The legislation would reduce mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses and largely ban solitary confinement for juveniles.
As the U.S. heads toward a partial government shutdown, U.S. Senator Angus King of Maine joins Here & Now for an update from Capitol Hill.
King, an Independent, says a small group of Republicans is holding the United States government hostage in order to achieve policy goals.
“It’s a segment of a segment that’s really controlling this thing,” King told Here & Now. “I mean, we look like a Third World country. It’s positively embarrassing.”
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
So those are some of the potential impacts of a government shutdown. Let's talk to a congress member who's actually at the center of this. Senator Angus King, he's an independent from the state of Maine, he caucuses with Democrats. Senator, welcome, and let me start by asking you, as the Senate convenes today, is there any chance at all that Senate Democrats could blink?
SENATOR ANGUS KING: I think it's unlikely although possible. It's very difficult. I think it's important that it be clear that the Democrats - and myself, I said this on the floor the other day - are perfectly willing to talk about improving and modifying the Affordable Care Act but not at the point of a gun. There's an issue here that I think goes beyond the particular issue that we're talking about, and that is do we want to get into a habit or establish a precedent around here that we use the whole government as a hostage in order to achieve some kind of policy goal.
CHAKRABARTI: Well Senator King, I mean, there are many out there who would say that it takes two to play this game of brinksmanship. I mean, a group of House conservatives gathered on the Senate side of Capitol Hill just on Sunday to call their Senate colleagues back to work, which didn't happen on Sunday. I mean, Harry Reid did not do that, and Republican Representative Tim Griffin of Arkansas said, quote, "this an old football strategy: when you get to where you want to be in a football game, you run out the clock." I mean, is that what's happening here?
KING: No, I don't think so. I mean, the fundamental question is do we want to establish a precedent that we're going to negotiate about policy under the threat of a government shutdown or the threat of destroying the full faith and credit of the United States. And, you know, Republicans need to think twice about this. What happens if five, six, seven years from now we have a Republican president, a Republican Senate and House and a minority of Democrats in the House say we won't pass a continuing resolution unless you put Obamacare back or something.
CHAKRABARTI: Are you saying that...
KING: I mean, it's just not a good way to govern.
CHAKRABARTI: Do you think that the Democratic caucus would even entertain that in the future? Do you think that this is setting that much of a precedent?
KING: Well, the precedent is that these folks are trying to use the funding of the government as leverage to achieve a policy goal that really isn't related to the funding of the government. They're trying to effectively repeal a bill that was passed three years ago by both houses of Congress, signed by the president, approved by the Supreme Court.
And whatever it is, whether the bill involved something entirely separately, highway funding or something, it isn't a way to govern. And I think if John Boehner brought this clean continuing resolution to the floor without anything about the Affordable Care Act or other kind of extraneous policy things, it would probably pass. But it's the segment of a segment that's really controlling this thing. And, I mean, we look like a third world country. It's positively embarrassing.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, Senator King, are there any possible points of negotiation you see that could move forward today?
KING: Well probably not. Two things make the negotiations difficult. One is the principle of negotiating in this kind of hostage situation, and the second is that the Republicans in the House have gotten themselves into a place where it's very difficult for them to back off. They're caught.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, Senator King, the last time the government shut down was 17 years ago, but even more recently we went through a debt ceiling crisis, and that's the next thing that's coming up in the very near future. I mean, do you see - do you have any hope that we might be able to avoid this same brinksmanship or hostage-taking, as you've been saying, over the debt ceiling?
KING: Well, we don't have to speculate about the effect of a debt ceiling fight. If you look back to August of 2011, there was a dramatic, noticeable and measurable impact on the economy, and it wasn't good. But there's a deeper problem here. A lot of these folks, Meghna, hate government. They don't want government to work. A government shutdown, a meltdown of the economy that they can blame on the government is success for them. I mean, that's what makes this such a dangerous situation.
This is unprecedented. We've never had a situation where people for ideological reasons based upon legislation not involving the budget have threatened to shut down or destroy the credit of the United States. Hell, we paid our bills when Washington was burning in the War of 1812.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, Senator King, as you know, last week Republicans laid out a list of demands in exchange for raising the debt limit, including a delay of the Affordable Care Act and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, amongst others. President Obama says he's not going to use the full faith and credit of the United States as a bargaining chip and would not negotiate over it.
But what I want to ask you is this: You took this seat that was once held by moderate Republican Olympia Snowe, and as we know she left Congress because of the hyper-partisan divide there. And I know that you went to the Senate in part as - as an independent who could potentially be a bridge-builder.
So here's what I want to ask you. There was a CNN International poll that was put out today, and in that poll 69 percent of people said that Republicans in Congress were acting like spoiled children, but 58 percent of people also said the same thing of Democrats. So, I mean, it's the American people who are really going to suffer the effects of whatever decisions are made in Washington.
KING: I'm in something of a dilemma here because my instinct is to try to find common ground. But I'm afraid if we find common ground in this or find a compromise I think is a better term, in this situation what you're really doing is enabling people to do this again and again and again.
I mean, I keep using the term, but it's a commonplace observation in dealing with people who hold hostages is that you don't negotiate with them because all it does is encourage it to happen another time. And that's what really bothers me about this situation. I just don't think that's any way to govern.
CHAKRABARTI: Senator Angus King of Maine, thank you so much, Senator.
KING: Thank you, Meghna, glad to talk.
CHAKRABARTI: We're back in a minute, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.