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Trump Threatens Partial Shutdown Over Border Wall Funding

Dec 16, 2018
Originally published on December 16, 2018 4:25 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start the program today in Washington, D.C., because this week, lawmakers are facing a Friday deadline to pass a budget or face the prospect of a partial government shutdown. This past week, an Oval Office meeting between President Trump and the Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer made the prospect of a shutdown quite apparent. And it seemingly all comes down to funding that wall on the southern border that the president has promised but the Democrats will not support.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: Twenty times you would call for, I will shut down the government if I don't get my wall. None of us have said...

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You want to know something?

SCHUMER: You've said it.

TRUMP: OK, you wanted to put that in my...

SCHUMER: You said it.

TRUMP: I'll take it.

SCHUMER: OK.

TRUMP: Good. You know what I'll say? Yes. If we don't get what we want, one way or the other, whether it's through you, through a military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government.

SCHUMER: OK. Fair enough.

TRUMP: Absolutely. And I...

SCHUMER: We disagree.

TRUMP: ...Am proud. And I'll tell you what...

SCHUMER: We disagree.

TRUMP: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck.

MARTIN: We wanted to learn more about where the lawmakers stand on this, so we're joined now by NPR's Kelsey Snell.

Kelsey, thanks so much for joining us.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Well, it doesn't really seem like we're seeing the flurry of last-minute negotiations and talks that we're used to seeing before a possible shutdown. Is there a plan out there to prevent this from happening?

SNELL: There really isn't that we have seen so far. I have talked to staff for all of the major leaders, and none of them can tell me how this gets fixed. Republicans in particular say it's almost entirely a conflict between Trump and the Democrats, as we heard earlier this week at the White House. Basically, there isn't a spending bill that can pass Congress without votes from Democrats in the House and the Senate.

So President Trump has to decide if he'll sign something that will almost certainly involve him losing out on some if not all of his border wall demand. That's the - really the only way that Democrats are saying there can be a solution.

MARTIN: So, you know, earlier this year, I think people may remember that the Democrats were talking with President Trump about a deal to approve some money for the wall in exchange for legal protections for immigrants who were in the country illegally after being brought here as children - the so-called DREAMers. Are the Democrats still willing to negotiate on that?

SNELL: I've been talking to Democrats a lot, and they say that that is definitely off the table. There's a lot of blame to go around for why that original deal fell through. But none of the Democrats I've spoken with are willing to even entertain it at this point because things basically have changed. They think the election was decisive on this in a couple of ways. One, lots of voters - not just Democrats - say they support protections for those immigrants. Those are the people who were covered under President Obama's program of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program.

The other thing is they don't trust President Trump, and they just don't believe that things will actually get resolved here. And the third and maybe biggest issue here is deals like that rely on having some moderates, particularly in the Senate, who are willing to bridge the gap between Democratic leaders and the rest of their party and the president. And over in the Senate, most of them lost. None of them seem remotely interested in betraying their party politics as their very last vote in Congress.

MARTIN: So do the Democrats have all this leverage? How did that happen?

SNELL: Yeah. They still need 60 votes in the Senate, and Republicans don't have 60 senators, so they have to get votes from Democrats. And traditionally, they've had a hard time passing spending bills on Republican votes alone in the House, too. And that's really only gotten worse here in December. A lot of Republicans haven't been around in voting since after the election. Some people lost and want to go home and be with their families. And then there are those other people who want other jobs. Like, think about Kristi Noem, who gets sworn in to be governor of South Dakota next month. She has to build a whole staff. And Marsha Blackburn was elected to the Senate, and she also has to do the same thing.

The other thing that I think people need to remember is there are the optics of shutting down the government over the holidays when employees will be without a paycheck - lots and lots of government employees. And Trump has already said he would own all of those consequences.

MARTIN: So is there a way out of this that avoids a partial shutdown next weekend?

SNELL: Well, one option is a short-term spending bill that would move the negotiations to January. Or Trump could maybe accept the Democrats' offer. One thing I've also heard floated is that they could come up with some sort of big package that maybe satisfied other demands from Democrats in exchange for a small amount of border security funding so that Trump can walk away and say he got a little bit of something.

MARTIN: So if this shutdown happens, what does that mean in terms of both services that will be affected and people who will not be getting paid?

SNELL: Right. You know, I mentioned that there would be those people who would have to work and maybe not get paid. And this particular shutdown would really only affect about 25 percent of the government. And that might seem small, but there's some pretty important agencies involved in that.

There's the Department of Homeland Security. There's the Security Administration - the people who do the airport screening. And the national parks are all on the list of places that won't have funding. So you have essential employees like border agents or people who are doing those checks at the airport. They would all have to work without a paycheck, and everybody else would be sent home.

MARTIN: That's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell.

Kelsey, thank you.

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