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Politics and Government

Colorado to join lawsuit challenging Trump emergency declaration, AG cites impact to military construction budget

Phil Weiser's office says Colorado will join 12 other states to oppose President Trump's emergency declaration to build a wall on the border with Mexico

People rally against President Donald Trump's proposed wall outside the Colorado Capitol on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Phil Weiser, Colorado’s new attorney general, will join a multi-state lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s declaration Friday of a national emergency to build a border wall.

The decision, announced late Sunday night, marks the highest profile move against the White House yet by Weiser, a Democrat who vowed during his campaign to be a check on the Trump administration.

Weiser on Friday immediately vowed to uphold the rule of law in the face of Trump’s declaration, questioning the legitimacy of the president’s use of the power. But he was uncertain whether Colorado had legal standing to join a lawsuit against the border wall given that it does not share a border with Mexico.

On Monday, his office said Colorado has standing to join because of potential impact to military bases near Denver and Colorado Springs. Trump has said he intends to tap a pool of money budgeted for military construction to fund the wall.

“We don’t have enough information to have specifics, but the amount of money being shifted — billions of dollars — means that Colorado, like most states, is going to be affected,” Weiser told The Colorado Sun after appearing at a rally Monday against Trump’s declaration outside the Colorado Capitol. “We have a lot of military installations here, and we don’t know the specifics of how we’ll be affected. But the math shows we can expect to be affected.”

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, attends a rally at the Colorado Capitol against President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Gov. Jared Polis, a fellow Democrat, agrees with Weiser’s decision.

“After reviewing the specifics of this action over the weekend, we concluded that Colorado could lose tens of millions in military construction dollars that would be diverted to build the wall,” Polis said Monday in written statement issued jointly with Weiser. “Our military bases play a critical role in our nation’s readiness and are economic drivers in several communities.”

Other states joining the lawsuit challenging the declaration include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Virginia.

Democrats and some Republicans are opposed to Trump’s use of a national emergency declaration to secure funding — more than $5 billion, potentially — for a border wall.

National emergency declarations are typically used by presidents to open up federal money in the case of events like a natural disaster, not to accomplish policy goals. Critics of Trump’s decision say if it goes through, the declaration would represent an end-run around Congress that could set a bad precedent for presidents to come.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told ABC’s “This Week” that his state would sue “imminently” to block the order, after the American Civil Liberties Union and the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen announced Friday they were taking legal action.

Democrats are planning to introduce a resolution disapproving of the declaration once Congress returns to session and it is likely to pass both chambers. Several Republican senators are already indicating they would vote against Trump, though there do not yet appear to be enough votes to override a veto by the president.

A top White House adviser said on Sunday said that Trump is prepared to issue the first veto of his term if Congress votes to disapprove his declaration of a national emergency.

Weiser said his decision to join the lawsuit challenging the emergency declaration doesn’t necessarily mean he plans to be among a group of other vocal Democratic state attorneys general who have frequently filed legal actions against the Trump administration.

“I take every case, whether it’s against the federal government or against a polluter or against someone who is defrauding customers, and ask ‘what’s Colorado’s interest and what’s the rule of law?’ This is one of those cases,” he said. “There’s not an overall plan, per se, it’s a matter of protecting Colorado.”

People rally outside the Colorado Capitol against President Donald Trump’s proposed wall on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The coming legal fight over Trump’s declaration seems likely to hinge on two main issues: Can the president declare a national emergency to build a border wall in the face of Congress’ refusal to give him all the money he wanted and, under the federal law Trump invoked in his declaration, can the Defense Department take money from some congressionally approved military construction projects to pay for wall construction?

The Pentagon has so far not said which projects might be affected.

Courts often are reluctant to look beyond the justifications the president included in his proclamation, Ohio State University law professor Peter Shane said on a call organized by the liberal American Constitution Society.

But other legal experts said the facts are powerfully arrayed against the president. They include government statistics showing a decades-long decline in illegal border crossings as well as Trump’s rejection of a deal last year that would have provided more than the nearly $1.4 billion he got for border security in the budget agreement he signed Thursday. Opponents of the declaration also are certain to use Trump’s own words at his Rose Garden news conference Friday to argue that there is no emergency on the border.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.