Remarks by the Vice President After a Meeting with Congressional Leadership on Border Security
Thank you all for coming out. We'll make a few brief remarks, and then happy to answer a few questions.
We just ended a very short meeting in the Situation Room. The President invited the Republican and Democrat leadership here to Capitol Hill because we are facing not only a partial government shutdown, but we are also facing a humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.
This past week, the President and I, and these leaders, met on two separate occasions. All those in the room directed staff to spend the entire weekend working over proposals. At the President's direction, we incorporated Democrat ideas and language in our proposal, and made an offer to resolve this impasse and address the crisis at our southern border.
And today, in this brief meeting, we heard once again that Democratic leaders are unwilling to even negotiate to resolve this partial government shutdown or address the crisis at our southern border. They demanded once again that, before any negotiations could begin, that we would have to agree to reopen the government.
And the President called the question in the meeting. He asked Speaker Pelosi that if he opened things up quickly — if he reopened the government quickly, would she be willing to agree to funding for a wall or a barrier on the southern border. And when she said no, the President said goodbye.
Now, I know there's millions of Americans — hundreds of thousands of federal workers that are as disappointed as we are that the Democrats are unwilling to engage in good faith negotiations.
Look, the American people know we face a serious humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border. And this President, our entire administration, working with these Republican leaders, is going to continue to drive forward to bring about the kind of reforms that will see to the safety and security of the American people.
But what the President made clear today is he is going to stand firm to achieve his priorities to build a wall — a steel barrier on the southern border — add additional personnel, additional resources, additional reforms to stem the crisis that we face on our southern border. And we're very grateful for these Republican leaders here and others that were gathered with us for their support.
HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER MCCARTHY: I want to clarify a few things as I just listened to Senator Schumer. I know he complained the time that you had cameras in the meeting. I think we need to bring them back. Because what he described the meeting to be was totally different than what took place.
When we entered the room, the President — again, calling all the leaders together to solve this problem; he even brought a little candy for everybody. He started off talking a little bit about wanting to get this solved — he even spoke last night, saying 45 minutes; he says, "But I think we can do it in 10."
"I want to turn the floor over," the President said, "to Speaker Pelosi and Schumer. Tell us what offer you have." Because we all had in our hands — from the weekend's work of the Vice President and every office had staff there, about where we were — the different offers, the increases in the work that you've done to secure this border.
So we turn to Speaker Pelosi. She began to argue whether we even have a crisis or whether facts are truth. Turn to Schumer again, who said, "We just have to open the government up." The President would go back and forth in a negotiation in a very respectful way. I saw Schumer continue to raise his voice. The President then turned to the Speaker and politely asked her, "Okay, Nancy, if we open the government up, in 30 days, could we have border security?" She raised her hand and said, "No, not at all." The President calmly said, "I guess you're still not wanting to deal with the problem."
The President wants to solve this problem. That's why he continues to bring us down. That's why he's put offers on the table. Not once have the Democrats offered anything back.
The entire time I've been in these meetings, they want to just argue so people can present a fact. They want to argue and debate whether what comes across the southern border.
People are hurting. And as I've said before, I will work with anyone that wants to move America forward, that wants to secure our border. This is the goal that everybody in that room — every Democrat said in that room they're for border security. But you ask me: What American believes border security does not have some form of a barrier? It's only the Democrats sitting in that room, have I ever found.
And the way they have displayed, and their behavior, is embarrassing to me. And the way to come out to this floor and talk about a meeting in a manner that did not take place in there is disturbing to me.
I want to solve this problem. People are hurting. So I tell the Democrats, "Get back into the room. Let's not leave. Let's solve this problem." Just as the President said, it doesn't even take 45 minutes. We're here and we want to work."
SENATOR THUNE: Well, Leader McCarthy, I think described it very accurately. We all came to this meeting. I heard the President say last night that this could be solved in 45 minutes. And I had hope, coming to this meeting today, that that's what was going to happen; that we were going to sit down and the Democrats were going negotiate in good faith, and we were going to come up with a resolution.
And they obviously had not moved an inch, and haven't moved an inch. And they've accused the President of not being willing to negotiate. But the President has been more than willing to negotiate.
He's had the Vice President here, the last two weekends, meeting with members, meeting with members of staff, trying to move the ball down the field and get us on a path where we can get a solution.
And the answer today to the President's question — and that is exactly how it was phrased — and that is that Speaker Pelosi, "If I were to open up the government today, 30 days from now would you support any funding for border security for a wall?" And she said, "No." And I think the President clearly interpreted that, as he rightly should have, as clear evidence the Democrats have no interest right now in trying to solve this problem. They clearly want the political issue.
REPRESENTATIVE SCALISE: Well, first of all, I thought the President was very calm in trying to continue to put different options on the table to solve this serious crisis at our border. Last night, he laid out some of the problems and challenges that we're facing as a country and how we can get a solution.
Today, what he did was start to offer some more ideas. And, look, our teams worked over the weekend. And we could talk about terms all day long, but as some point, the other side has to put a counteroffer on the table. "No" is not a valid answer if you're serious about solving this problem.
And so, as the President started off laying out not why he wants $5.7 billion, but why the experts who are tasked with securing our nation have said it's going to take $5.7 billion to secure the border and deal with this crisis, including building a wall — when Nancy Pelosi last week — her only answer was to jokingly say she'd support a dollar.
Now, the American people who are watching this shutdown, the families who are going to be missing paychecks this week, it's not fair to them to jokingly say, "You're going to willing to only offer a dollar to solve this problem when you haven't given any serious credible counteroffer?"
The President has laid out many different options. The President has even said he'll change the definition of a wall to work with Democrats. He'll move off of the number. He even sent the Vice President down, weeks ago, to offer a negotiation that would involve a lower number than what our national security experts have said. And not one single time have the Democrats offered a counter, other than to say "a dollar."
And so today, when the President — and, by the way, nobody slammed their hand on a table. To mischaracterize some of the things that happened in that meeting is not fair to this process. But at the same time, when the President looks at Nancy Pelosi and says, "If I give you another 30 days, will you be willing to support some funding for a wall to secure the border?" And she says, "No." Not "Well, maybe a little bit more than a dollar," not some serious counteroffer, but flat-out "no."
That's not an acceptable answer to a serious crisis at our border where we're seeing people dying, where we're seeing the drugs that are pouring in and the families all across this nation that are being touched in a very negative way by the drugs and the opioids; when you're going to see paychecks being missed. And there is a quick way to solve this problem, and not once have the Democrats offered a single counteroffer.
And the President has offered multiple times to negotiate in good faith, and the Democrats haven't given one counteroffer. That's not an acceptable answer. They need to come back to the table with some kind of serious, credible alternative.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You want to take this?
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Sure. Just quickly to add, I just — I think, on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, I'm just thoroughly disappointed. This is a crisis. It is a humanitarian crisis. It is a security crisis. And the reality is that walls work. Everywhere we have put up a wall, illegal immigration has been reduced 90 to 95 percent. Do you want to stop the smuggling between ports of entry? You need a wall. Do you want to stop the human misery that's pulled between the walls? You need a wall.
We have addressed the ports of entry. The Vice President worked all weekend, personally, with congressional staff. We came up with an offer that would secure the ports of entry by checking every single vehicle for drugs. But the criminals also come between ports of entry. It's not an "or"; it's an "and." We need security at the ports of entry and we need security between the ports of entry.
So I will let you take questions, sir. But this is a crisis. It's up to the United States Congress to do their job, to take the leadership that the Vice President and President are taking, and fix this on behalf of all Americans.
Q: Mr. Vice President —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Please. I can't hear you.
Q: Mr. Vice President, you said at the beginning that the President is standing firm on his demands for his border wall. How is that compromise, in this context?
And what are you going to say to — I mean, 800,000 federal workers are not getting their first paychecks this Friday; TSA workers, Secret Service agents — people whose job it is to protect people. What do you say to them this week as we're going into 20 days of a shutdown?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I'd say to every American that this President and this administration takes very seriously our solemn obligation to do what's necessary to protect the American people and uphold our laws.
The offer that we put at the President's direction, on the table — the offer that was in front of Democrat leaders again today in the Situation Room — represents a combination of approaches. Certainly there is the President's wall — a steel barrier on the southern border — that the President has put his number on the table. But we've added additional resources for personnel, additional reforms, humanitarian assistance, changes in our asylum laws, some of which was informed by our earlier discussions with Democrat leaders.
We've been working in good faith over the last three weeks to resolve not just this partial government shutdown, but to address what is an undeniable crisis at our southern border. Even the Washington Post called it a "bona fide emergency." We have 60,000 people a month being apprehended at our borders, and two-thirds of them are now families and unaccompanied minors. That's not a situation that our Border Patrol system was ever designed to deal with.
And so we need reforms, we need changes. We need a wall, a physical barrier. But what I think would have to be distressing to 800,000 federal workers and to tens of millions of Americans is the answer in all of this from the Democrats is, "We will not negotiate."
Q: How does it help, then, Mr. Vice President —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm sorry?
Q: How does it help that the President walked out of the room? How is that getting closer to a solution?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think the President made his position very clear today that there will be no deal without a wall. There will be no deal without the priorities the President has put on the table. But if you could look at the proposal that the President directed us to offer this weekend after spending two days with senior staff, two meetings with leadership, it reflects Democrat priorities as well.
But, frankly, as we continue to hear about the idea that Congress — and I know there'll be votes tomorrow — that the House will take up bills to open portions of the government, and the President literally called the question — he said, "If I opened up the government quickly, would you agree to border security and a wall?" The Speaker of the House said, "No." And at that point, I think the President thought there was no longer any reason to be talking at this meeting.
But as we said afterwards, and we had conversations with the leaders before they left, is we hope they will come back to the table.
I'd say to every American looking on who shares our frustration: Call your congressman. Call your senator. If you think the Democrats should be negotiating in good faith to resolve this partial government shutdown and to address the humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border, then you ought to call your congressman, call your senator, and tell them, "Come back to the table."
And I will tell you, the door here at the White House is wide open. We're ready to sit down with these leaders and with Democratic leaders and resolve this issue.
Q: My question to you is that Democrats said that the President was slamming his hands on the table, and then he walked out. Could you talk a little bit about — could you just categorize what the President did in the meeting? And also, are we any closer then, do you think, to having a national emergency declared if the meetings are going like this and they're so contentious?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the President walked into the room and passed out candy.
REPRESENTATIVE SCALISE: (Laughs.) That's true.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's true.
HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER MCCARTHY: He never raised his voice.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But I don't — I don't recall him ever raising his voice or slamming his hand.
But this is a President who feels very strongly about his commitment to see to the security of the American people. He brought the whole issue of illegal immigration to the center of the national debate when he sought this office. And we actually saw a decline in illegal immigration at our southern border in our first year in office.
But the reality is, because of the lack of reforms, because of the lack of a wall, because of the loopholes in our laws today, we are now seeing a precipitous rise in families and unaccompanied children being driven by human traffickers and cartels — individuals who are exploiting vulnerable families, encouraging them to make the long and dangerous journey up the peninsula.
And you could hear the President say this is a crisis of heart and soul, and he feels this passionately. And he left the room today because Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that even if he gave her what she wanted, she would never agree to the border security priorities that we have on the table, and that was unacceptable.
Please. Right here.
Q: Mr. Vice President, is the President now closer to declaring a national emergency? Will he do it?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I know the — the President has made it clear that he's looking at that. He believes that he has the authority to do it.
Q: It seems like it's deadlocked.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But I think the President's — the President's belief — and I know it's the belief of these Republican leaders as well — is that Congress should just do their job.
Hey, look, politics is the art of the possible. I served in the Congress for 12 years. I remember times when there were strong feelings on emotions. But eventually, leaders came together, sat down with Presidents, oftentimes in opposite political parties. They heard each other's priorities, they negotiated agreement, and they moved forward. That's what the American people expect us to do today.
But when the Speaker of the House comes to the table with the leader of the Democrats in the Senate — after we've made days of good-faith negotiations with an offer on the table — and they're only answer is they will not negotiate until we reopen the government; and when the President says, "Well, if I gave you exactly what you're asking for, would you agree to border security and a wall," and they say, "No" — I think the American people deserve better. I think these leaders know the American people deserve better.
And I can promise the American people: This President, and Republicans in the House and the Senate, are going to continue to stand firm until we get the resources and the reforms necessary to end the humanitarian crisis on our southern border, to end the security crisis on our southern border. Then, and only then, will we end this partial government shutdown.
Mike Pence, Remarks by the Vice President After a Meeting with Congressional Leadership on Border Security Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/336319