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Freedom Caucus Member Discusses House Spending Bill Negotiations

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It seemed like an agreement was within reach. Just last night the Senate had passed a bill that would fund parts of the government for the next several weeks. The House was set to vote on that bill today. But then President Trump announced he will not sign any government funding bill that leaves out billions of dollars for a border wall with Mexico. If no agreement is reached, parts of the government could shut down at the end of this week.

Republican David Schweikert of Arizona is a member of the House Freedom Caucus, and he joins me now from Capitol Hill. Welcome.

DAVID SCHWEIKERT: Thank you, Ailsa.

CHANG: So do you think the president's making the right decision here?

SCHWEIKERT: Well, it - the ultimate question is, what will he accept? At a certain point, he had given plenty of tells that this was one of his key budgetary issues. And remember; a year ago, the number was dramatically more than this. This - the 5 billion I believe was the compromise number for border security.

CHANG: OK.

SCHWEIKERT: But we're sort of caught into this...

CHANG: Really tight spot now.

SCHWEIKERT: ...Sort of fear.

CHANG: OK.

SCHWEIKERT: Yeah, and it's coming from all sorts of different directions. The rumors around Capitol Hill are the incoming Democrat class - this is a big deal for seeing how Nancy Pelosi deals with it for their speakership vote. We have a number of members of the U.S. Senate who are now running for president. And this is something important to their base. And then the flip side, we have many of us on the Republican side that have talked about border security for a long time, particularly being from a border state. And this is a moment where the negotiations are almost multilevel chess because it's just not a binary question. There's lots of different...

CHANG: That...

SCHWEIKERT: ...Emotions needs. And at the same time, we have disaster aid that's also getting...

CHANG: Sure, but that said...

SCHWEIKERT: ...Tied into it. So...

CHANG: ...President Trump has been sending mixed messages all week. Do you think this last-minute turn of events is him caving under some pressure from his conservative base? These voters are your constituents.

SCHWEIKERT: A great question, and I really don't know. And you wish there would be much more clear lines of here's what we intend to sign, and here's where we are able to negotiate.

CHANG: So do you see any path forward, any way to reach an agreement?

SCHWEIKERT: Oh, yeah, there's always a path forward. Now, sometimes...

CHANG: But to avert a partial government shutdown in just...

SCHWEIKERT: Yeah.

CHANG: ...The next day and a half.

SCHWEIKERT: We've done it before. But as you've also seen, you know, a shutdown, if it's, you know, marginal in time, it's not particularly disruptive. It's not something you ever want to have happen.

CHANG: Right.

SCHWEIKERT: But we have to deal with the reality. If you look at our history, this happens lots of time. The appropriation process is often the leverage for policy. And...

CHANG: Well, let's talk about the last time it happened, October 2013. You were there. It didn't turn out too hot for Republicans. In that meeting last week with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, President Trump said he would own the shutdown. Do you think that's politically risky?

SCHWEIKERT: Let's go back, though. Think about what came out of that 2013. We had the sequestration, an agreement for some budgetary discipline that lasted for years. And if you actually speak to a lot of the economists that looked at U.S. federal spending, it was the one success we had during those years to actually sort of bend some of the spending curve. So in some ways, it was a policy victory. It was just a rather cantankerous way to get there.

CHANG: And the Republicans did receive some blame for the October 2013 shutdown. Do you think it would be a mistake for President Trump to own this shutdown if it does...

SCHWEIKERT: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Indeed happen?

SCHWEIKERT: There's the problem...

CHANG: Very briefly.

SCHWEIKERT: ...As we get into policy over worrying about the political horse race. It would be nice if we would actually focus on what's actually good policy.

CHANG: All right, that's Republican David Schweikert of Arizona. Thank you very much.

SCHWEIKERT: No, thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.