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Alabama Votes; White House Press Briefing. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired December 12, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: At least seven of them do know the president. One, of course, was on "Apprentice" with him. One was the receptionist in Trump Tower, on and on here.
So, I think those will be some of the questions, of course, that the press secretary will be asked today if the president stands by that. Of course, he opened the door to more questions this morning by raising that.
But, oftentimes, when there are these questions here at these briefings, the White House will bring someone else, a top official, an expert, someone else, to talk about the budget, the tax plan. We will see if that happens.
We tried to find out earlier if they were bringing someone here. We don't know the answer. But that is certainly a possibility.
There's no question here, though, Brooke, the whole Alabama Senate race hanging over this. And that is one of the reasons that these new allegations of sexual harassment misconduct are being discussed again, and, of course, those old allegations as well.
But a lot of politics here being injected from both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, of course, Democrats calling for an investigation, calling for the resignation. That's one thing we know will not happen, Brooke.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: But speaking of the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, how are members of Congress responding to the president's attack on Senator Gillibrand? How are they receiving that?
ZELENY: They're certainly rallying around Senator Gillibrand. No question at all.
Many of her colleagues in the Senate and in the House as well are defending her. They are coming to her defense on this. And we saw a press conference just a short time ago with members of the House who were saying something very specific about that. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: What took place this morning when the president tweeted about our colleague Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is grotesque.
It took my breathe away. And it represents the conduct of a person who is ill-equipped to be the president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So this, of course, Brooke reminds of several things. One, it reminds us of the fact that Donald Trump is a new Republican.
He in fact was giving money to Democrats like Kirsten Gillibrand not that long ago. In the 2010 campaign cycle, in the midterm election year there, he gave $4,800 to her. Of course, she was the senator there filling the Clinton seat.
So it reminds us of a few things. But if any one thinks this is bad politics for Senator Gillibrand, yes, she is pushing back, she is raising money off this right now. Her fund-raising committee just sent something out not that long ago.
This is certainly not necessarily bad politics for her because it's elevating her. She is one of those many, many Democrats in this town and across the country who have their eye on the 2020 campaign -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: You are correct. Jeff Zeleny, thank you. We will look for you in that briefing in just a second there.
Meantime, it is also Election Day in Alabama. Voters there have about five hours remaining to deliver their verdict on the embattled Senate candidate Roy Moore. The former judge rode in on his horse named Sassy to cast his ballot.
He is the Republican accused of sexual abuse and assault against teenage girls from decades ago. And he has full support of President Trump. But no matter which Senate candidate actually comes out on top, the outcome would fly in the face of the norm.
If Roy Moore wins, you would have an accused sexual predator sitting in the U.S. Senate, defining the nationwide reckoning against harassers, and pitting the president, who supports Moore, against Republican leadership, who have been mulling Moore's expulsion.
On the flip side, if you have the Democrat in this case, Doug Jones, if he wins, Alabama would be sending a Democratic senator to Washington for the very first time in 25 years.
Let's go straight to Alabama and Gary Tuchman in Gallant, Alabama, where Roy Moore voted.
And, Gary, Roy Moore, he had been MIA in recent days. But did he talk to reporters today?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, Roy Moore did speak to us a bit. More on that in a second.
I will tell you, personal, that Roy and Kayla Moore came to their polls their rustic town in Gallant, Alabama, in a majestic fashion in a race that has been very unmajestic, on horseback.
It's been a tradition for Roy Moore to come on a horse when he runs for office. He Ran twice for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and won both those races, was eventually removed from both those seats. Ran for governor twice, lost both those races in the primaries, and is now running for U.S. Senate.
He has denied all the allegations against him. But since the "Washington Post" report appeared, he has had strategy not to talk to reporters. At his event, he's hustled out of the backdoor right when it ends so reporters can't ask him any questions.
He's had no news conferences. He's hand-selected a couple of people to talk to, but not reporters. So we wanted to ask him about that when he got off his horse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: Judge, you served in Vietnam. How come you have been so fearful of talking to reporters?
ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not afraid to talk to reporters. Reporters need to get their stories straight.
How about you guys backing off?
TUCHMAN: Well, no, you haven't talked to reporters.
MOORE: I have talked to plenty of reporters.
TUCHMAN: No, you really -- you really haven't, sir.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: Well, after that, Roy Moore and his wife, Kayla, went inside the fire station in Gallant to cast their votes.
He then came out and said, "I will take a couple of questions."
So we gave it another go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: ... Moore, if you win tonight, what's your message to Senator McConnell?
MOORE: Well, I'm coming to the Senate, and we will work out our problems there.
QUESTION: What do you say to your accusers
MOORE: I'm not talking to accusers today. I'm talking to the people of Alabama.
QUESTION: Judge, did you date any girls in high school when you were in your 30s?
MOORE: I'm talking about this race. The people will answer these allegations this evening at the polls. We are done with that to get back to the issues in this state.
QUESTION: But we are not done with it, sir. You have not answered the question.
QUESTION: Judge Moore, Senator Cory Gardner has said, as soon as you get to the Senate, she wants you expelled. What will you do?
MOORE: We will take those issues up when we get to the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: The reason, Brooke, it's so important to keep asking these questions is Roy Moore has said this is all not true, that these women are all liars.
And what's being whispered is, these women are getting paid money to lie. So, therefore, we keep asking the questions. He hasn't given the answers. And we will have to keep asking the questions if he becomes a U.S. senator here from the state of Alabama -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: Good try, Gary Tuchman. Good try.
Thank you so much on Roy Moore and his horse.
As we wait for this White House briefing to start, let's just go through some of the themes we have just heard, beginning with, I have got Maria Cardona and former Senator Rick Santorum.
Let me begin with you two first on the president and his tweet this morning specifically targeting the New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who he did give money to back in 2010. And keep in mind she is a Democrat.
So, Maria, just to you, looking at the words that he's using, Congresswomen Jackie Speier called it grotesque. How would you see it?
MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, it was completely disgusting, Brooke.
You highlighted how he called her a lightweight and how he called her a flunky. But in the remaining tweet, he also implied that she was a whore. And this, to me, is one of the most disgusting tweets that have come out of the president's Twitter feed.
And that is saying a lot. This is the president of the United States insulting a sitting woman U.S. senator, implying that she wants to get paid for favors. And I'm sorry. In this moment that we are in right now, the MeToo
movement, the silence breakers coming out and talking about sexual harassment and sexual assault, and to have this president tweet that kind of tweet today, right, the day that Alabamians are going to choose between a Democratic public servant and the Republican person who is running for this who is, you have stated many times, a credibly accused sexual predator, a pedophile, I think just speaks volumes of how completely unfit and temperamentally unfit the president of the United States currently is to hold that office.
BALDWIN: The part of the tweet -- I'm glad you got to it, because that was my next point -- and, Senator Santorum, this is coming from you, the back half of the tweet, where it says -- oh, forgive me.
I think Sarah Sanders is walking up to the podium.
Let's listen in.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon.
Let me start by introducing Francis Cissna, the director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. He's here to provide a briefing on the attempted suicide bombing in New York and how it was enabled by flaws in our immigration system.
After he speaks and takes some of your questions, I will be back up to answer questions on other news.
And, as always, if you can stay focused on the topic at hand, that would be great. Thanks so much.
FRANCIS CISSNA, DIRECTOR, U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES: Hello.
I'm here to talk to you about yesterday's incident and kind of give you some of the context and perspective in the immigration system, how it works or how it didn't work in this case, and what are some of the sorts of things our administration is proposing to change it to make it better.
So, as you all know, yesterday, the suspect, Akayed Ullah, was arrested in an attempted bombing in New York City. And there's an immigration aspect to this. The immigration aspect is that he immigrated to this country. He's a green card holder, a lawful permanent resident.
He came to this country based on a family connection to a U.S. citizen. He was a national Bangladesh. The U.S. citizen in question was his uncle. And that U.S. citizen many years ago came to this country originally as a visa lottery winner.
So, this is the general background. I now want to try to explain what all that means, where those terms come from, what the significance of all that is. First, I would explain that, for those that aren't aware, our
immigration system has two principal components. There's a family- based component through which the suspect in yesterday's attack, alleged bombing incident, came through, and there's an employment- based component.
In any given year, we have about one million immigrants. One million people come here, get green cards, immigrant visas. In fiscal year '15, for example, of that one million, about 72 percent of our immigrants came based on a family connection.
And only 6 percent, about one out of 15, came based on unemployment or a job connection, job offer. So, you can see the immigration system is heavily weighted towards family migration.
There are other categories of people that immigrate as well, besides just family- and employment-based, including refugees, asylees, and, of course, the visa lottery people that I just referenced, but those are very small compared to two larger categories.
I wanted to talk now about these in particular, the family-based, employment-based and then the visa lottery.
In the family-based migration category, there are multiple categories of people. The principal category of family-based immigrants are called immediate relatives. These are people who are the spouses or children, nuclear family members of U.S. citizens.
In a given year, you have about half-a-million people from that category, in fact, better numbers than that. In fiscal year '16, in that category, these are people who are the nuclear family members of U.S. citizens. There were 566,000 people that immigrated.
An additional category in the family-based universe are what are called preference based categories. These are more extended family connections. These include unmarried -- the first category, unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
Second category, spouses of green card holders. Unmarried sons and daughters of green card holders. Third category, married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Fourth category is brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens and their children.
That's the category that yesterday's suspect came in under. The suspect in yesterday's bombing came in under the most extreme remote possible family-based connection that you can have under current U.S. immigration law, that being the child of the sibling of a U.S. citizen.
Under the employment-based categories, that is a much smaller number. Only 140,000 slots are allocated in a year to that category, but you are really only getting about half that number of actual workers because the spouses and children count towards that cap. There, you have a categories, including categories for extraordinary
ability workers. You have people with advanced degrees. You have people who are skilled professionals and immigrant investors. Multiple categories, but much smaller number than the family-based categories.
And, again, I remind you only one out of 15 of our immigrants come in under those skilled categories.
Let me turn now to the diversity visa, which is the other visa program that is relevant to yesterday's events. The diversity visa or visa lottery, as it's called colloquially, Is a program that was established back in 1990. There were some precursor programs before that, but basically the program as we know it was established in 1990.
That lets in about 50,000 -- let's in 50,000 people a year based on immigration lottery. The qualifications for registering for the lottery are that you have to be from a country that had low immigration in the previous five years, and the person who is applying for the lottery has to either have a high school degree or, if they have no education, at least two years of experience in a job that requires two years of training.
So, the criteria are very low. The problems with the visa lottery are various. First, because the criteria are so low, either you have no education at all and very little skills, or you have a minimum of education and no skills at all.
And because it's a lottery, pretty much anybody on the planet who is from a qualifying country can take advantage of this. The State Department in 2003, the State Department's Inspector General Office observed that this low-eligibility criteria could lead to exploitation by terrorists. They warned about this in 2003.
The GAO in 2007 echoed that warning, again warning that terrorists could take advantage of the diversity visa program. Also, the program is racked with fraud. In 2003, the State Department I.G., 15 years ago, noted that the program was rife with pervasive fraud.
The fraud, the low eligibility standards, all this contribute to its potential exploitation by terrorists and other mala fide actors.
Bangladesh is an interesting case. Now, that is a country where yesterday's suspect came from. That country was a high user of the visa lottery program. In fact, in 2007, which was the peak year for that country's use of the visa lottery, 27 percent of the immigrants from that country came from through that program, through the visa lottery program.
Uzbekistan, which was the country of origin of the alleged -- the truck driver from October 31 in New York City, in 2010, 70 percent, 7- 0 percent, of immigrants from Uzbekistan came from the visa lottery program. That program is used as a prime avenue for immigration for many countries. Finally, let's me touch on chain migration. What -- when I use that
word, what I'm talking about is a person who comes to this country and who in turn employs one of these many avenues that I just described, principally family-based, to sponsor relatives who are in the home country to come and join him or her.
Because the categories that we have that I just described in family- based migration is so extensive, it's not just nuclear family. You also have, as I say, adult unmarried children, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews.
You can sponsor a person like yesterday's alleged terrorist at the extremity of that chain, and then that person in turn can sponsor people, and so on so on indefinitely.
Hundreds of thousands of people come into this economy every year based on these extended family migration categories. And it is my view, it is our administration's view that that is not the way that we should be running our immigration system.
A system like that that includes something like the diversity visa program, these extended families categories, are not the way anybody would design this immigration system if we could start from scratch today.
What we need is an immigration system that is selective. We want to be able to select the types of people who are coming here based on criteria that ensure the success, criteria that ensure their ability to assimilate successfully in our country.
And random lotteries, extended family connections, that's not the way to run our immigration system. So, I appeal, we appeal to the Congress as they consider these matters as we speak, and in the coming weeks to seriously take into account these concerns that we have with the way the immigration system is structured and its vulnerabilities, as I just described, and correct that.
At that point, my formal comments are concluded, and I will answer any questions you have.
In the middle. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Mr. Cissna.
I want to ask you a question about what you're suggesting. Is it your belief that the only changes that can be done to immigration system are ones that need to emanate from Congress? Are there any things that the president can do on his own by executive action, by executive order to change the process for either chain migration or the visa lottery?
CISSNA: Well, I mean, that's something we are looking at right now in USCIS, my agency, which is the agency that administers all these visa programs.
And there are some things that we could do. There are some things that the president has directed us to do by executive order, in particular with the temporary visa categories. We're talking about green cards here.
But if you look at temporary visa categories, yes, there's a lot of things that we could do and that we're going to do, for example, to increase protections of American workers.
In the green card domain, it's a little harder. Congress has kind of occupied that field a little more densely than it has in the temporary visa area. But there could be. There could be. There could be some things that we could do to clarify how these categories are administered.
Yes, sir, yes.
QUESTION: There's so much talk about DACA legislation right now. Do you think any DACA bill would have to be tied to bringing in a merit- based system?
CISSNA: Well, I mean, we -- about two months ago, the president announced his immigration priorities.
You can find it on the White House Web site. It's a long list of about several dozen priorities that we, career officials at DHS and at the other relevant immigration agencies -- at the time, I was a career official -- came up with things that we need to it be able to do our jobs.
And in that list, there are these fixes I'm just talking about, including getting rid of the diversity visa program because it just degrades the integrity of the immigration visa programs generally, ending chain migration.
These are all things that we have suggested in the priorities that the president has advanced. So we hope expect that Congress will take those priorities seriously and will do as much as they can to accomplish the goals that we set forth.
CISSNA: I can't speak for the president's priorities and what he does or doesn't want in a bill. But I know that what I want is something that I can implement, and that I can implement well, to get at the priorities that we set forth as something that we need to do our job.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) in favor of extending the blanket travel bans as far as the countries are concerned, such as Bangladesh, which isn't on the list currently?
CISSNA: My position on that is my agency needs as much information as it can get from these other countries to be able to vet and screen people adequately to ensure that mala fide actors don't come into the country.
To the degree that that can be done under the executive orders, the protocols established by the executive order, I'm for it. But I'm not in a position to prescribe whether the blanket ban, as you put, should be extended or not extended. I just -- I want the information that these countries can give us to screen people.
QUESTION: How do you deal with people who have been here for years and then become radicalized once they are here? How would any of that deal with what actually happened in New York? He had been here for many years.
CISSNA: So, on that, there's two points.
I think the criticisms that we have of the diversity visa program and chain migration, and particularly the diversity visa program, the vulnerability to exploitation by terrorists because of the low- eligibility criteria and because of the prevalence of fraud, that is not changing.
That's a sad fact of that program. For that reason, regardless of when the person became radicalized, I just want that door shut, because it's a vulnerability. It's been recognized for 15 years.
Now, with respect to that person in particular and what do we do about people who radicalize afterwards, my agency in particular is focused very much so on ensuring that immigration doesn't stop when the person gets the green card. It's an ongoing process. I view it that way. I think that we have...
QUESTION: How so?
CISSNA: Well, because what you want is an immigrant to become a citizen.
Citizenship is in the name of my agency. We ultimately want people to naturalize, because naturalization is one of the best -- it's one of the best signs that a person has fully assimilated.
And it's also -- once you naturalize, it's one of the best guarantors at that person's continued success in our society. We want people to naturalize. And my agency is seeking to do everything it can to ensure that people are enabled to do that and succeed in that quest.
QUESTION: Just to follow up quickly, is it your understanding that the suspect was radicalized before he came here, or do you think that it happened here? And if it did happen before he arrived, then was something inherently missed?
CISSNA: No, I have no idea. I don't know.
QUESTION: Can you give us any...
(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: ... where he...
CISSNA: I truly have no idea if he was radicalized at all. I don't know. I don't know about that part of the investigation.
QUESTION: Well, you just said that because of the criteria and how low it is that chain migrant immigrants or diversity lottery immigrant are more susceptible to being self-radicalized. Do you have data on that?
What I think my point is, is that if you have immigrant visa programs where the eligibility criteria are low to nonexistent, or even an outright lottery, you are not selecting for the types of people, according to -- that we want in this country according to criteria that will ensure their success in our nation, that will ensure that they will assimilate well.
QUESTION: I get that, as a matter of priority, you want to select the immigrants, not just have them come in. I get that part.
QUESTION: But you seem to be saying that these kinds of immigrants are more likely to become terrorists.
CISSNA: No. What I'm saying is that if you have a system that doesn't select at all or is barely selecting anybody, we don't know what we're going to get.
It's better if we take an active, affirmative role in our immigration process and establish criteria that correspond to things that we want to see in our immigration pool.
Sir, in the back.
QUESTION: Yes, following from that, data shows that immigrants actually commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. Other than these isolated incidents, is there any data behind this plan?
CISSNA: Well, I don't know that I agree with your first point. I don't know where that data came from. But I can't comment any further.
QUESTION: Incarceration rates would be one example.
CISSNA: That's a bigger debate that I don't know that we have time for here.
But, based on my questioning the validity of the premise of your question, I don't know that I want to engage in that dialogue at that time.
QUESTION: Does this administration believe that immigrants are more dangerous than U.S. citizens?
CISSNA: I don't know that anybody has said that.
QUESTION: Just two sort of points of clarification. I have you saying with the diversity visa program that there's a certain vulnerability because of the low eligibility criteria.
By that, I think you mean because there's no higher education standard required? What is it that makes these people more vulnerable to radicalization and becoming terrorists?
CISSNA: Well, there's two parts to that.
My -- the -- the -- my criticism of the diversity visa program is that eligibility criteria are minimal or next to nothing, and there's a random element to it.
QUESTION: You said vulnerability.
The program is vulnerable to exploitation by terrorists because it's a combination of the low eligibility criteria and the ability to defraud the system. Fraud is pervasive, as I said, in the program.
So, if you're a mala fide actor and you want to use that program to come into this country, it's easy to fake a high school graduation certificate.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) said that the suspect was radicalized approximately in 2014. He entered the United States in 2011.
So, that's why so many of us are asking these questions, because it sounds like you're implying that U.S. intelligence or Homeland Security missed something and this guy was radicalized.
CISSNA: Well, I'm not implying that at all. No, no, I'm just talking about the immigration programs. I'm not talking about this one guy.
QUESTION: So this isn't actually effective at screening out terrorists? You're saying when they get here, because these people are more vulnerable if they come under this program, they're then subject to exploitation more easily?
What I'm saying is...
QUESTION: Because we're just not getting the nexus to terrorism. CISSNA: The nexus to terrorism is that, if you have a visa program
that is easily exploited by mala fide actors, including terrorists, because...
CISSNA: I don't know that he -- he didn't come in on the visa lottery program. He came in as an extended family-based immigration.
CISSNA: But I'm saying, with respect to the diversity visa program, which is also at play here, that program is, as the State Department I.G. found 15 years ago, and as the GAO confirmed in 2007, exploitable by terrorists or mala fide actors because the criteria are so low and easily faked.
And it's a lottery. So, on multiple levels, it's just -- it's an open door. It's problematic. It needs to shut. That's what I'm saying about that.
With respect to the individual in yesterday's attempt, I would say I don't know. I don't have a command of the facts relating to the investigation as to whether or if he was ever radicalized.
What I'm saying is, if you have any sort of visa program which is minimally selective, which is based solely on chance or lottery or low-eligibility criteria, then we as a government are not doing our job in picking the people that come to this country in a competent and careful and intelligent way.
And if we're not doing that, bad guys can come in.
QUESTION: Are lottery winners vetted?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Take one last question.
QUESTION: Are lottery winners vetted?
CISSNA: Yes. Oh, yes. Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: So, the screening is not...
CISSNA: Oh, yes, they're screened like any other immigrant.
QUESTION: So that's an intelligence failure then?
CISSNA: I don't know that there was any failure.
Yes, last question.
QUESTION: We know from your confirmation hearing testimony that both your mother and your mother-in-law are immigrants.
How did their experiences shape your thinking on this position? And do you have any reason to believe that they both would still have been able to come in (OFF-MIKE) under the tightening that you're looking at now?
CISSNA: The fact that my own mother and my mother-in-law are both immigrants has indeed influenced everything. That's one of the reasons why I'm interested in this field, why I'm in interested in it, why I very passionately carry out my duties every day.
I think, though, that a policy-maker or a citizen who is examining all those questions should not be handicapped or shackled by previous immigration programs from which all -- everybody in this room has benefited from the immigration laws of the past.
That doesn't mean that every generation doesn't has its own prerogative or its own duty and responsibility to look at the situation we have now and determine for itself, ourselves, whether the immigration laws should be changed.
It's perfectly rational. So, moving forward, maybe we will change things.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Thank you, Director. Thank you.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Thank you, Director.
Continuing with national security theme, as many of you saw, this afternoon, the president signed the National Defense Authorization Act. This legislation, which was approved with bipartisan support, represents an important milestone in the president's plan to rebuild our military and bolster our national security.
For the first time in seven years, we're increasing, rather than shrinking the size of our forces. This NDAA also provides our military service members with the largest pay increase they have seen in eight years.
To put into historical context, it authorizes one of the largest defense spending increases since the days of Ronald Reagan. Previous administrations sadly oversaw deep cuts to our armed forces with serious implications for our military readiness and capabilities.
This hindered the fight against ISIS and other enemies of freedom and made our people less safe. In signing this bill today, the president once again made it clear that we're serious about enhancing military readiness, expanding and modernizing our forces, and providing our incredible men and women downrange with the tools they need to do what they do best, fight and win.
President Trump also called on obstructionist Democrats to stop threatening to shut down the government. As the president said, at this time of grave global threats, Congress should send a clean funding bill to his desk that fully funds our great military. We certainly hope that will happen, and we look forward to that taking place.
And with that, I will take your questions. Cecilia.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.
The president said today that Senator Gillibrand would do anything for campaign contributions. Many, many people see this as a sexual innuendo.
What is the president suggesting?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that the president is very obvious.
This is the same sentiment that the president has expressed many times before when he's exposed --