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White House Spokesman Discusses Path Ahead For Trump's National Emergency Declaration


Now we're going to turn to White House spokesman Adam Kennedy.

Thanks for coming on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ADAM KENNEDY: Thanks for having me on.

CORNISH: So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said publicly that he advised the president against using a national emergency declaration because it divides Senate Republicans. And he's also said that it could potentially set a dangerous precedent for future Democratic presidents to exploit. Why is McConnell wrong?

KENNEDY: What the president's doing essentially is getting the resources needed to enforce laws already on the book. He's using the powers given to him by Congress to make sure that our law enforcement has resources they say they have. It's...

CORNISH: Is it divisive to Senate Republicans?

KENNEDY: Well, I think this is completely different from previous examples of presidential overreach that has them worried. In the past, you've seen Obama and other presidents try to use executive power to expand laws or to change laws completely. What the president's doing is enforcing the laws that are already there.

CORNISH: And that's a concern about the past. What about the future. When Republicans say - look; we're not going to like this when a Democrat does it for their policy reasons - what's the response?

KENNEDY: Again - and the responses is that this is the power given to the president by Congress. He's using it to enforce other laws put on the books by Congress. He's in no way creating new laws. He's not changing existing law. He's doing a very narrow and defined executive authority that was granted to him by Congress.

CORNISH: So far, has there been any new border wall construction using the emergency declaration authorization?

KENNEDY: So when the president signed the emergency declaration, there was different buckets of funding. There was some from legislation, some from reprogramming and then some from the national emergency. This money is going to be spent sequentially, and it's going to be spent in a rolling manner as new priorities are identified and exploited. So I don't think we're quite at the emergency funding yet, but we've been using the money since the declaration.

CORNISH: Now, as you look ahead, which military construction projects has the White House identified where they could draw money away to use to build the border wall?

KENNEDY: That's still being decided by DOD and DHS. DOD has been working on which projects can be delayed. Again, nothing is being ended. Nothing is being stopped. It's purely about which priorities are going to be put to the front. And no military housing is going to be impacted by this whatsoever.

CORNISH: The president has tweeted that Republican senators have a very easy vote this week. Right? He says it's about border security and the wall not constitutionality and precedent. Is this something he's personally lobbying Republican senators about?

KENNEDY: I think the president's always talking to members on the Hill, particularly Senate Majority Leader McConnell, in determining what's the best way to move forward with this vote. The president's confident that this is the best thing for the American people. It fulfills his promise to the American people to defend the border. And he hopes that Republicans realize what he's doing is essentially fulfilling his duty as president.

CORNISH: But you've had four lawmakers come out against it - right? - Susan Collins, Rand Paul, Thom Tillis. Is he personally speaking with them at this time?

KENNEDY: I'm not going into his personal conversations with members on the Hill. But he and his staff are frequently reaching out to members in Congress to make sure that everybody understands his position and how he wants to move forward to protect the border.

CORNISH: With the president asking for this 8.6 billion in his budget for 2020, lawmakers are already saying that the proposal is dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. Right? It seems like that position hasn't changed. Is the president willing to have another shutdown this fall over the wall?

KENNEDY: Well, the president has, I think, shown the American people and members of Congress that this wall is essential for our security and that he's willing to fight for it. Now hopefully, we don't have to go into that sort of debate again. But the president's going to stand up for what the American people want, and that's border security.

CORNISH: Finally, this president may be issuing his first veto over a bipartisan vote - right? - against a policy initiative and a policy plan that Republicans voted against. Is that a political loss for him?

KENNEDY: No. I think that the president is again fulfilling the campaign promise and a promise to the American people to defend the border. I don't think that's a loss at all. Now, we don't expect - or I should say that we don't - we're not going into this wanting to having to veto anything. But we will veto something that is going to harm our national security and the safety of American communities.

CORNISH: Well, Adam Kennedy, thank you so much for speaking with us.

KENNEDY: Thanks so much for having me on.

CORNISH: Adam Kennedy is deputy communications director for the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF NILS FRAHM'S "SAYS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.