Transcript: OMB Director Mick Mulvaney on "Face the Nation," Jan. 21, 2018

OMB Director Mulvaney

Republicans and Democrats are exchanging charges of blame for the first government shutdown since 2013 as lawmakers return to the Capitol Sunday to try to hash out a deal over spending and immigration.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has been a key player in the negotiations over a possible deal, meeting with lawmakers on Saturday in an attempt to reach an agreement. As head of the Office of Management and Budget, Mulvaney is responsible for managing federal agencies' shutdown procedures until Congress and the administration reach an agreement.

Mulvaney joined us Sunday to discuss the shutdown, its effects on the military and federal employees and what a possible solution might look like.

The following is a transcript of the interview with Mulvaney that aired Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  


JOHN DICKERSON: We turn now to White House budget director Mick Mulvaney to discuss where the administration stands in this impasse. Welcome, Mr. Director.

MICK MULVANEY: John, it's a pleasure to be here on your last show. Congratulations on the new gig.

JOHN DICKERSON: Thank you. The president said this shutdown would be a present for him. His son Eric Trump said this is good for- good for the- the administration. Why is it good for the administration?

MICK MULVANEY: I don't think it's good for the administration. I think the present comment is correct in that I think one of the reasons you asked Mr. Ryan one of the questions about why we are doing this, why- why are we here right now? And I think part of the reason is that this is the first anniversary of the president's inauguration. And I think the left wing of the- of the Democrat party is extraordinarily disappointed with how the first year has gone because the president's had a good many successes. The tax bill, the success in the- in the stock markets, the advances that we've had in employment, the economy, and so forth. And I think one of the reasons you're seeing the Democrats pick this fight right now and the reason that it is different than it has been in the past is because here we are on the first anniversary. Should be talking about the successes. And instead we're talking about a shutdown.

JOHN DICKERSON: But why is it considered a present though? And why is it good? And you even said it was cool to shut down the government. People are on the one hand being told this is a great disaster for military families and all that. And then these other signals are being sent.

MICK MULVANEY: Yeah. Well, my comment was that I just thought it was interesting from an academic standpoint that after all I've been through in Washington, D.C. to learn on Fridayafternoon that the person who actually physically sends the instructions to sort of shut the government down, to go through the lapse in appropriations is the director of the Office of Management and Budget, which is me. Didn't mean that I liked it. I think the administration has been very straightforward from the beginning. We do not want this shutdown. That's why you've seen the president work so hard and why we're so frustrated that Senate Democrats can't seem to figure out a way to get to yes.

JOHN DICKERSON: Here - I'm confused about this military thing. Here is what Congressman Mulvaney said in 2013 during the last shutdown about - about it. You said in fact about 75% of the government is open for business. And so you said back then, "In the meantime you should know that our troops are still being paid and Social Security checks are still going out." So why was it true in 2013 when you said the troops are still being paid and not true now?

MICK MULVANEY: A couple different things. First of all, Social Security checks do go out and will go out. Social Security is not impacted by any government shutdown because the money is mandatory and not appropriated. On the military, here's how it works. And I have a much greater understanding of a shutdown now that I'm the O.M.B. director. They will go to work. They do go to work. Folks who are in military overseas, folks here at home will go to work. They just don't automatically get paid. What has to happen is Congress has to go back after the shutdown is over and vote to pay them for the time during the furlough.

JOHN DICKERSON: Claire McCaskill, a senator - a Democratic senator, brought up a vote to pay them while the shutdown was going on. That vote - Mitch McConnell didn't bring that up for vote. Why wouldn't the White House, the executive branch do everything they can to take care of the troops while this is being adjudicated?

MICK MULVANEY: A couple different things on that. Yeah, I understand several of those unanimous consent requests came up in the Senate on both sides. For example, I think Mitch McConnell also brought up the unanimous consent request to take a vote today before 1:00 in the morning tomorrow morning. And that was objected to. I think when you get to those unanimous consent requests those are procedural votes. And it goes to the sort of the dynamic flow in the Senate. But as to the impact of the shutdown on people, the president made it very clear to me Friday night. We talked late Friday right before the lapse came into place. And he said, "Look, I want you to do everything you can to make sure this impacts as few people as possible." We are going to run and are running the shutdown very differently now than the Obama administration ran it in 2013. You cannot convince me that the Obama administration did not weaponize this for political purposes. The president has told me, "Make sure as many people can go to work on Monday as they can. Make sure you use every tool legally available to you to keep as much of the government open." And that's what we'll do.

JOHN DICKERSON: Because people are saying that's what the administration Republicans are doing. That word you use, weaponized, which is essentially saying things about the military that are not true in order to put political pressure on Democrats.

MICK MULVANEY: Let's be perfectly clear on the military. The same is true for the military folks. The same is true for the folks guarding the southern border, the folks fighting fires. They have to go to work. They will go to work. They will be continuing to guard the country and do the necessary and important work that they're doing. But they have no guarantee of getting paid. And that's not right.

JOHN DICKERSON: But they will get paid at some point.

MICK MULVANEY: Traditionally every single time in a shutdown Congress has voted to go and pay them retroactively. And we support that.

JOHN DICKERSON: And do you have any doubt that they will not be paid?

MICK MULVANEY: Uh no, I absolutely believe - Well, I'll can tell you. Congress -  I never thought we'd get to this because, again, you asked Mr. Ryan a question, "What's different?" This bill would have passed in a previous Congress. This bill is something that the Senate Democrats are opposing but they don't oppose. And that's - that's new. That's - that's a strange new world in Washington politics.

JOHN DICKERSON: I want to get your views on what I was talking about with the speaker, which is the larger kind of atmosphere and talk about immigration here. The attorney general said this this week. "What good does it do to bring in somebody who is illiterate in their own country, has no skills, and is going to struggle in our new country and not be successful?" In 2015 Dave Weigel, who was then with Bloomberg, interviewed you.

And you said, "I've heard a lot of arguments about unskilled labor. But if that were the case, my family would not have gotten in here from Ireland. They were unskilled workers, and they helped build this country. It's not quite xenophobia," you said, "but it's moving that way." Are we moving toward xenophobia in the way this is being talked about?

MICK MULVANEY: I think what we're moving towards is a recognition that the immigration system of the 21st century in the United States needs to be different than it was in the 19th century when my family came here. Every other developed nation now has a system where you have to show merit. You have to show that you're going to contribute to the economy. In fact, even if you go back to the 19th century when my folks came in and I think yours did as well, they had to have a certificate that said they would not be wards of the state. And I think that's what we're trying to get back to. The point where we want folks who will contribute to the economy. That's why we want to move away from chain migration and over towards a merit-based system.

JOHN DICKERSON: But when you said this in 2015 it wasn't the 19th century. So you were making a claim about the tenor of things. And some people are worried that things have ended up right exactly as you predicted in 2015, with a message of xenophobia rather than a traditionally welcoming American message.

MICK MULVANEY: We are interested in folks coming into this country who can contribute. I don't think that ever qualifies as xenophobia.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Mr. Director. Thank you so much for being with us. We're out of time. We'll be back in a minute with the number two Senate Democrat, Richard Durbin.