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Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson Reacts To Trump's Border Wall Proposal


A non-starter, more hostage-taking - that's how Democrats are describing President Trump's offer over the weekend. The president said he would extend temporary protection to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, in exchange for the $5.7 billion he wants for his border wall. Democrats want the government reopened before any negotiations on border security issues.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are trying to put some muscle behind the White House pitch. They plan to add in billions for disaster aid and extend the Violence Against Women Act. And they could try to put it to a vote as soon as this week. Congressman Bennie Thompson is a Democrat from Mississippi. He's also chair of the House Homeland Security Committee. He joins us on the line from outside Jackson. Welcome to the program.

BENNIE THOMPSON: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So what would your response be to DACA recipients who heard this offer and might have had some hope?

THOMPSON: Well, I think at best that temporary proposal is just that. It gives no pathway to citizenship. And, again, it's just a crumb that the president is dangling in front of the public with no permanence to it. So I would say to the DACA people, don't be fooled. The president is just doing this in his pursuit of trying to get the money for the wall. It should not be a carrot in the process. The first thing we have to do is get our federal employees back to work.

CORNISH: Let me jump in here because Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted Sunday that President Trump has, quote, "put forward a serious and reasonable offer." Now, if Democrats say the president's proposal is a non-starter, as you're saying, is it fair for Republicans to say that you're not willing to negotiate?

THOMPSON: Well, you know, at this point, it's people tweeting back and forth. We're not sitting down like adults negotiating. We get to a solution when we meet face-to-face. Every time we've tried to meet with this administration, the president throws a temper tantrum and basically walks out the room. That's not how you get a deal done. So Democrats are absolutely prepared to work with the president to make sure that we get government back open. And by all means, we are for border security. We've always been for border security. But the wall is a non-starter.

CORNISH: Does that mean that there's no wiggle room?

THOMPSON: Well, let me tell you. For two years, he talked about Mexico going to pay for it. Now he wants the taxpayers of America to pay for it. This is not a political stunt that Democrats will fall for. We are willing to look at technology. We'll look at bringing more men and women to the border from a security standpoint. But under no circumstances are we going to do a wall.

CORNISH: If Democrats are able, say, to make a deal, do you want to fund the government for the rest of the year or are you looking for a short-term extension, something that would reopen the government and allow these negotiations to continue?

THOMPSON: Well, we've tried short-term just to get people to work. We have 800,000 employees out here who are absolutely on the brink of bankruptcy in some instances. Our employees are not rich people. They go to work, but we should pay them. And now we put them in an untenable position where they're having to stand in line for food.

CORNISH: So you're not seeing a short-term solution, a short-term extension.

THOMPSON: A short-term extension - we've offered it. Leader McConnell wouldn't even bring it up on the Senate side. We will do that if that brings people back to work. But we have to get out of this Trump shutdown.

CORNISH: That's Congressman Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

THOMPSON: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 22, 2019 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier version of this story misidentified Kevin McCarthy as majority leader. McCarthy is the House minority leader.