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Democratic Rep. Katherine Clark Discusses Government Shutdown


Next Tuesday, January 29, was supposed to be the day President Trump continues the tradition launched by his predecessors.


UNIDENTIFIED SERGEANT AT ARMS: Madame Speaker, the president of the United States.

BILL CLINTON: My fellow Americans.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our nation will forever be safe and strong and proud.

GEORGE W BUSH: And the state of our union will remain strong.

BARACK OBAMA: The state of our union is strong.


But today saw dueling letters between President Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. And the State of the Union speech - at least a State of the Union speech delivered in the House chamber - has been effectively canceled.

CORNISH: The president sent a letter to Pelosi saying he looked forward to seeing her in the House chamber next week. This afternoon, Speaker Pelosi responded saying that the House will not authorize the State of the Union until the government is reopened.

KELLY: All of which gives you a little window into the spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation breaking out here in Washington - not. Meanwhile, we have reached Day 33 of the partial government shutdown.

Well, let's bring in Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark. She is vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus. And we have reached her at her office on Capitol Hill. Congresswoman Clark, welcome.

KATHERINE CLARK: Oh, it's great to be with you.

KELLY: Let me start with the State of the Union. How does denying the president his traditional speech help find common ground when there are, as you know, tasks of real consequence - funding the government - that are not getting done?

CLARK: Well, we are trying to send a message to the president that it is time to stop governing like we're about to cut to commercial, and to realize the pain that he is inflicting and the real threats to our national security by continuing this shutdown.

It is time to reopen government and make sure that we can then come to the table and talk about effective ways to make sure that our borders are secure.

KELLY: But does this back-and-forth over a State of the Union on the House floor feel petty?

CLARK: I think it is petty. I think that what we've seen is that the president has started a very petty argument that is taking a tremendous toll on real people.

I can tell you the stories from my district alone - about an elderly woman in my - one of my communities called Natick, where she cannot get the verification of her income to continue her subsidized housing. Our Coast Guard base that is local - they have had to open a food pantry because so many of those who are serving us live paycheck to paycheck.

This president has decided to hold the American people and these federal workers hostage to a campaign promise that he made. And that is the ultimate petty governing, but it is having a real effect. And we need to make sure that that government is open before we negotiate.

KELLY: Well, let me - to that point, talk to me about reports today that House Democrats are preparing a counteroffer to the president - House Democrats, that would be you. The measure, I understand, would provide funding for border security, but no funding for a wall.

Start here. Does this mean Democrats are willing to negotiate with the president before the government is reopened?

CLARK: No. We have been clear. We have tried everything we can. We took our 10th vote today to reopen government. We are trying in every way we know. First, it was we'll give the Senate Republicans back the bills they already approved, see if they will side with the American people and stop siding with the president. When that didn't work and our House Republican colleagues asked us to put out the bills that they had agreed to, we have done that now.

And it's time where we're going to see whether House Republicans and those in the Senate - whose side are they on? So far, they are siding with the president.

KELLY: But does this represent - this counteroffer - does this represent a new move from Democrats that would give the president pretty much the amount of money he's calling for, just not money for a wall?

CLARK: I think we're trying to send a signal that we are very serious about border security, and we are willing to have that discussion with the president. But first, he has to open government and stop holding things hostage.

KELLY: He's made it so clear, though, if there's one thing he's not going to do, it's - if there's no money for a wall, there's no deal. What makes you think he doesn't mean it?

CLARK: If we yield to his extreme demands now, shutdowns won't be a last resort. They're going to be a weekly special - a tool that he uses routinely. And that's why we're saying to him that you have to open government.

You have to remember, when this started on December 20, the Republicans were fully in charge, as they had been for the last two years. And it was really far-right political commentators that drove the president into this position. Who he is forgetting is the American people.

And by not paying TSA workers, FBI, the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, what he is creating is a new threat to our national security. This shutdown has to end.

KELLY: But again, how does this counteroffer move things forward if it's the one thing he said he won't budge on?

CLARK: You know, what we - what we're saying to him is, open government. Open it for a short time. Keep the pressure on both parties, and then we'll negotiate. Tomorrow, we're going to try and preview some of the specifics of what we would do. But our general position - we are unified, and it is not just the Democratic caucus. It is the American people. They see what this is. This is a temper tantrum, not a way to govern the United States.

KELLY: In the moments we have left, Congresswoman, as you know, the end of this week will mark the second missed paycheck for federal workers. Should members of Congress forfeit that paycheck, too?

CLARK: I think that members of Congress would - if forfeiting a paycheck would put the paycheck back into the hands of our federal employees, we'd be glad to do it.

KELLY: Are you planning to do that?

CLARK: But only one thing is going to do that, and that is opening government. So anything else is a distraction from the real needs of these people. And this president needs to look at all the people, not play to his base or a few commentators, and make sure that he is siding and deciding that he is going to be a president for all Americans.

KELLY: And we'll have to leave it there. That's Massachusetts Democrat Katherine Clark. Thanks so much.

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