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Deadline To Pass Stopgap Measure To Fund The Government Draws Near

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Unless both houses of Congress approve a spending measure, parts of the federal government would shut down tonight. The dispute is over President Trump's demand for funding for a border wall. Just days ago, it did seem that all sides would pass by this moment. The votes weren't there in Congress for the president's demand. And then the president said he would veto a spending bill that did not include the money he wants.

So yesterday, last night, the House approved a measure with $5.7 billion in extra border funding - a bill that faces dim prospects in the Senate today. Congressman Ralph Norman voted for that funding measure. He is a Republican from South Carolina. He is a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, and he is in our studios. Congressman, thanks for coming by early, really appreciate it.

RALPH NORMAN: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Why pass a bill that, it seems to us, can't pass in the Senate when they vote today?

NORMAN: Well, you know, the thought process has been all year that we didn't have the votes to pass it, that it was delayed until Christmas time, which was really unacceptable. We had a caucus meeting yesterday. And a number of members expressed displeasure with the fact that none of us are in the Senate. I can't vote in the Senate if I had to, so the only vote I've got is in the House of Representatives. So...

INSKEEP: Meaning you were just going to do what you thought you wanted to do and see what happens.

NORMAN: Yeah. I mean, the president got elected on funding a wall - border security - whether it's a wall, whether it's a fence with the topo - it doesn't call for a wall. But the bottom line is it's been at the top of his list. And I think for a lot of us, it was very important to have. And it was now or never.

INSKEEP: I have to just interject. The president got elected on Mexico funding a wall.

NORMAN: He did, and Mexico is a part of this. But now as far as...

INSKEEP: Well, they're not paying for it. You're trying to get the United States to pay for it.

NORMAN: At this point - and that's a valid point. And a lot of people mention that. Why hadn't Mexico paid for it? I don't know the ins and outs of his dealings with Mexico. All I know is we have to have border security for our country. And the people that are coming in illegally have to be stopped.

INSKEEP: Would it be really that hard to compromise this measure? - because as I understand it, Senate Democrats had offered some money. There are various ways to secure the border. It doesn't have to necessarily be a concrete wall. There seems to be lots of room to massage this and move forward in the direction you want to go.

NORMAN: 1.6 isn't going to get it.

NORMAN: That was what the Democrats offered.

NORMAN: That's what the Democrats offered. And, you know, the bottom line is they don't - they really have never had a solid plan to do it. That's one of the things we brought up yesterday in the caucus meeting, that after January 3 and after Mrs. Pelosi takes over, assuming she's the speaker, the prospects of getting any kind of border security is not there. So it was kind of a do-or-die measure for the conservatives. And it - we really spoke out yesterday. And as a result, it passed. I think we had over 20 vote margin. We were told early on we didn't have support. We do have support. And I think we got - we had the support of the American people.

INSKEEP: There were a lot of conservatives who spoke out, not just in Congress but in conservative media. There was kind of an uprising the last few days. And the president then said he would veto the legislation if it doesn't include the money. The president has also said, though, that he, himself, will own - he will take responsibility for the government shutdown, should that happen tonight. Is that OK with you?

NORMAN: Absolutely. We all - the nation saw when the publicized encounter with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer - you know, this was an important issue. He said, we need the funding. And he will take responsibility. And, you know, you're talking about transparency. That's what that showed to me. And I think the usual way of politics that Mrs. Pelosi mentioned - let's work it out without the cameras - no, there's no deal to be cut. And I applaud what he did.

INSKEEP: There's no deal to be cut.

NORMAN: No deal to be cut is for if they're going to cut it out completely. Now, is the 5.7 locked down? Time will tell. But the fact...

INSKEEP: Oh, meaning that you could compromise again.

NORMAN: Oh, yeah.

INSKEEP: I mean, if the Senate passes something a little different, you could come back in the House and sign onto that as long as it's got something toward...

NORMAN: Depends on what it is, depends on the amount - time will tell. But the bottom line is we have to have security. We can't let people come into this country illegally. Most of us are for immigration, but it has got to be legal.

INSKEEP: Is this a good time - not that there's ever a really good time. But is this an appropriate time for a shutdown for federal workers not to be getting paid, given that there are already concerns about the direction of the economy?

NORMAN: Oh, in a perfect world, we would have taken this up after we passed the tax cuts. And the - we had been promised it was going to come up three or four times. After the tax cuts, we're going to bring it up in September. Then we're going to wait until the midterms. Now here we are with Christmas here. And no, it's never a good time. But this is - again, after January 3, our prospects of getting any kind of security are not there. So that's why we're - a lot of us - I will sit up here month after month until we come up with some type of border security that's passed. And I think a lot of us will.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks for coming by this morning, really appreciate it.

NORMAN: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Ralph Norman is a Republican from South Carolina. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been listening in. Hi there, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

INSKEEP: What do you hear there?

SNELL: Well, I thought it was really interesting that he mentioned the timing of this. And that's a critique that I've heard a lot over the past couple of days from House Republicans - that they'd been asking their leadership to take up this issue of the border wall for some time. And they were told that, you know, there was question about the votes. The vote yesterday did show that Republicans could vote for the border wall. And I think there was widespread frustration that this didn't get handled sooner.

INSKEEP: There was a point, though, where Republicans, if I'm not mistaken, would have been willing to go along with a spending measure - a short-term spending measure that would have not had this funding, right? They thought for a moment the president might sign on.

SNELL: Yeah. There was a time a couple of weeks ago when there was a conversation about maybe $1.6 billion for a border wall and maybe a little bit of extra somewhere else. But things really fell apart after that White House meeting between the Democrats' leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer in the Senate and President Trump. After that meeting, basically, all negotiations kind of went sideways. People were really not having the same conversation anymore because it had become emotional. It had become visceral, and it had become very public.

INSKEEP: Does it feel to any lawmakers that you talk with that there is a shape of a compromise if people would grasp it?

SNELL: There might be a shape of a compromise, maybe. But the thing is Democrats are just saying that they can't move on this. Republicans are saying they can't move on this. And there's not a lot of time to work out a deal. If this had been - if we had reached this brink maybe a week or two ago, there might have been an opportunity for more, you know, back and forth. But as it stands, we have less than 24 hours for Congress to work out an agreement before a shutdown would happen.

INSKEEP: And just briefly, the congressman mentioned that people want border security. It kind of depends on how you ask the polling question. But as I understand it, it's very powerful in President Trump's base. They really want this wall. But broadly speaking, in the public at large, it's less popular. Is that correct?

SNELL: Yeah, that's what we've seen in a lot of polls. It is definitely very popular with the president's base.

INSKEEP: Kelsey, thanks so much, really appreciate it.

SNELL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLYNATION'S "WHY YOU PT II") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.