Transcript: Sen. Richard Shelby on "Face the Nation," December 30, 2018

Shelby: Shutdown "could last a long, long time"

The following is a transcript of the interview with Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama that aired Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: Joining us now from Tuscaloosa, Alabama is Republican Senator Richard Shelby. He's one of the most powerful groups in Congress. He runs the Appropriations Committee. Senator Shelby and his fellow members control government spending. Senator, welcome to "Face the Nation."

SENATOR RICHARD SHELBY: Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sir, 47 percent of Americans blame the president for the shutdown, 33 percent blame Democrats, according to the latest Reuters poll. Where do negotiations stand?

SEN. SHELBY: Our negotiations are at an impasse at the moment. I wish it were not so. But we've got to move away from the blame game. Blaming the president, blaming the Democrats, Pelosi and Schumer and others, and get back to doing what we're sent there to do, to fund the government. That's been my mandate. That's what we've been working hard this year in a bipartisan way on the Appropriations Committee. Senator Leahy, the senator from Vermont, he is the ranking Democrat on the committee. I believe if people would help us along, would do what we did with the 75 percent that we've funded to the government. Fund it all, the sooner the better.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Have you spoken with the president or the White House since the shutdown began last Saturday?

SEN. SHELBY: I had lunch with the president and the vice president last Saturday and we talked at length about it, how to bring it to a close. How to fund the government. And the president made some proposals through the vice president. I made some proposals to Senator Schumer, the night before. But right now we're at a standoff, and I think that's not good for the Senate, the House, or America. We can do better and we've got to figure out a way, Margaret, to get to yes. If we blame each other this could last a long, long time.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why is the Democrats' offer to continue current levels of $1.3 billion in border security, why is that not enough?

SEN. SHELBY: Well the president wants more. He's- I tried to work a deal earlier on where he would get two and a half billion this year and two and a half next year, try to have a compromise that didn't work out. I do believe that the president would like to work to get to yes. I think Senator Schumer, who I worked with for years, would like to fund the government. It's a question when do we get off the blame game and we get to serious negotiations. At the end of the day, all of this will end. We don't know when, in negotiations. It's not a question of who wins or loses. Nobody's gonna win this kind of game. Nobody wins in a shutdown. We all lose and we kind of look silly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president set off some tweets this weekend specifically blaming Democrats for the deaths of children or others at the border. He said they're "strictly the fault of the Democrats." Do you agree with the president and what is language like that do to the negotiation you say you're trying to get going?

SEN. SHELBY: Well, whether it's the president tweeting and blaming somebody or blaming the Democrats or whether it's the Democrats blaming the president. It's brought us to the impasse that we are today. I found out long ago working in the Senate on the Appropriations Committee, that we've got to find out what do the Democrats really want here. When do they want it. And can we work with them to at least meet them halfway. I believe the president does not want a shutdown. I think we- he wants to secure the borders which he should and we should help him do that. But there are a lot of ways to do it. Sometimes names get in the way of good work.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do I understand you saying there that you disagree with the president that Democrats aren't to blame for the deaths of these children?

SEN. SHELBY: No, I didn't say that. I didn't say that at all.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who is to blame?

SEN. SHELBY: I said that the blame game- I didn't say, ma'am. I just said that if we're going to blame each other Democrats are going to blame Trump for this. And Trump's going to blame the Democrats for this. We're getting nowhere. What we're trying to do is try to work to yes to fund the government to do our job to get on to bigger things.

MARGARET BRENNAN: House Democrats take control January 3, this Thursday. They say they're going to reopen the government or try to do so. Will Senate Republicans send any kind of bill to the president's desk that does not include border wall funding?

SEN. SHELBY: I think Senator McConnell our leader has already addressed that. That said that he would not even take up the bill until he found some compromise that the president would agree to sign. So we're going to be at an impasse. That would be probably an empty gesture, but that goes on in Washington every day.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly recently gave an interview to the L.A. Times. He said a number of things including that it's not a border wall that the president's asking for, but he also said that if you actually want to stop illegal immigration you need to "stop U.S. demand for drugs and expand economic opportunity in Central America." That seems to contradict what the president said he might do, which is cut off aid to some of those impoverished countries that migrants are coming from. Do you agree with the president? Would Congress even consider cutting off this kind of aid as he's threatening to do?

SEN. SHELBY: Well I don't know yet. The president speaks for himself and he does speak for a lot of the nation because he is the president. But my goal is to secure the borders. We have- we're one of the great nations of the world that don't secure the borders. Democrats and Republicans have worked together toward that end before, it's going to take us working together to get it done. And that's what I want to do as chairman of the Appropriations Committee to reach out to the Democrats, get the president on board get the Democrats on board and let's move on and quit fighting and quit blaming each other.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But do you see room for giving Democrats something they're asking for and that in the past the president said he supported, which is an offer that would include something like protections for so-called Dreamers?

SEN. SHELBY: I think that- that probably will be discussed and other things too. I think to work  an agreement in politics, after January the third when the Democrats take control of the House, the political equation will change. You'll have a Democratic House, a Republican president and a Republican Senate. So we're gonna have to negotiate. I think that we ought to see what do the Democrats really want. Can we do it? And can we reach there and we've got to show them what we want is to secure the borders.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sir I know you spent a long time on the Banking Committee, and so I want to ask you, because this government shutdown is weighing on the financial markets along with some unusual comments from the treasury secretary about the health of the credit markets. You also had the president publicly criticizing the chairman of the Federal Reserve. Can you reassure Wall Street when it opens tomorrow that there's not a reason to be concerned?

SEN. SHELBY: Well we're all concerned about the economy. The economy's been very good. It's- it's probably the best economy I've seen in years and years if not my lifetime. But the Federal Reserve is the back bone, is the bedrock of our financial system. It's set up to be independent. I don't believe blaming the Federal Reserve for this or that, whoever the president or a congressman or senator is, helps matters. The president cannot fire the chairman of the Federal Reserve except for cause. I think Chairman Powell, myself, is doing a good job.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right Senator Shelby thank you for joining us. And you've got some work cut out for you.

SEN. SHELBY: Thank you.