Transcript: Sen. Dick Durbin on "Face the Nation," January 6, 2019

The following is a transcript of the interview with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois that aired Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We begin today with Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin who is in Springfield, Illinois. Senator Durbin is among a group of senators talking to the White House about how to end this shutdown. Senator, welcome to "Face the Nation." The president said this morning that he is considering declaring a national emergency depending on what happens in the next few days. If he tries to build this wall without congressional approval, what will Senate Democrats do?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Well, I can tell you first there is no requirement that this government be shut down while we deliver- deliberate the future of any barrier whether it's a fence or a wall. This is the first president in history who shut down his own government. Unfortunately there are going to be people to suffer. Look at those at the airport who were carefully going through the passengers to make sure that they're safe on airplanes. As of next Friday, they'll miss a pay day. That may mean some problems for mortgage payments, problems of balancing the budget of their own families and households. This is totally unnecessary and that's the point we've made over and over to this president. Let's have this debate, on the future of any barrier, wall or border security but not at the expense of critical services for America.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the president says he could bypass Congress by declaring this national emergency. So what would you do if he- he went that route?

SEN. DURBIN: I could just tell you, I don't know what he's basing this on, but he's faced so many lawsuits when he ignores the law and ignores tradition and precedent and just goes forward without any concern. He'll face a challenge, I'm sure, if he's oversteps what the law requires when it comes to his responsibility as commander in chief.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We described in your introduction your attempts in the past to broker agreements, you- you've tried to be a dealmaker. You were in the room with the president on Friday. Did you hear any points of agreement?

SEN. DURBIN: Well of- of course there was an agreement to continue the conversation. But what we've said is open the government and let's have a fulsome debate and deliberation. This gun at our head approach with closing down the government is the thing we most oppose, and we wish incidentally that the Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell would step up and be part of this conversation. He's said that he's going to stand on the sidelines and wait for instructions from the president. He is part of a branch of government and a leader in the Senate. He should be a participant in this conversation from the start. As of last night, three Republican senators have said they don't like this approach of shutting down the government and they're talking about joining in a bipartisan effort to end it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So from what you're describing, it doesn't sound like there is any progress. How close are we to ending the shutdown?

SEN. DURBIN: Well I can't say that we're close because the president has made it clear he doesn't care. He's prepared to see a shutdown for months and even said years and reaffirmed that before the cameras. It was stunning to hear a President of the United States say that about his own government - a government we elected him to lead, but that is his position. Think about the hundreds of thousands of people who will be entitled to income tax refund checks who won't receive them because the Treasury Department has been shut down. The Internal Revenue Service is shut down. The unfortunate and- and unfair results here are just across the board.

MARGARET BRENNAN: According to the White House though, you know, this centers on what they see as some hypocrisy among Democrats. Right. They point to in 2006 there were about 90 Democrats who did sign on to a Secure Fencing Act that talked about barriers and reinforced fencing at borders. Their argument is if you agree to it then why can't you agree to something similar now. What- what is your response to that?

SEN. DURBIN: Well I would just say, do you remember the president's words? How could you forget? A concrete wall two thousand miles long from sea to shining sea paid for by the Mexicans. How many times did he say that to the American people? That is not what any of us have ever voted for in the past. What we talked about--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well he now says it doesn't have to be concrete --

SEN. DURBIN: --are those fences and barriers. Well he's changed- he's changed his demand from time to time and he's changed the amount of money he's asking for dramatically from 2 billion to 5 billion to 11 billion to 25 billion even to 70 billion dollars. And when we asked for specifics, how are you going to spend this money? What are you going to do with it? He basically says we'll shut down the government till you agree on it. That is not an approach that comes up with a safe border which Democrats certainly want.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Have you seen the more specific financial requests that the White House says they were giving to Democrats?

SEN. DURBIN: No. As a matter of fact the meeting yesterday between Vice President Pence and the staff they agreed that today they would produce - finally - produce documentation backing up what the president's latest demand might be. But Vice President Pence said at one point a few weeks ago, two billion will do it. Two point one. And then within a matter of hours the president reversed and said no it has to be five point six. That's what we're up against. There doesn't seem to be a consistent message and it- it doesn't seem to be a message consistent with border security. If we're talking about border security, the overwhelming number of undocumented people in the United States overstayed visas. They did not cross the border. The solution to that is not a concrete wall. It's a computer program that needs to track these people who have received the visas and this wall, incidentally, when you have people coming to the border looking for a border official to present themselves and to make their claim for asylum or refugee status. This wall is no deterrent.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It sounds like you're saying you would be open to more border funding if it were spent in a different way. Could you get to that five billion dollar number?

SEN. DURBIN: I don't see that. But I will tell you we've offered one point three billion with very specific limits which would not include a concrete wall. The president could have taken this long ago and we could have moved forward, but he's said no I'm going to shut down my own government. That's what he's done.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There has been speculation and- and- and our next guest, Senator Lindsey Graham, has proposed this idea of a wall for DACA - a sort of trade here. The president stood in the Rose Garden the other day and said he wants to wait until the Supreme Court rules on DACA before he comes to any kind of proposal here. Do you agree that we need to wait on the courts there and is there any room for that kind of swap that kind of deal?

SEN. DICK DURBIN: Listen, Senator Graham and I could not be more different politically. He's a conservative Republican from South Carolina. I'm a progressive Democrat from Illinois, but we've teamed up time and time again to try to solve this problem. And a year ago - a year ago - we presented to the president on January the 11th 2018, I do remember the day, a bipartisan proposal to deal with DACA and many other aspects of the reform and the president rejected it. He said I'll go with my approach. His approach ended up with 39 votes in the United States Senate. It wasn't even accepted by his own party unanimously. So we're in a position now where when the president makes these claims and promises a lot of us I hope, I can speak for Senator Graham, are a little bit skeptical.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well thank you very much Senator.