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Hoyer: Democrats support border security, not taking the government ‘hostage’

House Democrats are “prepared to negotiate” with President Trump on border security, said incoming majority leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, but they don’t want the government, or the country, to be “penalized” in the meantime. Hoyer talks to Judy Woodruff about agreeing with the president on the end goal of border security, but not on how to achieve it.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now for a Democrat's take, we turn to the incoming House majority leader, Steny Hoyer. He's a Democrat from Maryland. And he joins us from Capitol Hill.

    Leader Hoyer, first of all, tell us about that meeting at the White House late this afternoon. What came of it?

  • Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.:

    Well, I don't think there was any product of the meeting.

    I think positions were restated. Very frankly, what we said, look, we are for border security. The objective is not the issue. The means of assuring border security is what we are debating about.

    But what we should not do is shut down government during the course of our discussions. Reasonable people can discuss how best to secure the border without taking hostage 800,000 people and, frankly, the millions of people who rely on the daily operations of government.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, as you know, President Trump has been talking a long time about wanting border security, wanting a border wall.

    He's now saying, the White House is saying — we just heard from Mercedes Schlapp — the president is prepared to negotiate on the wall. But they say Democrats are not.

  • Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.:

    Well, that — I don't think it's accurate.

    When he says the wall, we are prepared to negotiate on border security. We want to make sure that the borders are in fact secure. We have said that. We want to keep Americans safe. We want to keep our country safe.

    And at the same time, we want to follow the law, making sure those who are seeking asylum from danger to themselves and to their families under American law get heard and get adjudicated properly. But our presentation to the — to the president was, Mr. President, don't penalize 800,000 people, don't penalize the country while we negotiate. We're prepared to negotiate. We will have discussions with you.

    But, understand, we have compromised very greatly, Judy. After all, these are all Republican bills. These are not our bills. These are not bills that we passed out of committee or that we passed on the floor of the House and the Senate. That doesn't mean we didn't vote for them, because we compromised, as is the legislative process.

    So the bills that we are suggesting the president sign are all products of the House and the Senate. And the Senate, frankly, has almost unanimously voted for all of these bills — not unanimously, but almost unanimously.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Mr. Hoyer, to the public, what it looks like is the president is saying, OK, I would like $5 billion, give or take, for this border wall. I'm willing to take less than that.

    But Democrats are saying, we're not going to give you anything for the wall. So, to many in the public, this may look like the Democrats are the ones who are not prepared to do any give.

  • Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.:

    Judy, who said, "I would be glad to shut down this government"? Who said, "I will take full responsibility for shutting down this government"?

    Who, for months, and, frankly, more than a year, has said a shutdown may be good for our country?

    No Democrat has said that. No Democrat wants to see the government shut down. And we are prepared to negotiate and discuss.

    I will say this. We voted for a Homeland Security bill. Many of us believe that homeland security is important, but disagree that the wall is the means to achieve that end. That does not mean that we're not prepared to negotiate on how to make our borders more secure and our country safer.

    We want to do that. We think that's proper to do. But this president is saying, take all of our Republican bills and then, by the way, I have got something else I want too.

    That's not negotiation. That's ultimatum.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Democrats — the Democrats' position then is, we're not going to spend a penny for border — a physical barrier at the border; is that correct?

  • Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.:

    No, I don't think that's our position at all. As a matter of fact, we have supported fencing in the past.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    But then why isn't there room for compromise on this, then?

  • Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.:

    I didn't say there wasn't room for compromise. I said that we are prepared to negotiate and compromise, Judy, on making the borders secure.

    And we are prepared to listen experts. As a matter of fact, as you know, there was a comprehensive immigration bill that was on the floor in the Senate, passed in a bipartisan vote, sent to the House, and we asked the Republican leadership, put it on the floor, let us vote on it.

    And it provided for over $40 billion for border security, but asked the experts to tell us how best to accomplish that end. We asked that that be put on the floor five years ago, and the Republicans refused.

    But the fact is, we're prepared to discuss this. But we think that while we're discussing the best way to accomplish the objective, we ought not to shut down the parts of government that have nothing to do with a wall, nothing to do with border security per se, and negotiate and make it only until February 8, or we will shut down again the Homeland Security Department.

    But, hopefully, in the next five weeks, we can reach agreement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, at this point, it sounds like there's no place in between the two positions, some sort of negotiated settlement here.

  • Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.:

    Well, I hope we do.

    There is a basis for agreement to achieve border security.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so we wait.

  • Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.:

    Well, let's hope we don't wait too long.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The incoming House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, thank you very much.

  • Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.:

    Thank you.

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