Reopen Government And Then Engage In Trump Plan, Sen. Kaine Says
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The partial government shutdown has now surpassed the one-month mark, and there seems to be little movement toward any deal to end the shutdown. President Trump proposed a new plan to reopen the government temporarily restoring some protections that he'd previously stripped from people brought into this country illegally as children. But he hasn't budged on his demand for more than $5 billion for a border wall. And Democrats say that's a nonstarter. Republicans insist that the president has offered up a compromise and now it is the Democrats' turn to come to the table.
We will speak with one of those Democrats, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. Good morning, Senator.
TIM KAINE: Hey, Rachel. How are you?
MARTIN: Doing well, thanks. So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is going to fold the president's proposal into a bill that he plans to bring up for a vote this week. It also will include more than $12 billion for natural disaster funding. This is meant as a sweetener to get Democrats to sign on. Is that enough for you?
KAINE: Not unless government reopens, Rachel. That's what we have to do first. We have to reopen government. But then Democrats - I certainly am, and my colleagues are, too - are glad to have the discussion about the elements in the president's proposal. We hear that Leader McConnell is going to introduce the president's proposal today. It's, like, a 1,200-page bill. The last thing we should be doing is just trying to force a vote immediately on it. Let the Senate with committees and on the floor promptly take it up. Give Democrats a chance to make amendments to make it better.
In other words, treat it like every other item of business we have, rather than a take it or leave it. But we've got to open government first.
MARTIN: Except the administration has been fairly explicit that they understand that this is their leverage. The government shutdown is the leverage. So why would they give that up?
KAINE: Well, think about that, Rachel. They're saying people's lives are the leverage they want to use, and we want to discredit the use of government shutdown as a negotiating tactic. Why take paychecks away from FBI agents? Why shutter food stamp offices because the president's not getting his way on border security? If we give in to that kind of a tactic - using massive swaths of the American government, federal workers and American citizens as leverage - you can be sure this president will turn to that again, and again and again, every time he doesn't get his way.
So government needs to reopen. And then, yes, the president's elements of his proposal - border security, the dollar number doesn't worry me, how the monies are going to be used - we've got to debate. The TPS program, DACA, those are very legitimate points to discuss. And we can find a bipartisan resolution, as long as the president is serious and they're not just trying to jam through a vote with no meaningful opportunity to dig into it and hopefully make it better.
MARTIN: What is a good deal? I mean, let's just say, hypothetically, that the president agrees to reopen government, which I think is highly unlikely. But setting that issue aside, what would be a good deal on border security? What is the Democrats' plan for border security?
KAINE: Well, first, as you know, Rachel, I was part of a group in 2013 that did a comprehensive immigration bill that had $44 billion in border security over 10 years. And earlier, in 2018, we presented to the president a proposal to protect DREAMers, the full universe of 1.8 million DREAMers, in exchange for $25 billion in border security. So the Democrats invest in border security over, and over and over again. Both the plans I mentioned to you were killed by Republicans. So...
MARTIN: Well, Republicans are into 5.7 now so...
KAINE: Five-point-seven is a number that I have no trouble with, as long as the dollars are used right. So get the president's team up on Capitol Hill and have them walk through each of the elements they propose - why do you want to spend this amount on barriers or fencing? Why do you want to spend this amount on judges and immigration proceedings? Let's walk through the elements, and we can have a meaningful discussion, in my view, just like we have in the past, about how to spend the dollars. What I don't want to do is spend money that's wasted.
So when you have every member of Congress who represents the border saying spending it all on a wall would be a waste, they're not saying that there can't be any barrier or that we shouldn't shore up points of entry. But every member of Congress who represents the border says spending it all on a wall would be a waste. Let's get the White House up. Let's have them tell us what they want to do, and we can find a deal. Similarly, let's take DREAMers. There's 1.8 million DREAMers in this country. The president has stripped their protection, and he's proposing to temporarily restore protection to about 700,000 of them. Well, I'd like to see if we could restore protections longer or maybe permanently for the 1.8 million. We could have that productive discussion back and forth.
But again, if what the president wants to do is just say take it or leave it, that's not the way it works with the Article I branch. He should introduce the bill today. That's great. I'm glad Senator McConnell is doing it. And, as you know, I've kept the Congress in this week. We were supposed to be in recess, but I objected so that we would be in to consider it. But let's reopen government, and then let's engage in a meaningful discussion about the proposal that the president has put on the table.
MARTIN: So let's re-engage with the reality, which is that President Trump doesn't want to reopen the government, that he sees that as a necessary part of the negotiations. You are from a state that has a whole lot of federal workers and a whole lot of other people who are affected by government programs that are not servicing them right now. At what point does the suffering of those people outweigh your party's resistance to sitting down with the president?
KAINE: Well, Rachel, I just - I've got to challenge you. We are not resisting to sitting down to the president. What we resist is this president using the intentional infliction of pain on workers and citizens unrelated to the border dispute as a way to get his way. So you'd say that's the reality. That's not our reality. My federal employees tell me, do not do a deal that encourages the president to shut down the government every time he doesn't get his way. We're going to come out of this with a deal that will not only solve these problems but will discredit use of shut down as, you know, as a terrorizing negotiating strategy going forward.
MARTIN: Senator Tim Kaine, we have to leave it there. Democrat of Virginia. Thanks, as always, sir. We appreciate it.
KAINE: Glad to.
MARTIN: I'd like to bring in NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who listened into that conversation. So Mara, you heard there Tim Kaine saying, I'm OK with 5.7, that's a number I can deal with. But they want the government to reopen first. How's this going to end when the president insists that he can't make that happen?
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, they're going to have to come up with some kind of a compromise about opening the government. What polls really badly is shutting down the government to get money for a wall. The wall itself is more popular than the tactic of shutting down the government to get it. So maybe they reopen the government for a week at a time while they talk. That's something that's been done in the past. But I thought you heard some movement for compromise. He said 5.7 isn't the problem, but spending it all on a wall is a problem. The Democrats want more protection for more DREAMers, DREAMer-eligible people.
LIASSON: So they are still at a standoff, but something's moving because something is coming to the floor of the Senate.
MARTIN: OK. We'll see if there's an opening there. NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks. Appreciate it.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.