Trump Wants To Review Spending Bill Before He Acts, Kennedy Says

Feb 14, 2019
Originally published on February 14, 2019 6:59 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump has not said what he will do, but he does not sound like someone who is about to veto a compromise on border security.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don't want to see a shutdown. Shutdown would be a terrible thing. I think a point was made with the last shutdown. People realized how bad the border is, how unsafe the border is. And I think a lot of good points were made. But I don't want to see another one. There's no reason for it.

INSKEEP: To avoid a shutdown, the president would have to sign a routine appropriations measure that he says he does not like. It contains money for border security, including money to add to existing steel fence on the U.S.-Mexico border. It does not contain the billions for a wall the president demanded. Adam Kennedy will discuss this with us. He is White House deputy director of communications. Mr. Kennedy, welcome the program.

ADAM KENNEDY: Thank you for having me, Steve.

INSKEEP: President going to sign this bill?

KENNEDY: You know, I think the president's going to fully review the bill. It came out late last night. And I think he wants to know what's in it before he signs it. As he said yesterday, he doesn't want a shutdown. He's not looking for a shutdown. But he also does want to have his hands tied for border security.

INSKEEP: Well, let's figure out what the president's attitude is. Republican Senator Richard Shelby, who was one of the negotiators who worked out this compromise, wrote on Twitter last night, I just talked to the president, and he was in good spirits.

And Shelby then goes on to describe the deal as a down payment on his border wall; this is only the beginning of a multi-year effort. Is that how the president is beginning to view this?

KENNEDY: Well, I think since the president was elected he's been pushing for border wall funding. He's gotten some of it. Of course, the Democrats have opposed him every step of the way. Nancy Pelosi said she didn't want $1 going to a border wall. This is a step in the right direction if it is what it appears to be. But the president said he wanted 5 billion. And I think he's looking for alternatives - other options to get to 5 billion.

INSKEEP: OK. So when you say a step in the right direction, that is kind of viewing it the way Richard Shelby just did. OK, you got a little bit. And, you know, moved - live to fight another day.

KENNEDY: Well, I think, you know, over a billion dollars is, of course, a good step. Whether it's enough depends on what else is in the bill. This is a complicated measure. It was done, you know, quickly, submitted late last night. The president's not just going to sign-off on something. He wants to know what's in it.

INSKEEP: There...

KENNEDY: I know some politicians in Washington want to pass something before they know what's in it, but the president wants to know what's in it before he signs it.

INSKEEP: OK. Richard Shelby also - one of those phrases is of interest to me. He said - of the president - he was in good spirits, which is kind of the way you talk about somebody who suffered a big setback. How unhappy is the president with the situation he's in politically?

KENNEDY: I'm not sure it's unhappy. I think that the president wanted 5 billion. He's planned for that since December. And Democrats, every step of the way, have been obstructionist and tried to stop him. So I think what the president is looking for is real resources on the border to protect American communities. And so far, Democrats haven't been as willing as we'd all like to achieve that.

INSKEEP: Now, the president has also acknowledged that although a border wall is what he campaigned on - and, by the way, he said Mexico would pay for it in his campaign. He's acknowledged that there are other tools that you use at the border. There are other facets of border security where there seems to be a lot more bipartisan agreement on spending.

And if the president believes that border security is a major problem - which he certainly has said - is it clear to you what he intends to do about it in the short-term that he can do as a democratically elected leader? What's he going to focus on?

KENNEDY: Well, I think he's done a lot already. We've seen some military personnel deployed to the border to support DHS and our law enforcement officials down there. He tried to work with Democrats to pass bipartisan proposals to harden our ports of entry so that it'd be harder for people to cross during our - in our illegal ports of entry. But...

INSKEEP: And that stuff is in the measure - right? - in the bills, so far as you know...

KENNEDY: Some of it is. But again, we have to see what the full - what the full text is and all the details. A lot of times there are various surprises that can be put into a funding bill that may appear seemingly out of nowhere. And I don't think the president wants to be surprised.

INSKEEP: OK. One other thing I want to ask about - as you know, his poll numbers, his approval numbers went down in the shutdown. Gallup now says he's gone up since the shutdown ended. Is it possible that the public would just like less chaos in Washington?

KENNEDY: Well, I think there's a couple of things that has happened. He had a very powerful State of the Union. And I think we saw the American people listen and understand the president's position and where he's coming from. And we've seen great economic success. I think some polls have him over 50 percent. And I think the president is looking forward to what else he can achieve.

INSKEEP: The Gallup number, by the way, was 44, which was much better than he often has been. And polling averages have typically had him down around 40 percent. Mr. Kennedy, thanks very much for the time, really appreciate it.

KENNEDY: Thank you very much for having me on, Steve.

INSKEEP: Adam Kennedy is the White House deputy director of communications. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.