Roe questions Democrats' motives as shutdown looms

Nathan Baker • Updated Jan 20, 2018 at 12:05 AM

Johnson City Republican Phil Roe thought government shutdowns were normal bargaining chips in American politics.

At least, that’s what the House representative from Tennessee’s 1st District said in September 2013, when he told National Public Radio host Melissa Block, “you have to have some way to negotiate an issue that the other side won't negotiate with, and running the federal government is one of them. … It’s the way it works.”

Then, a day before federal offices and parks began a 16-day shutdown, the Republican-controlled House refused to pass a continuing resolution without language defunding the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The Senate, then controlled by Democrats, would not pass one with it.

On Friday, hours before the Senate faced another deadline to pass a continuing resolution before a shutdown, Roe asked how congressional Democrats could vote against keeping the government open.

“A government shutdown affects people, it affects people out in the country, so if we could avoid it, we should,” Roe said after criticizing the Senate’s 60-vote cloture rule to end debate. “I would have thought the Senate would have voted to not shut the government down, but I think I’m going to be back here Monday.”

At issue is action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Democrats want to put protections for the 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children in the continuing resolution. Republicans don’t.

Roe said immigration issues had no place in a resolution temporarily funding the government, and he said the motivations behind this shutdown were different from those in 2013.

“I think there was a huge difference there, and one of those differences is that that was something that affected every — it didn’t have anything to do with an illegal person who was here,” he said. “This (Obamacare) had to do with something that affected everybody in the United States of America.”

In this week’s short-term spending plan, Republicans added six years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program in an effort to sway some in opposition. The program, which provides care for 9 million children, expired last year, but was briefly extended by Congress.

“How can you vote for shutting the government down, not providing children health insurance coverage? Not paying your troops and protecting the troops right now? This is serious stuff,” Roe said. “This is not a hard vote, this is not a difficult vote. We’re talking about people who are here illegally in the country and shutting the government down over that.”

The Congressman also vaguely referenced a classified report related to the FBI and the Steele dossier, a document revealed in 2017, claiming to have evidence of President Donald Trump’s campaign cooperating with Russian nationals to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Roe would not say what was in the classified document he viewed in a private room in the Capitol visitors center past, saying it was about the FBI and the Steele dossier, how warrants were obtained and was “outrageous.”

Other Republicans have expressed concerns in the past few months about the dossier, which some media outlets have reported was used as a catalyst in the Justice Department’s investigation into the Trump campaign.

“Even I was shocked when I read the document, it basically affirmed the worst fears that I had,” Roe said. “I can leave it at that. I really can’t answer any questions about that, other than to say to you all in the press, if you want to push publicly for the disclosure of the document, I will support you 100 percent.”

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