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Who's To Blame For The Shutdown, According To The White House


This morning, Americans woke up to a series of firsts - the first government shutdown in five years and the first ever to occur when one party is in control of both houses of Congress and the White House. And this comes on the first anniversary of President Trump's inauguration. We're going to do our best to tackle both of these important stories this hour.

And we will start with the government shutdown, which began at midnight last night when the parties could not agree on a measure to continue to fund the government. As you might imagine, the White House congressional Republicans and Democrats all have very different views about who is to blame and what should happen next.

We'll get other perspectives throughout the hour, but we wanted to hear first from the White House. Mercedes Schlapp is on the line with us. She is the White House director of strategic communications. Mercedes Schlapp, thank you so much for joining us.

MERCEDES SCHLAPP: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So one of the sticking points is DACA. That's the program that protects young people who were brought to the U.S. as children without proper documentation. A number of key Republicans have told reporters and are tweeting today that they won't even talk about DACA at all until the government is back open. Is that the president's view as well?

SCHLAPP: Yes. I think, you know, the president has made it very clear that, as we know, DACA and the border security deal is complicated. They need time to resolve that issue. And by combining it with what we need - an immediate need of having to deal with this government shutdown, it's just a lot easier to have this short-term spending bill which has a lot of these items that Democrats, in a normal scenario, would agree with. I mean, we're talking about a six-year reauthorization of the CHIP program, which as we know is the health program - insurance program that helps vulnerable children. There's other components within the short-term spending bill that would make sense for the most part for the Democrats to agree with. And so they have decided to use the DACA issue as a political wedge issue and not resolve this short-term spending bill problem, which as we know has now caused the government shutdown.

MARTIN: Well, couldn't one make the same argument about the Republicans holding the children's insurance program hostage as well? I mean, aren't both sides using the levers to push the other to an agreement?

SCHLAPP: The Republicans are not holding it hostage in any way. They are in good faith including that in the short spending bill with other provisions that Democrats want, yet the Democrats have decided to oppose it because of DACA.

MARTIN: Hasn't the president suggested previously that he also supports a fix for DACA? In fact, didn't he say in January of this year that this should be a bill of love? And he's taken several meetings to negotiate this, so has something changed?

SCHLAPP: Absolutely. The president wants to see a permanent fix to the DACA issue, but it has to include certain responsible immigration reform principles that the president has asked for. That includes ending chain migration. That includes ending the diversity visa lottery system, which as we know that program in and of itself, we've seen two terrorists come in and actually kill Americans. And they came in - one of them came in through the diversity visa lottery system. The other one came in through chain migration. And so what we're trying to do is ensure that we have a legal immigration system, something that...

MARTIN: So before we - I'm sorry. Forgive me. Before we let you go on this, the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said that negotiating with the president is like negotiating with Jello. So, you know, both sides are trading insults back and forth here. But it's been reported that even some on the president's own side, like Lindsey Graham, find him unreliable as a negotiator. If that's the case, and if there's a lack of trust, is he willing to stay out of this and let Congress work it out for themselves?

SCHLAPP: You know, I think that the president in good faith invited Chuck Schumer to the White House yesterday to have these discussions, to listen to what the concerns are. The problem has become that the Democrats have decided that they're going to use the DACA issue as their one issue to stay focused on, meaning that they're willing to work more on helping the illegal immigrants who are here than they are in dealing with funding our troops as well as dealing with our vulnerable children.

MARTIN: That's Mercedes Schlapp. She's director of strategic communications at the White House. Thanks so much for speaking with us. I hope we'll speak again.

SCHLAPP: Yes, thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.