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Rep. Chuck Fleischmann On Border Funding


So will there be another a partial government shutdown or not? There are signs congressional negotiators are moving towards a compromise on border funding, which would be really key here. The Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Republican Richard Shelby is sounding optimistic.


RICHARD SHELBY: The dialogue is good. The tone is good. We're talking about substance. I would say we've got a much better chance today than we had Monday to reach some kind of resolution to this.

GREENE: Now, to avoid a shutdown, the president would need to sign something by next Friday. Republican Congressman Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee is on the conference committee trying to craft a bill, and he joins us this morning. Welcome back to the program, Congressman.

CHUCK FLEISCHMANN: Good morning, sir. Thank you.

GREENE: So I hear you and other negotiators are packing up and heading up to Camp David tonight. Are you bringing the president something final for him to consider here?

FLEISCHMANN: Well, the Camp David trip is something, I think, a little bit different. I don't exactly know what the agenda's going to be. I've been invited to Camp David. But these are not exclusively members of the committee. There are some members on the committee who are going. But there are actually some other members from both parties who've been invited to a rather small, select group. I'm sure this topic will come up, but I think that is separate and aside from the committee negotiations.

GREENE: Are - would you be eager to bring whatever deal you're working on to the president while you're up at Camp David?

FLEISCHMANN: Absolutely. Absolutely. I have been optimistic from the inception that we would be able to get into this room, this room of negotiators. Whether you're a senator or a member of the House, a Republican or a Democrat, we are all members of the Appropriations Committee. And I have basically said we are all reasonable people. We're flexible people. We are problem-solving people. And I thought it was an unprecedented opportunity to stand up and do something strong for the American people to regain their strength in our great republic. And I think we are getting there.

GREENE: Sometimes, I mean, it feels like we're living in two different worlds. You have members of Congress who are saying they're, you know, hammering out some sort of negotiation, and then sometimes you have President Trump out there saying nothing is going to happen without a wall. That wall will be built, period, period, period. I mean, Richard Shelby met with President Trump yesterday, said he thinks the president will probably sign what you craft. What, like - if - are you as confident, and if so, why?

FLEISCHMANN: Well, Senator Shelby is a very gifted appropriator. He's head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and he's a friend, sister state of Alabama. I'm from Tennessee. But I think so. First of all, we have worked very hard day after day to try to craft an agreement that was palatable to all. When we enter a negotiation - I said this early in the first meeting - the final agreement won't look like I wanted exactly.

I wanted $5.7 billion. But when I went to the border, I actually saw a new wall being constructed. So the American people know new wall has actually been constructed and is being constructed. So it's going to turn on a number. And I think Senator Shelby and other members of the Senate and House are having very good discussions with the White House.

The president is a great negotiator. He understands where this situation is. I think he's going to show flexibility. And I do understand why the president had some original concerns about this committee because we had just gone through a very difficult, arduous shutdown that was not beneficial to the American people. It was not president fault - Trump's fault. It was really not anyone's fault. We just got into a difficult position. And now we can work extra...

GREENE: Although, we should say a lot of polls suggested that many Americans blamed President Trump during the shutdown. But I want to ask you about the substance here because there are reports in the Washington Post that that this is really coming down to a negotiation over two things, that Democrats are willing to offer more money for some kind of barrier on the border in exchange for a reduction in the amount of detention beds at the border. Democrats prefer the Trump administration not have the ability to detain as many people at the border. Is that a fair way to frame exactly where the final talks are going?

FLEISCHMANN: That is part of the equation, yes. And let me say this. Unfortunately, the Democrats began their negotiations with a rather draconian reduction in the amount of ICE detention beds. And that is really detrimental. I've been at the border and what happens is there are - there's such a tremendous influx right now, we need these beds because to - we want to treat the people who are being detained in a very humanitarian way to make sure that things are safe for them. This is a crisis. It's a crisis in every aspect.

But I would say this. If they reduce the beds too much, it becomes unfortunately de facto catch and release. What I mean by that is - and the Democrats know this - if there aren't...

GREENE: Although Democrats would say things like ankle bracelets can be effective. I mean, it's a - they wouldn't agree with the characterization of catch and release necessarily.

FLEISCHMANN: Unfortunately, these ankle bracelets work while they're in the system. And I was just told - you mentioned Senator Shelby - there are a bunch of these ankle bracelets they found at the bottom of a lake in Alabama. They take these off. The hearings are set years later, and they don't show up. And I think most people know where things are.

GREENE: But then - we just have a few seconds left - you'd be willing to give some ground, though, I mean, to get a deal in terms of reducing...

FLEISCHMANN: Sure. Sure. Across the board. I knew this deal would not be crafted exactly the way I wanted. I wanted 5.7 for the wall. I am with the president on this. But I am also an appropriator. And the most important thing is we're going to face this issue in 2020 again and in the future. So I think a more reasonable approach, a flexible approach, both sides listening, not everybody getting exactly what they want but getting something that is working towards keeping the border safe, the American people safe in a very strong and humanitarian way.

GREENE: Republican Congressman Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, thanks so much.


GREENE: I want to bring in my colleague, NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell, who's been covering this. Kelsey, this is sounding close, listening to people like Fleischman and Shelby. Is it?

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Yeah, it does sound close. But you remember, these details, the little details that he's talking about, are often the thing that make a deal fall apart. They - the members that I've talked to on the Hill say that, yes, they are really honing in on this difference between detention beds and border fencing. But they also need to work out things like how much they're spending on drones and on sensors and really how much fencing they're - Democrats are willing to agree to.

So while it may be coming down to details right now, there is a lot to be done. And a lot of people I talked to say they expect this to set the foundation for border security spending for many years to come. So there's a ton of pressure for them to get this exactly right.

GREENE: And a ton of pressure - I mean, we should just say it - for both parties to be able to declare victory in front of their supporters.

SNELL: Yeah. That is a big part of any negotiation on Capitol Hill. But with this, where it's become so politically charged and such a big part of both parties' central campaign identities, they feel like they have to get something here.

GREENE: A lot at stake. We're facing that deadline next Friday for a possible - another possible partial government shutdown. NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thanks, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.