Senate To Vote Thursday On 2 Bills To End Government Shutdown
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
How do Congress and the White House get out of this? The Senate will vote on two measures tomorrow to end the partial government shutdown, and neither is favored to pass. President Trump insists he will continue a shutdown that he said he was proud to own until he gets $5.7 billion for a border wall. Republicans have followed the president's direction while Democrats say he's holding the government hostage. We could've said all those same things on any day in the past month or so. Marc Short once coordinated the president's relations with Congress. He was the White House Director of Legislative Affairs, and he's back on the line.
Mr. Short, welcome back to the program.
MARC SHORT: Good morning, Steve. Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: Is your former boss pursuing a constructive strategy?
SHORT: I think that the president is committed to getting border security. And he feels that he's frustrated with Congress's impasse, and this is the only way forward. But the...
INSKEEP: But I asked if it's a - if this is a constructive strategy. You didn't say yes or no.
SHORT: Well, I think the reality is that there's very few options left to them. I think that shutdowns are never really productive for either side. And, you know, it was only one year ago today in January of 2018 that Democrats shut down the government because they said before they reopen it, they needed protections for DACA. So it is sort of ironic the president's now put that on the table. And yet we're still at the same place.
INSKEEP: Well, let's describe what the president has put on the table. The president has put forward this proposal that includes DACA protections. But it appears to be a three-year window where people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals would be - the so-called DREAMers - would be protected. But there's no pathway to citizenship, which is something the president has discussed in the past. Why would Democrats see any point in signing onto that?
SHORT: Well, there's a couple reasons. No. 1 is that right now DACA is still working its way through the courts. As your audience will recall, President Obama said that he felt reluctant to actually create the program without congressional authority because he didn't know it could withstand legal scrutiny. He went ahead nonetheless and did it and created the program out of thin air. I think that those who are DACA recipients stand at great risk that if the courts rule that it was unconstitutionally created, then they're in great legal jeopardy.
The president put on the table a proposal that actually protects them not just from a court system. But when you actually legislate it, it becomes the law of the land. So it is providing a pathway forward for those who are - who care most about the DACA participants.
INSKEEP: A pathway forward but not a path for citizenship in this particular law - let me just ask. You said the president has very few options. Isn't one option reopening the government and continuing to negotiate these really complicated issues?
SHORT: Yeah, Steve. But you know what people forget is it does take two to tango on that. And to date, the president - when everybody says the president shut down the government, of course they recall the moment he had in the Oval Office in which he said he would own it.
SHORT: But the reality is that there's not one bill the president has vetoed. Not one bill has reached his desk to shut down the government. It takes two sides here. And Congress has not completed its appropriations process to provide him with a bill...
INSKEEP: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa - the House of Representatives has passed a bill. The Senate, last year, passed a clean bill to reopen the government. But the...
SHORT: They both passed independent bills, Steve. They were not the same.
INSKEEP: Senate Republicans have declined to move anything the president says he will veto.
SHORT: That is correct.
INSKEEP: So to say the president has not done a veto is a little disingenuous. Don't you think?
SHORT: Well, neither side - neither bill was the same. And so the reality is that what we face is that Congress has to do its job as well. And I do think, this week, having actual votes moves us past the point of posturing because it's easy for politicians to say what they won't vote for in a media interview. When they're actually forced to come to the table and say, here's a vote to reopen the government. How are you going to vote? - I think does change the dynamic.
INSKEEP: Mr. Short, I want to ask about the job of trying to negotiate on behalf of the president of the United States, which is something that you had to do in the past. Mike Pence, the vice president, has attempted to take on that role in recent days. And at one point, as you may recall, he made an offer that suggested the White House might sign on for about half the money the president is demanding.
Democrats said no, in part, because they didn't believe that Pence really spoke for the president. And it emerged in a meeting later that Pence didn't. The president wanted all the money. Is it an impossible job to represent the president because he's so unpredictable and doesn't stick to one approach?
SHORT: You know, Steve, I don't think it's impossible. I think if you look back at the record of the last couple years of passing tax reform, passing the largest increase in funding for our military, getting judges confirmed, getting significant deregulatory legislation passed, passing criminal justice reform, passing opiate legislation, there's a large record of legislative accomplishment.
So it's clear that it's not impossible to represent the president. I think that this, again, is a situation in which the two sides can still come together. But ultimately, if they don't, I do think the president's still keeping out the option of a national emergency declaration.
INSKEEP: Marc Short, thanks so much - appreciate it.
SHORT: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: He was President Trump's legislative director until last year. He's now at the University of Virginia. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has been listening along with us.
Good morning, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: What did you hear there?
KEITH: Well, near the end there, where Marc Short was talking about all of the legislative accomplishments of the past two years - there have been a lot of legislative accomplishments of the past two years. But those were a Republican House and a Republican Senate. And I was talking to a Republican congressman last week who was telling me that he felt with all of those things, the president was relatively agnostic on the details, that he just wanted a win.
He just wanted Congress to send him a bill to sign on taxes and even on the health care bill, which was not a win on opioids, on veterans. Just send me a bill to sign - also on criminal justice. So this is different now. This is - the dynamic has completely shifted. You have a Democratic House, a Republican Senate and a president who does care about one detail in particular - building the wall.
INSKEEP: So Marc Short also said he thought that the act of voting might move this process forward, even if these votes seem likely to fail. Is there a way forward here?
KEITH: Well, he's right that not voting for the last 32 days hasn't really accomplished anything. In the Senate, there have been no votes since the government shut down. The House, of course, has voted a lot. The act of going out there, voting, proving that things can't pass, that actually does advance things somewhat.
INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith, thanks so much.
KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.