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News Brief: Government Shutdown, TSA Workers Struggle During Closure

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So the Senate is expected to vote on a bill this week to fund the government.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yeah, the Senate Appropriations Committee released text of the package last night. It includes President Trump's offer to extend protections for DACA recipients for three years. And in exchange, he would get the $5.7 billion he wants for a border wall.

That alone had Democrats calling the deal a nonstarter before it was even written. But it also adds $12.7 billion for natural disaster relief. This is something Democrats have pushed for. So could that sweeten the deal here?

GREENE: Well, let's ask that question, among others, to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: All right, so tell us more about what's in this bill that the Senate's going to be taking a vote on.

LIASSON: Well, the bill has disaster relief in it, as you said, as a sweetener. And the big question is, could this proposal of the president's that will be on the Senate floor bring us any closer to the end of the shutdown? And it could. I don't think it's the final deal. But the president is now talking the language of compromise. He's come off the notion that the wall has to be 2,000 miles long. He's added relief for the DREAMers, young people brought here, sometimes illegally, by their parents.

This is not the final deal. Democrats would need more. Trump has not said how much less money for the wall he's willing to take than $5.7 billion. But the first step is to see if this can get 60 votes on the Senate floor. Democrats say it can't. But then they'll have to keep talking.

GREENE: Will they have to keep talking? I mean, so far Democrats have basically said to the president, we're not going to talk, at least publicly saying, we're not going to talk until you open the government. But - but you think this is a window. I mean, Democrats are going to be forced to actually start negotiating and getting to some of the nitty gritty here.

LIASSON: Yes, I do. I think that usually, in the past, when we've had these standoffs, there's a mechanism where the government is reopened week by week. They have to keep on voting while they keep on talking. Vice President Pence said on television yesterday this wasn't a final offer. He said the legislative process is a negotiation. That sounded so normal.

GREENE: (Laughter).

LIASSON: But I do think you're going to hear more from Democrats about their vision of border security. If the argument is about border security, the president wins. If it's about a wall, the Democrats win. And I think that they are going to start talking more about their vision of what they want on the border.

GREENE: Mara, can I ask you more about what the president was offering on this - the DACA protection for three years? Because, I mean, most Republicans have been standing by him through this and supporting this deal. But some of his supporters are calling that DACA offer amnesty. Could that hurt him with part of his base?

LIASSON: Well, that's always the big question. I think right now Republicans in Congress are pretty united behind him. And yes, the and cultures of the world, radio talk show hosts, are calling this amnesty. But Republicans in Congress want the government open because they're being blamed for the shutdown, so far more than Democrats are. Republicans I've talked to say that Trump's hold on his base is firm enough that he probably could get some relief for the DREAMers in here.

The big question is, could he go all the way to a path to citizenship, which is going to be hard since that's been defined as amnesty by the vice president? Where is the sweet spot? How much less money could he get for the wall, and how much deportation relief would he have to offer for the DREAMers?

GREENE: Many questions to answer as we go forward and as that partial government shutdown for now continues. NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Let's talk more about this shutdown. More than 50,000 TSA employees have been working without pay since the partial government shutdown began over a month ago now.

MARTIN: Yeah, and they're getting help from some unusual corners. Members of the band Kiss have been offering them free food at airport locations of their restaurant, which is called Rock and Brews. Here's Kiss band member Paul Stanley in a Facebook video.

(SOUNDBITE OF FACEBOOK VIDEO)

PAUL STANLEY: While the TSA continues to work on our behalf without pay, we want to make sure that we can at least provide them with a delicious meal to show our support.

MARTIN: But more and more TSA workers are actually just calling out sick altogether, as many as 1/10 this past Sunday. TSA released a statement saying that many of those employees said they can't get to work because of financial limitations.

GREENE: Let's talk to NPR's David Schaper in Chicago. He's been covering this. Hi there, David.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So it's amazing. As I've been going through airports and going through security lines, it seems like every passenger says to a TSA employee, like, thank you for working without pay. And it sounds like it's now getting to a point where more and more are having to call out sick. What are they telling you about this decision?

SCHAPER: Well, as you guys just said, they're not actually saying (imitating cough) I'm sick; I can't come in. They're really not able to go in because of the financial limitations. You know, working without pay for a TSA employee is a difficult thing because they're among the lowest paid federal government employees. They make about 35 to $43,000 a year on average. That's about 17 to 20 bucks an hour.

So a lot of them live just paycheck to paycheck or do just a little bit better than that. And so while the vast majority are still working their shifts, more and more of them are saying they've got to go do something else to make a little more cash. They've got to put food on the table.

So they're going to pick up work elsewhere, working odd jobs, waiting tables, whatever they can find. Or they'll stay home, stay home with the kids so a spouse can pick up extra shifts or so they just don't have that extra expense of childcare during the day.

GREENE: So a lot of hard decisions, obviously, the shutdown clearly disrupting life for them, their families. What impact is this or could this have on travel and airports if this goes on?

SCHAPER: Well, at this point we're not seeing, you know, flights canceled, flight delays and people missing flights. But we are starting to see more and more airports closing security checkpoints because of a shortage of screeners and lines getting longer at certain airports. You know, there - there were a bunch of extra screeners added to airports in Atlanta, at LaGuardia in New York, at the Newark Airport.

There were long lines, apparently, over the weekend in New Orleans, at Baltimore-Washington Airport because they had closed checkpoints. Houston's had some problems. It depends on the airport and how many employees in that - in that particular area are calling in. But it hasn't just grown to that point yet of where we're going to see canceled flights and huge disruptions to air travel.

GREENE: Is it just airport security employees? Or are there other employees at airports who are impacted by the shutdown?

SCHAPER: No, actually the FAA has hundred - has thousands of inspectors, technicians and safety specialists who inspect the planes, who, you know, do everything from licensing pilots to making sure that the air traffic control equipment is working properly. And they are working without pay. A lot of them weren't actually considered safety critical and essential employees when the shutdown began.

But a lot of them got called back to work last week and are on the job now. But they're going to have the same sort of financial troubles soon if they have to to keep working and keep doing these important jobs without pay. And that's where the ripple effect could come, where - where air travel could be affected.

GREENE: NPR's David Schaper, talking to us from Chicago. David, thanks.

SCHAPER: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right, now we want to talk about the political turmoil in Venezuela and what's looking like an uncertain future for that country's leader.

MARTIN: Yeah, officers in the National Guard in Venezuela basically went rogue and posted a video on social media early Monday morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED VENEZUELAN NATIONAL GUARDSMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN: So in this video they are calling people to the streets to support their uprising against the president, Nicolas Maduro. The attempt is the latest in a whole string of calls to remove Maduro from power. The Venezuelan president was sworn into his second term earlier this month. But many, including the United States, have called Maduro's government illegitimate. He faces an opposition-run congress that is calling for the military to turn against him.

GREENE: And NPR's Philip Reeves is in Caracas covering all of this. And Phil, start if you can by telling us exactly what unfolded here yesterday.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, it's not entirely clear. The authorities say that in the early hours, a group of National Guardsmen in Caracas took a police captain hostage, travelled across town in several military trucks, kidnapped four more officers, raided an outpost, stole a bunch of weapons and then were captured after some sort of confrontation just before that - that video was posted online calling on people to abandon Maduro. And other videos appeared too. And now the government says that 27 guardsmen have been arrested and will face what they describe as the full weight of the law.

GREENE: Well, talk to me about the broader political situation here because while this was members of the National Guard, some officers who turned against him, Maduro is focusing his criticism on congress, saying congress is trying to destabilize the country. What exactly is he talking about?

REEVES: Yeah, congress, or the National Assembly, as it's called here, is opposition-controlled. And it's long been opposed to Maduro and the ruling Socialist Party. In fact, Maduro and the party have stripped it of all its powers. But now it's launching a new drive to oust him, arguing that his second term, which has just begun, is illegitimate because it was the result of a fraudulent election.

And in this, the National Assembly has the support of the U.S. and dozens of other countries who are also stepping up pressure right now on Maduro. And the National Assembly also has a new young leader. He's 35, Juan Guaido. And he has said that he's willing to be an interim president for a transitional period leading to new elections if the public supports that and, crucially, if the military supports that.

GREENE: Phil, I mean, we've talked about with you how hard it has been for people in Venezuela. This country has been through so much economic turmoil of late. I mean, how shaky is this political moment? Could Maduro lose his grip on power? And could there be a real period of chaos and uncertainty going forward?

REEVES: Well, the country is in terrible shape. But remember, Maduro still controls the supreme court. He still appears to have the support of the top military command. And he still has the all-powerful legislature that he created last year, the constituent assembly, which is packed with his supporters. He still has that at his disposal.

But things do appear to be moving. The opposition's called for a nationwide day of protest on Wednesday. They're expecting a big turnout. We'll have to see. But there's a lot of buzz about it online.

GREENE: NPR's Philip Reeves this morning in Caracas, Venezuela. Phil, thank you.

REEVES: You're most welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEMORY'S "OUTERSPACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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