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Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer Weighs In On Proposed Immigration Legislation

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As we heard from Mara, the House will vote on two Republican immigration proposals tomorrow. But where does that leave Democrats in the current debate? We'll hear from a member of the Democratic leadership now, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. He spoke to us earlier from his office on Capitol Hill.

STENY HOYER: Audie, good to be with you.

CORNISH: Now, the president's executive order, as we heard, could mean families are held in detention centers together. Parents would be prosecuted still as part of the zero tolerance policy, but their claims would be expedited. So is this a satisfactory response from the president?

HOYER: No, it is not. And it really doesn't change very much the reality on the ground. It simply says that children can be incarcerated in a prison-like context pending a determination of the individual's claim of asylum. So this treats children exactly the opposite of what the Flores decision said we ought to do. We ought to treat them as children humanely and decently. It is interesting that John McCain said that this policy that was initiated by the president, put in place by the president and announced by the attorney general was - and I quote John McCain - "an affront to the decency of the American people."

CORNISH: Just about everyone has expressed outrage to the policy. And I guess I'm trying to understand...

HOYER: Yes.

CORNISH: ...That if there is an opportunity to actually legislate and to officially say - to prevent the executive branch from doing this, why you wouldn't take it.

HOYER: Well, I think we probably would take that if there was a chance to do that. Neither of the bills that we're going to consider tomorrow do that. That's why the Catholic Conference and the civil rights community and so many others are opposed to both of these pieces of legislation. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure that the second piece of legislation is going to come forward. We'll see.

CORNISH: Right.

HOYER: But it looks to be that there's a deep division within the Republican Party as to the soundness of the policies they're pursuing. So we will see. But the fact of the matter is the bills provide for a limitation on immigration, $25 billion paid upfront for a wall that many, many Republicans think will not be very useful and most Democrats don't think very useful. Now, we want border security. We want our borders secure. But there are technical ways to do so.

And one ought to remember that the - these two bills are offered to defeat a discharge petition which would have allowed for four bills to be put on the floor and let the House work its will on behalf of the American people - the DREAMers bill which would give DREAMers a path to citizenship, a Hurd-Aguilar Republican-Democratic compromise bill which would have had at least 50, maybe 75 Republicans vote for - so a very bipartisan bill - the Goodlatte bill, which is the Republican hard-line bill which will be on the floor tomorrow and which will be defeated.

CORNISH: You've brought up some issues you mentioned were bipartisan. And given that some of these proposals are things Democrats have supported in previous legislative efforts, are you guys essentially holding out because this is a better issue for you come midterm elections?

HOYER: Not at all. We would like to resolve this. And I went down to the White House with Dick Durbin, the minority whip in the Senate, and we met with the president of the United States. And the president said, let's solve the DACA issue; let's make sure that we've done it by legislation. He said it was done improperly by executive order. We said, fine. He then said, and next we will do comprehensive immigration reform. We said, fine. And two days later, he changed his mind.

Two days later, he said, no, we're really not going to solve DACA itself. We're going to add a lot of other items on which I know you don't agree with. But we're going to take the DACA kids hostage in order to get that done. Now he's taken little children coming across the border with their parents hostage to try to get his objective. He's found that that's pretty controversial. And as you pointed out, Laura Bush said it was an immoral policy and a cruel policy.

So that - we're prepared to sit down and work on comprehensive immigration reform, which we think is absolutely necessary. But we will not be cowed by taking little children hostage and then being demanded to vote for things that we think are harmful to the American people.

CORNISH: In the meantime, is this something that you are willing to possibly lead to a shutdown in terms of holding out and signing any kind of immigration package?

HOYER: Well, this is not about a shutdown at this point in time. We're far away from a shutdown. We're months away from a shutdown.

CORNISH: That's House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ELDER STATESMAN'S "MONTREUX SUNRISE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.