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We're Ready To Negotiate Shutdown Terms, White House Spokesperson Says


The new Congress will be sworn in today. And Democratic lawmakers in the House plan to immediately vote on their plan to end the partial government shutdown. Presumed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to bring a bill to the floor that would reopen most of the government but carve out the Department of Homeland Security, since that is the department that deals with border security, and then fund that on a temporary basis through early February to continue the debate over border security. Democratic leaders argue this plan would allow more time to reach a compromise over President Trump's $5 billion request for a border wall. The Democrats' bill is similar to one Republicans were ready to support just a few weeks ago. Here's Nancy Pelosi yesterday after a meeting between the president and top leaders from both parties that failed to end the stalemate.


NANCY PELOSI: We're asking the president to open up government. We are giving him a Republican path to do that. Why would he not do it?

MARTIN: Here to help us answer that question, White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

MERCEDES SCHLAPP: Thank you for having me. Good morning.

MARTIN: You heard Nancy Pelosi. She says this is a Republican plan that they're putting forward. It is very similar to something that the Senate said they would pass. Why wouldn't the president support this idea?

SCHLAPP: Well, the Republican bill would include border wall funding, which is something that the House had passed in this past Congress. It was something that the president has made very clear of his position, saying, look. We will get this government open, but we need to make sure that there is border wall funding. And part of this process, as we know, is the process of negotiation. So that's why the president invited both Democrat and Republican congressional leaders to the Situation Room in the White House to be able to talk about how we can move forward in terms of the negotiation.

PELOSI: But, as you know, the Senate unanimously passed a continuing resolution weeks ago before Christmas that would keep the government open because Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, believed the president would support it. And then the president didn't support it. So how can Republicans even trust the president in these negotiations?

SCHLAPP: Well, obviously, the president and Mitch McConnell, they're constantly in communication, as well as now minority leader Kevin McCarthy. We knew at that point that the Senate bill was not going to pass the House. And also, the president, again, had talked about making sure that we have funding for the border wall. Here's what we're facing right now. And Secretary Nielsen attempted to talk about this yesterday at the meeting. But the Democrats, really, had very little interest in hearing the facts.

We are not in a status quo situation anymore at the border. We're at a crisis situation, which means that that status quo funding is not going to be enough. And so in essence, when you're starting to look at the fact that our border patrol agents - what they are facing right now is a lack of resources, a lack of legal authority and even a lack of facilities because of the large number of illegal migrants coming through the border. We've seen an increase of about 90 percent of illegal aliens crossing the border in the last two months...

MARTIN: Which is something - Democrats agree that there's a problem.

SCHLAPP: Yes, and...

MARTIN: And they want to increase border security. But...

SCHLAPP: Right, exactly. So we've been trying to negotiate this for months. The president, when - in the last negotiation which we had, which - it was - Vice President Mike Pence, as well as Jared Kushner and Mick Mulvaney, went over to the Hill, presented the offer. It was a good faith offer, a reasonable offer to increase border wall funding. And the Democrats, for days, left, went on vacation, went home and...

MARTIN: Correct me if I'm wrong, Mercedes, but it's my...

SCHLAPP: ...Didn't take it up.

MARTIN: It's my understanding that Vice President Mike Pence had negotiated a $2.5 billion bill that was a compromise. It's not the full...


MARTIN: ...Five billion. And then the president said no. So is the administration working at odds...

SCHLAPP: That is not correct. I think it's very important to understand that we have made it clear that it would be between the 1.6 and the five. This is what we call a negotiation. Obviously, the president's going to go with a high number. We're going to bring it back to...

MARTIN: So he would take 1.6.

SCHLAPP: The president is willing to negotiate. We are waiting on the Democrats to come back with a negotiated deal. Where the Democrats are stuck - it's literally between zero and 1.3 billion. And what was interesting is that during that meeting, it was the Democrats who actually - for example, Senator Durbin who said, we want strong border security. And we're saying, great. And then there was conversation - Nancy Pelosi - well, we don't want a concrete wall. The president said, well, we talked about steel slats. Then we had - we showed them pictures of the steel slats of what's being built, which is this physical barrier and this fencing. We are being very reasonable. We're ready to compromise. We're ready to negotiate. The Democrats, at this point, are - they're not willing to budge. They're staying stuck at the 1.3 billion.

MARTIN: So just to be clear, you're saying the president would accept 1.6. Democrats are saying 1.3, so this is a negligible difference.

SCHLAPP: Well, I'm not - we're not going to negotiate in public. This is, obviously, the conversations that the Democrats and Republicans should be having. The president made it very clear. He said, come back on Friday. Let's keep talking. Let's get to a solution. Let's get to a negotiation. We can get - we can make this deal. The question will be, will the Democrats be willing to negotiate? What we have seen thus far is that in the past two weeks when we did offer, we presented our offer to them, they said no. So now we're waiting on them for their counter offer.


SCHLAPP: And at this point, where their counteroffer is - at the point that they're refusing to negotiate a budge from the 1.3 billion is it's making it tough for us to move along.

MARTIN: Let me...

SCHLAPP: We're not going to give up. And we're going to get - go ahead.

PELOSI: We just have seconds remaining. And I want to ask you about DACA because we just talked with Steny Hoyer, Democratic congressman. When I asked him if the president agreed to attach a DACA fix, in exchange, Democrats would fund the border wall. Congressman Hoyer said he was open to at least talking about that. Is that something the president would consider?

SCHLAPP: You know, the president is open about talking about DACA. As you know right now, it's in the process in the legal system, so it's going through the appeals process at this point. But again, this is on the - it's on the table. This is part of the negotiations. What we are asking for is for the Democrats to understand that we are dealing with very serious problems at the border. Just yesterday, Secretary Nielsen talked about the humanitarian crisis, how one out of three women are being sexually assaulted as they're coming...

MARTIN: Which...

SCHLAPP: ...Through the - taking the dangerous journey.

MARTIN: And I don't mean to cut you off. But I think that is a consensus. Democrats and Republicans both agree...


MARTIN: ...That something needs to be done. And I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us this morning. And I hope we can continue the conversation. Mercedes Schlapp, White House Director of Strategic Communications, thank you so much.

SCHLAPP: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell was listening to that. Kelsey, there was a lot in there. I think it's unclear exactly where the president - it sounds like the president would give on the 5 billion number.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Well, that is the thing that we keep running into here and Democrats keep saying makes it really hard is that his representatives and other people who work in the administration say the president is willing to do something. But then they get into a talk, and that doesn't seem to be the case. It is also important to point out that Nancy Pelosi's staff says that she hadn't spoken to the president since December 11 before yesterday. So at that time, Democrats had an offer put out to the White House. And they said that the president didn't respond. So there is a difference of opinion on the facts here about who is offering what and when it's happening, which makes it really hard to cut a deal.

MARTIN: And we'll see what Democrats put forward today. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Thanks so much, Kelsey, we appreciate it.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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