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Empowered House Democrats Plan To Push Back Against Trump


Divided government is back in Washington, D.C. Today, the 116th Congress will be sworn in, giving Democrats control of the House of Representatives and new power to push back against President Trump, which they are already doing. The president wants $5 billion for a border wall, but the incoming speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, says that's not going to happen. The White House made another go of it yesterday, inviting leaders from both parties over for what it billed as a, quote, "border security briefing."

Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer was at that meeting. He's the incoming House majority leader for the new Democratic-led House, and he joins us now. Congressman, thanks for being with us.

STENY HOYER: Good morning, Rachel. Glad to be with you.

MARTIN: Did you leave that meeting at the White House more or less confident that the shutdown will end?

HOYER: Well, it's tough to be confident with this president because he changes his mind regularly, and you can't always count on what he says in the meetings. However, having said that, I think the fact that we talked, we got the leaders together - clearly, the differences were not resolved, as you point out, but we are prepared today.

And I'm going to be offering two bills, all of which are Republican bills, all of which we've compromised on and included things that the Republicans wanted in their bills. And again, they were reported out of Republican committees and passed by Republican Senate and Republican House.

So we'll offer those. We trust they will pass the House, and we'll send them to the Senate. And frankly, government could be open tomorrow if the Senate passes bills they've already passed and send them to the president.

MARTIN: You're talking...

HOYER: And whether the president would sign them or not is - we'll have to see.

MARTIN: Well, he says that he won't.

HOYER: That's right.

MARTIN: I mean, you're talking about a bill that would separate out funding for the Department of Homeland Security, just compartmentalize the border security issue and continue debate on that...


MARTIN: ...But refund the rest of the government. And this is something, as you note, Republicans were on board with. Vice President Mike Pence even advocated for this. But the president changed his mind, said he wasn't going to sign it. He still says he's not going to sign it. So what's the point of bringing this forward again?

HOYER: Well, the point is to once again give the Senate and the president of the United States the opportunity to sign bills that they have already said they were for. They voted for them in the Senate. The president had agreed to open up government with those bills.

We've kept the February 8 date. We think it should've been till September 30 - the end of the fiscal year. But we've kept the February 8 date, which gives us another four weeks with government open, with government serving the American people, with the federal employees not traumatized by thinking they're not going to get a paycheck and not be able to meet their mortgage payment or their car payment or the kids' college payment. We think that's the right thing to do for our federal employees. But more importantly, it's the right thing to do for our country and for our citizens.

So we're going to give another opportunity with the change in control of the House. As you know, the Republicans' control of the House - a couple of weeks ago, they rejected what the Senate passed unanimously. And if they'd passed that and sent it to the president, the president would've been in a position where the Congress had unanimously agreed on a bill, and he would've had to make a decision on his own.

MARTIN: Let me ask you, Democrats have long wanted a solution for the so-called DREAMers. If the president were to give a DACA fix in exchange for border wall funding, would you do it?

HOYER: Look. That's certainly something that can be discussed. And we want to see DACA fixed. As a matter of fact, I had a meeting with the president, along with Dick Durbin and 23 other members of the Congress, at the White House many months ago. And the president said, and I quote, "if you guys send us a bill - pass a bill, I will sign it." He didn't say, if I like it or whatever. He said, if you pass a bill - in other words, if the Senate and the House could agree, he would agree.

Well, of course, he changed his mind some 24 hours later, unfortunately, so we got no solution. But that is certainly something that ought to be on the table and will be...


HOYER: ...On the table as we, hopefully, open up government and then have discussions over the next four weeks as to how we can resolve the impasse. That's what democracy is about, and that's what ought to happen.

MARTIN: All right. Incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Democrat from Maryland. Congressman, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

HOYER: You bet. Thanks a lot. Good to be with you.

MARTIN: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is with us in the studio. She was listening into that interview. Kelsey, I asked Congressman Hoyer if he was willing to consider a DACA fix in exchange for border wall funding. He didn't say no.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Yeah, that's a little bit more flexibility than we had heard House - incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi had said previously, basically, no, they wouldn't consider that because she said the president's immigration policies are immoral. And that makes it really hard for Democrats to move.

I think that we need to remember that this is a lot about both sides talking to their base. And really, frankly, it's already a 2020 campaign. People are already thinking about who will be running for president. And Democrats really feel strongly that their base and a lot of the country are on their side on immigration. And the president clearly feels that his Republican base is with him.

MARTIN: So they're going to meet again - right? - on Friday...


MARTIN: ...The president and congressional leaders.

SNELL: That's the expectation. We don't have a ton of details about what that will look like. The idea that we understand is that they wanted to wait until Pelosi was actually speaker and has the actual ability to make a deal for Democrats there.

But, you know, it would take a lot to make people move out of this stalemate. It's been weeks. It's been more than weeks. These are the positions that Democrats and Republicans have been in for months. And so it's really difficult to see how they get out of this situation without some new kind of offering out there.

MARTIN: All right. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell for us on the latest on the shutdown. Kelsey, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

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