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Lack Of Trust Interferes With Shutdown Compromise, Rep. Hurd Says


President Trump is visiting McAllen, Texas, today making the case for a border wall right along the border. Mariam Cepeda lives in the area. She supports Trump and has been a surrogate for his campaign. And she wants the wall.

MARIAM CEPEDA: My whole stance is, listen to the Border Patrol agents. They want a physical barrier. This is something that's been proposed. It's been proposed before. And why not give them what they want?

GREENE: Now, Democrats have said they'll negotiate on how best to beef up security at the border. But Trump, they say, is holding federal workers hostage to get his way. A partial government shutdown that began over this debate has now entered its 20th day. Congressman Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, represents a district with more miles of border than any other congressional district, and he's with us this morning.

Congressman, good morning.

WILL HURD: Good morning. It's always a pleasure to be on with y'all.

GREENE: Well, we always like having you on.

I want to ask you - the president's making this argument that border agents want a border barrier. And we actually heard from one on our show this morning, saying having more border barrier does help them focus resources elsewhere. So are border agents telling you the same thing?

HURD: Well, I've had border agents say that - I ask this question to everyone. I have four sectors of the border in my district, 820 miles. And I always ask the question - what do you need? The first comment I always get is some type of telecommunications because their cellphones and their push-to-talk radios don't always work in certain areas. And they do say there are some physical barriers that's needed, but I've never had anybody tell me that building a wall from sea to shining sea is something that they actually need.

I do believe we should be listening to Border Patrol. And if you go back to about 2014, there was a bipartisan border security plan that had a - it was very prescriptive, and it almost went mile by mile. And the input was received from all the folks on the ground. The thing that I've been hearing is they need technology, they need additional manpower in order to continue to do their job.

GREENE: But does more barrier make the border safer?

HURD: Well, what a barrier does is it helps increase a Border Patrol agent's response time to something at the border. So that's why where there is urban-to-urban contact, some type of physical barrier makes sense because Border Patrol's response time is measured in seconds to minutes. But in other parts of the border where the response time is measured in hours to days, a wall or a fence is actually not a physical barrier; it's just a complete waste of money. That's why we need technology in those places in order to track people so that we can efficiently deploy the men and women of Border Patrol.

And this is - and I like to call it the smart wall. And the only way that we secure our border is to think about all 2,000 miles and be able to look at all 2,000 miles of border at the same time. The best way to do that is with technology and increased manpower.

GREENE: So technology, increased manpower and perhaps some sort of border barrier. I mean, there is some compromise that has been talked about in Washington for some time. Do you see evidence that a compromise could come together here that Democrats, who are now leading the House, and the president could could get around?

HURD: I think there is. The problem we're dealing with is the folks that are actually negotiating this deal lack trust amongst each other. And they lack a granular understanding of the details of what is needed and what's a fair trade. And so I think the way out of this is some of us that understand this well needs to come up with an alternative plan and pitch that to the negotiators. I think, also, neither of the negotiators want to propose something that makes them look weak. And so everybody's digging in into their positions.

I think some type of deal - it's going to be something like complete the rest of the Secure Fence Act - we all know, in 2006, 2008, pretty much everybody voted for that - have the smart wall, double down on technology in our ports of entry and do something addressing immigration because what is causing the folks coming here is people are looking for jobs. And at 3.9 percent unemployment, every industry in the United States of America needs employees.

So let's put people to work and then address the root causes in the Northern Triangle of Central America - that's El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala - to address those root causes, which is violence and lack of economic opportunities. I...

GREENE: There's been talk on the Senate side - sorry to interrupt - there's been talk on the Senate side among some more moderate Republicans of some kind of deal that might - it sounds like maybe the sort of thing you're talking about, maybe some border wall funding but giving Democrats some of what they have been wanting in the larger immigration debate.

I mean, Democrats now just started running the House. They might want to dig in as you say some in Washington want to do right now. Could you see House members coming around some kind of compromise as being talked about in the Senate?

HURD: I actually think most people want to see this resolved. Nobody wants to see anybody lose a paycheck or not get a paycheck. We know this is all going to go down on January 11. That's when the next paycheck is supposed to be due. We know that almost 70 percent of Americans have less than $400 in their savings account. And so you have something like this where you're going to have to pay your bills and go into savings.

This creates a crisis in individual homes and in individual families. I think we want to resolve that. I believe the best solution is the most narrow solution possible, and those are those principles that I just outlined. But I'm sure we're going to be willing to work with our Senate to try to get something that everybody can agree on.

GREENE: Congressman Will Hurd, Texas Republican, joining us this morning.

Thanks so much, Congressman.

HURD: Always a pleasure.

GREENE: I want to turn to NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, who's with us. Scott, are you sensing movement towards a compromise that might end this shutdown?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, not really. Congressman Hurd is one of a small number of Republicans in the House who has voted to reopen the government while these negotiations continue. And there are a handful of Republican senators who've taken that tack. But the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has said he won't consider that unless the president's willing to go along. And the kind of, you know, resource allocation you and the congressman have been talking about, whether it's walls or communications equipment...

GREENE: Right.

HORSLEY: ...Or extra border agents, that's the kind of sort of routine trade-off that is ordinarily hashed out by a congressional appropriations committee. And what we have now is the president trying to raise this to a sort of existential crisis that warrants temporarily shuttering 25 percent of the federal government.

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley joining us this morning.

Scott, we appreciate it.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.