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Trump To Meet With Top Democrats About Border Wall

Dec 11, 2018
Originally published on December 11, 2018 8:59 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The country's top Democratic lawmakers meet with President Trump at the White House today. They're going to try to hash out a plan to avoid a partial government shutdown. The obstacle - a wall, specifically the president's request for $5 billion as a down payment on a border wall. This is something President Trump has been promising his supporters - that he would build a wall - ever since he announced his run for the White House in 2015. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have suggested offering $1.3 billion to the president for border security. Joining us now - NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: The president has been busy on Twitter this morning - not exactly offering a conciliatory tone before this meeting, is he?

KEITH: Well, that would be the president, and that would be Twitter. There were five tweets - long ones in fact - talking about the wall, talking about border security, saying Democrats want open borders. But it was all a bunch of throat clearing to get to the end, which seems to be almost a concession of defeat mixed with a declaration of victory, which is President Trump at his essence.

MARTIN: OK, tell us what he's saying.

KEITH: Yeah, so let me read it. Mind you, there have been four tweets before this one. But then he says, people do not realize how much of the wall, including really effective renovation, has already been built. If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our country, the military will build the remaining sections of the wall. They know how important it is.

MARTIN: OK. There are clearly things to discuss about this. First of all, how is he going to have the military build the wall?

KEITH: Well, that isn't clear. As we all know, the military - troops have been stationed along the border since just before the midterm elections. He sent them there to help deal with the caravan, to put up some concertina wire and otherwise fortify things. Some of those troops are being extended. Other units have been sent home. I reached out to a budget expert, a man named Stan Collender who goes by the name the budget guy, to ask him what he thought President Trump was talking about. And he says that he thinks maybe the president is talking about reprogramming or transferring funds from the Department of Defense from other programs. And then he says that that would take resources away from other military activities. But he's also not sure that the president really has the discretion to do that or that Democrats that will be taking over in the House of Representatives in January will be particularly happy about going along with it.

MARTIN: Right. Also isn't he just giving away his leverage by saying he doesn't need Pelosi and Schumer and Democrats? Won't they just call his bluff?

KEITH: And the reality is that they've already called his bluff. And he may well have been sort of responding to the statement that they put out last night. Pelosi and Schumer put out a statement saying Republicans still control the House and the Senate and the White House, and they have the power to keep the government open - essentially washing their hands of this current budget fight and saying that it's up to the president and Republicans to do it. They add this holiday season the president knows full well that his wall proposal does not have the votes to pass the House and the Senate and should not be an obstacle to a bipartisan agreement.

MARTIN: So I mean, we have been here before, Tamara, many times. Someone's got to blink. I mean, they could pass a short-term spending bill that would buy more time, but ultimately someone's going to have to make a concession.

KEITH: Well, and it almost seems like - and we will see because things often change - but it almost seems like, with this series of tweets, President Trump is conceding that he's not going to get the wall funding that he wants. And in the process, he's saying, and I don't really need it anyway, which is the declaring victory in the face of defeat.

MARTIN: So you don't see a real possibility of a partial shutdown at this point?

KEITH: I mean, I don't like to make predictions. But it certainly seems as though there is a softening of the president's position at a time when no one really wants a government shutdown.

MARTIN: No one ever does, right? It doesn't politically work for anyone.

KEITH: Well, no one ever wants one but especially now, you know. There are so many Republican members of Congress who the president would need their votes. And they just want to go home there. They're done. They've been voted out of office, and they just want to go home.

MARTIN: Right. All this is happening of course while there is a revolving door in White House staffing. Chief of Staff John Kelly is gone. President Trump needs a new one. Who's on the list today because there aren't that many people lining up for this job?

KEITH: Well, and guess what? There's a tweet for that too. The President Trump - President Trump is just out with one saying that there are over 10 people vying for and wanting the White House chief of staff position. He doesn't say who they are. Most media outlets that are tracking these things do not have a list that is nearly that long. One name that keeps rising to the top is Mark Meadows. He's a congressman from North Carolina, head of the Freedom Caucus and a close ally of President Trump's - unclear whether he would get the job. He initially said he didn't want it and then said that it would be a great honor.

MARTIN: Stay tuned. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.