Congress Has 16 Days To Avoid Another Shutdown
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Senate Democrats provoked a three-day government shutdown to try and reach a deal on a bipartisan immigration bill. Well, today the government is back open, but senators are still trying to reach that deal before the next shutdown deadline which comes on February 8. Joining us now to discuss how those talks on immigration are going is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hey there.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey there.
KELLY: Remind everybody before we get into the meat of this. What exactly are Congress and the White House trying to hash out in these talks?
DAVIS: Right, so the catalyst for this entire conversation was President Trump's decision last fall to end the Obama-era DACA program, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It's a program that allowed people that were brought here as children who are residing here illegally to get temporary legal status. The program was challenged in the courts, and the president has decided to end it. He gave Congress six months to find a solution and a deadline of March 5. We are coming up fast on that deadline.
At a recent White House meeting a couple weeks ago, negotiators agreed to the broad outlines of what that deal should include in a DACA fix. That also included more money for border security, including perhaps, yes, the wall that the president has long been seeking and tougher policies on legal immigration that allow people to bring family members into the country and a lottery program that people can use to apply for visas.
KELLY: All right, so fast forward to where we are now, and I suppose my question is, where did the shutdown leave things? Did they make these negotiations harder or easier? And I'm sure that depends on who you ask. Senate Democrats are portraying this as a win, that Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, extracted this promise from the leader on the Republican side, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying there will be a vote on this immigration bill.
DAVIS: And he has a point. They certainly did put Senator McConnell in the spotlight. On the Senate floor yesterday, he did say his plan was to bring an immigration bill up for the vote. Republicans have kind of pushed back on this idea that Democrats got a big win because McConnell has been saying for months that he intended to bring up immigration legislation. So that's not particularly new.
DAVIS: The common understanding coming out of this shutdown scenario is that negotiators are going to spend the next three weeks trying to come up with this deal. If they do it, they will plan to get a vote on it soon or around that February 8 deadline. If they still can't get there, there is talk that they could maybe just begin an open debate on the Senate floor and try to fight it out there and see what can get 60 votes.
KELLY: And who are going to be the fighters in chief? I mean, who are the key players you're watching?
DAVIS: The group's being referred to as the number twos. It's the No. 2 ranking members in the House and Senate. That includes in the Senate John Cornyn of Texas, Dick Durbin of Illinois. In the House, it's Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. Their day jobs include knowing where all the votes are in their respective caucuses, so they're kind of seen as being the best people to know what can get the votes to pass the House. Huge player in all of this of course is President Donald Trump. And the chances of Republican leaders in either chamber bringing something to the floor that he doesn't support is very unlikely.
KELLY: But that has been the open question - is what he would support - any more clarity on that today?
DAVIS: Well, the president - we know what he doesn't want. He rejected an initial offer put to him by Senators Durbin and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that did hit on those four pillars. He also rejected an offer by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to include even more money to build a border wall. The White House said they weren't conservative enough or hard-line enough. Schumer talked about this on the floor today. This is what he had to say.
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CHUCK SCHUMER: On each of these issues, the president has been either impossible to pin down or completely absent. This hooey that President Trump was involved in the negotiations - pretty invisible to me.
DAVIS: Hooey - so it doesn't sound right now that there's a tremendous amount of goodwill between Congress and the White House. The president did kind of sit on the sidelines during the shutdown. He let the - he let lawmakers fight it out on their own. It's just still not entirely clear what he's going to sign. And until we know that, it's not entirely clear whether a deal can get done or not.
KELLY: All right, thanks so much, Sue.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
KELLY: That's Sue Davis - Susan Davis, NPR's congressional correspondent. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.