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Border Security Is A Vital Issue, Constituents Tell Rep. Banks


When will the partial government shutdown end? Congress reconvened for a short pro forma session yesterday. But they adjourned with no signs of progress, which almost certainly means that the shutdown is going to continue into the new year. Congressman Jim Banks is a Republican from Indiana. He's on the line with me now. Good morning, Congressman.

JIM BANKS: Good morning. Good to be with you.

KING: Good to have you here. I understand you've been back in your district in Indiana. What have you been hearing from your constituents about the shutdown?

BANKS: Well, Noel, I come from a very Republican district in the state of Indiana. And largely, the constituents in my district agree with the president that border security is a vital issue. They wanted a vote in the House, and they wanted me to push my leadership for a vote in the House for the $5 billion that we added to the appropriations bill and sent back to the Senate a couple of weeks ago. So while nobody wants a government shutdown, the constituents in my district definitely agree that this is a fundamental issue that we should be pushing for.

KING: There are other districts across the United States, of course, where you will hear a lot of, you know, why can't these...

BANKS: (Laughter).

KING: ...Folks in Congress just compromise? And I wonder, do you see any room for a compromise here?

BANKS: Well, Noel, let's go back to a couple of weeks ago. When we passed this deal out of the House, it passed pretty overwhelmingly. You might recall that when Nancy Pelosi was in the Oval Office, she told the president that you don't have the votes in the House. She was wrong about that. Now the issue resides in the Senate, but the ball is in the Senate's court. And we can look at this issue a couple of different ways. Yes, President Trump said, I will own the shutdown; I will take the heat for the government shutting down, but I'm going to fight for the border security funding. So that's on one hand.

On the other hand, the question that deserves to be answered is why the Senate is so paralyzed and not acting on something. The Senate could pass anything, send it back to the House - allow the legislative process to work. Let's put something on President Trump's desk sooner rather than later that he can either sign or veto. And unfortunately, that's what hasn't happened yet.

KING: Well, the president - the Democrats, obviously, have made offers of their own - 1.6 billion in funding for security. I'm curious about what happens if the president doesn't get the funding he's demanding for this wall. What are the implications for him and for the party as a whole? You mentioned that he said he would own the shutdown - yes - and then a couple of days later on Twitter said, you know, this is now over to the Democrats. So if the president doesn't get what he wants, what does that mean for him?

BANKS: Noel, we're less than a week away before the beginning of the new Congress. Next Thursday, I and all of my colleagues will be sworn in again. But it'll be different. Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats will be running the House and have the majority. The Senate, though, is a different story. Republicans will grow their majority in the Senate, but it will still take 60 votes in the Senate to move something forward. So to your point, this shutdown could last a while if President Trump continues to stick to his guns.

But this issue has become a - very much a key base issue for Republicans. I mean, in places like where I come from, it's become one of those issues that the voters are seeing a clear difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to funding border security. And that happens to be really important in districts like where I come from. And I imagine it'll be a very important campaign issue in 2020 that, my sense is, will motivate Republican voters to vote just as much as they did in this election just a few weeks ago.

KING: Congressman, just briefly - as you point out, this is your last week in the majority. You'll soon be under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi. What is the strategy moving forward?

BANKS: Well, there are many opportunities to still get things done, especially in many of the areas where we found bipartisan support over the past couple of years. I serve on a couple of committees that are great examples of that. On the House armed services committee, in a bipartisan fashion over the past couple of years, we restored funding to our military. But what was cut over the past 10 years - we saw about 20 percent military spending cut. We restored that in bipartisan fashion. I also serve on the veterans' affairs committee, where almost everything that we did over the past couple of years was done in bipartisan fashion, too. So I expect that there will still be opportunities to get things done. There's a lot of talk about...

KING: To move forward. Yeah.

BANKS: ...About transportation issues or infrastructure issues - that we might be able to get things done, too. So I'm still hopeful that the next couple of years could be productive.

KING: All right. Republican Congressman Jim Banks of Indiana, thank you so much.

BANKS: Good to be with you. Thank you.

KING: All right. I want to bring in NPR's congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Good morning, Kelsey.


KING: So what did you hear from Representative Jim Banks that stood out to you?

SNELL: Well, he nailed something that, I think, I've been hearing from a lot of Republicans and Democrats alike - that this is a key base issue. Immigration and the wall in particular have become something more than a policy issue. It is a big politics issue. He talked about it being a campaign thing for 2020. It is one of those issues where voters, as he said, are seeing a clear difference on border security because that's what the definition is coming down to. Do voters want a wall, or do they want a more nuanced conversation about ways to secure the border and fix the immigration system?

KING: The congressman also said the shutdown could last for a while. What do we expect as we head into the new year?

SNELL: That is the great mystery here. Nancy Pelosi, who will become speaker next week likely, calls this policy immoral. And when you get to a point when you're talking about morals and not just a policy issue, it becomes incredibly hard to see how Democrats move off of that. And President Trump has not signaled in any way that he wants to compromise either.

KING: NPR's Kelsey Snell, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.