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The Democratic Response To Trump's Latest Border Security Proposal

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And let's hear some reaction now from a Democratic congressman to what the president proposed today. Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland joins me here in the studio.

Welcome.

JAMIE RASKIN: Thanks for having me, Melissa.

BLOCK: Did you hear anything from the president today that moves this anywhere closer to an agreement that would end the shutdown?

RASKIN: Well, I like the fact that he's sort of given up the language of a 2,000-mile steel barrier wall...

BLOCK: Concrete wall, yeah.

RASKIN: Concrete wall...

BLOCK: Sea to sea.

RASKIN: ...From sea to shining sea. I think that that is progress, and it shows that he understands that the public simply hasn't bought his argument that we need to shut the government down in order for him to get that one campaign fetish promise that he made.

BLOCK: But he's still asking for almost $6 billion for the wall.

RASKIN: Well, look. We can sit down, and we can deal on money questions. We want to make investments, especially at the ports of entry, which is where people are coming in with contraband. But we know that there's been a substantial decline in illegal immigration, illegal entries over the last couple decades, so there's clearly no crisis. There's clearly no emergency.

But we want to invest in the ports of entry. We want advanced technology to scan for drugs and weapons and contraband. And we especially are willing to invest in more Customs personnel. Right now, there are 3,000 customs and border positions which the Trump administration hasn't filled. So it's ironic, to say the least, that they are going around the country yelling about a crisis and emergency when they haven't filled thousands of jobs that are there. And they're not paying the people who are in Customs and Border Patrol right now.

So our major reaction to this is, if you want to get things moving again, open up the government of the United States. We will not tolerate this discussion and this policy debate in the context of a hostage crisis. You can't hold the government and the federal workforce and the people hostage.

BLOCK: But that sounds to me like nothing has shifted because we've been hearing that argument from the Democrat side throughout this whole shutdown.

RASKIN: Well, and we believe it very strongly. And the people are with us, and we have a dozen Republican members who've been voting with us to reopen the government. And clearly, the president is feeling the pressure. But the first words out of his mouth really have to be, we're going to reopen the government of the United States, we're going to put people back to work and we're going to stop making hundreds of thousands of Americans work for free. That's un-American. It violates the federal Labor Standards Act. It's just an unconscionable situation. And then we can debate all of these things through the normal governmental process.

And he's got to accept the separation of powers. This is not a banana republic where the president just decrees what he wants, and everybody accepts it. And you've got to go through the House. You've got to go through the Senate. You might not like democracy, but that's what we live in.

BLOCK: Even if that were to happen, if there were to be a short-term agreement to reopen the government and continue negotiating on these broader questions of the border and immigration, is there room for compromise?

RASKIN: I think that there is. I mean, we've invested $9 billion, when I last looked, in border security. The Democrats have always been for border security. Republicans have voted for border security. We know the president had a campaign chant which was, build the wall. Mexico will pay for it. Well, that promise is out the window because Mexico hasn't paid for it. So the president's got to start over again. And if he brings one of those giant-sized checks that he loves so much from the Mexican government, and he says, you know, here, we're going to put $35 billion down on the table, maybe that changes the conversation.

But look - it's not something that they pressed when they controlled the House and the Senate for the last two years. Suddenly, Democrats win 40 new seats. We get 10 million more votes than them. And he decides that he is going to play this game of ridiculous brinksmanship and shut down the government of the United States simply because he lost an election. It's not an acceptable way to do business here.

BLOCK: Briefly, in the time we have left, what is the Democratic leadership's next move?

RASKIN: Well I think that the Democratic leadership will be sending messages to Republicans that we're ready to have a serious, mature conversation on this. And we've been all along. You know, Pelosi and Schumer went over to the White House, remember, when the president knocked all the silverware off the table and got up after 30 seconds. That's not acceptable. We're willing have a serious conversation.

BLOCK: He would say he did not knock the silverware off the table. But I'll let you have the last word on that. Congressman Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland - he sits on the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees.

Thanks for being with us.

RASKIN: Thanks for having me, Melissa.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE IN GREEN'S "RAINY STREETS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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