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Democratic Senator Talks Latest Negotiations Amid Shutdown


We've been talking about the federal government shutdown, which began on President Trump's first anniversary in office. Earlier this hour, we spoke with White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp, who, like Senate Republican leaders, blamed Senate Democrats, who, with a few exceptions, largely voted against the short-term spending bill that could have kept the government open. So let's hear now from one of those who voted no, Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat from Wisconsin. She's on the phone with us now from Capitol Hill. Senator, thanks so much for speaking with us.

TAMMY BALDWIN: My pleasure.

MARTIN: So could you just give us your top line? What was your key reason for voting against the short-term spending bill that the House sent over? Why was it something you couldn't vote for?

BALDWIN: Well, we have had now three continuing resolutions since the end of the fiscal year on September 30 of last year. And there was no sense in my mind that kicking it four more weeks down the road - after that would have been the fourth continuing resolution in four months - would get Congress to deal with the urgent issues that we need to deal with.

So this four-week CR failed to deliver on defense matters. We had Secretary Mattis come by our Democratic caucus a couple of weeks ago to urge us to get beyond the continuing resolution after continuing resolution. It didn't address the opioid crisis that is gripping Wisconsin and many other states, in fact, all states across the nation. It didn't deal with our pension crisis in Wisconsin. Community health centers remain without reauthorization and funding.

And it didn't deal with the disaster funding for Florida and Texas and Puerto Rico, where 40 percent of the residents still don't have electricity or the U.S. Virgin Islands. And it certainly didn't deal with the crisis that the president created when he rescinded DACA, meaning that young children who were brought to the United States by their parents or other family members, you know, through no fault of their own have no future if we can't resolve these weighty issues.

MARTIN: So, Senator, let me jump in here. Sorry, forgive me. Let me jump in here because we only have another minute and a half left. The Senate Republican leadership and the White House are framing this as the Democrats shutting the government down to protect illegal immigrants. Now, those are their words. But, indeed, some Democrats have said that stabilizing DACA was non-negotiable. I mean, how do you defend against that argument?

BALDWIN: Well, first of all, there's bipartisan agreement on addressing the situation with the DREAMers. And the president and the Republicans in Congress know that but won't allow any sort of resolution of this issue. But secondly, I think this is a Trump shutdown. He is the president. Republicans are in charge of both houses of Congress. There is large bipartisan agreement around most of the issues that I just listed that are urgent. I know in your past - your most recent interview, there was this sense of urgency. And there's no resolution if we keep on kicking it down the road for weeks at a time.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Senator, because I understand you do have meetings to get back to. You're running for re-election this fall in a state that voted for President Trump. Wisconsin isn't like California and Texas, where there are just, you know, almost like 100,000 DREAMers. Are you concerned that this will be a deal maker for some of your voters even if you don't cite this as the main reason that you voted against the continuing resolution?

BALDWIN: You know, right now, Washington isn't working for Wisconsin. And I am here fighting to make it work for Wisconsin. And my constituents, some of them are DREAMers. But some of them have relatives who have died of opioid overdoses. Others face imminent cuts in their pensions. Community centers across the state - community health centers across the state who serve over 300,000 Wisconsinites need certainty. So there is an urgency to these issues, and I'm fighting for the people who sent me to Washington to fight.

MARTIN: We have to leave it there for now. Senator, thanks so much for talking with us. We know you're very busy.

BALDWIN: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.