News Brief: Border Funding Talks, Parkland Shooting Anniversary
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
They were under a whole lot of pressure to make it happen, and now Congress says they have a deal to prevent another government shutdown.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Key lawmakers agreed on a range of border security measures, and those measures include President Trump's demand to fund a border wall, which led to a partial government shutdown. Before the shutdown, Democrats offered the president $1.3 billion for that wall. After the shutdown, Republicans have apparently agreed to roughly the same amount that they could have had before. At least according to early descriptions of the bill, it falls a billion short of what the president demanded. As the deal came together, the president was holding a campaign-style rally near the border in El Paso, Texas.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Just so you know, we're building the wall anyway. They say that progress has been made...
TRUMP: Just now - just now - I said, wait a minute. I got to take care of my people from Texas. I got to go. I don't even want to hear about it.
MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley was traveling with the president to Texas, and he is on the line, along with NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Good morning to you both.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: Kelsey, I want to start with you because you are covering the ins and outs of what this compromise is actually about. So what can you tell us in terms of the details here?
SNELL: Well, the details that we have are kind of early information from congressional aides who have reviewed the agreement. We have not actually seen the physical bill yet because they were working on it all through the night. From what we understand, negotiators agreed to $1.375 billion for physical barriers at the border. And I'm told that's fencing, including some new fencing in restricted areas. Now, that level is about the same as what was agreed to in last year's Department of Homeland Security funding bill.
SNELL: Now, that would fund about 55 miles of fencing. And Trump has been demanding $5.7 billion for a really much larger wall structure. So this is considerably less than what they were asking for. They also agreed to more resources for non-barrier border security and a reduction in the overall number of detention beds at Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities this year. We're talking about...
MARTIN: So that's a win for Democrats 'cause they had been pushing that.
SNELL: Yeah, definitely. It's on the order of 40,000 beds, and that's, like, a 17 percent drop.
MARTIN: Do we know if there's any other money allocated to border security other than that $1.3 billion? Because that had been in the opting (ph) - right? - additional resources for, like, humanitarian aid or something.
SNELL: Right. And like you said, that - the number of ICE detention beds is a big victory for Democrats or that they're framing it that way. But there would be an additional $1.7 billion for border security, things like technology at ports of entry, more officers at the border and a lot of other things that ICE and the Department of Homeland Security have said that they needed. Now, that is a boost, and that's something that Republicans are likely to be celebrating quite a bit.
MARTIN: Right. That was something that both parties at least said in theory that they wanted all those things. So what is not in the deal that stands out?
SNELL: I think the thing that stands out most to me is that the negotiators told us as they were coming out of the meeting they weren't able to include any money for disaster aid. And Congress will still have to handle that. It's something they had hoped to have as a part of this broader package because there are states like California that dealt with a lot of wildfires and other natural disasters last year, and they're still hoping for federal funds to help them make up the difference.
MARTIN: OK. So at this point, the big question is - and remains - will President Trump support this? Because, as we have pointed out, this is basically what was put on the table for him before the shutdown even happened. Scott, you were with the president at this rally in El Paso. We played a clip of him earlier. What more did he say about this deal? Because he knew, right? As the rally was starting, he knew about at least the contours of this compromise.
HORSLEY: He was just getting word. I mean, it's an awkward position for the president. He goes to El Paso to make the case for his border wall, and just as he's landing, he gets word that lawmakers had really cut the legs out from under him because they're only OK'ing about a quarter of the money he'd been asking for. As you heard, he just kind of ignored what was happening in Washington, plowed ahead and addressed the desires of the fervent supporters who were in that coliseum.
MARTIN: During the rally, we should just point out, he brought up a new chant, a new call and response. Usually, it's build the wall. But there was a lot of, quote, "finish the wall" banner and signs. And this is how the president responded when people start saying build the wall. Let's listen.
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TRUMP: You really mean finish that wall because we've built a lot of them. It's finish that wall.
MARTIN: That makes it sound like the wall is well underway. Can you give us some ground truth on that?
HORSLEY: Well, you want real reality or Trump reality...
MARTIN: Real reality.
HORSLEY: ...Because, remember, this is a president who, as a developer, had no problem inflating the height of its buildings - his buildings if that's what it took to, you know, improve the marketing picture. Even if Trump had gotten all the money he wanted, we would've been talking about walling off maybe 10 percent of the 2,000-mile border. As it is, as Kelsey said, he's going to get 55 miles of border wall. The president's a pretty effective salesman. Maybe he can sell this to the wall's most ardent supporters. And, remember; most of them don't live anywhere near the U.S. border with Mexico.
INSKEEP: It's striking to hear the difference, Scott and Kelsey, between what you're hearing in Washington and what you're hearing in El Paso. The president is going on with symbolic politics and symbolic gestures and discussions of a wall that really, for a lot of people, was a symbol. But, Kelsey, when I hear you describe the legislation as far as it's known now, it sounds like just ordinary legislation, lawmakers going through a variety of measures that may have effect on people's lives and they're - they differ on the exact amount of funding, so they worked that out and went on.
SNELL: Yeah. I mean, this is, at the end of the day, an agreement on a spending package on a spending bill that they had to pass anyway. And the people who worked it out are the people who write spending bills. This is not - this is a bipartisan group of the biggest experts in Congress in writing spending bills. And to them, that's what this is.
MARTIN: What happens now, Kelsey? I mean - because this isn't just all of a sudden done, I mean, even if they have this compromise.
SNELL: Right. Congress has to approve the legislation and send it to President Trump for his signature before the Friday midnight deadline. And Trump would presumably need time to sign it. Senator Richard Shelby, who is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the Senate, seemed pretty optimistic that the White House is onboard. Here's what he said.
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RICHARD SHELBY: We haven't put all the particulars together yet, but we believe from our dealings with him and the latitude they've given us, they will support it. We certainly hope so.
SNELL: So he says that the...
MARTIN: Hope springs eternal, Kelsey, doesn't it?
SNELL: (Laughter) It does, and they say that they'll have the bill probably ready sometime today. And Congress can move pretty quickly once they have bill text in hand.
MARTIN: And, of course, they had a lot of hopes the last time when the president decided at the last minute not to sign it. NPR's Kelsey Snell and NPR's Scott Horsley for us this morning. Thanks, you guys.
SNELL: Thank you.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: This week marks one year since the Parkland massacre, a year that turned many of the survivors of that shooting into political activists calling for tighter gun control.
INSKEEP: They have an unlikely partner in Ed Stack. He is CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods, a company that sells firearms, among many other things. After the tragedy in Parkland, he said Dick's would no longer sell firearms to anyone under 21. Here he is on CNN.
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ED STACK: Everybody talks about thoughts and prayers going out to them, and that's great, but that doesn't really do anything. And we felt that we needed to take a stand and do this.
INSKEEP: The sporting goods store also stopped selling assault-style firearms at all in all of its stores. Our Alina Selyukh has been reporting on the aftermath of Stack's decision.
MARTIN: And she's in our studios this morning. Good morning, Alina.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: What has Ed Stack said about how he came to this decision these many months ago?
SELYUKH: He talks about the profound impact that Parkland had on him and his company. In one of the most personal interviews in November, he mentions that he watched the coverage that weekend and actually cried. He says that, you know, if the kids and the families of the victims were brave enough to take a stand on this, we as a company should also be brave enough to take a stand on this. And also Dick's had discovered that months earlier they had sold a gun to the Parkland shooter. Now, this wasn't a gun that was used in the shooting. It was a different type of gun. But to Ed Stack, this illustrated this broken system that he now wanted Congress to change.
And, you know, Dick's Sporting Goods, the reason we've been following this story is it's not a company that's known to go out on a limb. An example I like to offer is their dress code didn't allow jeans officially until two years ago, right? And so suddenly for many Americans, this was now the staid, dependable, athletic store essentially plunging into activism. And they made those changes that you just mentioned. And most controversially, they also hired a lobbying firm to actually lobby Congress for gun laws, for new gun laws, that would echo Dick's policy.
I have to say that the latest records show that the company spent barely any money on that effort. I asked them about it, and they essentially said faced with gridlock in Washington, they - Stack himself felt like there was no progress out of that. And he instead shifted to talking about gun laws and the changes he made on his company at events and things like that.
MARTIN: Yeah. How did Dick's customers respond to this decision?
SELYUKH: Right. There was a big boycott that played out in the first months. And I actually traveled to Pittsburgh, which is where our Dick's Sporting Goods is based, to talk to folks there. And a lot of gun owners, especially in the suburbs in sort of western Pennsylvania where hunting and gun sports are really popular, they did say that they stopped shopping at the company. Others in the more liberal parts of the city felt really proud of the company. But there was this one big perception that this whole thing was a knee-jerk reaction to Parkland.
And it was a profound change, but it's important to point out that after the shooting at Sandy Hook in 2012, Dick's did make a similar change. They took off assault-style rifles from the shelves and later brought them back only in the hunting-oriented stores of - called Field & Stream, which now are also - they're not being sold there anymore. So this has been kind of percolating for quite some time.
MARTIN: So does that mean that he - that Stack was acting against his own financial interests when he made this decision? I mean, what has been the financial fallout for the company?
SELYUKH: So this has been the interesting question. Wall Street was actually really not that moved by this whole story. In November, the company did report a dip in sales - 3.9 percent - especially dragged down by hunting. But profit margin improved because what Wall Street knows is that guns and ammo were actually not as profitable for Dick's Sporting Goods as pretty much everything else that they sell. And hunting has been a drag on the company for quite some time. Fewer people are hunting these days. They're actually running a test taking out hunting goods from 10 stores completely to see what happens. And in March, they will report full-year results, and we'll be watching.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Alina Selyukh for us. Thank you so much for that, Alina. We appreciate it.
SELYUKH: Thank you.
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