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Senator Lankford Discusses Solutions to Prevent Government Shutdowns

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks on the floor.

WASHINGTON, DC — Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor about the impact of the federal government shutdown on Oklahomans, his suggestions for moving the negotiations forward, and his solutions to prevent or end government shutdown by holding congressional and White House leadership accountable, rather than federal employees in the event of a government shutdown.

Lankford has consistently worked to appropriately fund the government and provide border security. Lankford also served on the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform, where he worked to further develop the reforms to which he refers in the speech. He recently released an episode of his podcast, The Breakdown with James Lankford, to discuss some of his ideas for federal spending reform.


On fencing along the border

(Starts at 3:39): We should be able to do basic border security. This used to not be a partisan issue. It was just a decade ago that this body voted to add 650 miles of additional fencing along the border between Mexico and the United States because at that time a decade ago, this body said it is a serious issue with border security. We should add fencing to the border. And outspoken liberals like Senator Clinton and Senator Obama voted to add fencing to the border in 2006 and said, ‘That is the right thing to do.’ But suddenly now, a decade and a couple of years later, it is a partisan issue, and we can’t allow President Trump to have additional fencing. It seems very odd to me.

On the White House’s offer to Senator Schumer

(Starts at 4:52): To negotiate during the Christmas time period and to be stuck because the White House makes an offer to Senator Schumer and Senator Schumer’s response apparently was. ‘We will wait to negotiate this after Nancy Pelosi becomes Speaker.’ So, for 10 days we sat with no negotiations going because we had to wait until there was a Speaker Pelosi. And now Speaker Pelosi steps up and says, ‘We’re going to do nothing on this.’ And the President says, ‘No, we need to do something.’ And suddenly something that the American people saw as obvious, why wouldn’t we do basic things for border security has suddenly become political and controversial.

On solutions to secure the southern border

(Starts at 5:36): The President even in his speaking earlier this week from the oval office started by saying, ‘We should do additional technology at the border.’ I fully agree. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security just in the last two years has added 31 new fixed surveillance unit towers to the southern border, has added 50 mobile surveillance systems to the border, and has added ground sensors and tunnel detection capabilities to the southern border. Those are all technology aspects of helping the southern border. The President stepped up and said. ‘We need to do more in that area.’ He said, ‘We need to add additional agents,’ which has not been a partisan issue in the past. We need to add immigration judges, which has not been controversial. We have 800,000 people waiting in immigration courts to get due process right now. Many of them will wait three years or more just to get to a court. It’s because we have too few judges handling the many immigration cases that are out there. This should be a commonsense issue to say let’s add additional judges so people can get to due process faster. But suddenly that’s become controversial. And the President said, ‘We need to add a steel barrier.’ Now, I’m fully aware he’s talked about ‘wall’ in the past, and he said ‘wall, wall, wall’ over and over. And some people have this picture that it’s going to be the Berlin Wall complete with graffiti on the side of it. That’s not what DHS is putting up nor what they have put up. They put up these big steel slats because the Customs and Border Patrol folks don’t want a solid wall; they need to be able to see through it to see if there’s a threat coming to them. Has it made a difference? It’s absolutely made a difference.

Some of my team was down at the border there at San Diego just a month ago. They visited with the Customs and Border Patrol folks there. They [Customs and Border Patrol personnel] stated that the old fencing that’s there—and there’s some very old fencing in that area—that old fencing had more than a dozen penetrations through it a day. A day. It was meaningless. But the new fencing they’re putting up, these big steel slats, that steel barrier has one person a month, one a month. So, it moved from 10 to 12 a day to one a month. That’s a pretty big difference. That’s helping actually manage our border. That’s why fencing actually does work, and I’m fully aware folks say, ‘If you put up a 30-foot fence, you get a 31-foot ladder.’ What happens if you climb a 31-foot ladder? You have to slow down in the process, and it gives time for the border patrol to interdict. That’s what a fence is all about, to say, ‘You can’t just cross here easily.’ You have to be able to slow down through the process so we can actually interdict folks — a completely avoidable and quite frankly very recognizable problem. We should not have a government shutdown happening right now.

On keeping Members of Congress in DC during a shutdown

(Starts at 11:44): There were 16 of us that met this last year from April all the way to December—eight Democrats, eight Republicans, half from the House, half from the Senate—to try to resolve the budget process. Many of us spoke up, myself included, over and over again that this is a broken budgeting process, saying that we’ve got to end the government shutdowns. But by the time we get to the middle of December, that group of 16 could not come to a resolution to address this problem.

Well, how about now? Are we willing to admit now there’s a problem with budgeting? Here was one of the solutions that I brought to that Committee. I think it’s very straightforward. The simple solution is if you get to the end of the budget year and we don’t have things resolved at that point, go into a continuing resolution, that is, continue to fund the government, hold the agencies and the employees harmless, but Members of Congress have to stay in Washington, DC, and the Cabinet and the White House has to stay in Washington, DC. No travel for anyone. We have to be here.

You want to hit Members of Congress where it hurts? Don’t let anyone go home for the weekend to see their families. We have families, too, that we want to be able to see, but we shouldn’t be able to walk away when there is still work to be done. The greatest pressure point that we can have in this body is we have to stay in continuous session until the negotiations are finished. Make everyone stay here. Now, that may sound overly simplistic, but when I bring that up to other Members of Congress, they are like, ‘Whoa, that’s too much.’ Really? Everyone needs to be able to stay here, keep the negotiations from the House, the Senate, the Cabinet of the White House, and the White House staff itself.

On keeping shutdown pressure on Congress and the White House, not federal employees

(Starts a 13:28): The second thing that you can do is each week, through any kind of fight that goes on to get the budgeting done, cut everyone’s budget in the House, the Senate, and the White House operating budget five percent that week. Now, again, holding all the agencies harmless, but those that are doing the negotiations start feeling the pressure. Not only can you not travel, you can’t go see your families, you are having to stay in continuous session, but your budget is getting cut every week for five percent each week until it gets resolved. Again, the pressure is on the people it should be on and holding the American people that aren’t in the middle of this fight harmless in the process. There are ways to solve this, simple commonsense ways, and I’ll continue to be able to bring those up again and again because when this shutdown is complete, there will be a fight over another one coming, and in the meantime, we need to try to end this loop that we’re in that destabilizes our system.

On fencing and technology as border security, rather than a wall

(Starts at 14:26): Let’s do border security. Let’s not fight over ‘Okay, let’s open the government up, and then we’ll talk about it later.’ Everyone knows that really won’t happen. Everyone knows that game. Let’s resolve what all the American people know need to be resolved, basic functional real commonsense security. Not putting up a big wall across the whole border. No one wants to see a 2,000-mile-long wall. It’s not even needed, but in areas where there is a city on both sides of the border, and literally you cross the border within seconds unless there is a barrier there, it makes sense to have a barrier in those locations. It makes sense to put technology in other areas to be able to monitor folks that are illegally crossing the border in other areas. We can do this in a commonsense way. We can do this quickly. Let’s get it resolved.