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GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick On Why He Broke Ranks And Voted To Keep The Govt. Open


When House Democrats brought up a stopgap funding bill last week to end the partial government shutdown, the vote fell mostly along party lines. But seven Republicans broke ranks to side with Democrats in favor of the bill. One of them was Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. He joins us now from his Capitol Hill office. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

BRIAN FITZPATRICK: Thanks Audie. How are you?

CORNISH: So the bill you voted for did not contain funding for a border wall. Do you still support the president's desire to build a wall?

FITZPATRICK: Well, what I support, Audie, is robust border security. I don't like the term wall. I think it's become a very toxic and divisive term. I think there are a group of centrist lawmakers in our Problem Solvers Caucus - our bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus - centrist Democrats, centrist Republicans who have come up with an immigration plan last year, which we still would like to see get advanced. And it includes both robust border security. That's smart. That's...

CORNISH: So you're making the case that just because you voted with Democrats just to open the government, it doesn't mean you're against the wall itself.

FITZPATRICK: Well, I'm a - I don't like the term wall, Audie, because it conjures up images of a, you know, brick-and-mortar structure across all 1,900 miles of the border, which I don't think is appropriate.

CORNISH: But for the sake this discussion, you know, President Trump has spoken about declaring a national emergency, so he might be able to bypass Congress or use the Defense Department funds for a wall. Is that something you would support?

FITZPATRICK: Well, there's two issues there. Number one, can he legally? And number two, should he? As far as it can goes, that's a question under Article 2 of the Constitution and Title 50 of the U.S. Code, and that's a matter of constitutional law. I personally think that if he went that path, it would get tied up in litigation.

As far as should he, I think this decision should be made by Congress. I think we are the ones that - we need to reopen the government, number one. And we need to solve the immigration issue once and for all. And that includes not only border security but also dealing with the DACA issue and protecting our DACA kids. We had a piece of legislation that was on the floor of the House about six months ago that could not get enough votes to pass the House, and it included - it was a compromise provision that included both protection for our DACA kids and robust border security.

And border security, by the way, Audie - that's smart. It's not a brick-and-mortar structure across 1,900 miles of the border. What it is is it gives the funding and the flexibility to DHS, to the Coast Guard, to CBP and the Border Patrol, the three entities that are responsible for border security, to make decisions based on the sector and based on the terrain. So in certain stretches, physical barriers make sense. In other stretches, technology makes sense - infrared, heat sensors, motion detectors. In some other sectors, aerial surveillance makes sense. But it gives them...

CORNISH: I want to jump in here because I think you are speaking to an issue about security itself and what makes sense if you want to keep this perimeter secure. Vice President Mike Pence went on TV today to explain the White House's stance. Here's some of what he said to NBC.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The American people want us to address this issue. It is a matter of national security. It is a matter of addressing human trafficking, the flow of narcotics into our country.

CORNISH: What is your response to that argument?

FITZPATRICK: I think that's an argument for robust border security, but I think the differentiator here is, what do we mean by that, and how do we define it? The way I define border security is providing the funding and also the flexibility, and that second piece is key, Audie, because the Border Patrol agents, the CBP officers and the Coast Guard know what they need during what sectors and what stretches of the terrain.

A big stretch of the of the southern border is waterways including the Rio Grande river. A big stretch is desert. A big stretch is mountainous terrain. Physical structures don't make sense along those sectors. There are other places - for example, the southern Texas border - where it does make more sense. But what we can't talk about, you know, intelligently unfortunately around here is how to best secure the border. And operational control of the border is the issue. It's not...

CORNISH: Let me jump in because we have just a few seconds left. What are you...


CORNISH: ...Hoping to hear from the president tonight?

FITZPATRICK: Well, I'm hoping that he's honest, and I hope that he's willing to compromise. You know, every single functioning relationship that we have in our lives, Audie, is a product of consensus building and compromise, and Congress should be no different. People need to come to the table. Nobody is going to get everything of what they want, but everybody's got to give up a little in order to get this government open.

CORNISH: Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, thank you for your time.

FITZPATRICK: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.