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Rep. Tom Cole On The GOP's Agenda


Since becoming president, Donald Trump has frequently been at odds with the Republican leadership. But this weekend, all seemed to be forgiven as the president and GOP lawmakers met at Camp David to discuss their 2018 agenda. They also squeezed in a screening of a new movie, "The Greatest Showman." There was a bonding, the president said at yesterday's press conference. It's not clear how tight that bond will remain, though, as Congress takes up legislation on immigration, infrastructure and the budget. The president's struck an optimistic note with hopes for bipartisanship.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I really think we'll have a lot of Democrat support. I hope so.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We're joined now by Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma to talk about the prospects. Welcome to the program, sir.

TOM COLE: Great to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the president has spoken about bipartisanship and getting Democrats on board, specifically when it comes to immigration. Does that seem likely to you?

COLE: Well, certainly possible. Look. There's an obvious deal here. DACA - legal status for people that obviously are not responsible for breaking the law. They were brought here as children.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals...

COLE: Exactly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...The so-called DREAMers.

COLE: And exchange for enhanced border security. So the devil's always in the details on these things, but I think the outline for a deal is there. And the real challenge will be it's an election year. And that makes everything exponentially more difficult.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's talk about the DREAMers for a moment. The president says there won't be a deal unless he gets funding for the border wall and other immigration changes. That's a nonstarter for Democrats who say spending $18 billion to extend the wall is unnecessary and wildly expensive.

COLE: Well, I disagree with them, frankly. I think, you know, what we're talking about if you actually look at the components for about 600 additional miles of a border wall and fencing, that was originally envisioned, by the way, back in 2006. The Democrats stopped working on it when they got power in 2007. So it's not a new idea. And the changes the president is proposing, which is getting rid of the lottery system, which is dangerous, quite frankly - you don't know who you're going to get - and dealing with the chain migration, I think a reasonable proposal. So we'll see where we go. Look. Each side's going to stake out a position that seems to be at odds. But at the end of the day, again, there's a deal to be had here if both sides will approach it rationally.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The lottery system - of course, everyone is vetted before they come to the United States. But what he's proposing is hardly comprehensive immigration reform. And America doesn't only need highly skilled workers, right? It needs all kinds of people doing all kinds of jobs. Should only the rich and educated be able to live the American dream?

COLE: No, you're actually right. Look. Work ethic is probably what brought Italians, Poles, Irish people here in the 19th century. There's always - for people who are willing to get up and do hard work, there's always a market. So I agree with you on that. But in terms of, you know, whether or not, you know, we can have a deal, look. I think the president's put pretty reasonable proposal on the table. Democrats are free to react or not. We've got a timeline we're working on. But, again, I would hope at the end of the day we could find this because over 80 percent of the American public believe in enhanced border security. Over 80 percent also believe that the young people that are in this deferred action program ought to be allowed to stay. So if you can't find a way to thread that needle, then you're either being deliberately obstructionist, or you're incredibly incompetent.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is, as you mentioned, an election year with your party led by a president who is extremely unpopular. The Democrats feel good about their chances. How do you think you'll fare?

COLE: Look. Nobody's had a good off-year election since 2002. The environment, the energy right now is on their side. But I think we did a lot to position ourselves in December by getting that tax reform. Our candidates are very good. The districts in the House are - generally favor us. And the off year - the composition of the off-year electorate usually works to the advantage of Republicans. So I look at this as sort of an even struggle, but it will be a struggle. And if you're a Republican, you need to recognize that and get ready.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly, sir, I'd like to ask your reaction to the anecdotes in the book "Fire And Fury." Michael Wolff paints a picture of a very dysfunctional White House and a president that is ignorant, unstable. Does that concern you?

COLE: Michael Wolff is not exactly what I would consider a reputable reporter. He's pretty flamboyant, and there's been a lot of questions raised about him. But it doesn't surprise me that a first-year White House is chaotic. I remember back to the wonderful Bob Woodward book - very different journalist, I might say - the agenda in the Clinton years, which painted what looked to be a very chaotic, dysfunctional White House. I think they all tend to look that way the first year. And yet the Clinton presidency ended up pretty good, and it was a successful two terms. So, again, I wouldn't judge too quickly on the basis of this one book.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, thanks so much.

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