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Oklahoma Senator Discusses The Looming Government Shutdown

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

As the clock ticks towards midnight, the deadline for Congress to try to negotiate a way to fund the government, it is guaranteed that a government shutdown will take place. Both the House and the Senate have adjourned for the night without reaching a deal. Our next guest is one of the senators who will now try to negotiate a deal that will reopen the government. Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, joined us earlier from Capitol Hill. We discussed the importance of the border wall, the fundamental sticking point in these negotiations to Senate Republicans like himself.

JAMES LANKFORD: We just had a pretty divisive partisan vote on the House package that came over - that passed the House that came over that ended up breaking down on party lines once it came over to the Senate. So something has to be resolved long-term to be able to get this done.

KELLY: Senator Schumer's office has put out a statement that says legislation that includes border security funding could maybe pass both chambers as long as it didn't include funding for the wall. Is that something you could vote for?

LANKFORD: So what's interesting is the $5 billion that came in from the House is not just for fencing. It's also for all of border security. There's an obvious need for border security at our ports of entry. That's where the most human trafficking comes across. That's where drugs, guns move. It's typically through the port of entry. So we need a lot of work there.

We obviously need fencing in some areas. In the old area of fencing around San Diego, we've had Border Patrol agents that have told us the old fencing that exists now, they had 10 penetrations a day on it. The new fencing that's put up, they have one a month. So there's a pretty dramatic difference in what's happening in some of the new fencing areas, so it does work in that.

But that's not the sole solution. It's personnel, technology and our ports of entry. So it needs to be a larger set of solutions, not just fencing.

KELLY: You're getting at something that really interests me. You were talking about fencing. The president of course has talked about a wall. Although, in the last couple days, he said, well, maybe we could talk about it as steel slats. And now we hear Democrats saying, well, maybe we could vote for border security as long as it's not a wall.

I mean, is this going to come down to semantics? Senators won't vote for a wall. But they might if you call it fencing, or if you call it border security.

LANKFORD: I hope it's not all nomenclature as we go through this. But just remember; just 10 years ago, this was a nonpartisan issue. The Secure Fences Act passed 10 years ago. That had Senator Obama. Senator Clinton voted for it. That built 650 miles of fencing at that time across our southern border. So apparently the word fencing wasn't offensive, but the word wall has become offensive.

I don't care what the nomenclature is. To me, the issue is what's effective. We have, for instance, just in San Diego and San Ysidro, a hundred thousand people a day legally cross that border - legally. But all the attention is on 5,000 people in a caravan trying to be able to get in through another route.

So we've got to be able to figure out how to be able to balance this out somewhat. The cameras have got to turn to a hundred thousand people a day doing the process legally and not just focused on the 5,000 people trying to get across illegally.

KELLY: Let me put the central question to you. Is this $5 billion worth shutting down the government for?

LANKFORD: Well, the president would say for national security reasons, yes. I would say, long-term...

KELLY: But I'm asking, do you think it is?

LANKFORD: I get it. I get it. I think this is an issue that we need to resolve what direction we're trying to go as a nation. I'm not for government shutdowns ever. I think you sustain the conversations and hold the American people and great federal employees all over the country harmless while Congress fights it out.

I have been an advocate publicly and privately to propose that unless Congress gets things resolved, Congress can't leave. They have to stay in session. They're continuous, can't leave the building until they get a result.

KELLY: All right.

LANKFORD: But holding the rest of government harmless - that'd be a much better route.

KELLY: All right. Senator Lankford, thank you very much for your time.

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


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