEHLE: He has a point though with Paul Ryan in that under the statue Congress, the House, can make a determination that this isn't a real emergency. It's fake. And under the statute, that automatically then goes to the Senate. They have to make a determination as to whether they agree with the House, or Democratic House --

KEILAR: Within less than three weeks, right, that's what it says.

WEHLE: Yes, a Democratic House. They're going to say, this is fake. This is not a real emergency. Then it's going to go to the Senate and Mitch McConnell's going to have to rally his caucus to either do an up or down. It sounds like he might not have the votes for lots of reasons, number one, because this is a bunch of bologna, really. And if -- so if he doesn't -- if they don't agree or if they do agree with the House, then we're going to have to potentially have our first veto.

KEILAR: Even Marco Rubio, he says, there is a crisis, and yet he says, this is unconstitutional. So we'll see how that flies with Republicans.

You guys, stand by for me. Thank you.

Nia, Nancy, A.B. and Kim Wehle with us.

So, is declaring a national emergency over the southern border setting a dangerous precedent? Some even in President Trump's party think so. We're going to ask Governor John Kasich what he thinks when he joins us from Ohio next.


[13:17:57] KEILAR: We are returning now to our top story, a national emergency declaration to unlock billions of dollars for a border wall. Earlier the president explained why he decided to use his executive power.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the wall, they skimped. So I did -- I was successful in that sense, but I want to do it faster. I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this. But I'd rather do it much faster. And I don't have to do it for the election. I've already done a lot of wall for the election, 2020. And the only reason we're up here talking about this is because of the election.


KEILAR: It is almost a given that Democrats are going to challenge this. But even some members of the president's own party are criticizing his move.

We have former Republican governor and former presidential candidate John Kasich with us now. He's also CNN's senior political commentator.

What do you think about this use of executive power?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Brianna, I used to be a congressman, too --

KEILAR: That's right.

KASICH: And so I was involved in a lot of negotiations and a lot of issues.

So here you have Republicans and Democrats would get together, they meet behind closed doors, they put in countless hours and they reach an agreement. And they're satisfied and they're happy about it. Then the president says he'll sign it, but, you know, it -- that really isn't very good and I'm just going to go and do my own thing. So, first of all, it creates, I believe, bitterness with people who were a part of the process.

Secondly, Brianna, this is the part we can't miss. I mean, you talk about burning bridges. So they have an agreement to provide some border security and do a whole variety of things which they hammered out and then the president says, I don't really care. Now, if you're going to be president of the whole country and care about America, you can't burn every bridge that you have to cross.

So we -- look at the bitterness that's now sowed with the Democrats. And not that they do anything right by any stretch. But when you think about the fact that he's just -- it's like, I don't care. And everything seems to be about the base and politics. And what I worry about is the alienation and the bitterness that will remain, the lack of trust and the inability for both parties to be able to achieve things. And he's brought this on.

[13:20:19] All he needed to do was to sign this. There were some dollars that were laying around that he could have been able to get without doing this.

Now, I did a little research myself and found out that George Bush had declared a national emergency. The Congress was going to pass something to disapprove it, and he dropped it. I'll predict what's going to happen. The disapproval will pass the House. It will pass the Senate. The president will veto it. There will not be the votes to override, but it will end up in the courts. It will drag on in the courts.

What good are we doing? What is -- what is happening here? You know, so -- you know, and I know this isn't part of the discussion, but I just read where they drove Amazon out of New York City. Cost them 25,000 jobs. The progressive wing of the party drove the company out. There are 25,000 people who were going to work and now -- what -- this is just -- this is way beyond the pale.

We are not operating rationally now in this country and I'm worried about it. I'm worried about it as an American. That's what I'm concerned about.

KEILAR: Let me ask you about what he said about reallocating some of these funds because he's talking about -- some of these are -- when you look at the numbers, you're talking military drug interdiction, you're talking military construction. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had certain funds that are being used at the discretion of generals, at the discretion of the military. Some of them haven't been allocated yet. And some of the generals think that this is more important.

I was speaking to a couple of them. They think this is far more important than what they were going to use it for. I said, what were you going to use it for? And I won't go into details, but didn't sound too important to me.

Plus, if you think, I've gotten $700 billion for the military in year one. And then last year $716 billion. And we're rebuilding our military, but we have a lot --


KEILAR: All right, he said, I won't go into details but it didn't sound so important to me. OK, so let us go into details then. Potential targets, according to "Military Times," new vehicle maintenance shop in Kuwait, dry dock repairs at Pearl Harbor, hanger improvements at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, ongoing hospital construction at Landstuhl. New family housing builds in South Korea, Italy and Wisconsin. And I know -- KASICH: Yes. I got -- I got the picture.

KEILAR: Yes, so, I mean, when you look --

KASICH: I got the picture, Brianna. I used to be on -- I -- believe it or not, I was --

KEILAR: But when you look at -- yes, that's right, you were on the Budget -- you were the chairman.

KASICH: No, I was also on the -- on the Armed Services Committee and I served on the readiness subcommittee and was chairman for a short time. But my budget work took me away from that.

Yes, these things are very important. But what this is going to do is -- I think the Congress -- now (ph) being so political, the Congress is going to look at this law. They're going to say whether the president has too much authority.

Now, look, I was a governor. I like executive authority. But there's a point at which if you cross you so infuriate the people you have to work with you can't get anything done in the future. You know, we got -- we got a deficit and a national debt now of $22 trillion. We've got to figure out health care. We've got to figure out drug prices. We've got to figure out infrastructure. If all you're doing is in a war and you burned every bridge you can possibly burn, how are you going to get anything done?

And the mistrust that settles in between the partisans, both in Washington and the partisans across the country, this is not healthy. I hate to keep making this statement -- oh, I feel like I've been doing this now for two years, but it has to be called out. I do think the Congress is going to review this law and I think this is a very big mistake.

KEILAR: But these kinds of things that we're talking about, where they're pulling the money from, things that he says --


KEILAR: That don't sound too important to him, with your experience on the Armed Services Committee and the Budget Committees, is that -- I mean this is the stuff that could get jettisoned for what he wants to do?

KASICH: Yes. And those -- these things are important. They're really for -- they're really to make sure that our people in uniform can have it a little easier. If you go and check it -- what -- how -- you know, what their facilities are like, they get run down. There's never enough money for maintenance. And this was a priority for those in the military to make sure that those serving in the military could carry out their responsibilities easier. And there will be a focus on that. There isn't any question about it.

But what this is all about is so deep now. You know, I didn't like what all the Republicans and Democrats agreed to. I'll declare a national emergency. The Republicans in the Senate have said they want nothing to do with it. It sets a dangerous precedent. It's -- and it will be in the courts.

Now, I don't know what the courts are going to do. It depends who the judge is. But I have a sneaking suspicion they're going to say this goes too far. In other words, this issue of national emergency has been used in cases like sanctions, it's been used in real national emergencies. And when the intelligence community testifies before the Congress, and they list all the things they're concerned about, they're concerned about Iran, they're concerned about China, they're concerned about Russia. I never heard them talk about the border. Maybe they ought to be called back up to say, is this a national crisis?

[13:25:26] Look, it's a serious problem and the serious problem needs to be resolved, not just at the wall, but beyond the wall. And, frankly, it's about time for Congress to pass some immigration reform. You see, Brianna, what's happening is everything is melting down. Everything is stuck. And that's not a good place for our country to be.

KEILAR: Indeed.

Governor John Kasich, thank you so much for being on from your new studio, I should say. Thank you.

KASICH: OK. Thank you, Brianna. Here at Otterbein. Thank you.

KEILAR: That's right.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are ready for a big battle over the president's emergency declaration. They're calling it a power grab. And next I'll ask Democrat David Cicilline of Rhode Island what he thinks.