STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here is the state of play in efforts to reopen the federal government. The Senate votes on two bills today. The Republican measure has funding the president demanded for a wall along the border with Mexico along with some other immigration measures. The Democratic measure just reopens the government. In the House, a leading Democrat, James Clyburn, says his party is ready to give the president all the money he is asking for border security, just not a wall.
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JAMES CLYBURN: If his $5.7 billion is about border security, then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing it with what I like to call - using a smart wall.
INSKEEP: Republican Mark Meadows sees no change here.
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MARK MEADOWS: On Day 1, there was zero dollars for new border fencing measures. On Day 33, there's still zero dollars for new border fencing measures.
INSKEEP: So how's all this look from the White House? Our next guest is Mercedes Schlapp. She is White House director of strategic communications.
Welcome back to the program.
MERCEDES SCHLAPP: Thank you for having me.
INSKEEP: Would the president consider that offer, all the money - $5.7 billion - just not a wall?
SCHLAPP: Well, why don't we have the Democrats come over and propose that over to the president? What we have not seen, sadly, is the Democrats willing to - especially Democrat leadership with Speaker Pelosi - come wanting to negotiate. We have been waiting for a counteroffer. The president, last Saturday, presented a good faith, reasonable proposal that would immediately reopen the government and as well as provide measures that would secure the border. They not...
INSKEEP: Are you - forgive me. Are you saying the president would seriously consider what Clyburn just put on the table there?
SCHLAPP: Well, what we need is a conversation to happen...
INSKEEP: So yes?
SCHLAPP: ...'Cause Democrat leadership...
INSKEEP: Is that a yes or just come and talk?
SCHLAPP: We've been waiting. What we need to determine - is that their counteroffer? Speaker Pelosi hasn't told us what their counteroffer is. What we know in the president's proposal is that includes several elements that the Democrats would agree with, including an extension of DACA, an extension of temporary protected status and as well as asylum laws that would actually - that they would support, which would be that young minors would be able to apply for asylum in their home country.
Before - when the president was about to give the address - even before that, Speaker Pelosi put out a statement. And she said that Democrats want stronger, more effective border security. Two of the bullet point she included, which was more immigration judges to deal with the backlog and also basically allowing for counternarcotics technology. Those are two elements that are included in the president's proposal.
INSKEEP: We should...
SCHLAPP: We are ready to have this discussion with the Democrat leadership. Question is, are they going to come to the table?
INSKEEP: We should...
SCHLAPP: And so far, we have not seen a counteroffer.
INSKEEP: We should note that Democrats disagree with the way the president has laid out the DACA protections as well as the asylum protections. We'll discuss at another time. But I want to ask about this shutdown because it goes on. It's more than a month old.
And the National Air Traffic Controllers Association has put out a statement because, of course, air traffic controllers are affected here. They're not being paid. There are some things they can't do. The statement says, quote, "we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break." If a plane crashes and people are killed because of this shutdown, is the wall worth that?
SCHLAPP: Well, I will say that at this point, what the president and speaker - what the president wants to do is have the Democrats come to the table. The Democrats keep...
INSKEEP: Is a plane crash...
SCHLAPP: ...Delaying the process (unintelligible).
INSKEEP: The president is the one who's making a demand. Is the...
SCHLAPP: No, no, no. The demand is...
INSKEEP: ...Wall worth people getting killed?
SCHLAPP: The Democrats' demand is not going to work because of the fact that they don't even want to have a discussion with the president. The president has asked time and time again to come to a compromise, and they refuse to do so. So we want to open the government. We want the Democrats to come to the table. We want to secure the border where we have seen increased crime, where we have seen increased gang activity, where we have to deal with a decades old problem. And it's time we - and we have put forward a good faith proposal, and yet we have no answer coming from the Democrats.
INSKEEP: You also have DHS leaders, former DHS leaders - five of them, including John Kelly, the former White House chief of staff and the president's DHS secretary - saying that it's unconscionable that Homeland Security workers are not being paid. We have the FBI Agents Association saying that investigations are being hampered. So that leads to another question. If the shutdown leads to a terror attack that gets Americans killed, is the wall worth that - yes or no?
SCHLAPP: Again, I'm going to say that the Democrats need to come to the table. We are ready to open this government immediately. We want to be able to secure the border, which we know is an issue that is incredibly important, especially as our Border Patrol agents have asked for these resources. And so it's time for the Democrats to stop going home - because this is what's happening. Speaker Pelosi will be going home this weekend, will not be in Washington. She is not taking this seriously.
INSKEEP: Well, the Senate will be out as well. Why are you uncomfortable answering yes or no to that question?
SCHLAPP: I think, at the end of the day, no one - not any American thinks, you know, that we want a plane to crash, any safety concerns. And that is why the president wants to open up the government, secure our border, have the Democrats come to the table - as opposed to the Democrats continuously going home and not working and not getting to a resolution.
INSKEEP: Mercedes Schlapp, thanks for taking the time. I really appreciate it.
SCHLAPP: Thank you.
INSKEEP: She is the White House director of strategic communications. NPR's Domenico Montanaro was listening along with us.
Domenico, what did you hear there?
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, you certainly heard much less about a border wall. There certainly wasn't the idea of, you know, build a wall; crime will fall - as the president talked about yesterday. Instead, when you asked her if the president would accept $5.7 billion or potentially more than that that Democrats could put on the table as early as today for border security, she said, well, why don't we have the Democrats propose that to the president? Certainly sounds like an openness and a potential way out of this shutdown. At the same time, of course, we don't know inside the mind of the president. We don't know if he will accept that, but it certainly sounds like an opening, Steve.
INSKEEP: We should be clear. People close to the president, including the vice president, Mike Pence, have sounded more willing to deal than the president has sounded over the past several weeks.
MONTANARO: They are always more willing to deal. They just don't know what the president will exactly sign off on.
INSKEEP: OK. Domenico, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro.
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