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Republican Sen. James Lankford Discusses Proposals To End Partial Government Shutdown


President Trump invited congressional leaders to the White House today to see if they could strike a deal on funding a border wall and pave the way for federal agencies to reopen. No such luck. Here's Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer just after leaving that meeting.


CHUCK SCHUMER: I said, Mr. President, give me one good reason why you should continue your shutdown while we are debating our differences on homeland security. He could not give a good answer.

CORNISH: And so 800,000 federal employees remain without pay on this Day 12 of the partial government shutdown. We're going to bring in now Senator James Lankford. He's a Republican from Oklahoma.

Welcome to the program.

JAMES LANKFORD: Thank you. Good to be with you again.

CORNISH: So House Democrats say they want to vote on a plan that would reopen government agencies, keep most of them funded through September and the Department of Homeland Security through February 8. It does not have the $5 billion that President Trump wants for the border wall, but it is quite similar to legislation that the Senate approved just last month - right? - clean appropriations without funding for a wall So why not take it?

LANKFORD: So it's interesting. Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell both agreed 10 days ago now to not bring up anything that didn't have the House, Senate and White House approval. And they stuck with that all the way through the last couple of weeks as they try to negotiate together to keep everyone in good faith. And then suddenly now with the transition, I guess, tomorrow and Democrats taking control, Chuck Schumer seems to be walking away from that deal and saying, no, he wants to now bring up things that don't have all three parties.

The best thing that we can do is try to keep all three parties at the table and keep everyone negotiating. I'm a little confused why this wasn't resolved days and days ago. The White House made a proposal to Chuck Schumer and said, this is a reasonable proposal - it wasn't a 5 billion proposal; it was much less than that - proposed that to Chuck Schumer. He said he would get with Nancy Pelosi and counteroffer and then never did counteroffer. And that was now...

CORNISH: I want to...

LANKFORD: ...Eight days ago. And so it's been a little frustrating. It seems to be this has just been a stall to get to a time...

CORNISH: But let me jump in here...

LANKFORD: ...When Democrats control the House.

CORNISH: ...Just for a second because even the president has contradicted, at times his own...


CORNISH: ...Vice president - right? - about whether the White House would accept less money for the border wall. Is he really the only Republican who can do this negotiating?

LANKFORD: Well, when you're...

CORNISH: Would anyone else be undermined?

LANKFORD: When you're going to make law, you've got to have the White House, the House and the Senate agree. That's how it always works. And if any one of those walks away from it, then you've got to be able to keep negotiating till all three are on board.

And at this point, it's been different. Sometimes the House has made a proposal. The Senate's made a proposal, and the White House hasn't been in agreement. We've got to get all three parties. And I'm glad the president got everyone together today at the White House to be able to talk it through.

It's not going to be helpful to have any one party - the Senate propose something and to say that we passed it but the House won't take it up, or the House to be able to pass something and then to stand up in front of the media and say, look, we passed something. The best thing that can happen is to continue to negotiate with all three parties in the room coming to an agreement and then pass it.

CORNISH: Do you still see a clear path to get there, as you said last month? I think this was on Fox News. Today, did that give you any faith?

LANKFORD: You know, what was really funny, some of my public comments the day the shutdown began was - I really saw a clear path on how this could be resolved that day. But if everyone walked away, then this is going to be a very long time. And I still feel that, and it's been way too long.

We were a few million dollars away from trying to be able to get an agreement last time. And it was a little confusing why that couldn't have occurred 10 days ago. But I still think we're very close to trying to get there if everyone would agree to it. Now, I don't know where Leader Pelosi - where she'll fall once she's elected as speaker of the House tomorrow...


LANKFORD: ...What the negotiation will be. But I think we've been very close in the past.

CORNISH: On one other issue - incoming senator from Utah Mitt Romney today penned an op-ed about President Trump's character - much criticism for the president. Romney also said he's not ready to endorse Trump for re-election in 2020. Are you?

LANKFORD: Well, No. 1, I would say for Mitt Romney, these aren't brand-new comments from him. These are things that, obviously, he put out in a new statement as he comes into the Senate. But he's made those same statements before. And yes, I'd support the Republican nominee as I did in the past.

CORNISH: Even if it's Trump.

LANKFORD: Even if it's Trump, the reason being is that we're going to continue to have a united front as we work through a lot of very difficult issues. And we've got to be able to do that in the days ahead.

CORNISH: Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, thank you for speaking with us.

LANKFORD: You bet. Thank you.

CORNISH: Elsewhere in the program, we'll talk to Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.