Congress Returns To Washington As Shutdown Continues With No New Talks

Jan 22, 2019
Originally published on January 23, 2019 5:39 am
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's day 32 of the partial government shutdown, surpassing all prior records and predictions. If it continues, 800,000 federal workers will miss a second paycheck.

Congress, though, has returned to Washington after the long weekend. And lawmakers will be voting on President Trump's new proposal to end the stalemate and get federal employees back to work.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

That's right. Here's what he's offering. He is offering to extend temporary protections to roughly 700,000 DACA recipients - those are the immigrants who were brought to the country as children - also to another 300,000 immigrants who fled countries destabilized by war or catastrophe.

Now, in exchange, Trump wants 5.7 billion for a border wall and also wants changes to rules for asylum seekers. That is a proposal that most Democrats reject.

NPR's congressional reporter Kelsey Snell joins me now in the studio. Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: All right. So help me understand the role that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is playing 'cause he holds some cards here. And he had said he wasn't going to allow votes on any bills until Democrats and the president were onboard. So what's his strategy now?

SNELL: Yeah, all of that changed over the weekend when - I understand McConnell approached the president about a week ago and told him that the dynamic needed to change. And the president now made the announcement of his plan over the weekend. And since then, McConnell has agreed to vote on not just the president's plan, but a second thing proposed by Democrats, which is a short-term spending bill to keep the government open - or reopen the government until February 8. And it would provide disaster aid.

Now...

KELLY: So these are two separate proposals...

(CROSSTALK)

SNELL: Two separate proposals that would kind of have a dueling vote on Thursday. And part of the idea here is they need to prove what is possible. McConnell had said that he wasn't interested in doing show votes. And really that could end up being what this is.

But some of this is about politics, right? So 2020, that - while that may seem far away to some people, it's not that far away in the politics of Washington. And he's - what has happened here is McConnell's trying to force Democrats to vote against opening the government in the president's bill. He kind of wants to shift the pressure. And by adding disaster aid and an expansion - an extension of the Violence Against Women Act, he kind of gets that leverage.

And, you know, it's one of these things where he thinks it'll be harder for Democrats to reject the president's proposal when they're seeing all of this pressure to get those 800,000 workers back to work.

KELLY: And what is the Democratic strategy to counter Senator McConnell's pressure? Because up to now, we've seen Senator Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, they've kind of kept Democrats in - in line and united. Is that - are we seeing signs of cracks there?

SNELL: It's hard to say if the cracks are really expanding. There are some moderates who are pressuring Democrats to get to a vote. But, you know, it's really been one of those situations where Democrats are united against the asylum portion of this bill.

They're calling it - they're calling it a poison pill. And they are seeing this as kind of, you know, Trump is pushing for a temporary fix to DACA and to TPS, these - these protections for immigrants. But he's offering that as a solution in exchange for everything that he wanted, and it's easier for Democrats to keep their own party together on that message of pushing back on the president on that.

KELLY: And polls showing, for now, Democrats still - that they're still kind of prevailing in terms of public opinion?

SNELL: So far, and as long as that holds, it makes it easier for Democrats to stay together and keep the pressure on the president.

KELLY: NPR's Kelsey Snell, thank you.

SNELL: Thank you.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly refer to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Sen. Pelosi.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.