President Trump holds a news conference in the Rose Garden on Friday to discuss declaring a national emergency. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Opinion writer

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“Frankly, I thought he should have declared a national emergency months ago, because you know that with Trump, it's all about theater. So, go ahead and have the theater.”

The day before President Trump’s rambling Rose Garden remarks announcing a national emergency on our southern border, I sat down with Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.). All that was needed was for Congress to vote on the budget deal to avert another government shutdown and send the legislation to Trump’s desk for his signature. And Bass was clear-eyed about what Trump’s theater was masking.

“The vote that we’re gonna take tonight is a smaller deal than the vote he agreed to in December. In December, it was $1.6 billion for border security. This deal is $1.37 billion. So, he’s actually getting less,” Bass explained in the latest episode of “Cape Up.” “And I completely expected him to declare a national emergency because, again, it’s theater. You know there’s no emergency. You don’t schedule a national emergency.”

Bass also anticipated Trump’s sing-songy prediction of litigation against his national emergency. Unlike the president, Bass believes Trump will lose in the courts and previewed what she envisions as his ultimate argument in 2020. “His next move will be, ‘This is why you need to elect Republicans because these bad judges are the ones that threw out my national emergency,’ " Bass told me. “You can tell what he’s going to do.”

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Bass’s first visit to the podcast came just months after Trump’s inauguration in 2017. A time when the Los Angeles Democrat said her town halls had turned her into a “political therapist.” That all changed, Bass said, when she put anxiety into action.

“You know what I did after we talked, because people were so anxious in the district and wanted something physical to do in response to his election. So what we did is, is that from March 2017 until November 2018, we went out almost every weekend, canvassing in Republican districts,” Bass recounted. “We went to nearby cities because there were seven seats, Republican seats, that we wanted to flip. And we were hoping that we would flip two or three. We flipped all seven.”

Bass returns to the podcast, this time, as the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose significance on Capitol Hill cannot be overstated. “Fifty-five members of the Black Caucus, five full committee chairs, 20 subcommittee chairs,” Bass said proudly. “So, the Black Caucus is the largest its ever been and the most powerful it’s ever been.” Last July, the CBC issued its “100 days agenda” if the Democrats regained control of the House after the 2018 midterm elections. She told me that under Trump “we are watching an administration attempt to systematically reverse or destroy everything we fought for for the last 60-70 years.”


From left, Reps. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus meet with President Trump at the White House on March 22, 2017. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

So I asked Bass, who was part of a small CBC delegation that met with the president in March 2017, how successful the caucus could be in thwarting him and achieving its goals with Trump in the White House. “With 55 people and the amount of power that we have on a committee and subcommittee level, it’s all very doable,” she said. CBC members now chair the committees on homeland security, financial services, oversight and reform, education and labor, and science, space and technology.

Listen to the podcast to hear Bass talk more about Trump, the Democratic Party and her thoughts on the freshman House member everyone can’t seem to stop talking about: “AOC,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

“I’ve just been very impressed with her. . . . She reminds me of the activist I was at her age,” Bass said before issuing a note of caution. “I appreciate her progressive politics and also her use of social media. It’s certainly something that is phenomenal. But, you know, at the end of the day it’s your colleagues that vote for your legislation, not your Twitter followers.”

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