Return to Transcripts main page

INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Asked About Recent Immigration Comments; DHS Chief Faces Lawmakers On Capitol Hill. 12:30-1pm ET

Aired January 16, 2018 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:30:00] JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: -- because they're angry.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, there's value to looking at who is around the president, who the president listens to, who the key voices are on this issue inside the administration. And those key voices are individuals that are not supportive of the gang of six proposal, are not supportive of let them come in from everywhere. Have very specific policy proposals and political and ideological beliefs about where immigration is.

And at some point, he will come home to those, whether it is two hours from now, whether it's a meeting tomorrow morning, or whether it's -- when he is watching the news and tweeting about it at some other time.

If there's one thing that's reliable in the Tuesday meeting, we all enjoyed it. It was 55 minutes of fascinating discussion that should happen more often. But when it comes to immigration, when it comes to an issue that he believes is so important to his base, that he believe is responsible as any policy issue for why he's in the White House, keep in mind who is around him, what their policy beliefs are and that's probably the best indicator of where he's going to end up on any the final deal.

ASTEAD HERNDON, METRO REPORTER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: That's very important point because, you know, he's had a Jekyll and Hyde approach to policy sometimes, but there does seem to be a center around this anti-immigration. We have seen that from the inception of the campaign and that's been consistent all the way through. You don't have to look to other advisers to say that he may not believe, I want them to come in from anywhere but in his own words. He hasn't been consistent on that and he is mostly said that he wanted to limit both illegal and legal means of immigration.

And so, in this moment, when he's responding to a political firestorm, we saw that even in Charlotte the day after he kind of disputed his previous remarks. But then when you get 48 hours after, when you get a week later in the more raw settings, he often comes back.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: The unscripted raw settings. What you get is a reflex that the facts support this. I don't like even speaking the sentence, but the facts show you his reflexes racially tinged, racially charged, president's prejudicial language. That comes out of him in his unscripted comments. I'm going to ask you question that I know you're going to laugh of me for asking. But you've been covering this candidate and this president now. Is there any reason to believe he will learn some lesson from this that you have global outrage? The president of Kazakhstan is not going to raise this issue with the president of the United States. But the African Union delegation to the United Nations calls him a racist.

You have ambassadors being summoned all around the world by country saying, what the hell does your president think about us? Why is he saying these words about us? You have Democrats, oh, I get it. Part of it we are partisan, anyway. We didn't trust him to begin with.

Now, facing pressure that even the Democrats who want to cut a deal, who want to give him border money facing pressure from their own base, don't go in a room with that guy. Will he learn a lesson from this or does he think this is how he rule?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: If I'm going guess, I'm going say no. I mean, I don't think that this is a president who is going to change his behavior. We're looking at a man who is in his 70s, who believes that he has been very successful being blunt and doing things exactly the way he has always done them. But in this case, it certainly does look like a political misstep.

Because even if those are the president's beliefs, even if that is what he personally, you know, holds true that he doesn't want immigrants from African-American, he doesn't want African-American immigrants, he only wants white immigrants, there are ways to make it politically palatable argument for merit-based immigration. There are ways to make the argument that there should be less legal immigration in addition to less illegal immigration.

And the president missed an opportunity do to that. He has lost all trust when it comes to Democrats. They don't have any faith and even they don't have any inclination to work with him on this issue which could have potentially a big victory to hand the kind of victory that could have helped him get to the numbers he might need if he wants to win reelection 2020.

KING: I think he didn't make a clear case for merit-based immigration at the meeting because his first inclination is -- maybe he cares about that, but if there's something else he cares about first and I think that's what you saw in the president's behavior. We're waiting if the Homeland Security secretary is still up on Capitol Hill, the key senator who was at that meeting is a Democrat Cory Booker.

Republican Lindsey Graham was speaking to the president, briefing him when this whole outburst happened. He is due up in just a couple of minutes. We'll take you up there live.

Up next, though, you know how it works. Right before the midnight deadline, congress passes a temporary spending bill to avoid the government shutdown, usually works that way. Will it this week?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:36:04] KING: As I noted before the break, an important hearing going on t Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Hearing testimony from the secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. She is up there of course in that wake of that confrontational Oval Office meeting with the president allegedly despecification and use pretty nasty language, vile language, some say races language in his description of African countries saying why would the United States want immigrants from these places?

Senator Lindsey Graham was the Republican senator briefing the president when this all started. His turn come in just a few moments. We'll take you up there live. Just moments ago, passionate exchange here with Democratic senator, Cory Booker of New Jersey with his questions for the secretary of Homeland Security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: I hurt. When Dick Durbin called me I had tears of rage when I heard about his experience in that meeting, and for you not to feel that hate -- hurt and that pain and to dismiss some of the questions of my colleagues saying I've already answered that line of questions, when tens of millions of Americans are hurting right now because of what -- they're worried about what happened in the White House, that's unacceptable to me. There are threats in this country. People plotting.

I receive enough death threats to know the reality. Kamala receives enough death threats to know the reality. Mazy (ph) receives enough death threats to know the reality. And I've got a president of United States in the office --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I'm going to leave his testimony to take you straight up live testimony, now apologize to Cory Bookers, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Do you think he has the legal authority to do so?

KIRSTJEN NEILSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I believe the Attorney General has made it clear that he believes such exercise is unconstitutional for Congress to fix.

GRAHAM: So, I agree with that. I just want everyone on this Committee to know that I don't believe the president can extend this by executive order in March 5th. A lot of bad things begin to happen. It seems to me we're all ready to try to avoid that if we can. Do you agree with that?

NEILSEN: Yes, sir.

GRAHAM: Now, let's talk about two Trumps, the Tuesday Trump and the Thursday Trump. Whose idea was it to do the meeting on Tuesday?

NEILSEN: As far as I know, it was the president's. GRAHAM: I will say something that some people may not like, but I thought he did a really good job. He talked about comprehensive immigration reform. Do you remember that from Tuesday?

NEILSEN: I do remember that being raised, yes, sir.

GRAHAM: Is he still supportive of comprehensive immigration reform?

NEILSEN: I believe what he made clear he's happy to listen to proposals and have the discussion, but there are some immediate needs I think --

GRAHAM: Right. I agree with that.

NEILSEN: Yes, sir.

GRAHAM: But he said he wanted to do comprehensive.

NEILSEN: He said he was open to it, absolutely. Yes, sir.

GRAHAM: Yes, I think he said he wanted to. Do you remember him saying we need to be bipartisan when it comes to immigration reform?

NEILSEN: Very important.

GRAHAM: OK. And he still believes that?

NEILSEN: Yes.

GRAHAM: Do you remember him saying the word "love"?

NEILSEN: I don't remember him saying the word "love." I remember him saying "care." I've heard him say love before, compassion.

GRAHAM: Well, we'll get the tape and he said love. We should do this with love. And so, what I heard in Tuesday was a president who seemed to understand it had to be bipartisan. Phase 1 is just a down payment. It needs to be comprehensive.

We need to go to merit-based immigration. We need to secure our border. We need to be fair to the illegal immigrants, and we need to emphasize security. But he said love.

Thursday. Do you -- are you aware that Senator Dick Durbin and the president talked at 10:00, around that time, Thursday morning?

NEILSEN: Only through news reporting after the fact.

GRAHAM: OK. Are you aware the fact that Dick Durbin called me and said, I had the best conversation ever with the president, we should follow up on it?

NEILSEN: I am now.

GRAHAM: OK. So is everyone else. Are you aware of the fact that I said, great Dick, I'll call the White House and see if we can set up a meeting? You are now?

NEILSEN: Yes, sir.

GRAHAM: So, what happened between 10:00 and 12:00?

NEILSEN: I don't know since I didn't --

GRAHAM: I don't need your -- and I'm going to find out and I'm not going ask you. Because between 10:00 and 12:00, we went from having conversations between Senator Durbin, which I believe every word, and the president that was very hopeful, and by the time we got there, something had happened.

[12:40:16] So Tuesday, we had a president that I was proud to golf with, call my friend, who understood immigration, it had to be bipartisan. You had to have border security as essential, you have border security with a wall, but he also understood the idea that we had to do it with compassion.

Now, I don't know where that guy went. I want him back. As we go forward, how does this movie end? What's going to happen?

NEILSEN: I hope that we can find a legislative package that addresses those four pillars that it appeared to me all the congressional members --

GRAHAM: Let's go through those four pillars.

NEILSEN: Sure.

GRAHAM: Border security. Do you expect that the Democrats will give the president everything he wants for border security in Phase 1?

NEILSEN: No, sir. That's why we took the priorities that he issued in the fall and we called them down.

GRAHAM: Right. OK. Merit-based immigration. Do you believe we'll move to a merit-based immigration system in Phase 1?

NEILSEN: Completely and fully, no.

GRAHAM: OK. Do you agree with me that the reason we want is that the Democrats give us everything we want on the border and merit-based immigration and go to nuclear family in terms of mutual immigration flow, they won't have any leverage when it comes to the rest of the 11 million?

NEILSEN: I haven't seen any proposals where they give us everything we need on border security.

GRAHAM: We're just trust beyond that. I'll deal with them a lot. They're not. I'm going to tell you all guys. I'm not going to give the 11 million legal status and hope one day you all deal with us on border merit-based immigration. Do you understand leverage?

NEILSEN: Yes, sir. GRAHAM: Do you think the president understands leverage?

NEILSEN: Yes, sir.

GRAHAM: So here's what I would suggest to you. In Phase 1, to expect my friends on the other side to go comprehensive for us and DACA for them, it's not going to happen. I'm telling my friends on the other side, DACA and nothing else is not going to happen. The sweet spot is DACA plus more than the DACA kids and making down payments on border security, moving slowly but surely toward a merit-based immigration system, to be followed by Phase 2. Can I describe Phase 2 as I see it?

NEILSEN: Yes, sir, please.

GRAHAM: Thank you very much. Phase 2 as I see it is we move further toward border security in its full sense, that we begin to find a pathway forward for the 11 million not included in Phase 1 who are not crooks, drug dealers, rapists, felons which is the overwhelming majority of the 11 million. That once we get a glad path for them, I expect in return that when they're through the system, we'll have a merit-based immigration system based on the economic needs of the country. They will have a secure border and will increase legal immigration so people in the future don't have to cheat. Does that sound pretty reasonable?

NEILSEN: It sounds like a Phase 2.

GRAHAM: OK. So, I'm going to try to get you through Phase 1. If the president is watching, I'm still in the phone book. Don't give my number out but call me. This has turned into a S-show, and we need to get back to being a great country where Democrats and Republicans work together to do something that we should have done years ago.

To the 700,000 young people, some young, some older, we're not going to leave you behind. I don't know how this movie ends, but you're going to be taken care of. To those who want to begin to fix a broken immigration system, you're going to get something too. I don't know how we right the ship. Dr. King said something pretty poignant about us. He said, we came on different ships. We're all in the same boat now.

So here's my hope, that we can find through Phase 1 a reasonable down payment on border security, begin to correct some of the problems when it comes to chain migration, deal with the DACA population fairly and with a sense of compassion and set up Phase 2. And all I have to say, madam secretary, we need your help.

NEILSEN: Sir, I've been ready. I've offered to meet with anybody who would like to meet with me to further this discussion. I would like to do it. We need to do it.

GRAHAM: I'm going to take you up on that offer and to the country at large, things are going to get better. It's not going to end this way. The president ran hot. I think I know why. Something happened between Tuesday and Thursday, and we'll get to the bottom of that. [12:45:14] And quite frankly, I got pretty passionate and I ran a little hot, too. Somebody needs to fix this problem. Obama couldn't do it, Bush couldn't do it and both of them, to their great credit tried. Do you think President Trump can do this?

NIELSEN: I think he wants to do it, yes, sir.

GRAHAM: And I think Dick Durbin has been one of the best people you could ever hope to work with, that he's a decent, honest man, a liberal Democrat. Yes, he said yes. And I'm a conservative Republican. But on this and other things, we can find the way forward. So, Mr. President, I'm going to end today where I ended Tuesday. Close this deal. Thank you, madam secretary.

NEILSEN: Thank you, sir, for your leadership on this.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I call on Secretary Harris. I would hope Senator Graham --

KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: I don't know if that's a demotion or a promotion.

GRASSLEY: I'm sorry. Before I do that, you don't have to answer this --

KING: So you're watching the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chairman Chuck Grassley about to call on senator Kamala Harris of California. Let's have democratic company, let's talk about the remarkable testimony, comments, more of a speech we just heard, not really questions, from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Let me emphasize that, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

He of course was briefing the president what he thought was a good bipartisan immigration proposal when we had the president's outburst disparaging Haitians, calling African nations s-holes or s-house. Depending on which version you want to believe, it means the same thing actually. Senator Graham saying this is now become an s-show. Call it for language here in Washington debate.

He was asking the question, which I think is the question. What happened? How did two Ts anyone, Tuesday Trump, not Thursday Trump.

A week ago today, the president was talking about an act of love open to a bipartisan deal. Then let's move on to come comprehensive immigration reform. Thursday Trump, we don't want Haitias, we don't want people from Africa, I don't like your deal even though it meets the standard I said after you just two days ago. Wow.

KUCINICH: This is really interesting because Lindsey Graham has spent quite a bit of time cultivating the president, getting close to the president and to get back into the friend zone, I wonder if he's in the friend zone, so after that speech.

KING: He doesn't think he is. And he said to the president --

KUCINICH: Right.

KING: -- for the campaign kind to say if you don't remember when they were enemies, publicly he released Lindsey Graham's cell phone number. So there's --

KUCINICH: Right.

KING: No, Senator Graham has become a Trump golf buddy as he noted there.

KUCINICH: Right.

KING: Since the confrontation at the White House I'm told, I'm very good authority, he understands the president is mad at him.

KUCINICH: Right. And -- but there he doesn't -- didn't really look at here trying to get into good graces. It is actually seemed like he was coming at one of his colleagues which may or may not be Senator Cotton.

KING: But he's ask -- keeps asking what happened between 10 a.m. on Thursday where Dick Durban, the Democrat -- Senator Graham is now speaking to reporters after the hearing. Let's listen.

GRAHAM: The comprehensive immigration reform in a bipartisan fashion. 10:00 Thursday morning, he was very much in that mindset, according to Senator Durbin, and I believe every word of it. He said he the president had a great meeting with the president.

He wanted to know if Lindsey was on board with the agreement and I was because with that immigrant agreement among ourselves. By 12:00 things has changed.

I don't want to talk about the meeting other than I know what I heard and I know what I said. And I'll try to figure out the best I can what happened between 10:00 and 12:00. I will say I don't think the president was well served by his staff.

I think the president that we saw Tuesday is that that Donald Trump exists, and somehow by 12:00 on Thursday, something happened and I don't think he was well served by his staff but he's responsible for the way he conducts himself and so am I. Can't blame that on the staff but I do believe his staff was --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would that be General Kelly?

GRAHAM: Pretty much missed the mark here. I think General Kelly is a fine man but he's also part of the staff. So now there do we go?

I think there's a chance to reconstruct this, to find a way to get Phase 1 done. You know, Senator Grassley asked me about deporting people who are criminals. Fine. I think we're doing that as we speak. That's something to consider. Now the young man who got deported yesterday, 39 years old, apparently (INAUDIBLE) a felon, is something we need to look at. So, to the 700,000-plus DACA kids, we're not going to leave you behind. We're not going to let this end like it is, and to those who have been desirous (ph) of a more secure border, you're going to get something to because it has to be done together. I don't think you can do DACA without border security. I don't think you should. I think we should be making a down payment on merit-based immigration.

[12:50:06] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you say something happened between Tuesday and Thursday, do you mean that the president got bad advice from someone on his staff?

GRAHAM: Yes. I think somebody on his staff gave him really bad advice between 10:00 and 12:00 on Thursday. I think the president I saw on Tuesday is the guy I play golf with. They actually like the guy. He's actually funny. I thought he commanded the room.

And the conversation at 10:00 on Thursday was pretty consistent with the guy I saw Tuesday. Something happened between 10 and 12, and I like Secretary Nielsen, she's a nice person. And we'll get to the bottom of this, but here's what's going to matter.

How does it end? How does it end? Does it end with the government shutting down? We should all be kicked out if that happens. Does it end with the 700,000 kids being thrown to the wolves? No. Does it end without any effort to secure the border? No.

So it's not going to end poorly, it's going to end well. Let me tell you why it will. The public is demanding for us to get our act together up here. Eighty percent of the people would like to see these kids have a better life. Eighty percent of the people would like to begin to fix the broken immigration system.

They're going to demand we do better. And what we need to do better is a reliable partner at the White House. Somebody like the president who showed up on Tuesday. We cannot do this with people in charge at the White House who have an irrational view of how to fix immigration. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does any know --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Senator Lindsey Graham walking away on that dramatic last point that he says the president will not be well served. Well, he says the president will not be well severed by staff members who have an irrational view.

KUCINCHI: Right.

KING: Of how to get an immigration compromise. And he seems to me they're including the White House Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, and we know Stephen Miller the president top domestic policy adviser also a hardliner on this issue. Phil Mattingly, this has becomes criminology in some ways, but help crack the code.

MATTINGLY: Yes. KING: Dick Durbin talks to the president, Democrat of Illinois a liberal talks to the president 10:00 a.m. Thursday morning briefs him on the proposal. The president, according to Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin, sounds interesting. Here's Lindsey on board.

Lindsey calls the white house I'm on board. They setup a meeting for noon. The surprise was when got there for that meeting, that Senator Tom Cotton and Senator David Perdue, two conservatives who didn't like that deal where they're waiting for them.

MATTINGLY: And Congressman Bob Goodlatte was also considered one of the immigration hawks in the House side. Look, Lindsey Graham is directing his fire not so subtly at Chief of Staff John Kelly and other staff members of the staff for good reason. It's what we were talking about earlier.

When the president got off the phone with Senator Durbin, he had a discussion with Chief of Staff John Kelly, I'm told. John Kelly made very clear that the deal that as it was constructed, as it was made by the apparent to the president by Senator Durbin was not a deal that would play well for the president. It was not a deal that they -- that he thought he should agreed to.

And I think there's so many to keep in mind here, a lot of people point to Stephen Miller, one of the president's senior advisers absolutely hawkish on immigration as kind of the voice on immigration here. Keep in mind when John Kelly, chief of staff now, was secretary of Department of Homeland Security, people who were in meetings with him makes very clear he was just as hawkish on the policy side on immigration. That's not disparaging him. That's where he is on the policy side. Anybody who's met with him on this issue says that's the case.

What Lindsey Graham is making clear is what I've been told happened behind the scenes. After those conversations and after the meeting was set up by Graham, calls were made from the White House to individuals on Capitol Hill, Senators Perdue, Senators Cotton, Senator Goodlatte were all informed that it might be a good time to come to the White House to help bolster the staff's case that had been made by to the president when Senator Graham and Senator Durbin came to make their to the White House.

As you noted, when they showed up, those lawmakers were there. The president was essentially flanked by a lot of members who have similar policy beliefs that are completely the opposite of where Senator Graham and Senator Durbin are. And here we end up and that's why senator Durbin was so fired up -- very sorry that's by Senator Graham was so fired up.

And I think to Jackie's point earlier, that's why an individual who's putting a lot of work with the president over the last couple months. And a number of people have told me one very good reason for was because he knew this issue was coming, and this is an issue he's worked on for 15 years. And watching that kind of fall apart in front of him, clearly you know where his head is right now. KING: And he asks the question repeatedly, how does it end? He promised the nearly 700,000 dreamers it won't end poorly for them. But how do they know that?

They look at Washington dysfunction and the March deadline is coming up. How does it end? Well, part of the answer to that question is what does the president do next, or what -- where does the president finally come down after a week of being -- to be polite all over the map? Is that wrong?

MURRAY: Well, get -- I mean it's a fair question, the white house has made out the argument that the dreamers have nothing to worry about because there will be a solution coming, but the president just threw a pretty big grenade into what was the only immerging bipartisan collusion at this moment. And so there's plenty of reason to be skeptical that there will be a solution reach. And remember, it was the president's decision to go forward with pulling the trigger --

KING: Yes.

MURRAY: -- and ending the DACA program as it is. I mean this rests in his lap and the White House can say things and try to be reassuring, but the reality is there doesn't seem a way to get from point A to point Z on this.

[12:55:09] KING: All right. Senator Graham laid out Phase 1 and Phase 2. Most of the heads were nodding. The secretary of homeland security said, I can work with you on that.

Then ask who disagreed to have semicolons. But they have a general outline. The question is, will the president accept it and stick with it?

HERNDON: It's so remarkable hearing Phil lay that out, because what that means that you don't have -- you have a president that does not have a policy center on this, that he can hear from one person at 10:00 a.m., hear from another person at 12:00 a.m., and the last person who talked to was the person who he call him and went into those meeting.

MURRAY: It's not just the thing.

HERNDON: Yes, there's a lot of issues but certainly on this. But, you know, usually you have a situation where the politician, the lawmaker, knows what they believe on this and are following what they feel is the moral grounding. And without that, who knows what's coming next.

KING: It's fascinating day. That was fascinating testimony and Senator Graham raises an important question again with the Friday deadline looming how does it end? Does the government shut down? Do they got a DACA deal by then? Do we wait -- does this into February and March?

Lot more to talk about. Thanks for joining us today. In Inside Politics Wolf Blitzer will continue the conversation after a quick break. We'll see you tomorrow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)