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The GOP's Shutdown Strategy


Publicly at least, there seems to be little sign of progress to end the government shutdown so far. Someone who spent time behind closed doors during these tense negotiations is Brian McGuire. He was chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and now works as a lobbyist. He joins us here in the studio to provide some insight into how this may go. Good morning.

BRIAN MCGUIRE: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You worked for Senator McConnell during the last shutdown. Am I right?

MCGUIRE: Correct.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good times (laughter). All right. He wasn't the majority leader then. But from your experience, give us a sense of what is happening behind closed doors right now. Take us into the room.

MCGUIRE: Yeah. Nobody enjoys these episodes. I think at the moment, there's probably a lot of sitting around and waiting. These negotiations are not happening in a kind of frenetic environment. They're happening, you know, among staff with a lot of just kind of patient people waiting for something to break. But I think in the case of the Republican, you know, leadership in the Senate, there's a certain amount of exacerbation here because there's really no point, from their standpoint, as to why Democrats have decided to do this. There's no deadline on DACA that needs to be resolved. And...


MCGUIRE: ...Everything in the bill is something the Democrats have said that they support. So in addition to the kind of inconveniences that Dr. Frieden just enumerated, I think people are just kind of scratching their heads as to why this is happening.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think, obviously, the Democrats have a very different opinion, which we have heard elsewhere in the show. But I'd like to talk a little bit about the president. And how important is it to have an active, engaged president who can make a deal on this kind of situation? McConnell himself has complained that he doesn't know what kind of immigration deal President Trump would sign. How much is the president helping or hurting this process?

MCGUIRE: The president, I think, is, you know, playing his part here. He convened large groups at the White House repeatedly. The White House staff is clearly quite engaged. They're actively, you know, making their case on the Hill. I really think the key players here are the Senate Democrat leadership, particularly Chuck Schumer, who I do think is the architect of this shutdown and is doing it for some...


MCGUIRE: ...Reason that is hard for some to understand. I mean...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But McConnell himself has complained that he doesn't know what President Trump wants. I mean, he has sort of signaled different things at different times. He's gone back and forth. And from my understanding, a president's engagement in this is vital to bring different sides together. Ultimately, it's about negotiation. Is it not?

MCGUIRE: Presidential leadership is important, but I think in this case, what we're talking about is resolving an issue for which there is no imminent deadline, at least not, you know, in the next 24, 48 hours. And so this is a negotiation in terms of what the president is willing and not willing to do. That has to do with a, you know, DACA resolution that does not have to be caught up in this government shutdown. The shutdown is, in my view, easy to kind of decouple from DACA. The Democrats have decided to put them together and kind of force this moment in...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, they say they want to ensure that it actually gets dealt with. Senator...

MCGUIRE: Yeah. But...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...McConnell, according to the Reuters news agency, said through a spokesperson that Republican senators are opposed to changing the rules on voting. And that, I think, is in response to the nuclear option, which President Trump tweeted about this morning, which means a vote can pass by a simple majority. Why do you think they're opposing this? And we have about 30 seconds.

MCGUIRE: Sure. I think Republicans are conscious of the fact that the filibuster is something that is quite valuable to the minority when the minority is, you know, looking to assert its will. And the Democrats are showing right now by filibustering the spending bill that they, you know, enjoy that right right now that the Senate provides. You know, this is something that both parties have benefited from at different points. But again, it's not clear how Democrats are benefiting from - at this point, in filibustering this spending bill on an issue that Republicans, including the president, all seem willing to come up with a compromise on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brian McGuire, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, thank you so much for coming in.

MCGUIRE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.