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Perdue: Split Congress has ‘historic opportunity’ to make big deals

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., says President Trump is “a dealmaker first and last,” and that Americans can expect to hear a more conciliatory tone at the State of the Union on Tuesday despite the impasse over a southern border wall. Perdue joins Judy Woodruff to discuss whether the president will declare a national emergency and why he thinks House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should work with Trump.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as we heard, President Trump is expected to double down in his speech tonight, calling on Congress to fund a wall, a barrier along the southern border.

    One option he hasn't ruled out, declaring a national emergency to build the wall. That is causing a split among Senate Republicans. Senator Lindsey Graham warned yesterday that there could be a war within the GOP over the wall.

    We turn out to one of the president's most loyal allies in Congress. He is Senator David Perdue of Georgia.

    Senator, thank you very much for joining us.

    I think you are there. There you are.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, how much of a divide is there still, do you think, between Republicans and Democrats, between Democrats and the White House, over what is going to happen with regard to a barrier, a wall at the southern border?

  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.:

    Well, I hope that it's narrowing, Judy.

    This is a situation where we're dealing with a topic that boast sides are making the same argument. I mean, this is the fifth president in a row that's asked Congress for border funding to build a wall. I mean, H.W. Bush built the first miles. Even Barack Obama built 135 miles of wall.

    Both parties agree that this is a national security issue, and we need to do it now. The problem is, the hypocrisy of politics have brought us to this point. I'm hopeful that this conference committee is going to get to a bipartisan solution here that we can all support. And I'm hopeful they will, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, as you know, Senator, during the campaign over two years ago, the president was talking about a wall. At times, he spoke about a concrete wall. At times, he spoke about sea to shining sea.

    The president has changed what he's asking for. Isn't that fair to say?

  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.:

    This is man who is, number one, trying to protect the American people. He's fighting for our national security.

    There are 2,000 miles of that southern border; 650 miles, Judy, already have some sort of barrier on it. And he's asking for a little more than 200 miles. So I think that puts it in perspective, but he wants it to be put in positions where drug trafficking, human trafficking, and illegal immigration is happening in the most severe manner right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you see the Democrat — from what you know — we just heard Congressman Clyburn say he believes there can be success in that conference committee, that, left to their own devices, they can come up with an agreement.

    Do you — are you optimistic that's going to happen as well?

  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.:

    Well, I'm hopeful. I'm not sure I'm optimistic yet.

    But I'm very hopeful. We will know tomorrow, because some experts from the border — these are non-political people who are coming up to give some advice to the committee.

    I'm hopeful tomorrow we will hear some statements coming out of that conference committee that will give us some optimism about getting past this impasse.

    Look, the other thing, Judy, is that this is ridiculous. This is an appropriation issue that should have been dealt with before September 30 last year. We're in the fifth month of our new fiscal year. So I'm hopeful that everybody will sober up here in Congress and get this done this week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I think you know, Senator, the president is still not ruling out the idea of declaring a national emergency in order to go ahead and build the wall, put money aside to build the wall if there is no agreement in Congress.

    But he has been told by Senate Majority Leader, your colleague, Senator McConnell, Mitch McConnell, that that's not a good idea. Do you think the president still would seriously consider doing that?

  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.:

    Well, he has said he would, and I take him at his word.

    But, again, this is a man — I think tonight, in the State of the Union, you will hear President Trump offer a little more conciliatory tone, because he's a dealmaker first and last. We all know that.

    He just wants to get border security moving in the right direction, and both parties actually want that. So I'm hopeful that tonight we will see a little more of that. And then over the next week or so, we will see something come out of this conference committee that will preclude the need for the president to do something extreme like that.

    He certainly has the right to do it, but I'm hopeful Congress will step in here and do its job.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, how much — how does it change what the president can do because Democrats have now won the majority in the House of Representatives, that he is dealing with a different Congress than he was last year?

  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.:

    Well, we have a historic opportunity.

    If you think about Tip O'Neill and Reagan, you think about Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton, when you had split government is when really big things did happen here. So the answer is Nancy Pelosi has a choice, as the speaker.

    Either she is going to work with this president, who has been proven that he will make a deal — I mean, we did a historic bipartisan Dodd-Frank bill just this past year, Judy, that really helped small banks. I'm looking for more of that.

    So I think the speaker has to make a decision. Is she going to legislate with this president, who is more than willing to do that, or is she going just to investigate going into the presidential election into 2020?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But my question is, how does it change what the president is able to do?

  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.:

    Well, if they don't operate with us, then it moves back in the Senate, and all we're going to be focused on is confirmations.

    And Leader McConnell has talked about being more aggressive about getting the confirmations done this year and next. So we know we can do that. That's in the hands of the Senate.

    I just implore the Senate or the House members to put pressure on leadership there. Let's get together and legislate, which is why the people in America sent us up here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There is a report out in the last few days, Senator, about the Trump administration still not having submitted names for hundreds of empty positions inside the administration.

    Do you have an explanation for why that is?

  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.:

    Yes. We have had an historic level of obstruction, first of all. Now, let's put…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No, I'm talk.

  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.:

    No, I understand.

    The good news is, is that we have done over — we have confirmed over 85 judges, 30 courts of appeal judges, and two Supreme Court justices, because the priority was set there.

    But this is a historic situation, Judy, where this is the first time in U.S. history the minority party has not waived the 30-hour rule in the Senate. Now, having said that, there are over 300 nominations at the end of last year waiting to be confirmed.

    We just need to get down to business and get past this and stop playing partisan politics. This president is — if we don't change the rule and we don't move past this, this president won't even be able to put his full complement of government together in the first term of his office.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, I'm asking about those positions for which names have not even been put forward yet?

  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.:

    Well, first of all, Judy, there are plenty of names that have been put forward that have not been brought forward because we can't get to them because of the obstruction of the Democrats in the Senate.

    And when that happens, I can promise you this president will line them up in terms of the nominees waiting to be confirmed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator David Perdue of Georgia, thank you very much.

  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.:

    Thanks, Judy.

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