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California Attorney General Discusses Legal Challenges To National Emergency


Speaking of lawsuits, California is going there. In a press conference today, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says he plans to sue to block the declaration of national emergency, and Attorney General Becerra joins me now. Hi there. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

XAVIER BECERRA: Mary Louise, thanks for having me.

KELLY: Lay out for me briefly on what grounds you plan to sue.

BECERRA: Well, I can give you the technical grounds, or I can give you the grounds that Donald Trump gave us. He said he's not happy. He said this is a great thing to do. And he said, I didn't need to do this. Those are not the kind of words you hear from a president who's about to declare a national emergency.

As we saw during 9/11 or as we saw with the Iran hostage crisis, these aren't things you like to do. And these are things you do only when you must do them, not when you don't need to do them. And so our argument is very simple. The president is not above the law. He must follow the law and certainly respect the Constitution. Otherwise he's overturning more than 240 years of Democratic precedent that says that - precedence by the way, not president - precedence...

KELLY: Right.

BECERRA: ...That says that we will respect the separation of powers.

KELLY: You're arguing that he doesn't have the authority to declare a national emergency if there is not in fact an emergency. But as you know, the 1976 law that gives the president - any president - the power to declare a national emergency doesn't actually define what an emergency is, so it's tricky ground.

BECERRA: Well, certainly the president can declare anything he wants. He can say what he wants. What he does is what counts. And the moment he tries to take money that's been appropriated for certain purposes by Congress, which is the only branch of government that has the power to do that, and try to misspend it and in a different way based on a reckless claim of an emergency, that's when he violates the law and the Constitution.

KELLY: As you know better than anyone, you need standing to sue, and so what interests of California are you going to argue are being harmed here to give you the standing to file a lawsuit?

BECERRA: Well, we're taking a close look at the declaration itself to see exactly where he would rob money - taxpayer money - to use it for this border wall. But we think there are a number of grounds. There are a number of very important military projects - Army Corps of Engineers projects that would be robbed of money to continue to move forward with these projects that would impact California.

It looks like he's going to take money away from drug interdiction, which would obviously harm Californians if drugs are allowed to infiltrate our state. He probably will undermine our men and women in uniform who are living in California with their families if they can't have the types of resources at the military installations where they are located. I can go on and on.

If he takes away money that is meant for other emergencies and natural disasters, people like the more than 86 people who died and some 50,000 who were displaced as a result of just one fire, the Camp Fire in Northern California, could suffer by not having the resources that they were supposed to get from their own taxpayer dollars, by the way, to help them recover from these natural disasters.

KELLY: You said today in your press conference that several sister states are going to join California in this effort. Which states?

BECERRA: There are a number of states, and since we're all reviewing the declaration, certainly we'll let them make that declaration known. But we are preparing to announce that we will be filing once we're finished reviewing the declaration itself.

KELLY: Any of those states along the southern border, along the Mexican border?

BECERRA: Stay tuned.

KELLY: And in terms of timing?

BECERRA: Timing - as soon as we can finish doing a diligent read of the declaration to make sure exactly what the president is planning to do. We knew something like this might come, and we've been preparing for it. So it's more just a matter of making sure we know what pots he's trying to raid illegally and making sure we can make our case.

KELLY: I do want to let you respond to something that the president said today in the Rose Garden. Here's President Trump.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have an invasion of drugs and criminals coming into our country that we stop, but it's very hard to stop. With a wall, it would be very easy. So I think that we will be very successful in court. I think it's clear.

KELLY: He's making the point that, yes, he would be moving money from certain drug interdiction programs but that this wall would be stopping drug traffic in other ways. Your lawsuit would challenge that.

BECERRA: Well, I would suggest the president sit down with his own border enforcement operation so they could tell him that most of the drugs that try to come into this country come in through ports of entry, not through the vast stretches of desert and so forth along the U.S.-Mexico border. Putting up a wall will do nothing to try to help us interdict the 86 percent of cocaine, 88 percent of heroin and 84 percent of methamphetamines that come in through ports of entry.

KELLY: That's California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and we will leave it there. Thanks very much.

BECERRA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.