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Moderate Democrats Push For Compromise To End Government Shutdown

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. It is Day 33 now of a partial government shutdown, the longest shutdown in history. We are now seeing some activity on Capitol Hill. The Senate is expected to take up competing proposals in the coming days, one with funding for President Trump's border wall and one without. Neither are expected to go anywhere.

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is beginning to come under some pressure from more moderate Democrats in redder districts. They have written a letter to Pelosi asking her to make the White House an offer. If President Trump reopens the government, Pelosi would promise to open a debate over border security and guarantee a House vote by the end of February. One of the Democrats backing that idea is Congressman Ben McAdams of Utah, and he joins us this morning.

Congressman, welcome.

BEN MCADAMS: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So your compromise would require the president to reopen the government as a first step. Isn't that what Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have been asking for the whole time? How is this different?

MCADAMS: Yeah. You know, I think we're unified on that. We can't be shutting down the government every time there's a disagreement in Congress, and so we've got to get the government back open. The American people should not be a pawn in this negotiation, so we should reopen the government. But look; there are mechanisms in Congress for us to have debates like this about tough issues. And so we should just reopen the government and then commit to the president that we're going to move forward, we're going to continue to have a back-and-forth, we're going to take, you know, his concerns for border security seriously. I think Democrats agree that border security is an issue that we care about.

But we've also got to talk about the broader issues of immigration reform and how we're going to protect the DREAMers and other people who are here. And so let's have that that conversation through the mechanisms that have already been used, you know, for decades. We will move forward. We'll have that conversation. We'll commit to a vote on border security and move forward. And I think that's - you know, hopefully, that's an olive branch that we can return to the president to say we're at the table; we're going to continue these conversations; we're going to take his concerns and his priorities seriously, listen to the issues that he's raising as we also work to build consensus across the Congress.

GREENE: So as you talk about continuing the conversation and things like that, I mean, Pelosi, Senator Schumer have said, you know, they would talk about these things as you go forth. The real difference here - just so I'm really clear - is just promising an actual vote in the House. That's what you're asking Speaker Pelosi to do?

MCADAMS: Yeah. Look. I think that's it. I think we should stay at the table. I didn't think the president's offer over the weekend was sufficient. It wasn't good enough. But we should always stay at the table and continue to negotiate and give him the sign that, look, we will have a vote on this. We'll have a debate. We'll have a vote. Nothing is ruled out. Nothing is ruled in. Let's just resume the work of government. And then let the political process, the debates in Congress and consensus-building move forward. And...

GREENE: Move forward.

MCADAMS: Yeah.

GREENE: Well, let me just ask you, if I can. Were the president to agree to something like this - I want to play you something a fellow Democrat said on our program yesterday. It's Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. He's really concerned about Democrats with to cave here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

TIM KAINE: We are not resisting to sitting down to the president. What we resist is this president using the intentional infliction of pain on workers and citizens unrelated to the border dispute as a way to get his way. We're going to come out of this with a deal that will not only solve these problems but will discredit use of shutdown as a terrorizing negotiating strategy going forward.

GREENE: Could this compromise backfire? The president comes out there and says, OK, Democrats have said they're going to give me a vote on my border wall. And then that might encourage him to use shutdowns as leverage in the future.

MCADAMS: Look. I think we need to send that message loud and clear, that a shutdown is never a way that we're going to - it's not an acceptable negotiating tactic, that we're going to work and have these conversations like adults and without the threat of a shutdown so that one side or another gets their way. So I think - I agree with Senator Kaine in that regard, that we've got to move past the shutdown and then move into the regular course of how we have these conversations, how we have these debates and allow his priorities to come forward and to be discussed. I don't necessarily agree with them, but I think that we can all agree that we should have these conversations.

GREENE: You have a distinction. You are in the most Republican district in the country represented by a Democrat. Are you under a lot of pressure from voters to consider, like, the president's idea for a border wall?

MCADAMS: You know, I think my district is also not anti-immigrant. So people are frustrated by the shutdown. They're frustrated that both Congress and the president can't have a mature conversation about these things and listen to each other and try and find consensus. So that, I think, is what people are most frustrated about. We're frustrated by the impacts on the American people, the potential risks and the hits we're making on the economy that's going to affect everybody. And so we've just got to find a way, as adults, to have this conversation and to move it forward.

GREENE: Democratic Congressman Ben McAdams of Utah, thanks so much.

MCADAMS: Thank you.

GREENE: I want to turn now to NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.

GREENE: So is this proposal from centrist Democrats significant?

KEITH: I'm not sure if it was handed to President Trump right now that he would be particularly persuaded. The issue is that, at this moment, with the government shutdown, he has more leverage than he'll ever have to get border wall funding. If he, to use a term the Democrats would use, releases the hostages - if he reopens the government, then even if Democrats promise to vote, there is no way that a democratically controlled House of Representatives is going to approve $5.7 billion for a border wall, which is what President Trump says he wants.

GREENE: I see. So the White House is going to see this maybe, you could argue, for what it is. Sure, you're going to get a vote. But there's no way that I'm going to get that border wall, which would look like a defeat in the House. And that might not be something the president wants at all to see.

KEITH: The president is, for now at least, holding firm that he wants the wall. He also wants other border security measures that Democrats do want. So there is a lot of common ground in terms of, you know, securing ports of entry, preventing drugs from going across the border, adding more immigration judges. There are lots of areas of agreement. But the wall is the central argument.

GREENE: So just to be clear, we are not appearing very close at all to some sort of negotiation that might end the shutdown as of now.

KEITH: As of right now, there continues to be a fundamental disagreement. President Trump has leverage. He believes he has leverage. He wants wall funding before he reopens the government. Democrats will not discuss - negotiate until they reopen the government.

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Tam, thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.