Sen. Bob Menendez joins Senior Correspondent Brenda Flanagan live at the U.S. Capitol to get an update on what’s happening now with the budget funding debate which is heading toward a looming government shutdown.
Flanagan: Thank you for joining us, Sen. Menendez. We hear that there might be a deal in the works, what’s happening?
Menendez: Well as we speak, there are some negotiations that hopefully would yield way. The vice president is here; Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser, is here; Mick Mulvaney, who is the acting chief of staff, is here. The essence of a potential deal would be to agree to move from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion in Homeland Security funding, primarily for border security, to permit some of that funding to go for a pedestrian fencing, which is different than a border wall. And to include a series of other appropriation bills that would take us to the rest of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30, and to have some of an emergency package as it relates to some of the wildfires and challenges in different parts of the country. That’s not etched in stone yet, but that’s the essence of the deal that is attempting to be struck as we speak. At the end of the day, however, we need a clear message from the president that he’d sign that, because we’ve been down this road before being told he’d sign something and then ultimately he reneges on it.
Flanagan: What do you think the kind of chances are of this kind of an agreement succeeding in a Senate vote?
Menendez: Well I think those of us who have not been supportive of the president’s $5 billion request would find this acceptable. As a matter of fact, for the most part, this is an offer that just slightly increases what, in a bipartisan vote of the Senate, a unanimous voice vote of the Senate, offered $1.3 billion for border security. This would bring it up to $1.6 billion, with a provision to allow some of that for pedestrian fencing. If that’s what gets us to keep the government open, that’s fine. But this is all the doing of the president. He obviously listens to some right-wing people like Laura Ingraham, and Hannity and a few others in those venues, and ultimately changes his mind. The vice president of the United States had previously told us that the offer we put on the table, that passed unanimously through the Senate, would have been accepted. And then all of a sudden the president reneged after he had some criticism from his right wing. So it’s very difficult to negotiate under those terms. Hopefully this one can ultimately pass, we can keep the government open, because closing the government, notwithstanding what the president says, shutting it down has a huge negative consequence to the nation, and it affects real people in addition to nearly a million federal employees.
Flanagan: When Mitch McConnell spoke earlier on the floor of the Senate, essentially he said that this was just the Democrats being spiteful toward the president, that they had approved funding for the wall before. How do you answer that?
Menendez: It’s not spiteful when Republicans also didn’t vote for this. The reality is even today in the procedural vote that has been kept open nearly five hours on the floor, there are a couple of Republicans who voted against proceeding to the president’s $5 billion wall. So at the end of the day, this has nothing to do about spite, this has everything to do about not supporting a reckless expenditure of taxpayer dollars, to the tune of $5 billion, to do what? To do what technology and other things can do more successfully in terms of border security. We have offered this, and we have offered in a bipartisan way. I don’t know why Sen. McConnell takes that view, when what he offered on the Senate floor that passed in a bipartisan vote, didn’t include the provisions that the president supposedly wants for his border wall. So that was a bipartisan vote, it was offered by him, it passed unanimously — it’s the president who’s in the midst of rejecting all of this. It’s the president who says he’d welcome a shutdown. It’s the president who said he’d be proud to shut it down — he said that 25 times. At the end of the day, we hope he doesn’t stick to that view because it hurts people, real people, hurts real federal employees, and ultimately has a real effect, a negative effect, on our economy.
Flanagan: The president seems to be playing to his base. I want to diver to a different issue — the very surprising resignation of Secretary of Defense Mattis. What’s your reaction to that?
Menendez: Well, you know, I have a great deal of respect for Secretary Mattis. He was a stabilizing force in an unstable administration. I have real concerns about the national security decisions the president is making. There has been a bipartisan chorus rejecting the president’s premature leaving of Syria for a whole host of reasons. It undermines our national security interest; it risks our ally, the state of Israel; it abandons the Kurds, who have been our greatest fighters; and sends a global message, “Don’t fight for the United States, because once they’re finished with you, they’ll leave you on the battlefield to die.” That’s a terrible global message to have. I’d rather have the Kurds, for example, fighting for us, than to send our sons and daughters abroad. So, that’s not just my view, that’s the series of views of Republicans as well. And obviously the letter that Secretary Mattis sent in resignation speaks volumes about his concerns about this president, about his views of opposing our strongest allies, embracing some of our strongest adversaries, and a foreign policy that does not inure to the interests and the security of the United States of America.