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Competing Proposals To Reopen The Government Fail In The Senate

Jan 24, 2019
Originally published on January 24, 2019 6:37 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today is the 34th day of the longest government shutdown in history. And on Capitol Hill, the Senate took their very first votes on bills to reopen the government.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

That's right. One bill, backed by President Trump, would have reopened the government in exchange for $5.7 billion for a border wall. The other bill, backed by Democrats, would have opened the government for a short time to keep talking about the border. Now, both of these bills failed, but taking the step of voting seemed to shake up negotiations that have been stalled for weeks.

CORNISH: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went immediately into a meeting to discuss an alternative path forward, one that could reopen the government and give lawmakers a few more weeks to work out the details. NPR's congressional reporter Kelsey Snell joins us now from Capitol Hill. And Kelsey, can you give us a sense of whether this new development is a sign of real progress?

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Well, it's kind of hard to tell at this point because things came together really quickly after those two votes failed. A group of about 18 senators from both parties, almost evenly split, went to the Senate floor and they started talking about a plan for a three-week spending bill to reopen the government just to let the talks continue. And South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham was one of them. He said he'd already brought the idea to President Trump, and Graham said Congress needs to agree to give Trump clear parameters for talking about border security and spending. Here's what he said.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: You're not giving President Trump a bunch of money to do anything he wants to with. He's got to spend it on a plan that the professionals have come up with.

SNELL: And he said Democrats would get some things they want, too.

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GRAHAM: You want $800 million for refugee assistance. You'll get it. We all need more judges. Two-hundred-fifty more border patrol agents on the border would be good for us all.

CORNISH: How are leaders responding to this idea?

SNELL: Well, as you said, McConnell and Schumer went and had a meeting about it right after the votes. And they talked about the possibilities, and by the time it was over, Schumer came out and he was smiling. He told all of his reporters that they were continuing to talk. But it's really hard to tell right now how far those talks will go, in part because the president followed up by saying he needs a down payment on the wall before he can agree. And that's something we know Democrats have rejected so far.

CORNISH: The impression has been that the Senate has been completely taking a back seat in these talks. But now it seems, clearly, the majority leader is engaged. Do we know what sparked this uptick in talks?

SNELL: People on the Hill are getting incredibly irritated. They want a deal, and every time they hear from constituents or they turn on the television, there's a new story about the impact of this shutdown on people who are voting for them and people who are hurting. Ohio Republican Rob Portman told many of his reporters that this shouldn't be so hard and that there's actually a deal to be had.

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ROB PORTMAN: Shutdowns are always stupid. This is a particularly stupid one because the underlying problem is one we can resolve. We're not that far - this is not health care.

SNELL: He also said this isn't abortion, this isn't a kind of social issue that divides the two parties. It is a conversation about border security, which in the abstract is something that both parties agree on. And that's kind of been the feeling from both parties.

CORNISH: Are House Democrats sharing that same frustration?

SNELL: Yeah. They have passed several bills that all send the same message that they want to reopen the government first and then talk about border security later. And they passed another one this week. They're getting really annoyed with the White House, too, because essentially they're calling the White House callous. They're really upset about some comments in particular that were made today by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. He was talking on CNBC and seemed to downplay the seriousness of the impact of the shutdown on workers. Here's what he said.

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WILBUR ROSS: I don't really quite understand why because the obligations that they would undertake - say, borrowing from a bank or a credit union - are, in effect, federally guaranteed. So the 30 days of pay that some people will be out, there's no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against it.

CORNISH: And we've been focused on the Senate, but House Democrats, are they offering anything new in terms of these negotiations?

SNELL: Yeah. Behind the scenes, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is working on a new proposal that would detail all of the border security spending they would be willing to do once the government reopens. Now, that's the important part, right? Once the government reopens. And what I'm told is that all together the money they're talking about proposing could meet or exceed the president's demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall. It just wouldn't be spent on the border wall. It would be spent on other types of border security, which Democrats say they gladly would support.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thank you.

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