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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with host Chuck Todd to discuss the need to end the partial government shutdown as quickly as possible.
Last week, Senators Collins and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced legislation that would guarantee that federal employees affected by a shutdown are paid retroactively as soon as appropriations are restored.
A transcript of the interview follows:
“Meet the Press”
January 6, 2019
Chuck Todd: Welcome back. Susan Collins is used to being stuck in the middle these days, and now she has company. She is one of six Republican senators up in 2020 who are either from states that Hillary Clinton won or from states that could reasonably be called “toss up” or “swing” states. Collins, along with Cory Gardner of Colorado and Thom Tillis in North Carolina, have already called for an end to the shutdown, wall or no wall. They're pressured on one side from Republicans who want to stand firm and on the other side from Democrats and independents who are opposed to the idea of a wall and certainly to the idea of a shutdown for it. Susan Collins joins me now. Senator Collins, welcome back to “Meet the Press.”
Senator Collins: Thank you, Chuck.
Chuck Todd: Look, you were very patient. You heard Mick Mulvaney. You heard Steny Hoyer. These are the people in the room. Did you hear any hope?
Senator Collins: I'm always hopeful. I’ve never thought that shutdowns are an appropriate means of trying to achieve any kind of solution. This isn't a matter of one side or the other caving in. It's a matter of getting to a compromise, and that is a sign of strength. And it's important that we remember that real lives are being affected here. The 800,000 federal employees, dedicated public servants, who won't get a paycheck next Friday if this isn't resolved very soon.
Chuck Todd: Is steel for concrete a reasonable compromise offer from the White House in your mind?
Senator Collins: Well I've always thought that the debate over what the physical barriers should be constructed of was rather bizarre. We do need to strengthen our border security. We know that 90 percent of the heroin is coming across the southern border along with human traffickers and a lot of unaccompanied children. That's not good either. But we need to look at more than just the physical barrier. We need to look at more border patrol agents, technology, and other means as well.
Chuck Todd: Let me ask you this The Senate adjourned at 11:00 a.m. on Friday. You're not here in town and you're not alone. All of Congress is adjourned for the weekend. You guys don't reconvene until Tuesday. Where's the urgency?
Senator Collins: Well Chuck, just as I can talk to you from Bangor, Maine, I also have been talking to my colleagues. I have conversations—
Chuck Todd: —I don't mean it about you. I'm talking about in general where's the urgency here in Washington and Congress? It just seems sort of blasé.
Senator Collins: Well I certainly feel a sense of urgency to get people back to work and government reopened. And I think many of my colleagues do. I think that we need to make this our first priority.
Chuck Todd: Do you think Mitch McConnell has done enough? He has made the decision he has said this is between the Democrats and the president and he has said he's not going to bring up any bills that he doesn't think the president will sign. Is he feel burned by the White House or do you think he should be more aggressive here and put some of these bills back on the floor?
Senator Collins: Well I can't speak for Senator McConnell, but I would like to see him bring the House-passed bills to the Senate floor. We could reopen much of government where there's no dispute over issues involving certain departments like Ag[riculture], Transportation, Housing, Interior. Let's get those reopened while the negotiations continue. But to be fair to Senator McConnell, the fact is that unless Chuck Schumer and Speaker Pelosi agree and the president agrees to sign a bill, we can pass bills but they won't become law. So that's why I understand the point that Senator McConnell is making about these important negotiations that are in fact ongoing.
Chuck Todd: There are yourself, Senator Gardner, Senator Tillis have all spoken out basically sharing a similar position: let's reopen the government and continue the debate. But you're the only three that have gone public on the Republican side of the aisle. Privately, how anxious are some of your colleagues?
Senator Collins: Well there have been others. Lamar Alexander did an excellent column in which he outlined three possible compromises to get government open. One you've talked about and we advanced last year when there was a briefer shutdown which was that we would have border security funded at $2.5 billion and we would give a path to citizenship for those Dreamers, those very young adults who are brought to this country through no decision of their own by their parents. That's a possible compromise on this issue, and I would note that 46 out of the 49 Democrats in the Senate voted for that compromise just last March.
Chuck Todd: We're now in our third shutdown since President Trump took office. It seems like there's chaos when policy decisions get announced: think Syria, this is the most recent example. When is enough enoughfor you. You've expressed displeasure in the past, but is it accumulating for you to the point where you're running out of patience?
Senator Collins: Government shutdowns are never good policy, and we’ve had them in the Obama Administration, we've had them in President Trump's Administration. We should always get the appropriations bills signed into law before the start of the fiscal year so that neither side can use the threat of a shutdown or the reality of a shutdown as a political weapon.
Chuck Todd: OK. But I guess what is your level of satisfaction with how the president is conducting himself in office? That's what I'm getting at. Are you losing patience with his conduct?
Senator Collins: Well I'm frustrated in this situation that we've gotten to this point where both sides appear to be intransigent. It is not a sign of weakness to try to figure out a middle ground, and I think that both sides need to indicate a willingness to listen and to compromise.
Senator Collins: You have said you intend to seek re-election in 2020, but that is not a firm announcement. What is going into your decision? Is it more professional and political or is it more personal?
Senator Collins: Well it's a combination of factors. I'm very proud of the service that I've given to the people of Maine and I'm getting ready to run, but frankly I just think it's too early to make that kind of decision. But I am getting prepared, and I'll make a final decision towards the end of this year. You know it used to be that we use the off year to actually legislate and left the politics to the election year. And that's what I would prefer to do.
Chuck Todd: Senator Collins, that's the last century these days. I hear you. I miss the odd year on policy and the even numbered years on politics.
Senator Collins: Exactly.
Chuck Todd: Anyway, Senator Collins, Happy New Year, and thanks for coming on and sharing your views. Much appreciate it.