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Sen. Warner Introduces Measure To Prohibit Government Shutdowns


How should the United States avoid another partial government shutdown? President Trump gave in last week, ending a shutdown without funding that he had demanded for a border wall. He says he is willing to shut it down again in three weeks if negotiations fail. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said Trump will not get his demand saying, quote, "have I not been clear on the wall?" White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is urging federal workers to beg Democrats to concede.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: My advice would be to call your Democrat members of Congress and ask them to fix the problem so that we don't have to continue having this process and so that we actually secure the border and protect American citizens.

INSKEEP: Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, represents many federal workers, and he's on the line.

Senator, welcome back to the program.

MARK WARNER: Steve, thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Are your constituents who are federal workers calling you?

WARNER: No, my constituents are just fed up - 35 days of inflicted harm, many folks having huge amount of bills. Many of our contractors will have no back pay at all. And then if we think about the private businesses, whether it's the food trucks around the Smithsonian or the restaurants around our national battlefields, they get no back pay as well. So we have to find a way to put an end to this. I've actually got some legislation - took us a while to come up with the acronym but is Stop the STUPIDITY Act (ph). And it basically says this.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

WARNER: I know. And it took some time to figure out how to get the acronym STUPIDITY out of this.


WARNER: But we figured it out. But the - basically, it's about as simple as you can imagine. It says, if there is an impasse, continue to fund the government at its existing level - so no win for either side. The only two parts of the government that would not be funded, the Congress and the White House would have to come to agreement on, is the legislative branch and the Office of the White House. So if there's going to be pain it ought to be the pain inflicted on the folks who are not doing the job - the legislators and the office of the White House.

INSKEEP: OK, understood. I would imagine that legislation is not likely to become law before mid-February, when this next deadline is. Is it up to your party to avoid a shutdown as the White House spokesperson suggests?

WARNER: Absolutely not. It's up to both parties to negotiate in good faith. This has not been - what we've not seen, unfortunately, from Mr. Trump is any willingness to negotiate in good faith. We have seen...

INSKEEP: Can you just say no to a wall on your side?

WARNER: No. Listen. I've said repeatedly that increased border security, even if some of that means a barrier, but it ought to be based upon the experts who know how to spend funds at the border, not simply some arbitrary number picked by the president.

INSKEEP: Senator Warner, I want to ask about something else because many people will know you're the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. You've got a technology background. You follow technology issues. And there was a tech indictment - a couple of indictments yesterday announced by the Justice Department against Huawei - giant Chinese telecommunications firm, does business around the world. And it is accused of stealing trade secrets from American companies, among other things. I want to note that the United States has also been pressing its allies around the world not to adopt Huawei technology, not to fold it into their networks. Is Huawei a serious national security threat to the United States?

WARNER: I believe Huawei is a serious national security threat. I can't speak to the component parts of the indictment. But as we move from our existing telecommunication system into next generation, which is in fact called 5G, what you've seen is not only America - you've seen Australia, New Zealand, the British, increasingly other allies - say this is vulnerable equipment that, frankly, has so much influence from the Chinese government that if you install it, our networks could be compromised.

INSKEEP: Let's just be frank about what you mean by compromised. Your fear is that the Chinese government, with its influence over this company, might get it to put backdoors in technologies so they can read emails, listen to phone calls, gather whatever information they would like to from networks around the world.

WARNER: Those are your words, Steve, not mine. But I would say that the consensus view of the intelligence communities of not just our nation but our closest allies indicate that this equipment could provide a vulnerability. And I hope people around the world would think twice before installing this equipment. And that's - I think our intelligence community's reached the right conclusion. The specifics of this indictment that's been made, I can't speak to. I'm not that familiar with that. But I do know we have tried to enlighten, at least, as many potential vendors and purchasers as possible.

INSKEEP: Senator, always a pleasure speaking with you. Thanks so much.

WARNER: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia.

Now, NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe has been listening along with us. Ayesha, good morning.


INSKEEP: What do you hear there?

RASCOE: Well, on the issue of Huawei, they were asked about - the White House was asked about this yesterday. And they wanted to make clear that this doesn't have anything to do with the China trade talks and that the actions that they are taking are because of these concerns and that they're totally separate from that.

SANDERS: Oh, they don't want this to seem like it's gamesmanship or putting pressure on the Chinese on that issue. But they want - they say there's a serious national security concern.


INSKEEP: And then there is the matter of the shutdown. Is this matter moving toward another crisis?

RASCOE: The White House, yesterday, was basically saying - as you pointed out, they're putting it on the Democrats. But they're not ruling out a shutdown. Sarah Sanders was asked specifically about a bill, like Senator Warner talked about, that wouldn't allow shutdowns. And what she said is she hasn't seen any legislation yet, and she didn't want to get into hypotheticals. But she also wouldn't say that there wouldn't be another shutdown. She said the president doesn't want one but basically said Democrats need to come to the table.

INSKEEP: Republicans in Congress seemed to have signaled pretty clearly the shutdown didn't work for them. It was a disaster. Are people in the White House insisting it still could work for them?

RASCOE: It doesn't - I don't think they're saying that it could work for them. But they're not taking it off the table. But that is the issue that they will face, is that a lot of Republicans do not want another shutdown. And so they would need that support if they were going to go that route.

INSKEEP: Ayesha, thanks very much - really appreciate it.

RASCOE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.