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Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey Discusses Proposed Bipartisan Border Security Compromise

Feb 12, 2019
Originally published on February 12, 2019 5:41 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

On Capitol Hill, a handful of lawmakers have struck a deal on border security. Now they have to sell it to their colleagues and the president by Friday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says President Trump got a, quote, "pretty good deal here," though it doesn't have all the border wall funding he wanted.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's bring in one of the key architects of this compromise. Congresswoman Nita Lowey is a Democrat from New York. She chairs the House Appropriations Committee, and she is one of the lawmakers who hammered out this deal.

Congresswoman, welcome back.

NITA LOWEY: Well, thank you very much. It's always a pleasure.

KELLY: So to make sure that my understanding is right, four of you - you and another Democrat and two Republicans - brokered this draft. And now the full conference committee of 17 is working through it.

LOWEY: That's correct. And I must say, for me, it was a real privilege to be part of this effort. This is really what government is all about. We had Democrats, Republicans sitting at a table brokering the final agreement, the final details. And I think it sends a strong message that this works.

KELLY: Let me pause you there, though, if I may because you're calling this the final agreement, the final details. At least one of the other members of the committee - this is Republican Congressman Tom Graves - tweeted this morning he hasn't signed off on it and he has some concerns about it.

LOWEY: Well, Tom Graves is a member of Congress. And again, that's the way democracy works. He's entitled...

KELLY: But he's also one of the 17 who's been hammering out this compromise.

LOWEY: That's right. And I have no idea what he's complaining about. And all I can say is Senator Shelby, Senator Leahy, Congresswoman Granger and I got a great deal of input from our colleagues on the conference committee, and then we sat down and brokered the final deal - which I think does represent the way democracy works.

KELLY: In the end, was the amount of funding for a physical barrier - the actual dollar sign on that - was that a major sticking point?

LOWEY: We were negotiating. We talked about many different things. Everyone was very honest, was very direct. And when that number was brought to the team by myself, there was some discussion, and then it was accepted.

KELLY: That number is reported to be 1.375 billion going toward...

LOWEY: I haven't released it because that was my commitment. But you seem to have the number, and everyone else has the number.

KELLY: Isn't that almost exactly what was on offer last December before the whole shutdown?

LOWEY: Well, frankly, it denies the president billions of dollars in funding for the concrete wall that he demanded.

KELLY: The president says he's going to build this wall. He - in fact, last night in El Paso, the banners and signs and chants were about finishing the wall. Is there any effort in this bill to stop the president from doing that, from doing just that - from building a wall on his own?

LOWEY: I can't direct the president what to do as a member of Congress. I am just...

KELLY: You're saying you couldn't stop him if he decides to do something by executive order.

LOWEY: I am just saying that this was a bipartisan process. Democrats and Republicans came together in good faith to work out a compromise bill. If the president decides to act in opposition in violation of this bill, then the conferees probably would have to get together and respond.

KELLY: Here's my big-picture question. Are we going to keep having this fight? Because after all this - after the shutdown, after everything - the money runs out again at the end of September when we will, of course, be that much closer to the 2020 election.

LOWEY: It's hard for me to believe that Republicans or Democrats would want to shut the government down and support that kind of action by the president. It's irresponsible. It's inappropriate. All those people who were out of work are just starting to get back to work. It's really time for the president to do his job. He needs to lead. He needs to govern, not play politics and tweet to his base.

KELLY: Democrat Nita Lowey of New York. Congresswoman, thank you very much.

LOWEY: It's a pleasure to be with you.

KELLY: And we will hear from Republican Congressman Tom Graves elsewhere on tonight's program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.