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Chairman Of American Conservative Union Discusses Border Security Deal

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump is upending Washington yet again today with word that he plans to, A, sign a compromise border security bill but also, B, declare a national emergency. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared on the Senate floor this afternoon and told surprised lawmakers that that is the latest White House plan. That means another government shutdown averted but also means all kinds of political and legal questions come into play in regard to a national emergency.

Let's bring in Matt Schlapp. He is chairman of the American Conservative Union and a longtime supporter of the president. Mr. Schlapp, welcome.

MATT SCHLAPP: Great to be with you.

KELLY: Great to have you with us. So what do you make of this strategy? Is this the right way to go?

SCHLAPP: It's his only choice. He can't seem to achieve a bipartisan consensus with the Democrats running the House on the need to actually shut down illegal immigration at the southern border. So in order to do that - and we have, as everybody knows 'cause this is publicly available information - you have 60,000 people a month who are approaching that southern border.

We are at - if you talk to any border security agent, you talk to career officials at the Department of Homeland Security, they'll tell you that it's a different kind of immigration. Some people say, well, the numbers actually aren't higher, but it's a different kind of immigration. It's a type of illegal immigration and asylum claims that really put stress on the entire process because the countries they come from...

KELLY: You're saying you agree that the situation at the border is a national emergency.

SCHLAPP: I agree that the situation at the border is an emergency. It's a humanitarian crisis, and America needs to solve the problem.

KELLY: And I - and I'm just trying to square that because when we interview members of Congress - Republicans and Democrats who represent the border - they say it's not an emergency.

SCHLAPP: Well, then why did two kids die?

KELLY: Well, I don't know which two kids you're referring to. And we can talk...

SCHLAPP: Well, it was well-covered.

KELLY: ...About isolated...

SCHLAPP: It was well-covered...

KELLY: ...Incidents.

SCHLAPP: ...On NPR that two kids in two separate...

KELLY: Oh, you're talking about the two children...

SCHLAPP: Yep.

KELLY: ...From Guatemala...

SCHLAPP: Yep, yeah, that's right.

KELLY: ...Who came across.

SCHLAPP: They died, and the reason they...

KELLY: But building a wall...

SCHLAPP: The reason they died is because...

KELLY: ...Would not have averted that in any way...

SCHLAPP: That's untrue. The reason...

KELLY: ...As tragic as it was.

SCHLAPP: No, and that's just one of the ways in which it's an emergency. I mean, if you talk about - I remember during this whole process when kids were separated from their parents, and I remember listening to NPR talk about it in terms of humanitarian crisis.

KELLY: Let me - because people can cite statistics, cases to support any number of actions. And of course, again - a tragedy that those two children died at the border. But let me ask you about...

SCHLAPP: Terrible tragedy. I...

KELLY: Of course, absolutely.

SCHLAPP: I'd like to make sure no other kids die.

KELLY: As would everyone. I think that's - that goes without saying. As a political strategy, let me ask you this. What risk does setting a precedent like this run if the next time around it's a Democrat in the White House or somebody...

SCHLAPP: Well...

KELLY: ...You don't agree with...

SCHLAPP: Yeah, no, it's a great...

KELLY: ...Being able to declare a national emergency when it's not something obvious like 9/11.

SCHLAPP: Well, I agree with you. I don't like the concept of the president using a pen and a phone - right? - which is what so many conservatives complained about Barack Obama - that he'd simply - when the Republicans in Congress wouldn't do what he wanted, he simply would sidestep them and go around them, and he did it on issue after issue. So it's a very fair question. I think most conservatives don't like the idea of a president declaring an emergency.

The problem is at the southern border - is that the ultimate authority for making sure that we don't have chaos at the southern border relies with the executive, with whoever the people of the United States select to be their president. That President at the end of the day has certain decisions to make. That's why Ronald Reagan made certain decisions...

KELLY: So you're saying you don't...

SCHLAPP: ...About the border that's...

KELLY: ...This - he had no choice. You're not crazy about this precedent, but you...

SCHLAPP: Yeah.

KELLY: In your view, he had no choice.

SCHLAPP: I'm not crazy about the precedent. I don't think he has to declare a national emergency to build the wall. But the problem - the wall is only a part of the solution - might not even be the most important part, but it's a - it is an important part of it. I don't think we need wall everywhere. I mean, we have 600 miles of wall now, and I think the president's proposal was 200 miles additional. So it's actually pretty modest when you look at what the problem is.

But the bigger problem we have is we have - are we have passed laws that allow people to hover either around the border or be released into the mainland here in America under dubious legal standards. And we have to take care...

KELLY: You're referring to other reforms that people would like to see at the border. May I...

SCHLAPP: No, I'm talking about the current law. I'm just saying current law creates the problem that we have, so there's a lot of things we have to do to house these illegal immigrants who need a place to stay according to our laws. Judges have intervened. It is a very complicated situation, and it would be a big mistake for America not to solve the problem.

KELLY: May I ask you, though, in the seconds we have left because I think people really want to know this. Do you believe the president really sees this as the most urgent threat facing the nation, or is this at the end of the day about keeping a campaign promise?

SCHLAPP: What? Which part, building a wall?

KELLY: Yeah.

SCHLAPP: Which part?

KELLY: Building a wall.

SCHLAPP: Oh, no, I think...

KELLY: The situation at the border.

SCHLAPP: Everyone who has worked on the border - and I've spent time talking to these people. It's incorrect to say that people who represent the border don't want a wall. Talk to Paul Gosar from Arizona. He wants the wall. The - if you talk to these populations, not just to Democrat...

KELLY: But in a...

SCHLAPP: ...Elected officials and mayors...

KELLY: In a yes or no, does the president truly see this as the most urgent threat?

SCHLAPP: I think he sees it as a very serious threat, and he's building the wall...

KELLY: OK.

SCHLAPP: ...That would protect the country not just to keep a campaign promise. But by the way, when politicians keep their promises, it's actually a good thing (laughter).

KELLY: Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.