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As shutdown drags on, ‘interesting dynamics’ appear on Capitol Hill

The fight over the government shutdown remains at a stalemate, 20 days after some federal agencies closed. President Trump traveled to Texas Thursday to visit the Mexico border, meeting with members of the U.S. Border Patrol. Meanwhile, protesters across the country urged an end to the shutdown. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor tell Judy Woodruff why there are still few signs of optimism.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The fight over the federal government shutdown is still at stalemate tonight. Washington mostly spun its wheels today, while President Trump was wheels up to Texas.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage from McAllen, Texas.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Trump at the southern border, highlighting a crisis some say he's making up. On day 20 of the government shutdown, the president took his demand for a wall outside of Washington into where he'd like to put it.

    He came to the border city of McAllen, Texas. He used the local Border Patrol station here as a backdrop for his message.

  • Donald Trump:

    We're going to build a powerful steel barrier. They didn't want to use concrete. I said, OK, I will use steel. It's stronger.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Despite claims that he's misleading the American public, President Trump insists there is a crisis on the southern border. He says a wall or physical barrier here is central to his strategy for border security.

    Ever since he kicked off the 2015 presidential campaign, he's made that claim over and over again.

  • Donald Trump:

    I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me. We have to have the wall. This isn't a question. This barrier is absolutely critical to border security.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As he's done repeatedly in the past, the president met with families whose loved ones have been victims of crimes carried out by immigrants. Mr. Trump also visited the Rio Grande.

  • Donald Trump:

    Where we have a good strong barrier, you don't have problems. But now they go around the barrier, so, when you fill up the gaps, it's going to be a much different day.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Jim Darling, the mayor of McAllen, said he appreciates President Trump visiting. He doesn't think there should be a wall.

  • Jim Darling:

    What's directed all the attention to the wall is the number of illegals coming across the border is at historical highs. The reason they're at historical highs is not because of the typical illegal alien who's coming in, smuggling drugs, wants to commit crimes or seeking employment. They're coming across to seek asylum. A wall will not stop those people.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Each day, the local Catholic Charities operation here it serves 500 immigrants. The group helps them get on buses to take them to family members or friends in other cities.

    Sister Norma Pimentel is the executive director of the organization. She said McAllen needs to be kept safe, but the immigrants she meets are also fleeing danger.

  • Sister Norma Pimentel:

    The immigrants that I see that arrive to our border, that we receive at this respite center, are poor and vulnerable. They're easily targets for abuse and for crime.

    And so they are people that need to be taken, be protected from others that are wanting to harm them. And so I don't see why we should be afraid of them.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    She thinks people shouldn't suffer because of Washington gridlock.

  • Sister Norma Pimentel:

    I don't understand how we can use people, families, you know, as a bargaining chip. A family shouldn't be worried about how to feed their family, how to live on a day to day.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Across town, people for and against President Trump's wall turned out to protest.

  • Man:

    I'm a federal worker, and I will not adjust my life to this type of shutdown.

  • Man:

    If we don't get that wall built, people will just continue walking across.

  • Woman:

    Declare a national emergency, yes, yes. Have our troops here. Until they build the border wall, until they build it, we need our troops here.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Back in Washington, before he left for Texas, President Trump said he might declare a national emergency.

  • Donald Trump:

    I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency. I haven't done it yet. I may do it. If this doesn't work out, probably, I will do it.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Top Democrats pushed back on that.

    Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said it would likely be an abuse of power.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.:

    If any president, this one or any president decides that they just want to move unilaterally to spend funds, declare a national emergency for whatever they find of interest, it goes way beyond what I consider the clear delegation of authority under the Constitution.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Some Republicans do support President Trump declaring a national emergency. Louisiana Senator John Kennedy:

  • Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.:

    It is ludicrous. It is nonsense. It is nonsense on a stick. It is laughable to think that you can seal a 1,900-mile border without some sort of barrier. Based on what I have seen and read and researched, his lawyers are not going to get thrown out of court.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In just one day, federal employees will miss their first paycheck since the shutdown began in late December. Today, that prompted protests across the country.

    In Chicago, dozens of furloughed workers braved the cold. In Covington, Kentucky, others chanted their discontent. Still more gathered steps away from the White House. Hundreds of federal employees, labor leaders and Democratic lawmakers urged the president to end the shutdown.

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    What my hope would be is, rather than this president getting on TV or rather than this president taking what even he called a photo-op trip to the border, let Donald Trump come out and explain to you, the workers of America, why he's keeping this government shut.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    On the Senate floor, Democrats tried to force a vote on legislation to reopen the government. But Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the effort and called it — quote — "a pointless show vote."

    Meanwhile, because of the shutdown, The president canceled his attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Tomorrow, the government closure reaches three weeks, tying for the longest shutdown on record.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche is there in Texas on the southern border. And Lisa Desjardins is here with me now in the studio.

    So, Yamiche, I'm going to right back to you first.

    What motivated the president to make this trip? And how did he adjust his message for where he was?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, this was really show and tell for President Trump. He wanted to be seen on the border. He wanted to be talking to people on the ground to make the point that this is a crisis in his mind.

    Now, I should tell you, I'm standing nearby the border of Texas and Mexico, where people are crossing behind me. The president basically said, I wanted to come here and show people this is a real problem.

    The thing that the president also did, which he does often, he didn't always tell the truth. The president said that the apprehensions on the border are higher than ever. That's definitely not true. The numbers have actually been decreasing over the years.

    The president also said that he never said that Mexico would pay for the wall. We know in chants at rallies and meetings with congressional lawmakers that he said Mexico would pay for the wall. Now President Trump is saying that Mexico will pay for the wall figuratively when it comes to trade deals and money saved from Mexico.

    I want to also add that the president said before he came on this trip that he didn't think that this trip going to make much of a difference. So he might be right about that, because Washington gridlock continues.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, Lisa, meantime, on the Hill, you were telling us there seems to be less and less hope of some kind of breakthrough.

    Particularly interesting dynamics on the part of the Democrats.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I'm afraid so.

    There are interesting dynamics really breaking now from both sides, first with the Democrats. There are some rising concerns from more moderate Democrats that perhaps they are losing the messaging war here. Some of those in swing districts are saying, we need to be clear about making an offer. We need to try and show that we're willing to compromise.

    This is not a majority of House Democrats, but we're starting to see a little bit of division in those ranks. And, at the same time, when you talk to Democratic leaders, they say, we do have an offer on the table. It's for $1.3 billion to fund a border fence.

    Now, Nancy Pelosi has talked about zero money. She means a wall. But there's a messaging question here.

    One last thing. In the Senate, there were last-ditch efforts last night between Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Susan Collins and others to try and come up with some kind of compromise. Those have failed. And, today, we have seen some extraordinary tweeting from Senator Lindsey Graham, who now says he thinks it's time for the president to declare an emergency.

    But Graham also says he's not sure if that will work. So we're seeing a few conflicting ideas from single people themselves, like the senator here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Still fluid.

    Yamiche, meantime, when you were on the ground there in the McAllen area, you have been talking to people who live there. How is this government shutdown being received by them?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, people are really divided in McAllen, Texas, and really all across the border in Texas here.

    There were two large groups of protesters when the president touched down in Texas today. There was one group that was anti-Trump, anti-the wall, saying that the wall was going to be a racist political tool of the president. On the other side were people who were welcoming President Trump, who were cheering him on and saying that a wall needed to be built.

    I talked to one woman who said that she supports building the wall. She said that she actually found people in her backyard running from the cartel and from Mexico. So she's fearful of her own safety, she says.

    Another man, though, said that he's 71 years old and had never protested a day in his life until today. And today was the day he felt he wanted to come out, because he thinks that President Trump is a liar, and he thinks that President Trump is using fear to demand his wall.

    Of course, at the end of the day, it's up to Washington what ends up happening with this wall. But people here are feeling the strains of the shutout.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, as you're saying, as much division as we're seeing across the rest of the country.

    Lisa, what's happening? You have been following this. What's happening, do we know, with federal workers, their paychecks coming due? There are lawsuits out there. What are you learning?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I'm going to try to hit four points quickly.

    First, that's right, tomorrow will be a missed paycheck for most of the federal workers affected here. So the union for federal employees has filed to expand their lawsuit so that every federal worker who's been forced to work without pay will get paid. That is pending in federal courts. And that lawsuit has now been expanded.

    Second point, TSA, there's been a lot of stories about TSA workers calling in sick, that kind of thing. I spoke to TSA workers who were on the job today. They say those are overblown. But there is concern that, if this shutdown continues, maybe next week, the week after that, then we could see bigger problems for TSA workers not showing up.

    They say not large yet. The third point, there are some banks, like the Navy Federal Credit Union, that are offering low or no-interest loans to federal employees. The Navy Federal Credit Union tells me 6,000 federal workers have taken them up on that deal so far.

    Finally, in Congress, we are seeing various senators and House members proposing bills to exempt, say, one agency, like the Coast Guard, let's pay the Coast Guard, or let's pay — for example, these kind of garage sale ideas, Homeland Security workers.

    Those don't seem to be going anywhere right now. But this is the sign of the pressure that's building on Congress from various interests.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche Alcindor, joining us from McAllen, Texas, on the border, Lisa Desjardins here in the studio, thank you both.

    And we will talk to the head of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee and track what the shutdown means for food safety in just a moment.

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