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In Latest Attempt To Reopen Government, Bipartisan Group Of Senators Meets

Jan 21, 2018
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to begin the program today on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are still trying to come up with a way to restart the federal government, which has been in a partial shutdown all weekend. Later in the program, we'll look at how a shutdown affects the economy. But first, an update from the Capitol, where a bipartisan group of senators think they may have a solution that could end what has become an increasingly ugly standoff. For more, we turn to NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thanks so much for joining us.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And what's the latest?

SNELL: Well, I just got back from standing outside of an office in a closed Senate building - Senate office building - where that bipartisan group was meeting. It's about 20 senators, led in part by Lindsey Graham. And it was the second time they were meeting in - for the past two days. Yesterday, they met for about three hours. They came out saying that they think they're close to a breakthrough.

The plan would be to vote to reopen the government and keep funding going through February 8. It would also extend funding for the popular Children's Health Insurance Program. We hear it talked about a lot as CHIP. In exchange, Democrats would get a firm commitment of some sort - we don't know what yet - to quickly begin consideration of immigration plans. When the senators came out, they said that they want to have open debate on a number of proposals in hopes of crafting some kind of compromise before the DACA program expires in early March.

MARTIN: This sounds like a departure from what we've been hearing over the past couple of days from both sides. Can you walk us through what each side is saying?

SNELL: Yeah, absolutely. This has been a couple of days of heavy blame being traded back and forth. Republicans say Democrats are playing a game of basically political football that shuts down the government and prevents kids who use CHIP from having access to health care. Democrats say this is entirely the Republicans' fault for refusing to work with them. And here's what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: They were using the 10 million kids on CHIP, holding them as hostage for the 800,000 kids who were DREAMers - kids against kids. Innocent kids against innocent kids.

SNELL: And just after that, Senator John Cornyn, who's the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, came out and said that Democrats are essentially just making a big political mistake, and they're going to pay the price for it. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN CORNYN: It seems to me that our Democratic colleagues have literally - well, figuratively, let's say - shot themselves in the foot, reloaded and shot themselves in the other foot.

SNELL: And that's basically what it sounded like a lot today on the Senate floor.

MARTIN: Well, after all of that, you know, where they were sort of upping the ante rhetorically against each other - and I'm asking a little bit to speculate - but how likely is this to succeed?

SNELL: Well, I have talked to some folks in leadership. So the next step on all of this is that the members that were at that bipartisan meeting went off and they briefed their leaders. And then the leaders were supposed to come together and talk about it. And, you know, there are a couple of things happening here.

One is the politics of it all. This is not great for Democrats in particular in red states and people who are up in 2018. They want this to end. And there is a lot of urgency around the idea that Monday is coming, and most federal workers would be going back to work. And it's fine - in some ways, it's less painful for a shutdown to happen over a weekend, but it gets really real on Monday. And I think there's an urgency for them to get a deal.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, very briefly, what is the White House's role in all of this?

SNELL: Democrats say President Trump in particular is to blame for saying he would sign anything that could pass and then rejecting the bipartisan plan that was crafted by a different smaller group of bipartisan senators. Many Republicans say it wasn't the president's fault because, well, he doesn't vote in the Senate, and he didn't vote against that spending bill. But others, like Lindsey Graham, say that White House staff is getting in the way and pulling Trump back from his inclination to cut a deal with Democrats, and he sees that as a really big problem.

MARTIN: That is NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thank you.

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