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Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips Discusses Plans To End The Government Shutdown

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

On Capitol Hill today, on what is Day 34 of a partial government shutdown, the Senate voted on two proposals to reopen the government. It's safe to say no one thought either of those bills would pass, and they didn't. Senate leaders are still trying to negotiate at this hour, but the White House says any plan to reopen the government would need to include a down payment on a border wall.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Meanwhile, over on the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says her strategy is unchanged. No negotiation on border funding until the shutdown ends.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: We are doing what we have been doing all along, working on our congressional responsibility to write bills to keep government open.

KELLY: Pelosi may not be negotiating, but there is a group of 30 moderate House Democrats trying to break the logjam, and we're going to meet one of them now. Dean Phillips is a freshman Democrat from a swing district in Minnesota. He joins me now from Capitol Hill.

And Congressman, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, and welcome to Washington, although I'm not sure this is quite exactly what you thought you were signing up for.

DEAN PHILLIPS: Well, thank you and thank you.

KELLY: I want to understand exactly what this letter that you and 29 others have written is proposing. If I may sum it up, you wrote to Speaker Pelosi, and the gist is, let's guarantee a House vote on whether to fund a wall or not, if the president will agree to reopen the government?

PHILLIPS: It is. And I do support the speaker's perspective. That is, the precedent that shutdowns create for this country, the gravity, for both now and the future, is worth holding our ground for. And with that said, we have reasonable people on both sides of the aisle that know that we can achieve a solution. And the sad truth is I've only been in Washington now for a few weeks, but the palpable distrust within the halls and walls of Congress prevents something that seems so easy when you're on the outside, as it did to me for so many years, from being accomplished.

And this letter was simply trying to bridge the gap of distrust, if you will, ensuring to our friends on the other side of the aisle and the president if we reopen government, there is a appetite to get this done. That is our message. We think it's reasonable. And yet I understand why there's distrust on both sides. And that's why we find ourselves in this stalemate. But I can say that we...

KELLY: Have you had any kind of - pardon me. Have you had any kind of response to your letter?

PHILLIPS: I had a very thoughtful thank-you for the letter, and it comes from other freshmen, as you referenced. We are a small but mighty group. Actually, the freshman class between Democrats and Republicans, a hundred strong, has an unbelievable sense of collegiality, like-mindedness. We certainly come from different backgrounds, life experiences and perspectives. But there is a growing belief in that we as a freshman class have a responsibility to bring process back to Congress, regular order back to Congress. And we are doing what we can with the limited resources available to us right now.

KELLY: Right. The message from all y'all has been, we didn't start the shutdown, but let's try to find a way to end it. Let me ask. I mean, is your honest sense that there is any movement on the House side? We're seeing maybe some glimmers of movement on the Senate side of negotiations going on behind doors. Are you seeing any of that on the House side?

PHILLIPS: I have sensed that there is - that there are - there's conversation going on. I think there are small groups, larger groups. And ultimately, leadership holds the cards. That's how it works here. I recognize that. I was part of a group just last week that visited the White House, a group of Republicans and Democrats as part of the Problem Solvers Caucus to send a message to the president right at the table and to his face that there is like-mindedness between both sides if you simply open the government.

I do think we are recognizing the human toll this is taking. This shutdown is affecting our national safety, our security, our economy, our image, our future, and most importantly, human beings. I just spent the last hour on the phone with people in my district who are suffering because of this. And we have to recognize that we have a shared interest in ensuring this doesn't happen again. And there are conversations going on right now about how we can prevent this nonsense and return to the responsibility that we came here for.

KELLY: In the moments we have left - as you alluded to, it is Speaker Pelosi who's going to have to indicate some kind of flexibility for House Democrats to move this forward. Are you seeing any indication of that happening?

PHILLIPS: I do believe, again, it's predicated on a reopening of government. In that case, most assuredly there will be movement. I've never believed this was an issue of money and resources. We are a nation blessed with ample resources to take care of our needs. It's how we allocate them. There is a like-minded belief on the Democratic caucus that we need enhanced border security, and we certainly need immigration reform. We're making our way there. And I'm eager to get to it. We need the government to reopen to get there.

KELLY: Congressman, we'll leave it there. That's Congressman Dean Phillips, Democrat of Minnesota. Thanks very much for taking the time.

PHILLIPS: Many thanks. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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