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Republican Rep. Tom Cole On Government Shutdown


The U.S. government is partly shut. The stroke of midnight came but no deal from Congress to keep the government open, prompting a shutdown on the first anniversary of the inauguration of President Donald Trump. The Senate is meeting to try again to reach a deal. The House met at 9. Before he headed to the Hill, Congressman Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, joined us.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM COLE: Hey, Scott. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: I won't ask how you are, sir.

COLE: (Laughter) Good. Let's keep it on a pleasant tone.

SIMON: Well - but I have to say, the Republican Party controls the presidency and both houses of Congress. Why couldn't your party get a spending bill done?

COLE: Because you need Democrats in the Senate. The Senate rules require 60 votes. There's 51 Republicans. And we put a deal in front of the Democrats that would have kept the government running while negotiations went on. There was nothing objectionable in the bill in the least - nothing they opposed. And they decided they wanted to shut down the government. So that's - we hope they'll come to their senses this morning.

SIMON: Well, since you acknowledge you're going to need some Democratic votes, what are you willing to give up to get a deal?

COLE: Well, first of all, I don't think anybody's going to negotiate very seriously with a gun to their head. And the history of these things is that presidents win and the party in Congress that causes a shutdown tends to lose. So I think the president's made it clear he's not negotiating until funding is restored to the government.

I think in Congress there's certainly, around the edges, some places that we can make some arrangements, shorten the amount of time - although I thought 30 days was short enough, all things considered - and, you know, perhaps, you know, begin negotiations elsewhere. But you literally cannot complete legislation this fast. It's not as if the Democrats, you know, have a proposal that's been drafted into legislation that I'm aware of. So sooner or later, we're going to have to reopen the government, and I hope sooner.

SIMON: Didn't your party get a tax bill done pretty quickly?

COLE: No. It took months and months and months and months of - here, I mean, that lasted over a year.

SIMON: I mean, they were scrawling in the document up until the last second.

COLE: Well, that's a point. You worked on it all the way to the last second, but it took over - you know, close to a year to get it done. I mean, we started that process in January. We ended it in the December of the same year.

SIMON: Senator Lindsey Graham - your colleague on your side of the aisle, respected senator from South Carolina - says, quote, "we don't have a reliable partner at the White House to negotiate with."

COLE: Well, I would say we don't have a reliable partner in the Senate - particularly Senate Democrats - to negotiate. Look, they haven't passed a single appropriations bill this year. The House has completed all of them on time - all 12 of them. They didn't do a real budget this year. The House did. We've been waiting for 140 days to sit down with the Senate. But Democrats, using the Senate rule of 60, have made the Senate, frankly, dysfunctional. And that's affecting the entire body.

SIMON: Are you eager to reach a deal to protect DREAMers in this country?

COLE: I am. But I think it's got to be more than just that. Look, the DACA problem is a problem of a porous border. I mean, we wouldn't have the problem if you had the border. So border security is a huge component of this. And there are other immigration policies that would have to be addressed.

So it's complex, but there's been negotiations going on for several months. And the two sides have actually inched closer. This, I think, will actually halt that progress and make it more difficult.

SIMON: Well - I mean, I believe on Friday, certainly a lot of people thought that they had a deal in hand. Senator Schumer left the White House thinking that it was very close. And he says it got undone somewhere in the White House. It's not clear...

COLE: Well, I can't speak to that. I wasn't a part of that. But I don't think it was probably quite as imminent as they thought.

Look, I think the president's actually been very clear about the things that he wants. He wants to address border security, he wants to deal with chain migration, and he wants to deal with the lottery. And he's certainly willing to provide legal status for DREAMers. So if those are your four principle points and they've been known for months, there ought to be a way to reach an agreement.

SIMON: Border security means a wall?

COLE: It means border security. The president's acknowledged he's not talking about a wall from sea to shining sea. But it does require physical structures in a lot of places. Back in 2006, Congress actually voted for about twice the amount of physical barriers that we have today - so finishing that off, rebuilding parts of it. But again, as both General Kelly and the president acknowledged, we're not talking about a wall across the entire length of the border. But we are calling for much more intense border security.

SIMON: Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, thanks for joining us.

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