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As Shutdown Drags On, Trump Invites Congressional Leaders For Talks

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump has invited members of Congress over to the White House today for what is being called a briefing on border security. And border security is at the heart of the standoff right now that's led to a partial government shutdown, specifically, the president's push for more than $5 billion for a border wall.

NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is in the studio with us this morning. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So a briefing is sort of a one-way street. We invite you over. Experts talk. It's not really a conversation, not really a negotiation.

DAVIS: (Laughter).

MARTIN: So what is exactly supposed to happen today, and what difference is it going to make in the shutdown?

DAVIS: It's a really curious decision that the White House made. I think, partly, this is probably for the optics of the shutdown to look like they're working to get the end of a deal. I think that, you know, congressional leaders have been pretty clear about what it's going to take, and it's going to take a compromise. And it still is not clear where the White House is willing to give on this.

Remember, the White House is the reason we are part - or is essentially the reason we're in this shutdown because the White House has indicated to Congress back in December that they would sign a government funding bill. And the president was the one, after the Senate Republican majority had already passed it, changed his mind and pulled the rug out from Congress and has not yet been able to move that negotiation forward. It's been a weird shutdown. We've been through a couple of these now.

MARTIN: Right.

DAVIS: So we have something to compare it to. Usually when we're in a shutdown, you know, they stay in D.C., and they keep fighting and it kind of dominates the news. This one happened over the holidays. It's been pretty quiet. And I think the political heat here has been kind of hard to read because people, the public, hasn't been as plugged into this one.

I think that dynamic might change this week as people are returning back to work from the holidays, as it becomes more and more clear that hundreds of thousands of Americans are going without pay right now because they're federal workers. And we'll see how those changes kind of shift the political calculus.

MARTIN: But who does have the most to lose? I mean, they've been fighting over who gets the blame, right? At first the president said, I'll take the blame because it's worth it to me. And the Democrats are like, fine, do it. And then the president's like, no, just kidding, it's the Democrats' fault.

DAVIS: (Laughter). It's a very sophisticated debate. I think it's hard to say. And it's hard - the thing is that shutdowns tend to end with really unsatisfying conclusions. They just reopen the government, and the fight does - it continues. I think the president sees this as having a lot to lose here because the border wall has become a very big symbol of his presidency and his campaign and a core issue to his base.

Part of the reason why we got here is conservatives in the House were really encouraging the president to fight on this issue because, I think, if he is seen as wavering here that it goes - it could weaken his support among the base, which has really stuck by him through basically everything. And he doesn't - he has shown no interest in giving on this.

And if he wants border wall money, he's going to have to give Democrats something in exchange. We have seen these negotiations before. Often that comes in the form of immigration legislation, something that would be a bit of a give-and-take to get both parties behind it. He hasn't really offered anything yet. He's still just making a demand.

MARTIN: And, of course, Democrats take control of the House...

DAVIS: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Tomorrow. How's that going to change this particular dynamic, and then more broadly, life for the president?

DAVIS: Sure. House Democrats, expected to be led by Nancy Pelosi, have already made clear their first order of business is going to vote on funding bills to reopen the government. I think that that's going to put a little bit more pressure back on the Republican Party and on the president to say, what are you going to do with these? Especially their bills that have already passed the Senate. So we know these bills can pass Congress.

You know, I think for the perspective here, in terms of the shutdown, the president has much bigger concerns coming about Democrats taking over the House. They are planning to launch any number of investigations and oversight investigations into his administration, into his business dealings, into the ethical behavior of members of administration. So if the president is looking to Congress for confrontation, he might want to get past this shutdown 'cause he has much bigger problems coming his way in 2019.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thanks, Sue.

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


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