RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We are now hearing about two signs that a compromise could be on the horizon when it comes to immigration - an issue that is holding up a crucial spending bill needed to keep the government open. First, there are these remarks that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made yesterday to a group of Hispanic lawmakers. He said the president's thinking has, quote, "evolved" on the border wall with Mexico and that the White House is fully committed to finding a fix for DACA. And then there's news that a bipartisan group of senators, led by South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, has put together a new immigration proposal and put it on the table late Wednesday. The bill would be - would up the budget for border security, make the DACA program permanent and address the policy of family-based migration. It's come to be called chain migration.
Joining us in the studio is Senator Michael Bennet. He's a Democrat from Colorado. He is a member of that bipartisan group. Thanks so much for being in the studio this morning.
MICHAEL BENNET: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: First, I want to talk about John Kelly's comments. He was on the Hill talking with members of the Hispanic Caucus, and he later did an interview on Fox News. In both appearances, he said the president is no longer demanding an actual physical wall along the entirety of the U.S. border. And he also, as we noted, promised a solution for the DREAMers. He said it was essentially a done deal. What difference do you think his remarks will make in the debate over immigration that's playing out right now?
BENNET: Well, I hope it's an indication that, as we get to the end of this week, people will take a serious look at the proposal that we've put together. The four parts that you mentioned are creating a pathway to citizenship for the DREAMers, spending $2.7 billion on the border, which includes $1.6 billion, which was the president's request this year for the wall, dealing with what they call chain migration by preventing DREAMers from sponsoring their parents to become citizens and also ending the diversity lottery program - all of which the president said he wanted to do as aspects of the deal when we were at the White House a week ago. So I think we're in the ballpark of being able to get something done here.
MARTIN: So you're talking about what is now included in this new bipartisan plan that has been put on the table. But how does this differ from the plan that was put to the president last week when a similar group of bipartisan lawmakers went and said, how about this, and he said no?
BENNET: Yeah. It's not different. But I don't think that the White House allowed the details of our plan to sink in before they objected to it. We now have - and one way it's different is that we now have seven Republican co-sponsors, including my colleague Cory Gardner, who's a Republican from Colorado. There is broad bipartisan support for this idea, and I think we should pursue it.
MARTIN: When it comes to the president's evolution on the wall, as articulated by John Kelly - we should note, the president has been tweeting this morning, saying that he hasn't changed his mind on the wall. But do you think that will convince some Democrats who have been reticent to get on board with any spending bill because of the administration's position on immigration, do you think that will move the needle for them?
BENNET: I think that we - what we try to do in our proposal is not waste money. We believe in border security. Democrats believe in border security. Building a 2,000-mile wall on the southern border is not the most efficient way to protect ourselves. So we have proposals that relate to fencing. We have proposals that relate to technology. We have some proposals, as I said, including the president's, his $1.6 billion that he asked for this year, that would be used to prototype his wall and to build some of that wall. So I don't think the place where there's a lot of dispute here is on the wall.
Again, I think that if we were in a place where people were actually trying to get to yes instead of get to no, this proposal, which has been negotiated over four months by a group of senators who were at the heart of the last immigration discussion we had, I think reflects a thoughtful consensus. I don't like everything in the bill. I wouldn't have written the bill this way if I were writing it by myself.
BENNET: But if I were thinking about what do Democrats and Republicans need to resolve this together in a bipartisan way, I think it's this bill.
MARTIN: But as you noted, the president rejected a similar bill last week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he just doesn't even know what the president wants at this point. So there's no guarantee that this will go through. And at the same time, Republicans, their plan is to pass a short-term spending mechanism that would keep the government open and would make funding for the CHIP program, Children's Health Insurance, permanent. That's got to be attractive to Democrats.
BENNET: I don't think so. I think people are so tired - Democrats and Republicans - so tired of running this government by continuing resolution. It is ridiculous. I was in business for a while and then I was a school superintendent. There's not a city council and there's not a school board in Colorado that would ever suggest they're going to run that enterprise based on two-week CR's. And here we're running the federal government that way. I am very sympathetic, for example, to Lindsey Graham's view of what this is doing to our military readiness. We have airplanes that cannot fly because of the budget ridiculousness in Washington - not the levels but the fact that we can't fund the government more than two weeks at a time. And when you have airplanes that can't fly, it means you have pilots that can't learn how to fly, and that affects our military preparedness.
MARTIN: Even so, does that mean that you will risk a government shutdown in order to get an immigration plan through (ph)?
BENNET: I don't think it should come to that. I think that these politicians, including me, in Washington should stay here until we get our work done, including dealing with a crisis that was provoked by the president stripping the DREAMers of their status in September. This is not - this was - this - we need to deal with it, Rachel.
MARTIN: And just briefly, does that mean that you will not vote for a short-term spending bill - yes or no?
BENNET: I am extremely unlikely to vote for the bill that's been put forward in the House, and I think that the House is going to have trouble getting Republican votes with that bill.
MARTIN: Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, thank you so much for your time.
BENNET: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.