New Virginia congresswoman open to national security discussion, but wants government reopened

Spanberger said federal workers should not be "held hostage" to discuss security

January 16, 2019, 2:52 PM

Moments before Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va. went to the White House with a bipartisan group of House members Wednesday, she said that she would be open to a conversation on national security at the U.S.-Mexico border, including the possibility of "additional physical barriers."

"I will advocate for and I will vote for efforts to secure our Southern border that are done in an effective and efficient way. And if that includes additional physical barriers, then I would support that," Spanberger told Powerhouse Politics podcast hosts, ABC News' Political Director Rick Klein and Chief White House and Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl. "I will be pursuing an opportunity to have those discussions. That opportunity was not yesterday. It will be soon."

Spanberger and members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus sat down Wednesday with President Donald Trump in the Situation Room to discuss border security and the shutdown.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks to reporters along the banks of the Rio Grande River during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border with Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents, Jan. 10, 2019, in Mission, Texas.
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters along the banks of the Rio Grande River during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border with Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents, Jan. 10, 2019, in Mission, Texas.
Leah Millis/Reuters, FILE

"There is strong agreement across the aisle and around the country: We must reopen the government. Our security, safety, and economy have been compromised, and millions of families are suffering," Democratic caucus members said in a statement. "But that conversation can only begin in earnest once the government is reopened. We accepted the White House’s invitation to meet today to convey that message."

Democratic Congressional leaders and Trump have yet to reach a compromise over funding the border wall, stretching the longest-running government shutdown into its fourth week. Rank-and-file House Democrats, including Spanberger, rejected an invitation to attend a lunch with Trump Tuesday. Trump's offer was seen on Capitol Hill as a way to divide Democrats.

Spanberger, a former CIA operations officer, said she didn’t attend because it "wouldn't have been a productive bipartisan effort."

"It wasn't the venue or the participants. It was really the fact that there -- in my view-- weren't enough participants from both sides to make it a valid bipartisan discussion," Spanberger said.

PHOTO: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, center, a freshman Democrat from New York, is flanked by Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., left, and Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., right, as they are sworn in at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 3, 2019.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, center, a freshman Democrat representing New York's 14th Congressional District, is flanked by Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., left, and Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., right, as they are sworn in on the opening day of the 116th Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 3, 2019.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP, FILE

Spanberger said she thinks that lawmakers should have negotiations about border security.

"When we talk about the potential of having physical barriers, there are miles of physical barriers already at the border. But what we also need are: we need sensors, we need radar and we need, frankly, more personnel who are highly trained to be able to engage when there are unauthorized crossings," Spanberger said. "So it really is about expanding our infrastructure at ports of entry so that we are able to know what's coming to this country and who has arrived in this country."

But Spanberger said federal employees should not be "held hostage" to have such discussions.

"The president is using the employment of individuals as a bargaining chip. And so that I think is the problem," Spanberger said. "When we're looking at how to best secure our border, that is not something that political parties should be arguing about."

Spanberger, who is forgoing her salary during the shutdown, introduced bipartisan legislation with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., to ensure military and law enforcement personnel continue to receive salaries in cases when funding is interrupted, such as the current shutdown.

The Virginia legislator was a part of a historic freshman class of lawmakers who ushered in more women and more racial diversity. She also made waves in her own district, unseating Republican incumbent Rep. Dave Brat. Spanberger is the first woman elected to represent Virginia's 7th Congressional District and is the first Democrat to be elected since 1971.

Every Wednesday, ABC Radio and iTunes bring you the Powerhouse Politics Podcast which includes headliner interviews and in-depth looks at the people and events shaping U.S. politics. Hosted by ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and ABC News Political Director Rick Klein.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events