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The State Of The Bipartisan Border Security Negotiations


We are now at one week and counting. Unless political leaders can reach a deal on border security by next Friday, we are looking at a second government shutdown this year. Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee, says the talks are going well. That, in his view, negotiators have, quote, "a much better chance of success today than they did at the start of this week."

So might some kind of a deal be starting to take shape? Well, let's bring in Congressman Tom Graves, Republican of Georgia. Along with Senator Shelby, he is one of 17 lawmakers on the committee formed to try to find a compromise. Congressman Graves, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

TOM GRAVES: Well, thank you, Mary Louise. It's good to be with you today. And you're right, a lot has been going on in the last couple weeks, and...

KELLY: Well, I want to ask. Yeah. I mean, Senator Shelby says this is going well, progress is being made. I saw Senator Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and also part of your group, says y'all are 95 percent to 98 percent done. What kind of number would you put on it?

GRAVES: I would say that's pretty aggressive math there. But the Senate is generally a little bit more optimistic body.

KELLY: Where would you put it?

GRAVES: There's still some work to be done, clearly. But we're closer today, like Mr. Shelby said, than we were earlier in the week. And that's because we've been having conversations.

KELLY: Have you all figured out how you define wall?

GRAVES: (Laughter). You know, I've never really had a problem with that definition. I know there are others that do. But it's properly described as a steel, slatted barrier. There's really never been that much controversy over that term or application of a barrier. And...

KELLY: Been a lot of controversy over how much money to throw at a wall. We were seeing some reports that Democrats might be moving toward offering money for some kind of barrier in exchange for a reduction in the number of detention beds at the border. One of your fellow conference committee members, Republican Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, confirmed to us this morning that that negotiation is actively in play. Is that a productive path for getting y'all to where you need to be?

GRAVES: You know, I'm not one that believes you have to give up something in order to secure your country. And so I don't think that's the way we should be bartering. But I will point to a proposal that the Democrats put out last week, was their first offer, so to speak, which had $0 for a wall. Which, really, was unreasonable and not in good faith.

KELLY: Can you tell me where they are right now?

GRAVES: The easiest way to put it in context is the floor would be $1.6 billion - because that's what passed out of the Senate recently and within the last couple of months, and it was bipartisan - and the ceiling would be $5.7 billion. That would be the president's request.

KELLY: I interviewed your colleague David Price, a Democrat, who's also a member of the conference committee, interviewed him a couple of days ago. And I wanted you to hear one point he made. Here it is.


DAVID PRICE: I do think left to ourselves, as Republican and Democratic appropriators, assuming the president doesn't blow this up, I think there's a good chance we can come up with a workable plan. And I certainly hope we'll be allowed to do so.

KELLY: Congressman Graves, respond to that - this idea that, left alone, you all will find your way to a deal. The question remains, as it has been all along, what the president might sign.

GRAVES: Well, as Mr. Price said, I have not heard from the president himself. I do think the speaker of the House has been more vocal than anyone and has certainly interjected positions.

KELLY: Nancy Pelosi.

GRAVES: Yeah. Nancy Pelosi has done that. And...

KELLY: She's interjected into the negotiations y'all are having in this conference committee?

GRAVES: And she's been very bold in saying there will be $0 for a border wall. That's her...

KELLY: I see what you're saying. Yeah.

GRAVES: And she did that...

KELLY: Which was the starting position going in.

GRAVES: That's right, which is an unreasonable beginning point, obviously.

KELLY: Speaker Pelosi has said that she would sign off on whatever kind of deal you all come up with in the committee. Are you confident that the president would do the same, that he will sign off on whatever you produce?

GRAVES: Well, that's easy for the speaker to say, Speaker Pelosi, because she has more votes in the committee.

KELLY: To be clear, she's not on the committee. But you're talking about Democrats who are in this conference.

GRAVES: Right. She appointed more votes to the committee. Right. And ultimately, the Democrats control the product.

KELLY: To the question, though, of whether the president will sign what you produce.

GRAVES: You know, I can't speak to what the president will or won't do, but I know that he is patiently waiting for this committee to put out a product that can get to his desk. And in the event that it doesn't, I know that he will have to look at his options at that point.

KELLY: What happens if you don't reach a deal?

GRAVES: You know, I'm not ready to think that way yet. I'm not going to give up. I think these are good people on this conference committee who want to do the right thing and get to the right spot. And if that doesn't happen, we'll address that in the days ahead as that time comes near.

KELLY: Georgia Republican Tom Graves. Congressman, thank you very much.

GRAVES: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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