LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The president is in West Palm Beach at his golf club this morning while lawmakers and landowners react to his controversial declaration of a national emergency. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This was a real will he or won't he kind of thing on the part of the president. Do you think he was going to do this all along?
LIASSON: I do. As it was described to me, unless he got the full amount of funding for the wall that he was demanding, he would do this because this is a way for him to keep faith with his base, to say that he did everything possible to build the wall, even if it's stopped in the courts. His advisers really believe - he really believes that the wall is absolutely key to his re-election. Now, of course, now he has to convince the courts that a national emergency is whatever a president says it is. And he really undercut himself in that speech in the Rose Garden, where he said, I didn't need to do this. In other words, he's doing this for expedience not necessity. He said, I just wanted to build the wall faster. He's also said at various times that the wall is already being built. So if it's already being built, why do you need to declare a national emergency to build it?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I want to take us back a little bit because the coverage of congressional Democrats - how they were perceived as presenting a strong and united front, how cool and steely House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was. You know, they seemed to be winning the day on this. But Trump said this in the Rose Garden on Friday.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I got almost $1.4 billion when I wasn't supposed to get one dollar - not one dollar. He's not going to get one dollar. Well, I got 1.4 billion. But I'm not happy with it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, we always have to do this, I think, a little bit - winners and losers. We've seen him declare victory over nothing in the past. But does he have a point here?
LIASSON: Well, do what - you mean do I think the Democrats gave him something. Yes, they...
LIASSON: ...Gave him something but not very much and, certainly, not as much as he wanted. And he is kind of all over the place. He won but he's not happy. The wall's being built, but he has to declare a national emergency to build it. You know, the interesting thing is this is often put into the context of he is keeping a campaign promise. But what people forget is during the 2016 campaign, he signed something called the Contract with the American Voter, where he pledged that he would obtain reimbursement from Mexico for the full cost of the wall. So he's actually breaking a campaign promise.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's right. I mean, it's going to get taken from the Department of Defense and possibly from funding things like the opioid epidemic. If lawmakers are uneasy with this national emergency - and they are. Democrats and Republicans alike have said that they consider it a bad idea. Why didn't Congress put actual language in their compromise legislation to avoid it?
LIASSON: Republicans would've never agreed to that. They know this is something very popular with the president's base. And that's their base, too. They don't want to get in between the president and his base. Of course, now we're going to see how many Republicans vote against it because the House will pass a resolution opposing this. It will go to the Senate. And it will have to be voted on. And there are Republicans who have objections to this on many different levels. On one reason, they don't like, as you said, money being taken from the Pentagon for important projects in their districts some - in some cases to be spent on this.
Number two, they don't like the precedent that's set that a future Democratic president could declare a national emergency around gun safety or climate change or health care. They also don't like the constitutional clash that the president is setting up, where he's challenging the separation of powers and Congress's power to appropriate money. And also, Congress, who has allowed its power to wither, is further emasculating itself in the mind of many lawmakers. Republican Senator Lee of Utah said recently because we don't want to make the judgment calls that made people angry, we leave it to the executive. It's almost as if Congress doesn't want to go through the difficult task of lawmaking.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And now it all goes to the courts. That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.