ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
After three weeks, the partial government shutdown is about to become the longest in U.S. history. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are not getting their scheduled paychecks this week. President Trump has been considering declaring a national emergency to get funding for the wall. Today he said he's not ready to do it yet, but the option remains under consideration. To get a sense of the president's perspective on this standoff, we're joined by Corey Lewandowski. He's a consultant who served as Trump's presidential campaign manager. Welcome.
COREY LEWANDOWSKI: Thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: Well, based on your conversations with people at the White House, how likely do you think an emergency declaration is at this point?
LEWANDOWSKI: I think we're getting closer and closer. Obviously Congress, both the House and the Senate, have left for the weekend, ensuring that this shutdown is going to continue. And the border crisis is not getting any better, and the president has been very clear that if he doesn't get a resolution from Congress, which is acceptable, he will implement the same powers which have been implemented 52 times since 1974, and the president will declare an emergency.
SHAPIRO: Why wouldn't he have done this at any point in the last two years when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and he still couldn't get funding for the wall?
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, let's be clear. Republicans and Democrats alike have failed on this issue and should have given the president the financial resources necessary to build the wall on the southern border, something that Barack Obama voted for, something that Hillary Clinton voted for and many other Democrats, including Chuck Schumer. But now this is a partisan issue. And what we have seen unfortunately over the last multiple weeks are additional Americans being killed by illegal aliens. And the president has made a trip to the border this week, and he's heard directly from the border guards.
SHAPIRO: But the question is, why would the president have done this in the last two years? He had the opportunity. The money wasn't forthcoming. Why wouldn't he have done this at any point before now?
LEWANDOWSKI: You know, the Congress allocated about $1.2, $1.4 billion for the maintenance of the wall, and they were - and they told the president that they would give him his funding prior to the election if he didn't close the government. That didn't happen. They told him they would give him the funding after the election. That's not happening. And this president is resolved to making sure that Americans are safe from people coming across the border illegally.
SHAPIRO: What do you say to concerned Republicans who fear that if President Trump does go through with this, then a future Democratic president could declare a national emergency on climate change or health care?
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, it's a significant question. It's a real question. And the question is, does the president have the authority to use the military to construct the wall. And if so, does this constitute an emergency? And I think right now it's an open legal question. But if he does declare that emergency, I think this is something that will go directly to the Supreme Court. And they will weigh in on it.
SHAPIRO: Other administration officials as senior as the vice president have tried to negotiate with Congress, and the president has publicly undercut offers that those advisers have made. Do you think he's made things harder for himself by not ensuring that he and his advisers are all on the same page?
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, the most disappointing part - and if you look at who was negotiating on behalf of the administration - the president, the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and the president's son in law were on Capitol Hill last week, but they weren't meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. They were meeting with younger junior staffers who wanted to ask technical questions about opening the government and the security of the wall. And so I think this president, his team have put forth the most senior team, but we have not seen that same resolve from the Democrats.
SHAPIRO: But what happens when that senior team makes an offer that the president then says was not a real offer and doesn't stand behind?
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, I think it's a negotiation. It's back and forth. I think Vice President Pence knows exactly where the president stands. I think his team knows exactly where he stands, which is, we need to have money to build the wall. And if you're not willing to put that money forth, then we will look at other opportunities to make that happen.
SHAPIRO: I'd like to play you a cut of tape from the president yesterday speaking about Democrats on his way out of the White House.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I really don't think they care about crime. And, you know, sadly they're viewing this as the beginning of the 2020 presidential race. And that's OK with me.
SHAPIRO: Whether or not this is about the 2020 presidential race for Democrats, how much of this do you think is about re-election for President Trump?
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, I clearly think that the building of the wall was a pledge that he made on the campaign trail in 2016 and a pledge that he has promised to fulfill. But it's the same pledge that the Democrats made when they voted for the legislation in the last 10 years to have a border - a boundary, a wall, a - you know, a barrier, whatever you want to call it, on the southern border. Some of that has already been installed. As you know, the Democrats voted for that, but now they continue to fight, to put up an additional barrier to protect Americans.
SHAPIRO: Corey Lewandowski was 2016 campaign manager for President Trump. Thank you very much.
LEWANDOWSKI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.