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Republican Sen. Mike Rounds Weighs In On Current Government Shutdown Stalemate


It is Day 33 of the government shutdown, and it has been just about that long since the Senate has tried to pass a new spending bill. That changes tomorrow. That is when each party, in an effort to end the shutdown, will bring its own bill to the Senate floor.


The Republican bill, in exchange for money for the president's border wall, offers protections for the so-called DREAMers but with a catch. It also makes it harder for children from Central American countries to seek asylum in the U.S. The Democrats' bill is a spending bill that would fund the government through February 8. It doesn't provide any new money for the wall. Neither is expected to pass.

South Dakota Republican Mike Rounds will be there to cast his vote. He joins me in the studio. Thanks for coming in.

MIKE ROUNDS: I appreciate the opportunity to visit with you this afternoon.

CORNISH: I'm going to get to this topic in a moment, but I do want to address something that has moved quickly this afternoon, and that's about the State of the Union. After dueling letters between the president and Speaker Pelosi, the State of the Union is effectively canceled. And now the president says he's going to be giving a speech at an alternate event, essentially. Should he be giving that address now with the government shutdown?

ROUNDS: It's unfortunate that it comes this far. These two leaders need to find a way to work together. The president needs to find a way to break through, but Speaker Pelosi has a responsibility here as well. Simply denying the president the opportunity to have the State of the Union is probably not going to help us find common ground on other more pressing issues.

The president has a number of different options in which he can deliver a State of the Union. But this has been the traditional one, and it's the one that many ways is an example to the rest of the world of how even if we have real disagreements, we still come together; we listen to the president's message, and then lawmakers have the opportunity to express their approval or disapproval but not by throwing things at one another but by simply expressing in that chamber their thoughts about what the president is saying. This is probably a mistake not to have a way to continue it in front of the entire world.

CORNISH: I want to talk about the two bills that will be before you this week. Democrats are looking at the proposal from Senate Leader McConnell and saying it has a poison pill in these restrictions on people applying for asylum.

ROUNDS: I guess we had never looked at it that way before, and it's really the first time that I've heard it approached that way. What we really thought we were trying to do on this was to provide at least an avenue in which those individuals knew that there was a continuation of being able to seek asylum. But more than that, it was a first step on behalf of the president to come off of what had been his position of simply saying, I want you to fund my border wall; I want you to fund this thing right now.

And I give Leader McConnell a lot of credit for actually getting the president to come off and make the first move in this negotiation - doesn't mean it's perfect, but it was a step forward. The expectation was that the speaker would then respond with an appropriate message coming off of her hard position of, you get nothing. So far, that hasn't occurred. It's back to...

CORNISH: Open the government. Debate afterwards.

ROUNDS: Right. And...

CORNISH: To that point, are any Republicans going to cross the aisle to vote for that Democratic proposal to say, look; let's just, like, get the government open and then have a real discussion?

ROUNDS: I don't know. Each of them will look at this and say, what will my constituents think is the best approach on this? Some will say, no, look; we're going to have to stand firm so that everybody understands that it's going to be a united effort. It's going to be one that both the president and Speaker Pelosi both say, I can live with this new, third alternative. And if they - you know, once again, if Democrats surprise us and step forward and agree to what the president is saying in order to move it over to the House, that would be a positive thing. But I don't think that you're going to see that.

I don't believe that Republicans are going to step forward and say, move it to the House because they know that the president would veto it. And then you start all over again, only you're several more days, if not a week, down the line yet. It would be good to break through and to actually have a group established to find some common ground if at all possible. Leader McConnell was right. It takes both the speaker and the president to agree to move forward. And at this point, it doesn't look like we're coming anywhere close to that.

CORNISH: If you don't mind me saying this, you look exhausted and exasperated. And do you feel like your leaders have let you down?

ROUNDS: I'm frustrated just like I think the vast majority of members in the House and the Senate are. We came to Washington to fix things. But right now we have the president, who has taken a first step. We really hope Speaker Pelosi will take even a small step forward to break the original impasse. Once we get to the point where we can get a small committee working, then I think things will start to move quickly.

CORNISH: That's Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota. Thank you for coming in and speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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