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Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo Discusses Border Security Negotiations

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Congress has less than three weeks to reach a border security deal and avert another government shutdown. Lawmakers have formed a bipartisan conference committee with members from both the House and Senate. Its first meeting is tomorrow.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Trump puts the odds of striking a deal at, quote, less than 50/50. Yesterday we asked a Democrat on the conference committee, Congressman David Price of North Carolina, about the president's remarks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DAVID PRICE: What he should be saying is that he's not going to shut down the government again; he's - he understands that you don't pay ransom to kidnappers.

CORNISH: Today I asked a committee Republican, Congressman Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, if he thought they could reach a deal.

STEVEN PALAZZO: Well, I think if the Democrats come in and act in good faith - well, we're looking forward to them actually coming to the table and providing a plan.

CORNISH: Now, the president says if he doesn't like the deal, he'd consider declaring a national emergency. Would you support him in that move?

PALAZZO: You know, I hesitate to say yes, but I do say yes. Being a national security person and understanding that my constitutional responsibility is to provide for the common defense of this nation - and it depends on whether you're in the camp where you just think this is all make-believe and a manufactured crisis or you really, truly know that there's a lot of bad things happening at our border. But I hope we don't have to get there. I hope we can provide, you know, a bipartisan compromise to securing our border and give it to the president and he will accept it and sign it into law and we can put this behind us.

CORNISH: Your district has several Coast Guard installments, right? And those service members - they were affected by the government shutdown greatly. There's staff at a NASA facility in your district. Can you say to those workers with confidence that we won't end up in the same place three weeks from now...

PALAZZO: Well, obviously I wish I could (laughter). I wish I had a crystal ball and I could say that. But what I will tell our men and women in the Coast Guard and our NASA employees and contractors and the other federal employees that were furloughed - you know, thank you for your sacrifice. I think they also...

CORNISH: ...'Cause some of those people - right? - the federal contractors - they won't even get paid back after the fact.

PALAZZO: That's correct. And you know, this isn't how we like to do business. We shouldn't be coming to these nuclear options where we're shutting the government down.

CORNISH: Some things we've heard that could be on the table - more immigration judges, more border patrol agents - right? - increased spending on border technology like drones. These are things where we understand that both parties agree. But for you, are there things that are non-negotiable, or are the - is the door open to those options as well...

PALAZZO: Well, no, I mean, say again...

CORNISH: ...Without a wall, I mean.

PALAZZO: We put (laughter)...

CORNISH: Can you get all that and no wall and feel good about your negotiation?

PALAZZO: Well, see; we keep saying wall, and we should be say securing the border. So I am...

CORNISH: Right, but we didn't get here all these months because people thought that was an option, right?

PALAZZO: Right.

CORNISH: I mean, for a long time, the word was there should be a physical barrier, a wall. Is that still, you think, going to be a sticking point?

PALAZZO: Well, I think if you call it a physical barrier and get away from the wall, then it's less of a sticking point. It could be, you know, vehicle barriers. It could be pedestrian barriers. And I'm one of those guys. I'm for all of the above. Whatever you want to call it, let's not get bogged down in semantics of a wall. But put that where it's appropriate. Put boots on the ground where appropriate. You know, we have the ability to do that. Add to the CBP. Add to the judges. Add to the facilities. But we have to address this. The American people are just fed up.

CORNISH: I want to ask one more thing, which is, you recently introduced a bill that would allow Americans to help fund the wall by buying government bonds. Have you given up on the president's original proposal to have Mexico pay for it?

PALAZZO: Well, (laughter) that's a good question. You know, all options are on the table. And let's just pick something that works, and let's secure our border, protect Americans. And it's a win for both parties. But most importantly, it's a win for our children and our future.

CORNISH: Congressman Steven Palazzo of Mississippi - he's a Republican on the bipartisan conference committee tasked with striking a deal on border security in the next three weeks. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PALAZZO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.