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Democratic Senator On Whether Impending Government Shutdown Can Be Skirted

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Both Houses of Congress have adjourned for the night, meaning a partial government shutdown is now inevitable. What they're wrestling over has not changed - whether to give President Trump the money he wants for a border wall. Speaking on the Senate floor this evening - Senate Minority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer and Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: Within the Republican conference, there's strong support for the president's reasonable request for more resources to tackle the urgent situation at our southern border.

CHUCK SCHUMER: As we said to President Trump a week ago, his wall does not have 60 votes here in the Senate, let alone 50 votes.

KELLY: So with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a tie, the Senate did vote to keep on talking. Here's Republican Senator Bob Corker.

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BOB CORKER: What this does, I think, is push this ahead to a negotiation that yields a result and does the best we can to keep from shutting down government or, if it does shut down, shutting down very briefly.

KELLY: All right. Let me bring in one more senator, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia. He is on Capitol Hill. Hey there, Senator.

MARK WARNER: Mary Louise, Merry Christmas to you and all of your listeners from Capitol Hill.

KELLY: (Laughter) I appreciate that. Y'all are having quite a Friday night there.

WARNER: We are having, you know, what - this is one of the reasons why Americans get so frustrated with politics in D.C.

KELLY: Yeah. You have just come off the Senate floor. What is the scene? Are y'all...

WARNER: I have.

KELLY: ...Any closer to finding a path out of this?

WARNER: Well, the scene - well, it's a little uncertain. Again, let's take a look back over the last week. A week ago, the president met with the Democratic leaders and said he was then proud to have a government shutdown. They relayed the information that there were not 60 votes for his so-called wall. This week, the Republican leadership came to the same conclusion. And Wednesday night, I believe it was, the Senate unanimously passed legislation that would avoid a shutdown and keep the government open, with the promise...

KELLY: This was the McConnell legislation that the House didn't vote for.

WARNER: This was the McConnell legislation.

KELLY: They sent - yeah.

WARNER: Well, this is the McConnell legislation that actually - and I feel - I don't often feel, you know, sorry for the vice president. But I felt kind of sorry for the vice president because the vice president came up and told all the Republican senators, yeah, I'll vote for this because Trump will sign it. And again, as is typical of Mr. Trump, he gets a little pushback from the far-right, and he changes his position.

And we are now at a circumstance where, again, the Republican leadership went to the White House today. And I think most of the meeting was spent with the Republican senators saying they're not going to change the rules of the Senate for him to get his wall. And now we're at the stage where we spent 12 hours basically doing nothing, and there's now been a vote to say we're going to keep negotiating.

KELLY: Keep on talking. Yeah.

WARNER: But keep on...

KELLY: Well, let me focus on where we are now with just hours left before this deadline.

WARNER: Sure.

KELLY: There is some negotiation back and forth, I gather, over a bill that maybe both the House and Senate could vote for that would include some funding for border security but not calling it a wall. Is this something you could vote for, the...

WARNER: Well, that's the...

KELLY: ...Draft form you've seen?

WARNER: The vote - that's the irony because at least one of those proposals, the Democratic leaders made that proposal to the president over a week ago. So it's - the challenge here is it's hard - and this is one where, frankly, the Democrats and Republicans are in general agreement - it's hard to know what this White House will actually accept because the White House's willingness to stick to a deal or the president's willingness to keep his word, nobody has a lot of trust in that.

KELLY: I hear the frustration in your voice. What I don't hear is optimism that you're going to find a path out of this in the hours left.

WARNER: Well, I would like to be more optimistic. But, you know, the bid and the ask, so to speak, has been out there for some time. The reality - again, the reality is the Republican leadership would not have advised and put forward legislation that passed unanimously if they didn't realize as well that there are not anything anywhere close to 60 votes for the president's wall.

And the remarkable thing is, you know, I think there'd be increased interest in national and border security. But we ought to use 21st-century technology - drones, electronics, other sensors - rather than 14th-century technology of a wall.

KELLY: In...

WARNER: And unfortunately, the president has not been willing to take that off.

KELLY: We just have a couple of seconds left.

WARNER: Sure.

KELLY: But yes or no answer, is this worth shutting down the government over tonight?

WARNER: No, it is not. There should not have been this shutdown.

KELLY: That is Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia. Thanks very much for your time.

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