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Rep says ‘it’s possible’ Democrats would support more than $5.7 billion on border security

Lawmakers have three weeks to devise a border security plan that will satisfy President Trump, who threatens to declare a national emergency or shut down the government again if they fail. A bipartisan group of 17 legislators will work to draft legislation. One of them, Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., joins Amna Nawaz to discuss evidence-based solutions, the asylum process and humanitarian aid.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The government is open again, but lawmakers are up against a three-week deadline to come up with a border security plan. If President Trump doesn't like the deal, he has not ruled out another shutdown or declaring a national emergency.

    A bipartisan group of 17 legislators will meet for the first time on Wednesday.

    Congressman Democrat Pete Aguilar of California is on that committee, and joins me now.

    Congressman Aguilar, thanks for making the time.

    The president over the weekend expressed some skepticism that you and your colleagues will come up with a plan that he will actually sign. What is your plan to make sure whatever you put before him does get signed, and we don't end up in another shutdown?

  • Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.:

    Well, thanks for having me.

    I think it's important to know that Democrats are going to continue to advocate in this conference committee first sensible, and reasonable, effective border security measures. That's what we have done in the past. That's what we continue to do, a broader use of technology.

    Those are the types of things that we feel we can get support for. But it is unfortunate, after the Trump shutdown that you mentioned, that the president wants to derail some of those discussions already. And he already put the word shutdown back on the table.

    And it's truly unfortunate, but we're going to work in a bipartisan, bicameral way in order to get this done.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, you have said you want to take steps that are evidence-based, but the president has said again and again that he wants funding for a border wall.

    We heard Sarah Sanders earlier today say again he wants to see a plan that will include funding for a border wall. Are you prepared to fund at least, in part, a border wall?

  • Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.:

    Well, what we have said — and we have been very clear on this — we want evidence-based solutions.

    In some areas, there are physical barriers that exist. If there needs to be replacement, those are things that we can look at. But we are not in the business of funding his sea-to-shining-sea wall that he mentioned during the campaign that he also said Mexico was going to pay for.

    So what we want our reasonable solutions to these issues. There are plenty of areas that are lacking for investment, where we can truly get to the root of drug detection technology, broader use of equipment and technology in between the ports of entry to detect crossings. Those are the types of things that we can do when we work together.

    The Senate has already done some of this work. We look forward to picking up in that — in that regard.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Congressman, let me ask you, though, because, earlier, Sarah Sanders also said everyone agrees that there is a problem that needs to be fixed on the border.

    They have talked over and over again about both a national security crisis and a humanitarian crisis. What is the problem that you think needs to be fixed on the border?

  • Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.:

    Well, we do agree that there's a humanitarian problem. That, I will agree with the White House on.

    We need to make sure that we make the proper investments, so individuals have health screenings, and individuals are taken care of when they come into custody of DHS. Those are things that we can invest in and we can look to solve.

    But the president has wreaked havoc with the — with the asylum process. And that's what's creating a lot of these issues. So that's a key concern of ours. And we need to make sure that we are investing properly in order to help fix that system.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So I hear you saying there's a humanitarian crisis. But the president also insists there's a national security crisis.

    He's talked about criminals coming across the border. Do you think that's a problem that needs to be addressed in the plan you work on?

  • Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.:

    Well, I think we can have this conversation about border security, but I wouldn't accept that there's a crisis at the southern border.

    There isn't a single elected representative, Democrat or Republican, who believes that we need further investments in barrier structures in the wall, so — who represents the southern border.

    So those are concerns that we continue to have, because the president wants to fulfill this campaign promise, but the people on the ground who know these issues know that a physical barrier is the most expensive and least efficient way in order to protect our border.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Congressman, you and your colleagues have talked about a potential smart wall, the use of broader technology for detection and deterrence in some cases.

    Could it be possible that, into this potential plan, you are actually spending more than the $5.7 billion the president initially asked for, for his wall?

  • Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.:

    I think it's possible.

    We want to make robust investments where resources are needed. We know that there is equipment that we can purchase that will help detect drugs in our ports of entries. We know that there's broader infrastructure and investment that we can make in between the ports of entry.

    We know that there are Marine resources and Coast Guard resources that help with drug interdiction that can work. Those are serious investments that Congress members and senators should look at. And that's exactly what we plan to do when we get to conference.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Congressman, I want to ask you to go back to the earlier point you made about wanting evidence-based efforts there, but not wanting to fund a sea-to-shining-sea wall, as the president has asked for.

    He's made it clear he wants to see some funding for that. If that doesn't, isn't — if that isn't part of your plan moving forward, aren't you just sending us right back into a shutdown, or asking for the president to declare a national emergency to fund the wall?

  • Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.:

    Well, the president caused the last shutdown. He owned it, and he talked about that last month.

    But what I would tell the White House is, we are a co-equal branch of government. Article I dictates our roles and responsibilities here under this dome. And we plan to do that. We plan to work in an honest and open way, in a bipartisan, bicameral way, in order to make sure that we fund the priorities that the entire country has. And, in order to do that, a broader use of technology and a smart wall would — would make some sense.

    But what the president is proposing, it just doesn't make a lot of sense at this point.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Congressman, you're going to walk into this meeting on Wednesday for the first time with your colleagues. You're going to advocate for your priorities and what you think needs to be addressed.

    What's the single greatest priority in your mind that needs addressing on the border right now? What will you be fighting for?

  • Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.:

    Humanitarian aid.

    Those individuals who have — are not receiving the care that they deserve, in many cases, it's because there is low staffing in those facilities. I think that is a fair concern. We need to make sure that we have the proper staffing, and to provide the medical care that's needed for individuals who come into — come into custody.

    So I think that those are fair concerns. So, talking about humanitarian aid is something that you can count on House Democrats to mention.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Congressman Pete Aguilar of California, thank you very much for your time.

  • Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.:

    Thank you.

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