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Bipartisan Group To Meet To Discuss Border Security Funding


On Monday, federal employees who had been furloughed during the government shutdown went back to work. Today, a group of lawmakers starts work to make sure those federal employees keep getting paychecks. The group is supposed to come up with a compromise deal on border security and avoid another government shutdown. The key though is coming up with something President Trump will sign. He told the Wall Street Journal the committee's chances for success are about less than 50/50. The group is made up of Republicans and Democrats from both chambers. Congressman Chuck Fleischmann is one of them. He's a Republican of Tennessee and joins us in our studios this morning. Thanks for coming in, Congressman.


MARTIN: The process starts without a lot of confidence from the White House. What tone does that set going forward?

FLEISCHMANN: Well, I'm the eternal optimist. And let's face it. We have worked on this situation since December, since the 115th Congress. And I look at the makeup of the room. What we have are appropriators, people who serve on the Senate and House Appropriation Committees respectively. I am now the ranking member - the highest Republican on the House Homeland Security Subcommittee. So I start any endeavor with optimism, with a positive outlook. I hope there's going to be a lot of civility in that room today. So I want to work to try to restore the American people's faith in our process. So I'm going to start with a can-do attitude.

MARTIN: Which I'm sure is appreciated - you mentioned appropriators. Those are people who are known to have to compromise. That is the work of doing appropriations. Where do you see the compromise? You're a Republican, so I'm going ask about your party. Where do you see the compromise happening on the GOP side here?

FLEISCHMANN: I think from the 115th Congress and throughout the shutdown - and even to today - I see a tremendous amount of flexibility and actually diversity in our conference. Let's face it. We have a lot of members who served border communities. We have a lot of very diverse ideas. And I think that's a good thing. We have had an internal discussion - I won't say a debate. I'll say a very productive discussion as to where we are. We know where the administration is, and we know we're pretty much most of the folks in the Senate are. We have a track record of what has not worked. So now perhaps we can focus on what will work.

MARTIN: Let's get into some of the specifics because you have been at it for so long, and now the pressure is on to really get to a compromise. Are you going to get to the nuts and bolts of what is actually needed on the border? We heard from the mayor of El Paso this week, who says he's been frustrated because he hasn't actually seen the Department of Homeland Security lay out - this is where you need fencing. This is not where you need fencing. Are you going to get those details in this committee?

FLEISCHMANN: I think we have had those details in the House and the Senate as we've negotiated it. The White House has had those details. The Department of Homeland Security, the secretary, who I know very well, has actually laid those out in meetings that I have not been present in. Remember. Prior to this, we have basically had leadership as opposed to appropriators in these meetings. What I mean by that is Senate and House leaders from both parties negotiating with the administration. In those meetings, as I understand it, they made a very good case - the Department of Homeland Security - for what was very relevant there factually. But, yes, I think we all need to press - not only in a bipartisan way but in a bicameral way to make sure that we get the facts so that we can make the best agreement possible for the American people.

MARTIN: Is it still going to cost $5.7 billion?

FLEISCHMANN: Well, ultimately probably more than if we go down that path - bear this in mind. Whether we call it a wall, a barrier, a deterrent, that is only one aspect of the full border security situation. Yesterday, I met with a company that used drone technology and other technologies. That particular company was wall-agnostic. What I mean by that is - where there was a wall, their technology worked, but where there was not a wall, their technology worked. So as we grow into this process, I don't think we should just focus on one issue in a very parochial way. There's a lot of issues that have to be dealt with with the full Homeland Security Subcommittee. I mean, we have got Coast Guard. We've got TSA. And we have other bills to deal with.

MARTIN: Just briefly, are DACA protections - permanent DACA protections on the table?

FLEISCHMANN: I don't believe so. I don't think anything permanent is on the table. But I do think DACA discussions are on the table. So when I come to a table to negotiate - I practiced law for 24 years, and I remembered going into mediations where we were miles apart. I don't think we're miles apart. I think there's a lot of common ground. I think there is a lot of very strong passions in the room. But I think we have to see where everyone is, start that communication, start those negotiations and then hopefully get something to the administration that we all can live with.

MARTIN: The question is whether or not the president will sign on to that. Congressman Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, a Republican from that state, thank you so much for your time.

FLEISCHMANN: Thank you, ma'am.

MARTIN: We are joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who was listening into that conversation. Mara, what did you hear in there - the congressman clearly optimistic about the the options for compromise out of this.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Right - optimistic, very practical. I think that Congress, left to its own devices, could come up with a solution. I think they did before. The problem is that after the Senate passed that almost unanimous bill to keep the government open, the president changed his mind and rejected it. And that's the big question. What will the president accept from Congress? The White House has already said that he's showed some flexibility. He doesn't insist on a 2,000-mile concrete barrier from sea to shining sea. He's asking for 200-plus miles, several billion dollars a year. And the Democrats haven't completely ruled out spending money on some kind of barrier. So a compromise should be possible. But he's also saying, if he doesn't get one he likes, he will declare a national emergency and build the wall himself.

MARTIN: NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson for us - thanks so much, Mara.

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

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