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Trump Offers Democrats A New Plan In Hopes Of Opening The Government

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Rachel Martin in Washington, D.C., where it is day 31 of the partial government shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers could miss a second paycheck this Friday, and the urgency is growing to figure out a compromise that will put them back to work. A compromise is what President Trump thought he was offering up over the weekend.

The deal basically amounts to temporary protections for about a million immigrants at risk of deportation in exchange for funding the president's border wall. Democratic leaders quickly rejected the president's offer. So did immigration hardliners on the other side.

For its part, Republican leadership is largely on board with the president's plan. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he'll put it up for a vote this week. We're joined now by Scott Jennings, Republican strategist who was an adviser to President George W. Bush. Scott, welcome back to the show.

SCOTT JENNINGS: Thanks. Good morning.

MARTIN: Good morning. So we reached out to you today in large part because you were the one not that many weeks ago on our show who said DACA; DACA's the solution here; DACA is our way out of this impasse; if the president can give a little on that, then Democrats will give a little on the border wall; and all will be fine. You called it a win for everybody. And it could've been, but it wasn't. So why didn't it work?

JENNINGS: Well, it hasn't not worked yet. Senator McConnell, the majority leader, is going to put this package on the floor this week. And it seems like the Senate Republicans are largely on board. So the Democrats are actually going to have a chance to vote on this despite what their leadership says.

Maybe there are a few Democrats who might want to get the ball rolling here. I think what's dumbfounding all the Republicans is in these shutdown scenarios - typically, it's an opportunity for both sides to get things that they want that they might not have otherwise had a chance to get. And so if you're Trump, you want the wall. If you're the Democrats, you've said that you want some policy extractions on immigration issues.

So why not move this legislative process forward and try to get that? Because they rejected it out of hand on Saturday, I think Republicans right now are thinking, well, maybe the Democrats don't actually want anything other than a political win here, which would be a departure from previous shutdown negotiations.

MARTIN: Although, we should say, the proposal the president made would give temporary reprieve to DACA recipients and immigrants here who are under TPS, the temporary protection status program. These are both programs President Trump moved to shut down. So this is essentially the president offering up a solution to a problem that he caused. Is it not?

JENNINGS: Well, he's also offering up, essentially, a solution called the BRIDGE Act which was sponsored by several Senate Democrats the last time around. I mean, we can dwell on all the mistakes that have been made by people in this entire immigration debate over time, and certainly the president has made some. But at this moment, with the government shut down, it appears to me the White House is ready to deal. And I think the American people are going to have to ask themselves, why aren't the Democrats ready to deal?

This is not a take-it-or-leave-it offer. I think what the White House and what I heard Vice President Pence say over the weekend is this legislative process is a negotiation. So if you're the Democrats, why not take this? And if you have a different idea, OK, throw out your idea. Maybe it flies, and then this whole thing comes to an end. But how do you ever end a shutdown if your initial reaction to every offer is this was made in bad faith, which is what Nancy Pelosi initially said on Saturday?

MARTIN: Well, I think not only is she saying that it's made on bad faith, but Democrats see it as just getting back to neutral, right? If they view this as a problem the president created, then this is just getting back out of the red - not gaining anything. So do you think the president should consider, for example, offering a pathway to citizenship, which Democrats might be more keen towards?

JENNINGS: Well, I think the Democrats now have the ball in their court. The president has made an opening offer in a legislative process. That is, essentially, how you negotiate things in our system. And so now it's on the Democrats to come back and say, well, instead of what you said, how about this? It's their turn to move their pieces. The fact that they are unwilling to take a turn grinds the game to a halt. And so I don't know what the White House would do next in offering things except negotiate against themselves, which doesn't seem like a very smart strategic move.

So I'm hoping that - and I think all Republicans are hoping that if the Senate begins a legislative process this week, Democrats will reconsider their position of not offering any counters to what the president's thrown out. Look, there's an opportunity here to get something if you're the Democrats, and the Republicans have opened the door. Most people I know are really hoping they walk through it.

MARTIN: Well, what do you make of the Democrats' request that the president should just reopen the government first, and then they can negotiate over the wall?

JENNINGS: The package that they are putting on the floor this week reopens the government immediately. And so the Democrats have said they want the government to open. This opens the government. I think the president and the Republicans have a real...

MARTIN: Well, they don't want it attached to the border wall funding.

JENNINGS: Well, they (laughter) - and there's a real fear by the Republicans that if they give up on attaching it to the immigration border security issues they've laid on the table, the Democrats will never return to that conversation. So - and I think that's legitimate here.

MARTIN: So the shutdown is the political pawn. That means the federal workers really are the political pawn here.

JENNINGS: Well, I think it means that there's a whole bunch of stuff that the Republicans want to do and a whole bunch of stuff the Democrats want to do. And it's a bit of a game of chicken. And if one side is to leave out what they want at the opening of a negotiation, then there's a real fear that you would never return to it, which is why, I think, the president and the Republicans are right to try to tie all this together.

MARTIN: Republican strategist Scott Jennings. Scott, thanks as always. We appreciate it.

JENNINGS: I hope it ends soon. Thanks, Rachel.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Indeed. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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