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Where Each Party Stands As Government Shutdown Looms

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And we're going to stay right here, right on this same topic for our Friday politics discussion. Here in the studio with me - columnist David Brooks of The New York Times and Matthew Yglesias, co-founder of Vox. Welcome to you both to - I guess we'll call it the special shutdown edition of the week in politics.

Start with this. And David, I'm going to throw this one to you first. If the government shuts down at midnight - if - it will mark the first time ever that that has happened when one party controls the Senate, the House and the White House. So David Brooks, persuade me. If we see a shutdown, how is this not all Republicans' fault?

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Yeah. First, what I'm about to say I don't actually agree with. They don't pay me enough to be a Republican shill.

KELLY: (Laughter) Yeah, a useful preface, OK.

BROOKS: But I think that the strongest argument they'll make to voters is that listen; we tried to prevent you - present you with a government that was functioning for American citizens, that had defense spending for American citizens, that had a new - this health care program for American citizens, and Democrats want to block it on behalf of illegal immigrants. And so who's really in favor of Americans, us or them?

KELLY: Us or them - all right, Matthew, let me let you come back to that. We just heard there the Republican argument which David doesn't actually agree with but he's laid out neatly for us. They're arguing that this is Democrats shutting down the government to help illegal immigrants. How are Democrats not completely to blame if the government shuts down tonight?

MATTHEW YGLESIAS: I think the underlying issue here is that President Trump has really not been clear on what it is he's trying to do. If - when he had canceled the DACA program, if he had said, look; I want to get these illegal immigrants deported; that's why I'm canceling it; I am irreconcilable on this, I think Democrats might have to accept it. I mean, exactly what David laid out would be the case. But instead he keeps saying he wants a deal. He says he wants a deal of love. But then every time there is a deal he scuttles it. And that's how we've gotten to this point. What leader McConnell outlined where he just took a very hard line against the DACA recipients - that in its way makes more sense than what the president is saying.

KELLY: I'm struck by one point in all of this on which there appears to be a 100 percent agreement. Republicans, Democrats, the president - everybody seems to think this is a lousy way to run a government, a lousy way to run a budget.

BROOKS: People - you know, people come to Congress because they actually do want to pass things.

KELLY: Yeah.

BROOKS: I mean, it's hard to get here. And so there's a great deal of upset about these 30-day extensions and all the gimmickry. I think that's genuinely true on both sides. I think that - and there's - the other thing that's surreptitiously true on both sides is neither can quite figure out who's going to lose here. I think that I hear a lot of uncertainty about that.

My own view is that the short term, the Republicans probably lose because they are - do control the government. The medium term, the Democrats probably lose because this is really about people in red states where the Democrats hope to defend or pick up some Senate seats. And it'll probably play pretty well for Republicans in the medium term.

In the long term, of course it's ruinous for Republicans because they have really, as Matthew says - Mitch McConnell has labeled the whole party - not just part of the party, the whole party - as the anti-immigrant party. And that of course is ruinous in a country that's growing increasingly diverse.

KELLY: Matthew, if we were - God forbid - to put politics to the side for a moment and just discuss the substance of what is on the table - I mean, on immigration and DACA and CHIP, the insurance program for children, how far apart are all of the involved parties on the actual substance of trying - what they're trying to get done here?

YGLESIAS: Well, I mean, that's part of what's interesting here. I mean, there is a bipartisan agreement with some Republican support that is I think quite generous to the DACA recipients but then in exchange make some real serious investments in border security. But then you've had Tom Cotton and some factions of the White House...

KELLY: Republican Senator Tom Cotton.

YGLESIAS: Yes, from Arkansas - way off, essentially demanding a wholesale revision of how immigration to the United States works. That's obviously not going to happen in this kind of pressure cooker contest, and it's not totally clear to me if he really means that. I mean, he could get some concessions on immigration policy, but instead he's holding out for a complete transformation, a 50 percent cut in legal immigration. And I mean, everybody knows Democrats won't agree to that.

BROOKS: Well, I think it's interesting, though, the way the Republicans have shifted. Where Lindsey Graham was, that sort of was the Republican - if not the total unanimity but center of gravity. It's where George W. Bush was, John McCain was. And this Graham-Durbin deal would be acceptable to a lot of rank-and-file Republicans. Seventy-four percent of the country supports DACA.

But where Tom Cotton is, wanting to cut legal immigration - legal immigration - by 50 percent, that has suddenly become the orthodoxy of the Republican Party. So we've seen this shift further over the restrictionist side in a relatively quick period of time, and I think we're all trying to catch up to it. And in that way, this shutdown really is about something real. It's about the basic demographic shift in the country and how the two parties are reacting to it.

KELLY: And also about not wanting to keep doing this every month so that we're not back here a month from now having yet another shutdown edition of the week in politics chat. Let me put this to each of you. To what extent is the president part of the problem? We heard just a few moments ago even Senator McConnell - Majority Leader Senator McConnell, saying, we don't know where the president stands, David.

BROOKS: Well, he's not the clearest or most helpful negotiator. He sends out a tweet that blows up the strategy. But I actually think this is deeper than Trump. The party was moving in this restrictionist direction well before Trump. Trump has accelerated the move. The party has decided to be this party. They've decided this on two grounds from what I hear, you know, from conversations.

First, that if they allow a lot of immigrants to become citizens they're all going to vote Democratic and their party will be sunk in the long term. And secondly, I think there has been effect of the Breitbart-Drudge constant drumbeat of headlines about immigrant crime. And that has affected the electorate and hence the party.

YGLESIAS: You know, Trump has mostly let congressional Republicans take the lead on policy matters. And the difference here is that on immigration, he really has been a major actor. This is an issue in which he has very strong feelings in a way that Mitch McConnell maybe doesn't.

KELLY: And has personally invested political capital...

YGLESIAS: Exactly.

KELLY: ...From the get-go, yeah.

YGLESIAS: So some of his erratic qualities that have made less of a practical difference on other issues do matter a lot right here. I mean, I think you can tell that Mitch McConnell, that others are a little bit unsure where they stand because Trump's personal views matter a lot, but he's not a very sophisticated political actor even a year into his presidency.

KELLY: Well, in a word in the few seconds we have left, are we going to see a deal tonight, or are we going to see a shutdown, David?

BROOKS: I really don't know.

KELLY: (Laughter) We've still...

BROOKS: I think I usually assume they're going to fudge things out. But I - both sides are pretty ready for this thing, this fight.

KELLY: Nobody wants a shutdown.

YGLESIAS: I think the most Congress thing possible, though, would be two or three more days, and then we do this all over again.

KELLY: Oh, boy. And we'll be back on Monday. Well, thanks to you both. That's Matthew Yglesias of Vox and David Brooks of The New York Times. Until the next time, thank you.

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