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First Signs Of Movement Emerge In Stalled Government Shutdown Talks


Today is the two-year anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration. It also marks 30 days since much of the federal government shut down over the president's insistence that Congress fund a border wall. Trump spent this morning on Twitter defending his proposal to end the shutdown and attacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Yesterday, the president offered a reprieve from deportation for the so-called DREAMers and immigrants who enjoyed temporary protected status, or TPS, in exchange for nearly $6 billion of wall funding. Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana had this assessment today on CBS's "Face The Nation."


JOHN KENNEDY: It represents progress - not perfection but progress. If you bring a plan to him that doesn't include a wall, it's dead as 4:00.

BLOCK: And on the Democratic side, here's Senator Mark Warner of Virginia speaking on NBC's "Meet The Press."


MARK WARNER: What the president proposed yesterday - increasing border security, looking at TPS, looking at the DREAMers - I'll use that as a starting point, but you've got to start by opening the government.

BLOCK: So are we any closer to an end to the government shutdown? Well, Robert Costa joins me here in our studio to talk about that. He's a national political reporter with The Washington Post.

Robert, welcome.

ROBERT COSTA: Good to be with you.

BLOCK: The Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has said he will move the president's proposal to the floor of the Senate this week as early as Tuesday. Do you figure that that bill will mirror what the president has proposed exactly?

COSTA: It will have Republican support. There has been a cracking inside of the Senate Republican Conference going on for days. I always think about Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a retiring Republican, as really an example, an indicator of where this conference is. He started telling me a few days ago it's time to reopen the government, time to get some kind of deal cobbled. A lot of Republicans were pushing for a deal, and then the White House came up with its own.

BLOCK: But again, would it be exactly what the president has laid out? Or do you figure that they're going to be changing things, getting something that may be more palatable to Democrats?

COSTA: So much of this moment - it's about blame. Who's going to get blame in the polls? President Trump has been feeling the burden. He's been sagging in the polls during the shutdown. This new deal, this proposal is a way to try to put the pressure on House Democrats - to have the Senate Republicans pass the president's idea and then see what Speaker Nancy Pelosi does.

BLOCK: It's not a deal until it's done, right? So what are the chances that this bill could pass the Senate and get to the House?

COSTA: It'll - it's a very good chance it'll pass the Senate, though you could see some filibuster activity, some efforts to try to block it in the Senate. But some Senate Democrats, like Joe Manchin of Virginia, may be tempted to support this kind of proposal because they want to reopen the government. There's a lot of pressure from federal workers, hundreds of thousands of workers going without a paycheck. But Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, has framed this in moral terms. She does not want to support a border wall. So even if it passes the Senate, it could be dead on arrival in the House.

BLOCK: Right. Now, the speaker - Speaker Pelosi's been demanding that these two things be decoupled, right? First, Congress has to fund the government, then take up border security. So how does that get squared in any way?

COSTA: What we're going to have to watch in the coming days - Vice President Pence, Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the president, his son-in-law, going to the Capitol. Does a real agreement start to be brokered beyond just what the president said on Saturday at the White House? If a deal really starts to get in the works and different tweaks to this proposal start to float up, you could see the president agree to open the government but keep some kind of talks going. The White House privately is trying to see where this all goes. But no one wants to lose their position. But the president - he's paying a political price already with some conservatives who don't like him offering protections for the DREAMers.

BLOCK: Right. So he's getting it from both sides, right? He's getting blowback from the conservative wing, who's saying this amounts to amnesty, and then Democrats, who don't like this at all.

COSTA: Democrats certainly don't like it. But inside the White House, my top sources there say there is real debate inside the West Wing. Was this a smart move by President Trump? He - the Democrats don't like what he's proposing. And now some of his core voters, the Republicans who elevated him to the White House, are wondering, is this amnesty? Is this president whose core issue is immigration - is he somehow walking away from his signature issue?

BLOCK: And how does he try to allay those concerns among his base?

COSTA: He just keeps signaling to them he's fighting and fighting. This is the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Both sides here at the dawn of divided government are trying to see if the other will blink. This is a power play and a power debate as much as it is about immigration and policy.

BLOCK: Robert, this shutdown is already a month long. We have 800,000 federal workers not being paid. They're - they've already missed one paycheck. They're supposed to have another coming this week. Do you see an outcome anywhere in sight that will put an end to the shutdown?

COSTA: All of these issues are piling up. But I spent the week at the Capitol asking senators, Democrats and Republicans, what's the breaking point here? And some of them will pull me aside privately and say, it's only when the public employees really start a rebellion, the TSA employees at the airport stay home, is there chaos at an airport and people can't make their flights. There's paralysis inside of this Congress. They can't really come to an agreement. The president, Speaker Pelosi are dug in - especially the president here - not accepting any kind of deal. They're all trying to see if there'll be an outside factor that breaks it all open.

BLOCK: That's a big if.

COSTA: That's a big if. And we'll have to see if this bill, this proposal from the Senate Republicans floats away and dies this week, and we'll still have a government shutdown.

BLOCK: OK. Washington Post national political reporter Robert Costa. He's also moderator of the PBS program "Washington Week."

Thanks so much for coming in.

COSTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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