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Sen. Capito on the ‘sweet spot’ for border security negotiations

A bipartisan congressional committee tasked with drafting a border security bill for President Trump to sign by February 15 met for the first time Wednesday. Among its members is Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the committee’s “great desire to reach a conclusion,” components of effective border security and why she's optimistic about bipartisan compromise.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first: Today was the first meeting of the bipartisan group in Congress tasked with coming up with a border security bill that President Trump will sign.

    With just over two weeks until government funding runs out again, Mr. Trump said today that lawmakers are — quote — "wasting their time" if they don't discuss a wall.

    Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia is one of those appointed to the conference committee. And she joins me now.

    Senator, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, how did this meeting today go?

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    Actually, I think it went very well.

    We went as a united body of Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, expressed our great desire to reach a conclusion. And then we talked, you know, each one of us, about the areas of possible contention, but also the areas of agreement.

    I felt really good coming out of there. I tend to be an optimist anyway. But I think it is important on a lot of different levels that we solve this issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we heard the Democrats saying, among others, Representative Nita Lowey, who, of course, on the House Appropriations Committee…

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … say that Democrats are prepared to expand on the $1.6 billion that had been in the original proposal for border security.

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    Mm-hmm.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But there was no specific mention of a physical barrier, of a wall. How do you read that?

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    Well, I think, you know, I can congratulate her for keeping an open mind here.

    I think all of us talked about how we need more technology, a smarter technology, but we also need more personnel, and then we get to the issue of a physical barrier. As you know, it gets into semantics sometimes. Is it a wall? Is it a fence? Is it a levee?

    I think, if we look at the experts, which is the Customs and Border Patrol, they think they need all of the above, which includes a physical barrier. Now, remember, on the Senate side, 10 Democrats voted for $1.6 billion of a barrier, a pedestrian fencing, in the bill that we voted on in June.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So let's go to the semantics.

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean, you mentioned fencing. You mentioned a levee.

    Is that the kind of conversation you are going to be having about, could you define something as a physical barrier that would satisfy the president and that the Democrats would be prepared to go along with?

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    Well, I think that's where the sweet spot is here.

    I think we agree on so much, more humanitarian aid and technology and all and more border agents. We have got to find that point at which it says a physical barrier, which is what the CBP is asking for, that is effective in the more populated areas of Texas, where we see most of the illegal immigration occurring.

    And I think the Democrats are open to this, and it could be how we phrase it. And I think that is going to be critical. But we have to have the president's support in order for him to sign it. And that is — that is also critical.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So give us a sense of how that conversation goes.

    I mean, do you literally sit around the table and look at photographs or artistic renderings of what some kind of barrier could look like?

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    Well, I think that that is where we really need to leave it to the professionals.

    I mean, some of it is still bollard fencing. Some of it is gates for vehicles that can't get through. Some of it is access roads into these areas. It is a whole variety of different things that go into border security or prevention.

    And, you know, this is the challenge, I think, for us to make sure that we are not hitting any of those hot-button words — like, a concrete wall would be a hot-button word, I believe — and that we go to fencing, preventative measures, levees and others things.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you have something in mind right now that that might be that sweet spot that you just mentioned?

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    Well, we have a bill that 10 senators voted for that has $1.6 billion, as I mentioned, on pedestrian fencing. It also has some technologies.

    The president came back with a greater ask, and expressed his concern about the numbers going up and the different ways that people are coming across. They are not coming across, single men anymore. It is families.

    That is really putting a crush on the system to just figure out, not just a humanitarian way, how to take care of it, but how to process people. So I think a lot of it is going to be — the talk is going to be around what we do about a barrier or a fence, but really I think we need to have some of that and have a lot of the other, and all of that under the umbrella of border security.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How much is the president himself going to be involved in these talks? I mean, I assume somebody on the committee is going to be briefing him every day.

    Can you make a move in this committee without the president being on board?

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    Well, it is incumbent upon us, as appropriators. We are the ones that are the spending body that initiates the spending. That is our prerogative.

    And I think that we are all pretty committed in there to follow through on that, for a couple of reasons. Number one, it sets a precedent for the next two years. But people lost a lot of trust in this government over the shutdown. We need to restore that trust.

    And one way we can do it is getting a compromise between us. The president is going to be in the room, I am sure. His folks were there today. I would expect that to be part of the conversation, just like I expect the speaker's people to be there and also Leader McConnell's people to be there.

    But I think, really, it is us in that room that is the most important core.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So it sounds like you are saying both to the president and the speaker, back off, because we are the ones who have — who are going to get this done.

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    Well, there were a couple of people that actually expressed that thought in their public statements.

    You know, if we just put that — just put us in a room, we could figure this out pretty quickly. Tester and I have already done a bill, a bipartisan bill. And so we sort of rib each other in that direction.

    But, at the end of the day, the speaker is important, and so is the president, in terms of getting this across the finish line.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned, of course, Senator Jon Tester just then.

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But finally, Senator, you don't — do you have every confidence now that you can come to an agreement? Or how worried are you still?

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    I am concerned. I am concerned because it has gotten so politicized.

    I will say that, in our opening statements, as much as we could, we stuck to the will to succeed here on both sides. And that, to me, is a good signal. In other words, there was no bomb-throwing — well, there was minimum bomb-throwing. I will put it that way.

    And I think that is good. I am optimistic. I'm a natural optimist anyway. But I think it is important to us to make our mark and to make this decision and to convince the president and others that this is — this is a good, solid move towards border security.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you are saying that you think — you see good faith there on the part of the other party?

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    Oh, definitely. Definitely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Shelley Moore Capito, working with this conference committee trying to come up with a solution, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

    Thank you.

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