RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There is now a tentative deal on border security. But as hard as it was for Congress to get there, the toughest part is yet to come - trying to convince President Trump to sign it. We know that the compromise gives the president less than a quarter of the $5.7 billion he wanted for a border wall. Here's what the president said about it yesterday.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I can't say I'm happy. I can't say I'm thrilled. But the walls are getting built regardless - it doesn't matter - because we're doing other things beyond what we're talking about here.
MARTIN: But even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging the president to take the deal.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: It's not everything the president hoped to get, but I think it's a good step in the right direction. I hope he'll decide to sign it. We're all quite interested in that, as you could imagine.
MARTIN: Interested because no one has a desire to see another partial government shutdown. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and he is one of the lawmakers who negotiated this compromise. He joins us on the line this morning Good morning, Senator.
PATRICK LEAHY: Good morning, good to be with you.
MARTIN: We're glad you're here. As you heard, the president says the deal that you helped cobble together doesn't matter, that the wall will be built one way or the other. Does that mean you don't think he's going to sign it?
LEAHY: No, I think he'll sign it. I don't think anybody wants another shutdown. Of course, he could be - he could be built (ph) one way or the other. He promised the American people they'd build it and Mexico would pay for it. Maybe he's harking back to those days, even though we all know Mexico will not pay for it, even though the president said they would.
MARTIN: Can I ask - has someone from the White House conveyed that to you, that the president intends to sign this?
LEAHY: No. And we really didn't work with the White House on this. We - the Congress has the responsibility to spend money, and we did this, senior Republicans, senior Democrats. In fact, the last day - or last evening of negotiation, we did a lot in my Capitol office - what I called four grown-ups - well-respected Republicans and Democrats. And we worked out what we thought was best. No, the president's not going to get all the things he wants.
MARTIN: Although we should point out...
LEAHY: No president does.
MARTIN: ...He doesn't like this because it is just a fraction of what he's been asking for, for a border wall or a barrier. And in reality, you are offering $1.38 billion roughly. That is less than Democrats offered back in December before the shutdown. So from the president's view, signing this would be a loss.
LEAHY: Well - but the thing is he didn't want to accept what we did before. And maybe that is one of the things that he has to recall. We offered - we passed almost unanimously in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, the higher amount and a whole lot of other things. And he vetoed it, caused a long shutdown, one that cost - incidentally cost the economy of the United States over $11 billion all. And now he comes back and gets actually less than what he had - we'd offered before. I mean, at some point, stop the polemics and, you know, stop the rhetoric, deal with reality.
Every one of us wants a secure border. I mean, that's a given. Republicans and Democrats all want a secure border. We don't want symbolism, though. We want some substance in how we do it. And keep in mind, this legislation has a whole lot of other things. It has the Department of Agriculture, the FBI and NASA.
MARTIN: Right. This is a large spending bill that is part of the business of Congress to get through.
LEAHY: And we - money for highways and bridges, housing programs, tribal health care. I mean, you can go down through this long list.
MARTIN: What do - if I may ask, Senator, what did Democrats concede in this compromise?
LEAHY: We're voting for, in some areas, less than what we voted for before. We're just interested in having the government work and work responsibly, put the FBI, put NASA and others back to work. I don't think it's a matter of conceding something. We all want - we all want a secure border. But simply to say, well, we're going to build a wall, a great, big, beautiful wall - that's not the thing that does it. There are places we will have fencing. Of course, we always have. We always will. But there are other areas where better devices, X-ray machines and all...
MARTIN: Right, better technology.
LEAHY: ...To look for smuggled drugs and things like that.
MARTIN: Let me ask you - you say you believe the president will sign it because this is the best offer Congress is going to give him. But he doesn't have to, right? What if he doesn't and forces Congress to get a veto-proof majority? Are you confident you can get that?
LEAHY: I'm not sure. I'm not sure we could. If he vetoed it, I think that we'd see six departments plus Homeland Security just close down again. And that - I think the close down last time made us the laughing stock of the world. And does he really want to do that? That's not being presidential. That's not being a leader.
MARTIN: He says he can get funding no matter what Congress does. He says he can either declare a national emergency or he can just get the money that he wants for a wall from other places. Are you clear on what those other places are, those other funding sources?
LEAHY: It's very limited where he could get money. There is always some transfer ability, but where are you going to - where are you going to transfer it from? Are you going to take it out of things that they need? And no, he doesn't have anywhere near the flexibility he thinks he does.
MARTIN: And a national emergency - if he doesn't veto it, if he signs it, but then he declares a national emergency...
LEAHY: Then where is he going to take the money from - Coast Guard, Disaster Assistance, TSA? You know, the money still has to come from somewhere and - or diminish our department defense - doesn't work.
MARTIN: Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, thanks so much for your time.
LEAHY: Good to be with you, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.