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Democrats take control of the House this week. Can they get past the wall?

Political correspondent Lisa Desjardins and The Washington Post’s Erica Werner join Amna Nawaz to discuss House Democrats’ forthcoming plan for funding government agencies currently shut down, Sen. Elizabeth Warner's step toward a 2020 presidential bid amidst what is expected to be a crowded field of Democratic contenders and what exactly President Trump means when he refers to a border "wall."

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    It may be the last day of 2018, but there's no shortage of political news.

    As the partial government shutdown stretches into a second week, one Democratic senator is one step closer to a 2020 presidential campaign.

    Here to help explain what lies ahead in the new year, "NewsHour"'s own Lisa Desjardins, and joining us from Capitol Hill, Erica Werner of The Washington Post.

    Welcome to you both. A lot to cover on this final day.

    Let's start with the shutdown.

    Lisa, where are we? What's the latest?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, sources in speaker-designate, as they are calling her in her office, Nancy Pelosi tell me that they are going to unveil their plan for a government funding breakthrough, what they would like to do.

    And that's going to be to fund most of the government — most of the agencies that are shut down with six different appropriations bills and separate out DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, which is really what this fight is about, funding for border security.

    They will have a separate vote, their proposal, $1.3 billion only for fencing. Now, we know this is something the president has not agreed to yet, so it looks like Democrats will take this vote on Thursday, when they begin the new House, and then it probably won't go any farther.

    Meanwhile, some Senate Republicans, like Lindsey Graham, are trying to float perhaps a bigger deal.

    Here's something he told the press on Sunday after he went to meet with President Trump at the White House.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    He's anything — he's not a man under siege. The president is firm in his commitment to make sure we get money for border security.

    I know there are some Democrats out there who would be willing to provide money for wall, border security, if we could deal with the DACA population and TPS people. And, hopefully, we can get some serious discussions started maybe as soon as next week.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    DACA and TPS, references to two different categories of people who don't have status right now, DACA, the dreamers.

    I have to tell you, Democrats aren't biting on that at all right now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So it looks like, right now, it's still very much up in the air.

    Erica, jump in here.

    This bigger deal that Lindsey Graham is floating, is there any chance any part of that gets picked up? Or what about the Democrats' plan moving forward?

  • Erica Werner:

    Well, we will see about the larger deal.

    Nancy Pelosi has ruled out a DACA-for-wall trade. And it's worth noting that several attempts at striking a larger immigration deal under the Trump administration went nowhere for one reason or another.

    But as part — as far as Democrats' plan, what they want to do is open the 116th Congress, a new era of divided government in Washington, with a challenge to President Trump that says, back down on your wall and reopen the government, or don't, and this shutdown that has furloughed hundreds of thousands of workers will continue, perhaps indefinitely.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Lisa, this wall is where a lot of this conversation about the shutdown began. Sounds like, by separating out DHS, Democrats want to take immigration out of the equation.

    So what are the key differences here?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    To be honest, the negotiations have broken down so much, that they're not even really talking about these differences.

    But I thought it might be worth looking at them. The president, when he proposed his budget for this year, proposed, asked for $1.6 billion in money that could go to a wall.

    Now, the Senate bill — remember, that bill that the Senate passed unanimously — that would have had $1.6 billion, but it was for fencing only. It made it clear that that had to go to a fence and not a wall. And then the House bill that they passed, kind of what triggered this shutdown, this difference, was $5.7 billion that could go to a wall.

    Now, we have said this before. This difference of a few billion dollars and scale of the entire federal budget is not much. Of course, it's a lot for any real person. But we're down to this difference over really what the money is used for more than anything else.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    From the shutdown now moving into its second week, I want to move on to another big topic today. And that is a look ahead to 2020 already.

    Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren entering the fray, basically announcing she's forming an exploratory committee. Actually, let's take a listen to part of the video she released right now.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren. D-Mass.:

    America's middle class is under attack. How did we get here? Billionaires and big corporations decided they wanted more of the pie, and they enlisted politicians to cut them a fatter slice.

    They crippled unions, so no one could stop going to stop them.

  • Ronald Reagan:

    We're going to turn the bull loose.


  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren. D-Mass.:

    America'sDismantled the financial rules meant to keep us safe after the Great Depression, and cut their own taxes, so they paid less than their secretaries and janitors.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Erica Werner, we are 13 months out from the first votes even being cast in the Iowa caucuses. What is Elizabeth Warren doing right now?

  • Erica Werner:


    And on New Year's Eve could be seen as kind of a strange time to make a campaign announcement. But she does have the stage to herself for the time being, the first big announcement from a Democrat for 2020, and making very clear, with that very populist video and its imagery, what she's going for. She will protect the middle class.

    She's going to have a crowded, very crowded field to join going forward, but we will see if she separates herself out by going first and going big with this video.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Lisa, out first here, likely to be a crowded field, right? What do we know about that field?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, first, it was so interesting in that video to me that Elizabeth Warren is clearly running from the left. That's what we expected.

    But she's taking an opening shot at Ronald Reagan. That's someone who I think most of America has come to admire his politics, but not on the left. Progressives think that many of his policies ended up leading to problems we have now. So it's an interesting choice she made in that video.

    But, as you have said and as Erica said, the issue is this giant field. There are almost as many ways to slice it as there are people in it. Let's talk about who's actually declared themselves as presidential candidates first.

    We have three Democrats right now who have declared themselves, departing member of Congress John Delaney of Maryland. Then you see Richard Ojeda. He made a name for himself when he nearly won a congressional seat in West Virginia, bright red West Virginia. He's a Bronze Star winner, running for president, he says.

    And then there's Andrew Yang there on the end. He's a nonprofit exec and someone who worked in the Obama administration. All three of those running, done, they're out there.

    Who's exploring the concept? Let's see, right?


  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Now we have these two.

    Julian Castro actually was the first kind of big name to announce, I believe in November, that he was going to have an exploratory committee, and then Elizabeth Warren today.

    Julian Castro says he will announce his decision in January about whether he's running or not. It seems like he's hinting that he's going to.

    All right, now, prepare yourselves.

  • Amna Nawaz:


  • Lisa Desjardins:

    These are people to watch. This is just 20 photos. And I want to warn our viewers, I know there are more people out there. We are probably going to get e-mails about other ideas that people have.

    And this — I like this group because this shows you, I think, a little bit of the contours of those who are interested. Twelve of these 20 are members of Congress. And so you see right now that they're dominating sort of the initial run-up to the gate. We don't know who's actually going to come out of that gate more strongly.

    There are, of course, a few mayors who are running, a few governors and former governors. It is a massive field. And as to — you're right — I know the Democrat — the Iowa caucuses are 13 months away.

    But get this. The first debates, Amna, are in June. So that's only six months away. It's time for this field to start sorting itself out.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It will be here before we know it.

    But, Erica, I want to come to you on this. That graphic we just saw there with the faces of all the potential members of the Democratic field, a really diverse bunch there. And you're going to be covering this new Congress, which is the most diverse in history.

    It leads me to this question about how the midterms will affect how the Democrats play, not only in Congress to govern, but also how they field a 2020 candidate moving forward, with all their big wins and minorities and women and young Democrats. Where does that leave them?

  • Erica Werner:


    As you just said, a very diverse Democratic class elected in the House to take the majority. And that does show the hunger among Democrats for new faces. Women, minorities, they dominate the incoming Democratic class.

    And that creates a challenge for some of the older politicians, the more established names, including Elizabeth Warren, but also Joe Biden and others who are looking at running. Is that really what the Democratic Party is looking for?

    This House Democratic class, this new majority, the policies that they put forth and embrace may end up serving as the platform for whoever does end up as the nominee. So it's going to be very important to watch what they do and how they establish the terms of the debate.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Definitely one to watch.

    Lisa, back here.

    Before we go, I want to get you to weigh in on this interview former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly gave to The Los Angeles Times over the weekend. It brings us back to someplace we started.

    He was asked about some of the conversations that happened in the White House with President Trump, and asked specifically about the wall. He basically said it's not really a wall.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. Let's look at exactly what he told The L.A. Times.

    He said — quote — "The president still says wall. Oftentimes, frankly, he will say barrier or fencing. Now he's tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration."

    And he's right. The president has publicly said these things. He has said fence, wall, whatever you call it.

    So here we have the former chief of staff saying definitely not a solid concrete wall.

    However, we had a tweet from President Trump today, says: "An all-concrete wall was never abandoned." He says: "Some areas will be all concrete."

    And this speaks to, I think, part of the problem on Capitol Hill. Not sure exactly what the president wants or will accept, does it have to be a concrete wall or not, ends up being a very important factor in the shutdown.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Absolutely, which is still, as we mentioned, into its second week.

    Lisa Desjardins, Erica Werner, thanks to both of you.

  • Erica Werner:

    Thank you.

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