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White House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration

President Trump's allies in the GOP and one of his top advisers defended on Sunday his decision to declare a national emergency to secure funding for his long-desired border wall, a move that triggered a flurry of lawsuits and bipartisan reservations.

The White House, seeking to quell political and legal questions about the president's declaration, sent hard-line immigration advocate and senior adviser Stephen Miller to push the administration's message in a rare Sunday show appearance.

"This is a deep intellectual problem that is plaguing [Washington, D.C.], which is that we've had thousands of Americans die year after year after year because of threats crossing our southern border," Miller said on "Fox News Sunday."

"This is a threat in our country, not overseas," he continued. "And if the president can't defend this country, then he cannot fulfill his constitutional oath of office."

Miller noted other presidents have invoked the 1976 National Emergencies Act to use military construction funds, which is what Trump did in his declaration on Friday. But the senior adviser was unable to cite another example of a president using emergency powers to secure funding after Congress had denied him money through the appropriations process.

Trump's emergency declaration threatens to divide the Republican Party, with some members falling in line to support the president and others expressing reservations about setting a troubling precedent, raiding military funds and diminishing Congress's appropriation powers. 

"Unfortunately, when it comes to Trump, the Congress is locked down and will not give him what we've given past presidents. So unfortunately, he's got to do it on his own and I support his decision to go that route," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Graham appeared to accept the possibility that Trump could pull funding from a bill he helped push that includes money for a middle school in Kentucky, military housing and improvements for military bases.

"Let's just say for a moment that he took some money out of the military construction budget," Graham said. "I would say it's better for the middle-school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border. We'll get them the school they need. But right now we've got a national emergency on our hands."

Trump on Friday declared a national emergency to bypass Congress and spend roughly $8 billion on barriers along the southern border. The move came as Trump agreed to sign a congressional spending deal that included $1.375 billion for additional barriers along the border.

The president's declaration highlighted $3.6 billion in military construction funding to be put toward the border project. That money would be paired with separate executive action repurposing about $2.5 billion from the Defense Department's drug-interdiction program and $600 million from the Treasury Department's asset-forfeiture fund.

A number of organizations have already filed various lawsuits over the decision, and Democrats have pledged to put forward legislation seeking to dissolve the declaration.

A handful of Republicans in both chambers, meanwhile, have voiced concerns that Trump's emergency declaration erodes the powers of Congress and could set a dangerous precedent that a future Democratic president could utilize. Those lawmakers have stopped short of saying they will oppose any resolution to block Trump's decision, however. 

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) took a similar approach in an interview with NBC's  "Meet the Press," saying he wants to see the specifics on funding sources and a timetable for spending the money before committing his support.

"We're going to take a very careful look at what he's doing here in this instance," Johnson said. "But again I have to stress, this president's been thwarted in his attempt to keep this nation safe and secure, to secure our borders."

GOP Rep. Will Hurd, the lone Republican to represent a border district in Texas, called an emergency declaration unnecessary, but did not say whether he would vote to blunt Trump's use of emergency powers. The congressman said he would back a measure that "reviews how you declare a national emergency" or that would prevent a president from raiding military construction funds. 

"We just spent the last four years rebuilding our military making sure the men and women in our armed forces have the tools that they need," he said. "I don't want to see that money being taken away from that."

But Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, questioned Republicans who have criticized Trump's decision, insisting on ABC's "This Week" that the amount of drugs flowing into the country and groups of Central Americans seeking entry are legitimate reasons to declare an emergency.

"What I also think is interesting is those Republicans who are criticizing the president for wanting to do this executive order are the same kind of Republicans who just a year ago didn't want us to debate and push for the wall funding when we had the majority in both the House and the Senate."

Democrats have been openly hostile to Trump's emergency declaration since it was first floated weeks ago during a partial government shutdown, and have argued it won't hold up in court.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) noted on CNN's "State of the Union" that Trump said during Friday's announcement that he "didn't need to" declare a national emergency, but wanted to speed up construction of the border wall.

"It's hard to imagine a poorer case," Schiff said. "It's going to be a real test for my GOP colleagues in Congress and their devotion to the institution. If we give away, if we surrender the power of the purse, which is our most important power, there will be little check and no balance left. It will not be a separation of powers anymore, just a separation of parties."

And Sen. Tammy Duckworth on Sunday predicted a resolution to block the emergency declaration would receive enough votes to pass both chambers of Congress, but the Illinois Democrat was less certain whether it would have the requisite two-thirds support to override a veto.

"Frankly, I think there's enough people in the Senate who are concerned that what he's doing is robbing from the Military and the [Department of Defense] to go build his wall," Duckworth, a U.S. Army veteran, said on ABC's "This Week." "That it's really not the best way to fight the crisis that he's talking about at the border."

Miller indicated that Trump was prepared to stand his ground and issue his first veto to Congress if lawmakers passed a rebuke of his emergency declaration.

"Well, obviously, the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration," Miller said.

"So, yes, he would veto?" Fox News anchor Chris Wallace asked.

"He's going to protect his national emergency declaration, guaranteed," Miller replied.

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