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Trump and Congress gear up for a fight over national emergency plan

Congress is preparing to send a government funding package that contains a compromise on allocations for border security to President Trump, who has announced his intention to sign the bill. However, Trump also plans to declare a national emergency in order to access additional money for a border wall. Judy Woodruff talks to Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor about what comes next.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Congress is set tonight to send a compromise border security package to President Trump, and he now plans to sign it. That ensures the government will stay open, but it will apparently also ensure a different confrontation.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins begins with this report.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In the Senate today, an unusual prayer for President Trump.

  • Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa:

    Let's all pray that the president will have wisdom to sign the bill, so the government doesn't shut down.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All eyes had been on the White House after leaders in Congress agreed on a $330 billion spending deal. After hours of waiting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came to the floor.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    I have just had an opportunity to speak with President Trump, and he would, I would say to all my colleagues, has indicated he's prepared to sign the bill.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    As for border barriers, McConnell said the president will take other action.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    He will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time, and I have indicated to him that I'm going to prepare — I'm going to support the national emergency declaration.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Minutes later came the official word from the White House, with Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stating that the president is keeping his border wall promise.

    The president's position made clear, the Senate then moved quickly to pass the bill.

  • Man:

    The yeas are 83. The nays are 16.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It funds nine federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year in September, providing $1.4 billion for 55 miles of new barriers in Texas' Rio Grande Valley. It also funds 45,000 immigrant detention spaces and more than $1 billion for border technology, as well as 600 new customs officers and more immigration judges.

    The deal also prohibits barriers in or near several parks, including the National Butterfly Center in South Texas. The massive bill went beyond the border fight, funding a 1.9 percent pay increase for federal workers, $6 billion for HIV and AIDS programs abroad and more than 1,000 new TSA agents.

    But the drama over the shutdown bill quickly shifted, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed the next seeming face-off between branches.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Let's look at what really is a national emergency. I'm not advocating for any president doing an end-run around Congress. I'm just saying that the Republicans should have some dismay about the door that they are opening, the threshold they are crossing.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This issue will go home with Congress. Both chambers are scheduled for a holiday recess next week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now, along with our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.

    Hello to both of you.

    How many nights in a row have we been sitting here talking about this?


  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, let's start with you.

    So, the president is saying, the White House is saying, he's going to sign this, but they're also saying he is going to declare a national emergency. What is the thinking going into all this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Simply put, the president doesn't think that Republicans got enough out of this deal, and, as a result, he's going almost outside of his party to say, I'm going to do more and I'm going to declare a national emergency.

    Now, there are some things the president likes and some things that the president doesn't like. I'm going to walk you through a little bit of those.

    The first is that president likes the fact that there are 50 new immigration judges in this bill. He also likes that there are 600 new customs officers. There's also going to be an increase in Border Patrol.

    But the president doesn't like some other things that are really influencing him to make this decision for — on this national emergency. He doesn't like the fact that he got $1.375 billion for the wall, or a barrier, because he wanted $5.7 billion.

    It also has 50 — it's also 55 miles of new physical barriers. He had initially said 2,000 miles. So that's a lot different. It's also $100 million for border security technology. And a White House official made the point to me today, while everyone's talking about the wall, this is bigger than the wall for the president.

    The wall is still central. But they're laying out these things and saying the president has a lot of this on his mind and doesn't want just this deal to stand as it is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, what are Democrats saying? First of all, what are they saying about the funding agreement?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's important, especially as I was looking through the bill overnight.

    You notice in the bill Democrats did get a lot of mitigation for the immigration detention that they're worried about. Let's look at that specifically. So, Democrats, what they like is, there's an increase in alternatives to detention.

    That's largely ankle bracelets. That keeps people out of holding cells and allows them to be monitored while they're awaiting their processing out in the country. Second, they like there's more family help. That includes support like legal support. It also includes things — there's money in there for things like diapers and food and clothing for some of these families.

    Finally, interesting, buried in this bill, Judy, there is language — and this is a bipartisan bill, remember — that addresses those ice boxes and those cages that we saw months ago.

    And I want to read you that language here in this bill. It's extraordinary for an appropriations bill to say this. It says — quote — of the Customs and Border Protection facilities, it says: "Those facilities should be equipped with appropriate temperature controls and avoid chain-link-fence-type enclosures."

    It goes on to say: "CBP is encouraged to use a more appropriate blanket type than currently used."

    Now, this sounds like it's being very polite, but this is unusual congressional-speak to say, they have gone too far and they need to improve their treatment of people.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    So if that's what they're saying about the funding bill, what about the — now this threat or the White House saying the president is going to impose a national emergency? What are people in both parties saying about this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's fascinating.

    I just came from the Capitol, where there were sort of wide-eyed senators trying to figure out what they thought as I walked up to them. For Democrats, to a person, they think this is a terrible mistake. They think in many ways it could be unlawful. They have to wait to see exactly what levers the president decides to pull.

    I spoke to Senator Kamala Harris. She told me, it's ridiculous.

    Republicans are split. They're trying to figure out where they stand. It's particularly interesting to watch Republicans like Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who told me months ago he doesn't like this idea. Tonight, he said, well, I need to think about it.

    They're in a tricky spot. And, finally, there are some Republicans, like Senator Susan Collins of Maine, coming out strongly against it. She just sent out a release saying this would be a mistake. She thinks this national emergency is only for catastrophic events. And she thinks that this could be something that violates the Constitution, it's dubious.

    All of them are worried about a court battle, which, of course, Nancy Pelosi has signaled she's ready to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, we heard her say that today.

    Yamiche, finally, the president has been under a lot of criticism, a lot of pressure from voices, from figures, prominent figures in the conservative news media. How is what they are saying influencing his thinking here, do you think?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president is taking advice from a lot of different people.

    The two groups we should be focusing on tonight are conservative media voices and White House lawyers. On the conservative media tip, I want to explain Sean Hannity's advice to the president, because it's almost remarkable.

    He wrote this opinion piece yesterday, where it lays out — where he lays out what the White House should he do.

    He says, step one, sign the deal, step two, find more money from other places to get more money for the wall, and then, step three, declare a national emergency.

    That's literally, Judy, exactly what the White House did. So it's remarkable that Sean Hannity is writing this, and that the White House is then taking these steps.

    Now, the White House today and aides told me, these are friends. He gets advice from his friends. He's not following Sean Hannity's advice.

    But it's very remarkable that these two men are really in this mind-meld.

    The other thing I want to note is that Ann Coulter tweeted today. She said: "The national emergency won't help. It's over if he signs the bill."

    That's why you see the president trying to declare a national emergency to try to at least give a little bit to Ann Coulter and the people that she represents.

    The other thing to note, the White House is saying the president is ready for this legal challenge. He said for weeks — they have said to me, for weeks, the president has been saying, I might declare a national emergency. That means that White House lawyers have been looking to figure out how they can — they can really look at this in court and how they can defend the president.

    So when we see Nancy Pelosi saying she's ready for a legal battle, we can also say that the White House is ready for legal battle as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, there's so much to keep track of tonight.

    Thank you. Probably see you both here tomorrow night.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:


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