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Rep. Jamie Raskin on the Democrats' role in negotiations over a shutdown


The U.S. federal government is just hours away from shutting down nonessential services. Congress has to approve a spending bill by midnight tonight, or more than 3 million employees will be furloughed or have to work without pay guarantees. Representative Jamie Raskin is a Democrat who represents Montgomery County, Md., which, of course, is home to many federal workers. Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

JAMIE RASKIN: My pleasure.

SIMON: And, first, let me just offer condolences on the death of your colleague over in the Senate, Dianne Feinstein.

RASKIN: Well, thank you. Yeah, everyone was rocked by that yesterday coming at an already-difficult time because of the shutdown news. And I was hoping it actually might change the mood over on the GOP side to the extent that people might focus on a solution but, so far, no luck on that.

SIMON: Friday, yesterday, you and a number of other Democrats voted with right-wing Republicans to oppose Speaker McCarthy's stopgap funding bill. Why, especially because, as we noted, you represent so many federal workers?

RASKIN: Well, this is an emergency situation. We had a deal with Speaker McCarthy back in May on how to avoid precisely this moment. As you know, there was - their last effort was to plunge us into an economic crisis in the country by defaulting on our debt. And so we foresaw that they would try and do the same thing here. And we made a deal with them, and we just want them to stick to the deal. Of course, the extreme MAGA element reporting to Donald Trump - they don't want any aid to Ukraine. They want now a 30% across the board cut in the budget, which is not what we agreed to. And they really do want to plunge the government into a crisis here. So it is an extreme MAGA faction that McCarthy has lost control over after appeasing them ever since he took over the speakership.

SIMON: I know Ukraine funding and border security that Democrats want and border security measures Republicans want. So you don't see this as a compromise you could accept until a full budget can be hammered out in a few weeks.

RASKIN: Well, right now there's a total agreement among the Republicans in the Senate, the Democrats in the Senate, the White House and the Democrats in the House. All of us agree on a clean, continuing resolution that will include 30 billion in disaster assistance for Americans who've gone through all of these climate catastrophes and then aid to the people of Ukraine. Everybody agrees to that except for a handful of rampaging MAGA extremists who really look like they're following Donald Trump's advice, which is to shut down the government in order to shut down his federal prosecutions. He really believes he won't be prosecuted if they plunge us into this nightmare.

SIMON: Back in May, during the debt ceiling crisis, some Democrats said that that just wasn't the time to take on the nation's $30 trillion debt. They said Congress ought to do that when it drafts the budget. Congress is now debating the budget. Are the Democrats serious about addressing debt?

RASKIN: Well, we absolutely are. And Biden has confronted the debt far more aggressively than Donald Trump ever did. What we're trying to get people to focus on right now is what this is going to mean in the lives of real people. We're talking about these - slashing funding for WIC. We're going to be affecting moms. We're going to be affecting kids. Slashing funding in the SNAP program - we're talking about cutting nutrition for millions of Americans. I spoke to a constituent yesterday from NIH who said - it was a doctor there who said, we're not going to be able to enroll new participants in clinical trials for critically needed medicine in cases of cancer, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia.

I talked to a constituent this morning who's the assistant director of gift shops at one of the Smithsonians, and she's a federal contractor, as tens of thousands of my constituents are. She said, we live paycheck to paycheck. We don't have a car. And her 19-year-old daughter is trying to save money to go to college. And so we're talking about real people's lives here. They're proceeding with impeachment of Biden for nothing at the same time that they're willing to throw all of my constituents to the wolves. It's just an outrageous situation.

SIMON: Congressman, in the 30 seconds we have left, Speaker McCarthy could lose his position as speaker if he can't drum up votes to get the support of people on the very right wing of his own party. Is that good for anybody? I mean, you wouldn't be working with someone who's more amenable to you; would you?

RASKIN: No. I mean, we're dealing with an absolute chaos faction, as one of our Republican colleagues described it this week. And we're lurching from crisis to crisis. And it's a terrible thing. But the Republicans right now have got to solve the problems that Republicans create. We'll do whatever we can to help, but they've got to stick to their deals.

SIMON: Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland. Thanks so much for being with us.

RASKIN: My pleasure. Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.