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Shutdown Day 34: Senate Set To Consider 2 Competing Bills


In his final State of the Union speech in 2016, President Obama declared, the state of our union is strong. In his State of the Union speech in 2018, President Trump declared, the state of our union is strong. It's a common sentiment. President Bush said it. President Clinton said it.

Today, we can say the State of the Union is delayed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it definite yesterday the president may not use the House chamber until a partial government shutdown is over. The president replied by Twitter last night that that is her prerogative, and he will wait.

NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro never waits. He's here once again this morning. Domenico, good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Steve. And I'll wait as long as you need.

INSKEEP: OK. Why did the president not seek some other place?

MONTANARO: Well, he decided to relent and back down, which is not usual for his - for what he's done over his presidency. But he decided that he was not going to seek a different venue. He tweeted that there's no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House chamber. He said he looks forward to giving it in the near future after the shutdown is over.

And, you know, it's probably no coincidence that there were three polls out yesterday continuing to show the president's numbers getting worse and worse during the shutdown. People are blaming him for it. They're saying the shutdown is more of a problem than the border. And his approval rating in an AP poll, for example, went to 34 percent, the lowest of his presidency in that poll. And among independents, almost 7 in 10 disapprove of the job he's doing.

INSKEEP: You know, I was looking at the FiveThirtyEight polling average. You take an average of polls since any one poll might be a little off. His approval rating was 10 points underwater in December - like, 41 percent approved, around 51 percent disapproved, which is really bad. And now it is far worse, something like 55-39 - 55 percent disapproval and only 39 percent approval. That is appalling for a president.

MONTANARO: Yeah, it's really expanded since the government shutdown began December 21. And, you know, it's hard to ignore a confluence of polls. You know, you can cherry-pick one thing, but when you see that trend, which is really the way to consume them, even the president has to look at that and think, something has to change here.

And, you know, a Fox News poll was out yesterday. They conduct very good polls. And it showed, you know, three-quarters of the country think that the border is - I'm sorry. Three-quarters of the country think that the shutdown is a big problem compared to fewer than that - maybe about 6 in 10 - who thought the border was.

INSKEEP: And, of course, that is a poll that we would presume the president has seen since he spends a lot of time watching Fox News and often tweeting about it, although he hasn't tweeted that poll so far as we are - so far as we know.

MONTANARO: Probably not going to tweet that if it's a...


MONTANARO: ...If it's not favorable to him.

INSKEEP: Have Democrats offered the president any way to get out of this?

MONTANARO: Well, Democrats have not offered anything yet to the president, except to say that - open the government back up, and then we can negotiate, which the Democrats are saying. You know, that's one of the bills that's going to be voted on today and expected to fail. Of course, the president's proposal in the Senate is also going to be voted on, where he wants $5.7 billion for a wall and offering temporary immigrant - temporary protections for immigrants in the country.

But Democrats are likely to offer a counterproposal, according to NPR's Susan Davis, that does spend significantly on border security, just not going to offer anything for that wall.

INSKEEP: Would it be $5.7 billion, which is the exact amount the president is demanding, just not for a wall - for other kinds of security?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, Democrats have shown a pension to actually spend potentially more money than that in past years when it comes to other things - when you think about, you know, drones or technology.

Really, the wall has become symbolic for both Democrats and Republicans, you know, at least for this president to say that this is his, you know, physical view of saying that he's tough on the border, and Democrats saying that this is also a physical view of saying that you're trying to keep people out. So - because Democrats in the past, of course, have been in favor of securing various parts of the border and fencing.

INSKEEP: Domenico, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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