House Armed Services Chairman Warns Trump Not to Invoke National Emergency

By Susan Jones | January 7, 2019 | 7:47 AM EST

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) is the new chairman of the House Armed Services Comittee. (Photo: Screen capture)

( - Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the new chair of the House Armed Services Committee, is among the Democrats warning President Trump not to declare a national emergency as a way of getting his border wall built.

"We are looking at a national emergency because we have a national emergency," Trump told reporters on Sunday when he returned to the White House from Camp David. "Just read the papers," he said.

"We have a crisis at the border of drugs, of human beings being trafficked all over the world. They're coming through, and we have an absolute crisis and the criminals and gang members coming through. It is national security. It's a national emergency."

Trump said he'll make a decision about declaring a national emergency "fairly soon."

George Stephanopoulos, the host of ABC's "This Week," asked Rep. Smith on Sunday if President Trump has the "authority" to declare a national emergency, so the military could build his wall:

"Well, unfortunately, the short answer is yes," Smith replied.

There is a provision in law that says the president can declare an emergency. It's been done a number of times. But primarily it's been done to build facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In this case, I think the president would be wide open to a court challenge saying, where is the emergency? You have to establish that in order to do this.

But beyond that, this would be a terrible use of Department of Defense dollars. The president spends most of his time talking about how we're not spending enough on national security, now he wants to take $20 billion out of the defense budget to build a wall, which by the way is not going to improve our border security.

The president seems unaware of this, but we have actually already built a wall across much of the border, and all border security experts that I talk to say, where a wall makes sense, it's already been built.

We should have a conversation about national security -- sorry, about border security, but first we should we open the government and start paying our Border Patrol agents and the other 800,000 federal employees who are furloughed.

Smith said a wall is "not in itself a bad idea," but "it's been done," he said.

"And what the president has not done is, he has not made the case that on the portions of the border where a wall has not been built, how is a wall going to actually enhance border security? There is no evidence whatsoever that that's necessary, and yet he is willing to shut down the government and stop paying Border Patrol agents, and, in many cases, you know, stop all the efforts that we have made to enhance border security over a campaign promise. And a campaign promise, as you pointed out, that Mexico was supposed to pay for."

President Trump tweeted over the weekend that he now wants a steel bollard wall on the border that is much stronger and higher than any of the fencing now in place.

On another topic, Rep. Smith said he plans to hold hearings on whether Trump is using the military to advance his agenda:

"Every other president before this, when they've worked with the military, when they're talked to the troops, it's been about national security, it's been about their services -- their service. Sorry. But when President Trump talks, it's about his campaign, about how bad the Democrats are.

"You know, we need civilian control of the military and we need to separate those things. But the main thing that I want to focus on in the hearings that we have coming up, once we get our committee set, is transparency and oversight.

"You know, why did the president send 5,600 troops -- active duty troops to the border? What was the purpose of it? What is his policy in Syria and Afghanistan as he's now talking about pulling out? There's been a lack of transparency and an explanation for what his national security strategy is.

"We want to make sure that the officials at the Pentagon and the White House let Congress know and that we work together to develop a coherent national security strategy."

Smith said he would like to call former Defense Secretary James Mattis as a witness.

"I'm not going to call former Secretary Mattis to say, you know, what did the president say about this, what did he do about that? But Secretary Mattis is one of the most knowledgeable, capable experts we have on defense policy and foreign policy.

"His views on what we should be doing around the world would be invaluable for members of our committee. So we'd love to get his perspective on a wide variety of issues."

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