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Democratic Rep. David Price Discusses Border Security Negotiations

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The fight isn't over. Even though federal workers went back to work today after a historic 35-day partial government shutdown, lawmakers still have to reach an agreement on border security. They have three weeks to do that, and if they fail, there could be another shutdown. President Trump said he's doubtful a deal will be reached. He told The Wall Street Journal that he personally thinks the chances are less than 50/50. We asked Democratic Representative David Price of North Carolina about that prediction. He's a member of the conference committee that's working to find a resolution.

DAVID PRICE: That isn't exactly a positive signal going in. What he should be saying is that he's not going to shut down the government again. He's - he understands that you don't pay ransom to kidnappers. And we're - we can't get into the business of threatening a shutdown anytime there's an issue we really care about.

CORNISH: So to you, what is the main sticking point going into this three-week period?

PRICE: I can't say right now what the main sticking point is. I hope that there are many more points of agreement than there are disagreement. And when you have thing - disagreements you can't reconcile, then you wait to fight another day. But in the meantime, you secure what you can. That's the way a negotiation needs to work. The larger immigration agenda - still resolving the situation of the DREAMers and doing our part with international refugee flow, doing something about temporary protected status, ending these family separations. That's a huge agenda. It cries out for attention.

If there's some way to address this or begin to address it in the context of these three-week discussions, I for one would like to see that happen. But the immediate objective is to get a Homeland Security appropriations bill passed for the current year. And that of course mainly will focus on border security.

CORNISH: Would Democrats accept temporary protections for DREAMers? These are the undocumented immigrants who came as children. Or will you push for permanent protections like a pathway to citizenship or something like that?

PRICE: Well, of course we'll push for a permanent solution. And that should include a pathway to citizenship. You know...

CORNISH: So you see that as part of this three-week discussion and something that you guys are pushing for.

PRICE: It could be. We may focus more narrowly on the border security issue just to get the Homeland Security bill in place. But we certainly need to deal with the president's betrayal of the DREAMers. You know, he put forward a supposed compromise a few weeks ago saying he'd do a temporary protection for the DREAMers and a partial solution on temporary protected status, two problems that he created, by the way, in order to solve another problem he created, which was the shutdown. So that's pretty much a nonstarter.

But if the question is, do we need to address the DREAMers situation; do we need to address temporary protected status; do we need to do our part with this international refugee crisis, of course we do. And if this three-week negotiation can then begin to work on that or can open the door to further work on that, I certainly hope it will.

CORNISH: Senator James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, this weekend was quoted as saying there's a sword of Damocles hanging over lawmakers for the next three weeks. Does that sound accurate to you?

PRICE: It's only if the president makes this once again a - kind of a ransom-demanding situation. I think it's usually a mistake to tie an issue to a shutdown threat. And it's a tactic that you simply cannot reward because then the question is, what's the next issue, and what's the next shutdown threat? So...

CORNISH: But is there a scenario in which - for Democrats, are there conditions where you just feel like you could not give ground that would actually end up putting at risk another shutdown 'cause the three-week deadline would come?

PRICE: Listen; the shutdown happens only if the president doesn't sign a reasonable bill. There will be things he objects to, things I object to, things everyone objects to in any kind of agreement that we bring forward. But we will do our very, very best to forge an agreement that will pass both houses. And then the question is, does the president sign it, or does he demand that he have his way and throw another tantrum and have another shutdown? I very much hope that that won't happen and that the people on the Hill here who can persuade him, starting with the Senate majority leader - that they simply won't let that happen.

CORNISH: You sound really fired up. And I'm wondering. Are people coming to the table still smarting from the last couple weeks? I mean, are people even in a mood to compromise?

PRICE: I think people are in a mood to get this solved. I don't think we're fired up in the sense that we're going to have our way or no way, but we know there's going to have to be some give and take, and we also know that we need very much to pass our appropriations bills. Of course, Homeland Security is the immediate focus. And the key to that appears to be getting a border security compromise worked out.

CORNISH: That's David Price, Democratic representative from North Carolina. He's on the conference committee working to find a resolution on border security. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PRICE: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.