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Why Democrats want a very short-term funding solution to hold GOP ‘feet to the fire’

Lawmakers are making an 11th-hour push to fund the government and avoid a shutdown. Judy Woodruff gets two takes from Senate Democrats about the way forward. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley says the shutdown showdown shows how unprepared Republicans are for dialogue on basic issues of governance, while Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto says it’s time to stand up for everyone.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to the top story of the day, the 11th-hour push to fund the government and avoid a shutdown.

    We get two takes from Senate Democrats about the way forward.

    I spoke first with Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon — he's on the Senate Budget Committee — about any possible deal.

  • Sen. Jeff Merkley:

    Well, we're all waiting to hear the details of the conversation between Senator Schumer and President Trump. Hopefully, that is going to shine a light on the path.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What we're hearing is very skimpy, but we're told that Senator Schumer did present some ideas to the president. And we're separately told that the Republican leadership in the Senate is saying the minimum time they'd agree for an extension is two weeks. Does that shed any light on anything?


  • Sen. Jeff Merkley:

    Well, it just shows how unprepared the Republican leadership is for this dialogue.

    I mean, these are issues that have been there going back into July and August, in preparation for the next fiscal year, but they set aside the fundamental work of governance in order to pursue a health care plan that would rip health care from 30 million Americans and a tax plan designed to deliver a trillion dollars to richest Americans, and left the basic issues of governance, children's health care and opening our clinics and what the spending bill should look like for fiscal year 2018, they left all these things untended.

    And so here we are. So we want a short continuing resolution, a day, two days, short, in order to hold their feet to the fire and say, get serious, get in the room and let's start resolving these issues. We have bipartisan proposals sitting right in front of us ready to adopt.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Senator, as I'm sure you know, the White House Republicans are saying they are taking care of children's health insurance, that they're saying the issue is Democrats holding this up over DACA, these young people who came to this country from Mexico and other countries without documentation.

    And they're saying Democrats are making that more important than even children's health insurance, which, I know, in your state, is particularly important.

  • Sen. Jeff Merkley:

    Well, let's be clear. The children's health insurance expired at the end of September. We were pushing through the summer to get this bill done.

    Here we are almost into the spring of 2018. Feels like we're headed that direction. And they're just getting to it and doing it in a fashion to turn one group of children into a bargaining chip against another group of children. That's so unnecessary, and it's wrong.

    The dreamers are members of our community who have been there virtually their entire life. They contribute to our communities. We are going to make sure that they are treated decently and get a foundation, but a foundation for having a solid, if you will, sense of their legal status.

    And that should have been done long ago. The president says he wants to get this done. Republicans have said they want to get this done. There is a bipartisan bill ready to adopt, so let's do it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's what I want to ask you about as well, because the White House legislative affairs director, Marc Short, said today there is no legislation that could be voted on right now.

  • Sen. Jeff Merkley:

    Well, that's simply not the case.

    We have a proposal that three Democrats and three Republican senators worked out. The president said bring this compromise over to the White House. They did last Thursday. Since then, we have had, at various points, up to seven Republicans say they were ready to agree to this, just voluntarily saying that they were on board for it.

    Clearly, you have the makings of a bipartisan deal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, you're not worried that Democrats will get the blame if the government shuts down?

  • Sen. Jeff Merkley:

    Well, not at all, for two reasons.

    One, we have proposed a very short C.R. to keep the government open that also keeps the negotiating at high speed. I think the American people want negotiating on high speed. They don't want what the Republicans have done and just kick it down the road.

    Furthermore, since we're offering to keep it open, and the Republicans are saying, no, that's the second reason it's the Republicans who are at fault here. And the third is, they control every bit of both houses of Congress and they control the presidency, so they're clearly in charge.

    In fact, Mitch McConnell even blocked the ability for the Democrats to put a bipartisan proposal on the floor last night.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Jeff Merkley:

    You're welcome, Judy. Good to be with you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now for another perspective from Capitol Hill on the government funding fight, I'm joined now by Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. She is the freshman senator from Nevada, where she served as that state's attorney general for eight years.

    Senator Cortez Masto, thank you for being with us.

    What a way to begin your second year in the Senate.

  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto:

    I'm happy to be here, Judy. You're absolutely right. This has been an incredible year so far, definitely exciting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we just — in listening just now to Senator Merkley, I talked to him, taped that interview about an hour-and-a-half ago — he made a very valiant argument.

    But we now know that, in the last couple of hours, two more Democratic senators from red states, states that voted for President Trump, have said they will go along with the Republican proposal.

    Are Democratic ranks now basically crumbling? And do you now see movement toward Democrats ultimately — enough Democrats supporting this Republican government funding bill?

  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto:

    No, not at all.

    They need 60 votes to move forward. But, Judy, here's the deal at the end of the day. Not only do Democrats have concerns about moving forward with this continuing resolution that's been put before us. As you know, Republicans do as well.

    And now we have time to come together, negotiate, figure out how we address all of the issues we have concerns about, because we're all representing constituents from our states. We're all representing the United States. So now it's time to come together.

    And, really, it's time for this leadership, leadership here in Congress, to start working with everyone. This isn't about politics. This isn't about a win. This is about finding solutions for the people across this country. And that's what they expect us to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, what do you think is going to happen? Because, as you know, this measure says, let's wait another month, and then we will try to work on DACA, the measure to help the young people who came here without documentation from other countries.

    Democrats are saying, no, no, no, we don't want it to go for a month. Are we just talking about a matter of days? Is that the difference?

  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto:

    Well, yes.

    The difference is this, Judy. We have already gone — this would be our fourth continuing resolution. There's a tendency for the leadership to really just — they say kick the can down the road every 30 days, every 30 days, and nothing happens.

    And so now it's time to hold their feet to the fire. And if we have to stay here tomorrow and the next day and the next day to say, let's get in a room, let's figure this out, we have an obligation to come up with a budget, we have an obligation to protect dreamers, we have an obligation to fund our military, we have an obligation for our veterans, for our retirees, for our community health centers, for our children, and that's what we should be doing.

    And I think that's what you're hearing from the Democrats, is enough time frame about moving 30 days, every 30 days, every 30 days, and letting the Republican leadership pick and choose who wins and who loses. Now it's time to fight for everyone.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, do I hear you saying that you and other Democrats are prepared to see the government shut down tonight because this proposal by the Republicans doesn't include the immigration language?

  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto:

    The current resolution that's before us now, I wouldn't support, for that very reason.

    And my colleague has said it. You have heard Senator Merkley. And I feel the same way. These dreamers that are in our country, they're in my state. I have met with them. We have teachers who are dreamers.

    And now we're telling our teachers, not only are we going to rip you out of the communities and the classrooms where you are. We're going to take you away from your families. The students that you're working with, we're going to take you away from those students, and send you back to a country that you do not even know.

    That's why 80 percent of the country supports dreamers and protecting them and passing something. And we have — we have something before us right now, bipartisan work, that we could work on and actually move forward and get something done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Senator, Republicans are in charge of the Senate. If they call up a vote on this measure that passed the House, you're saying enough Democrats are not going to support it. That means the government will shut down at midnight.

  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto:

    Yes, I can't speak for all of my colleagues. I can tell you where I am and why I believe in what I'm doing in fighting for everyone.

    I think it's time we stood up for everyone, and not pick and choose who gets to win and lose every time we have a continuing resolution.

    You know, I was on the floor on the September in October 26 of 2017 fighting to pass CHIP then, because it had already expired in my state, and we only had a few months left to cover it. And I didn't hear the Republicans saying it was important and they were going to bring it up at that time.

    We're hearing from them for the first time, because they're using it as bargaining chip. They're picking and choosing who wins. And I am here to fight for everyone. And that's why, to me, it's so important we hold out and we continue this fight.

    And if it means that we have to negotiate every single day, and we have to stay here, then that's what we should be doing, because that's what the American public expects.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Even through a shutdown?

  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto:

    Stay here and get it done. Stay here and negotiate and get things done. And that's what I can tell you is so important. That, to me, is our priority.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Catherine Cortez Masto from Nevada, we thank you very much.

  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto:

    Thank you.

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