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Republican Rep. Tom Graves Discusses Tentative Border Security Compromise


After the government shutdown, a conference committee of 17 lawmakers got down to the work of hammering out a new agreement on border security. But in the end, it took just four of them - two Democrats and two Republicans - to find common ground. Already President Trump has said he's not thrilled with the deal that gives him less money than he's requested for a border fence. But Democrats gave ground in some areas as well, including dialing back an attempt to limit ICE detention space.

One member of the broader committee, Tom Graves, has expressed some skepticism. Graves is a Republican from Georgia. Today he tweeted he hadn't signed off on the deal or even seen it. I asked him what questions or concerns he'll have when the details of the deal are revealed.

TOM GRAVES: We as a conference committee have been fortunate enough to hear from the experts of - from Customs and Border Protection. We have heard their plea for assistance. We've seen the evidence and the facts that demonstrate - that back up what they've requested. So for me, it's, are we meeting those objectives? For example, are we providing the necessary barriers that they are requesting in the places they are requesting it at the levels that they are requesting without...

CORNISH: And you're referring to physical barriers along the border - for instance...

GRAVES: Exactly.

CORNISH: ...A wall or fence.

GRAVES: Exactly - and without restrictions. And then secondly, are we providing the resources they need for detention abilities, right? And we've heard a little debate over this over the weekend. And that is, there should not be a limitation to the number of criminals that we can detain at any time. There should not be a catch-and-release concept or...

CORNISH: And you're referring to the Democrats' previous demand to cap the number of internal ICE detainees that the government was holding.

GRAVES: That is one piece, yeah. That is one component. But we also have detention facilities, and we provide interior detention resources to local law enforcement. If we are limiting that in any way, then we're also - we're just handcuffing the hands of law enforcement instead of the bad guys. Those are things I'm looking for, and that globally brings us back to the question, are we providing a solution that creates a more safe homeland? And that's the answer I'm trying to find out.

CORNISH: Now, we read your tweet to fellow negotiator Democratic Representative Nita Lowey. Here's what she had to say.


NITA LOWEY: I have no idea what he's complaining about. And all I can say is, Senator Shelby, Senator Leahy, Congresswoman Granger and I got a great deal of input from our colleagues on the conference committee, and then we sat down and brokered the final deal, which I think does represent the way democracy works.

CORNISH: Can we get your response?

GRAVES: Sure. Look; Ms. Lowey's a fantastic person, very nice lady. We get along very well. I wouldn't characterize my tweet as a complaint or complaining. In fact, it was just saying, hey, based on what I have seen and read, I have concerns, and I have questions. And I think that's what we are expected as elected representatives to do - is to seek out the answers to questions we have from - for our constituency. And that is exactly why we're waiting for additional details to be fleshed out, you know? So on behalf of the rest of the House of Representatives and the Republicans, let me just say it's real hard for anyone to say yes to something they haven't had a chance to read nor see or have been asked to wait 24 hours before any details were released.

CORNISH: I want to talk alternatives for a second because the president has previously said he'd consider declaring a national emergency if Congress doesn't provide money specifically for the wall. Does this deal, as far as you know, block the president from shifting money from another program to pay for the wall?

GRAVES: I have not seen a detail yet that would let me know whether or not that does exist. It could possibly...

CORNISH: Would you support him - a declaration of national emergency?

GRAVES: You know, I've been very, you know, open about this. I think the president has a right and a obligation to have contingency plans in place, and I suspect he'll take the necessary steps that he sees fit over the next days as we move forward. But it's clear even in this proposal as it's come out it is not sufficient in his eyes as to what is needed and required for defending our southwestern border.

CORNISH: Is there a chance that you just won't sign this?

GRAVES: Clearly there - that is an option. If it's a step back, I can't support it obviously. If it's something that provides ample resources and - necessary, as we've been briefed on by the Customs and Border Patrol, then clearly it's something I could support. So I'm keeping a very open mind, but I think details are very, very important. And this is something that should be comprehensive, but it deserves a lot of scrutiny as we go forward.

CORNISH: Georgia Republican Congressman Tom Graves, thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

GRAVES: Thank you very much.

CORNISH: And you'll hear our interview with Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York elsewhere in today's show. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.