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Democrats Want Immigration Issues Solved Before Vote On Budget


The U.S. Senate will try again today to strike a deal and end the government shutdown, or at least try to buy some time. So far, neither party has budged in all this. The GOP wants a continuing resolution on spending now that does not include a fix for DACA, or, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but with a promise to address that issue early next month. Here's Republican Senator Jeff Flake.


JEFF FLAKE: I will add my vote for this agreement, as the majority leader has simply outlined, that we have a CR that runs through February 8. We seek to have an agreement on immigration before that time.

MARTIN: Some Democrats say they can't wait to fix DACA later and they may keep voting down a Republican funding bill that doesn't include it. Now on the third day of the shutdown with hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed, it's not clear where the compromise is. A group of 20 senators from both parties worked through the weekend to figure that out. Chris Coons, Democrat from Delaware, was one of them. He is up bright and early to join us in our studio this morning. Hi, Senator.

CHRIS COONS: Good morning, Rachel. Great to be with you again.

MARTIN: Great to have you here. So the Senate reconvenes today. You're going to hold a vote on whether or not to end the shutdown and fund the government. How will you vote?

COONS: Well, it depends on what final agreement is reached between our leaders. The group that you mentioned, 20 of us, spent hours meeting on Saturday and on Sunday taking ideas and suggestions to our respective leadership and trying to get them to a final point of agreement. The good news, I think, is that the number of Republicans who are saying that they are committed to addressing DACA, to trying to move forward on a balanced bill that includes investment in border security and a path to citizenship for dreamers, has steadily grown. And...

MARTIN: Is that enough, though? Republicans are just promising you that they will work on it. Is that enough to get your yes vote today?

COONS: So what happened last night that you just played, the clip, was apparently enough for Senator Flake. It is not enough for me. And part of this challenge really is about trust. We're in this mess largely because of President Trump. President Trump, I'll remind you, announced back in September that he was canceling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program that currently allows 800,000 or so Americans, people from our community, to stay here with authorization. And he said we're going to work this out legislatively by March 5. And Leader McConnell has, before last night, been saying, why are we focusing on this? There's no urgency. We don't need to deal with this.

And there are a whole series of long delayed things that we are months overdue resolving - the Children's Health Insurance Program, community health centers, funding for disaster relief, finally reaching agreement on investments on funding for defense and domestic priorities. We are trying to add this to that menu and say, we're nearly done with all of that, let's just sit down and hammer it out. That's why, Friday night, a number of Democrats said, let's keep the government open for three days. Let's make sure the military gets paid, hammer it out this weekend and be done on Monday.

And when McConnell says no, no, no, let's keep it open 30 days and maybe we'll get to it, some of us struggle to trust him because of the famously vulgar way that President Trump sort of blew up the last time that Senators Graham and Durbin offered him a bipartisan deal, now two weeks ago.

MARTIN: I hear you, though, saying your position hasn't changed. So where's the compromise? I mean, if you're saying that we still need a fix to DACA in this deal, we still need a solution to the Children's Health Insurance Program, Republicans say that's not going to happen. So we're at a stalemate, still.

COONS: We have made real progress in negotiations over the weekend, and I have more confidence in Republicans who are working with us on these other issues. The progress, although it may seem small to you, the progress that happened last night was for Leader McConnell to stop saying that dealing with DACA and border security is a side issue, there's no urgency, we don't need to address this, to at least saying, we will proceed to it by February 8 if we haven't resolved it by then.

But I'm pointing out to you that given the president's response, it's hard for any of us to believe that it will actually move forward in a substantive way. I'll remind you the president's response to the government shutdown has been, in tweets lobbed from the White House, to urge that they change the filibuster roll and just shove us aside and move forward.

MARTIN: But I guess my question stands. If you're not getting those things today, are you going to vote for this procedural vote that would essentially end the shutdown?

COONS: At this point, I'm not going to vote to change to accept a 30-day CR or 21-day CR. I think the things that Leader McConnell could do that would satisfy Senator Schumer's concerns and many others are really not that complicated. They're laid out in detail, and he knows what they are. And at this point, it's a - there's some confidence-building measures we need to see that would move us forward.

MARTIN: Like what?

COONS: That's really in the hands of leadership at this point. But I'll tell you that there's a way to say I'll get around to it, and there's a way to say in exactly this way on this timeline with a vote.

MARTIN: You need more concrete assurances written into anything that you would sign.

COONS: And that Republicans who are negotiating, I believe, in good faith are also going to insist that we move, that this be among the things we take up.

MARTIN: But the longer that people aren't getting paychecks, the longer that the government is shut down, do the Democrats suffer politically?

COONS: The government shouldn't be shut down. This is not a good thing for our country. But the reasons the government is shut down, I will remind you, begin and end, I think, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There were several times that President Trump was offered a solid bipartisan compromise. There is a good deal on the table that would address all of this that's now been rejected by the president twice. We need to move to this issue as the Senate and let the Senate resolve it, and I'm optimistic after lots of hours spent meeting in large and small groups over the weekend that we can and we will.

MARTIN: Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.