Last-Minute Budget Deal Reached Before Government Shutdown Deadline
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Last night, in the final hours of April, there was a rare bipartisan breakthrough on Capitol Hill. Congress reached a last-minute deal to fund the government and avoid a shutdown. That plan will see a vote later this week, keeping the government open and funded until October. We're also following this this morning.
President Trump had made a phone call to President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. This is an authoritarian leader who has been accused of ordering extra-judicial killings of drug suspects in his country. This call was supposed to be pretty routine, but it ended in a way that has surprised a lot of people.
President Trump invited Duterte to visit him in Washington. And the administration is already getting some pushback for that invite. Let's talk all of this through with NPR's Scott Detrow, who's in our studio. Scott, Good morning.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So let's start with that deal last night. The federal government, we should say, looks like it's going to stay open through September of this year. But what was this deal that was reached? And are we learning anything about the two parties there?
DETROW: Yeah. I think this was a moment where Democrats actually had some leverage. That's been very rare in Washington, given all the control that Republicans have. But Democratic votes are needed to get this bill through the Senate. So Democrats were at the negotiating table.
And one thing they pushed for was that this deal would not fund a top Trump priority and that's the beginning of construction on a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, President Trump continues to insist this wall is going to happen at some point. Here he was speaking in Harrisburg over the weekend.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We need the wall. And we will build a wall as sure as you are standing there tonight. We need the wall.
DETROW: But this was the first big moment for Trump to push for that. And he very quickly backed off those initial demands that this deal would have to have wall funding. That was something that was never even a serious part of negotiations because the White House stepped back so quickly.
GREENE: Well, I wonder now if there's more of a negotiating mood, if it'll extend to other things like health care. I mean, they're going to vote on that budget deal by the end of the week, but it sounds like health care is bubbling up again. Are Republicans getting more serious about figuring out a way to repeal key parts of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare?
DETROW: Yeah, I think they are. And this week I think will tell us really whether Republicans are serious about actually getting a bill passed or just focused more on the optics of making it look like they haven't given up on that yet. There was some new language, an amendment that emerged last week. But it doesn't really go in the bipartisan direction. It's something that no Democrat has any interest in agreeing to.
This is language that did win support from that conservative wing of the House Republicans, the Freedom Caucus. And it would basically - it's more complicated than this, but the basic summary is that it would give states the option of opting out of key parts of Obamacare, including some of that language guaranteeing coverage for certain sets of conditions. So it's won them more conservative support.
But the Republican leaders still have a problem here where a lot of moderate members are really hesitant to vote on this. They're skeptical of what it could mean for consumers. And they're not backing it in a way that makes it look like it could pass yet. But they're certainly much closer to a vote than they've ever been at any point.
GREENE: Because President Trump had hinted that he might start reaching out to Democrats after it was not looking good for health care some weeks ago. It sounds like that spirit of bipartisanship we saw in the budget might not extend to this issue though as of now.
DETROW: Yeah. This is still a Republican-focused issue. The Republicans need to get the full weight of their caucus behind it. But again, making something that that keeps the Freedom Caucus happy but also the moderates is really tough. And again, that's why there's been no vote up until this point.
GREENE: Well, let's talk about the White House guest list. Surprising news this weekend. Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, I mean, he's been leading this murderous anti-drug campaign in his country. Donald Trump is inviting him to the White House. Why does Trump want to see him?
DETROW: You know, this was really surprising. The way that this call was described was warm and very friendly. That was from the official readouts. And, you know, that's really striking given the human rights allegations and concerns against Duterte.
The White House said a big part of this was North Korea, that President Trump is reaching out to leaders throughout Asia to talk about this. Here's Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, on ABC News over the weekend.
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REINCE PRIEBUS: He's been speaking a lot to all of our partners in Southeast Asia. The issue on the table is North Korea. And there is nothing right now facing this country and facing the region that is a bigger threat than what's happening in North Korea. And If we don't have all...
DETROW: And Priebus said that it doesn't mean that human rights don't matter. But a White House meeting with someone like Duterte would probably send a much different signal.
GREENE: I mean, there have been warmer relations, it seems, between Trump and President Sissi in Egypt. I mean, he has had glowing things to say about President Erdogan in Turkey at a time when Erdogan has been accused of becoming more autocratic. Are we learning something about Donald Trump here?
DETROW: Yeah. I think this really reinforces something that we've seen frequently, that Trump does not have a hesitance about working with, even embracing authoritarian leaders. And human rights concerns appear to take a back seat to things that Trump thinks he can work with countries like the Philippines on, things like with a lot of the other leaders you mentioned - fighting ISIS, working towards fronts like that and here in Asia confronting North Korea. So Trump has no problem working with things when he thinks there's a specific deal he can get.
GREENE: All right, NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks, as always, for being with us, Scott.
DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.