Former Special Assistant To Trump Weighs In On Move To End Shutdown
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The federal government is going to be fully open for the next three weeks at least. This afternoon, President Trump did something he swore he wouldn't - open the government without funding for a border wall. Why did he do that, and what could the consequences be?
Marc Lotter is here in the studio to take those on. He was a special assistant to President Trump and also served as press secretary to Vice President Pence. Marc Lotter, thanks for stopping by.
MARC LOTTER: Thank you for having me.
KELLY: Any way to read this other than a retreat by the president?
LOTTER: I think what the president's doing is taking the Democrats at their word who said they would not negotiate while the government was closed down. So this gives the government, this gives the legislature three...
KELLY: He's taking them up on the offer they put on the table 35 days ago.
LOTTER: And he showed his commitment to border security. They showed their commitment to wanting the government reopened first. So now we have an opportunity - three weeks. We have conferees that have already been announced from the Senate side - obviously the House will follow suit - to see if they can actually produce a border security bill that includes funding for a barrier where the Customs and Border Protection experts think it's most needed.
KELLY: Thirty-five days, 800,000 employees who have gone without pay. What did the president get for this?
LOTTER: I think what - well, what we're going to get, we're going to find out, we're going to see in three weeks - if we can get a deal done. And clearly the Democrats were resolute in their commitment to not negotiating on this issue while the government was shut down. The president remained equally committed.
But I think when we saw that - we've now gone through two paychecks, and you - we saw the impact of the partial shutdown going out into the airports and what we saw today with - I think it just proves that we've got to get the government reopened. And if the Democrats...
KELLY: Do you think that was the tipping point...
LOTTER: I do.
KELLY: ...The LaGuardia...
LOTTER: And if the Democrats are serious about negotiating in good faith, I think the president said, we'll take you up on that offer.
KELLY: But again, I asked you at the beginning, is this a retreat? Is this a retreat?
LOTTER: I don't think so because we still have...
KELLY: What word would you choose?
LOTTER: I would say we are basically opening up a new opportunity. And that will be if the Democrats want to negotiate on this. They have said from day one...
KELLY: They have said they wanted to negotiate from day one, and here we are.
LOTTER: And here we are. So we will see. We've taken - we have taken the objection - their main objection off the table now that the government has been reopened. And so let's see if they are serious in following up and having an honest discussion about border security. And when so many Democrats have said in the past - and through this shutdown, we've seen Steny Hoyer and others say there are areas where barriers and walls work. So let's see if they can back that up and put that into a bill that can pass both chambers.
KELLY: What is the message from the White House today to all of the federal workers and their families and the communities who've been affected by this? The president went out of his way to say they will get backpay - fine. They will not get interest if they had to take out loans. Contractors will maybe, maybe not - we don't know what's going to happen, if they're going to get paid for this or if they'll be working again. What's the message?
LOTTER: Well, I think the first message - the president said it today - was thank you. Thank you for continuing to do your jobs. Thank you for continuing to honor your mission and your commitment even though you weren't getting paid. You will be getting the backpay...
KELLY: But what was that sacrifice for if the president didn't get his wall?
LOTTER: Well, we don't know if the president's going to get the wall yet, and that's where this next three weeks is going to be critical. The president was absolutely clear today that if by February 15 we don't have a deal in place, we may either enter another government shutdown, or he could take the emergency action that is allowed to him under the law to continue and do that border funding and border security without the appropriation and the approval of Congress.
KELLY: Do you believe that would be the right move - to shut down the government again in three weeks if there's still no money for a wall?
LOTTER: I don't think that's probably where it's going to end up. I don't think anybody on either side of the aisle wants to see that happen again. I think if we can get - obviously you're going to have to have another continuing resolution or a budget agreement to go through the end of October. And then it'll remain to be seen if the president needs to take emergency action or other legal - there are a few other legal opportunities he could pursue.
I think when we look at it, the president hopes that the Democrats will meet him in the middle. And when you look at the fact that even now, five, almost seven days since the president made his offer last Saturday, we'd still not gotten a counterproposal from the Democrats on what would they accept.
KELLY: Real quick, in a sentence, how do you expect this to play with the president's base?
LOTTER: I think they'll be initially upset. And I think when we get to the end game where we are now starting to enter, if he can still get border security, they will forget the in-and-out of Washington politics and legislative affairs to get us to the end result.
KELLY: I'm going to wager that's going to be a hard sell for people who have not seen a paycheck now for two Fridays, two weeks running. Marc Lotter, former White House adviser - he now serves on the advisory board of the Donald Trump campaign. Thanks for coming in.
LOTTER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.