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Sen. Christopher Coons Weighs In On Dueling Memos, Immigration Bill

Feb 6, 2018
Originally published on February 6, 2018 11:21 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Maybe never before has so much been said by so many about a memo - or actually, two memos. President Trump faces a decision to release another memo or not. The House intelligence committee says it approves releasing a Democratic document which replies to a Republican memo the president released last week. Our next guest opposed releasing that first memo, and now, here we are. Delaware Senator Christopher Coons, Democrat, is on the line.

Senator, welcome.

CHRIS COONS: Thanks, Steve. Good to be with you this morning.

INSKEEP: Should the Democratic memo be released?

COONS: Well, we shouldn't be in this place where there's been such bitter and partisan fighting over a memo that was written by Republican House intelligence committee Chair David Nunes really as a partisan slap at the FBI and to undermine the investigation by Robert Mueller. But now that that memo has been released, I believe the Democratic memo, which more fully reflects the underlying intelligence, should also be released to the public. This is what our democracy is about. We will let the public decide their views on these two competing memos.

INSKEEP: You said the underlying intelligence. Have you been able to read the Democratic memo and the underlying intelligence?

COONS: I have not. I'm relying on both Adam Schiff and a number of other Democrats on the House intelligence committee who've read both and who have publicly said that the Republican memo mischaracterizes or cherry-picks from the underlying intelligence.

INSKEEP: You know, I'm interested if you think that there should be a wider investigation on foreign intelligence surveillance warrants, which is the subject here - federal surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide. Your Democratic colleague Ron Wyden has been saying, well, if you're going to look at that particular case, maybe we should look at a lot of them. Would you agree with that?

COONS: I've had concerns about how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is used. That follows a lot of what Senator Wyden is saying. But I don't want to let the general public be misled into thinking that it is a politicized process. That's really the goal of President Trump's partisans in this case is to suggest that somehow that surveillance has been politicized in the founding of the Russia investigation. I don't think that's the case.

INSKEEP: Senator Coons, I want to ask about a little bit of news that you've made, introducing immigration legislation with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. And this is one of a number of measures that would give permanent citizenship eventually to people in the DACA program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. But you do not include immediate funding for a border wall, which President Trump has demanded as part of any immigration deal. Why not?

COONS: Well, I was honored that Senator McCain reached out to me to suggest that we introduce in the Senate the same bill that has been introduced in the House by Republican Congressman Hurd of El Paso, Texas, and Democratic Congressman Aguilar of Southern California. Their bill in the House has 27 Republican cosponsors and 27 Democratic cosponsors, so it's already enjoyed very broad bipartisan support.

I do think that it focuses on the two core issues that we need to address - the pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and border security. I personally would be willing to vote for more funding to carry out the plan for border security if that's what it takes to move us forward, but I wanted to make sure that a broader range of folks in the Senate were aware of this as the best potential bipartisan base bill for our upcoming debate about immigration. There are many other issues that we could try and address and comprehensive immigration reform to get the Senate moving past its current logjam on issues. I just thought this was a great way for us to start a conversation with a genuinely bipartisan bill.

INSKEEP: So you're saying, Senator, that if President Trump says, got to have my wall, your answer would be, fine, here's your wall?

COONS: Not fine. I do think there needs to be oversight. The president wants $25 billion in a one-time lump sum, a trust fund appropriation. I think the remaining issue is we need to figure out how Congress appropriates the money for an approved 10-year plan but retain some of its oversight role so that it cannot be repurposed for other purposes.

INSKEEP: Just got a few seconds, Senator, but President Trump has repeatedly said he doesn't believe Democrats really want an immigration deal. Do you believe the president wants an immigration deal?

COONS: We'll have to see. He says he's a great deal maker. This bill puts a real bipartisan deal on the table. Let's hope he takes it.

INSKEEP: Senator, a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

COONS: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.