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Outrage Over Separating Families; Laura Bush Weighs In on Immigration; Trump Speaks on Immigration Legislation; Congress Takes Up Immigration Bills. Aired 12n-12:30p ET

Aired June 18, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:21] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King has the day off today.

We have a lot of big, political stories to bring you this hour, like President Trump pushing hard against the Republican -- excuse me, against the Russia probe minutes ago, calling fired FBI Director James Comey Mueller's best friend and the Supreme Court is now sidestepping two major cases of partisan gerrymandering.

But we start with the Trump administration defending their practice of separating children from their families when they illegally cross the border. A practice that's been called heartless and cruel by Republicans who almost never speak out. And yet this morning, Trump officials are doubling down in the face of bipartisan outrage.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We do not have the luxury of pretending that all individuals coming to this country as a family unit are, in fact, a family. We have to do our job. We will not apologize for doing our job. We have sworn to do this job. This administration has a simple message, if you cross the border illegally, we will prosecute you.


BASH: On the nation's southern border, what the Trump administration means when it says zero tolerance on illegal immigration but what amounts to government-sanctioned child abuse. That's according to the head of the American Academy of Pediatrics right here on CNN last hour. The Department of Homeland Security confirms that the government forcibly separated some 2,000 children from their parents or guardians between mid-April and the end of May. Now, this is a result of a new crackdown by the Trump administration to automatically prosecute adults caught illegally crossing the border and take away any children who are in their care.

The simmering outrage over this policy has boiled over thanks to lawmakers and some journalists getting access to visit facilities you see there that house these separated families. They were not allowed to take photos or record video, but the government has released these images that you're seeing. Cages, chain link fences, silvery thermal blankets and mattresses on the floor.

CNN's Rosa Flores is at the border in San Diego, California.

And, Rosa, I just want to put back up some of those images because the Homeland Security secretary said again this morning that these minors are being taken care of. I mean these facilities, like, again, the one that we're seeing here, they have children taking care of other children younger than them that they don't even know. They have to change their diapers because nobody is around to do that.

That is a very different picture that we're seeing and hearing from people who have witnessed that from what we heard from government officials this morning.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana, and lawmakers using those images and those stories to try to push the Trump administration to stop separating families. Now, we've seen lawmakers going to detention centers in Texas and in New Jersey, and now we're going to see it here in southern California.

We've learned that minority leader Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will be going to various locations here in southern California, but they're being tight-lipped about the detention centers that they will be visiting. We do know of two detention centers in the area, one that houses children, about 65 of them, and another one that houses adults. So it's unclear where they will be going.

But the Trump administration still digging in their heels, blaming the Democrats. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, moments ago, defending immigration practices and this weekend DHS Secretary Nielsen tweeting in part, quote, we do not have a policy of separating families at the border, period. Dana, but as you mentioned, DHS itself saying that between April and May they separated at least 2,000 children.

And, Dana, I want to leave you with these -- with this other editorial note because it's not just families who have crossed the border illegally who have been separated. What we've learned from interviewing one family, there was a family who was seeking asylum, a mother who turned herself in to authorities who was then later separated from her children. This mother is in Texas. And, Dana, her children, ages two, six and 13 are in New York.


BASH: Oh, my goodness.

Rosa, thank you so much for that -- for bringing us that. It's so important that we're now able to get that kind of information and shine a light on this.

[12:05:02] We mentioned that we have heard from members of the Trump administration this morning pushing back, insisting that it's actually Congress that has to fix the situation.

Listen here to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We've asked Congress to change the law to allow for the expeditious return of unaccompanied alien children regardless of their country of origin. We are also asking Congress to allow us to keep families together while they are detained.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: President Trump has said this lawlessness cannot continue. We do not want to separate parents from their children. You can be sure of that. If we build a wall, we pass some legislation, we close some loopholes, we won't face these terrible choices.


BASH: Here with me to share their reporting and their insights, Michael Shear with "The New York Times," Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post," Olivier Knox with Sirius XM, and CNN's Tal Kopan.

Let's just start with an important fact check here. It is not Congress that has to change the law. Changing the law across the board on immigration is necessary and certainly would be helpful, but this is an administration policy at the end of the day, at the beginning of the day, and everywhere in between, they made this decision. And it just -- it just boggles the mind that you hear people like Kirstjen Nielsen, who, I mean, you would imagine knows better, but maybe she has to deal with what Jeff Sessions has to deal with, which is an audience of one, the president of the United States.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right. I mean, look, part of the problem from a political perspective that has been besetting this administration is they can't figure out what to say. The president has sort of directed the administration to blame Democrats. And so the -- down the line what you see is the administration trying to follow through with that, even as they're confronted with the actual facts, which is to say that the laws they talk about changing have been in place for a long time.

What has changed is a decision by the administration to implement what the -- what Jeff Sessions admits is a zero tolerance policy on the people that are crossing the border illegally with families or without. Previous administrations have not done that. Previous administrations have decided to make exemptions for families if somebody comes over with a small child, they didn't prosecute in the same way. That has consequences and the country has to figure out how to deal with all of that. But this administration is struggling because they're not owning up to what they did.

BASH: And, you're right, and we're going to get to the very mixed messages that that's an understatement from the administration.

But let's, for a second, focus on what we heard from Rosa and what we -- what we showed at the beginning of the show, just the reality of this humanitarian crisis when you're talking about children. I mean several of us have children. We know what it means to have a two-year- old separated from -- maybe it's not their mother or their father, but the person they've known as a caregiver. And nobody to do as much as change a diaper, never mind apparently the policy is not to hug them or give them -- give them physical care and comfort in these facilities.

On that note, Colleen Kraft, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, was on with Kate Bolduan this hour. Here's what she said. She went down there. She saw it.


DR. COLLEEN KRAFT, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: This does amount to child abuse. These children have been traumatized in their trip up to the border, and the first thing that happens is we take away the one constant in their life that helps them buffer all of these horrible experiences. That's child abuse.


BASH: And, of course, we've probably all seen Laura Bush, who never spoke out -- almost never spoke out about political issues when she was in office, much less since she's been out of office. And among the things that she wrote in an op-ed in "The Washington Post" is, the people working at the shelter have been instructed not to, as I mentioned, pick up or touch the children to comfort them. Imagine not being able to pick up a child who is not yet out of diapers.

Really? This is America.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It is. I -- I can't imagine just the pain that is happening, especially with these children. And -- which is why you've seen not only a backlash from medical professionals and whatnot, but also from the evangelical community, which I think is really important here, who are such a major part of --

BASH: Can you hold that thought, because I want to play -- I want to actually show what Franklin Graham, the -- one of those evangelical leaders, who was -- was an early supporter of Donald Trump, much to the chagrin of a lot of Republicans who didn't understand why, but he was and still is. And here's what he said. I think it's disgraceful. It's terrible to see families ripped apart and I don't support that one bit. And I blame the politicians for the last 20, 30 years that have allowed this to escalate to the point where it is today.

Finish your thought.

KIM: And -- and it's -- I mean it's unclear so far whether how much those voices will change the president's mind. I talked to a lot of religious leaders last Friday and they're saying -- and they were especially irritated and frustrated about how the attorney general and Sarah Sanders had used the Bible to justify their policies, saying it's Biblical to enforce the law and they're saying there's so many other examples in the Bible where we say we take care of children. These children are innocent. How much of a backlash that amounts to the president actually changing his mind, I think it's way too early to see, but we'll -- that's something that -- that's a development we'll definitely have to watch for.

[12:10:30] BASH: And the mixed messages are very clear. We just made a little sort of map, visual map, a visual guide for our viewers to try to figure it out. There are those who are deflecting or at least deflecting blame in and around the Trump orbit, not only in the administration, Steve Bannon, Steven Miller, Jeff Sessions, John Kelly and others. Denies it's even a policy, the Homeland Security secretary, again, which is sort of stunning. People criticizing it, Melania Trump, although she says she's doing it -- having it both ways. Let's be honest, she's criticizing it. And Rudy Giuliani.

And then, of course, you have the president of the United States, who's clearly seeing this and saying, uh-oh, this -- maybe this isn't exactly what I wanted when I said be tough on the border and on immigration.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: I'm old enough to remember March, I think it was, of last year when then Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly previewed this policy and explicitly described it as an effort to deter immigration into the United States, illegal immigration into the United States. So they can't really have it both ways here. They can't brag about it as a -- as a potential deterrent, and then a deterrent. And Secretary Nielsen's comments have evolved in the last 24 hours. It was not a policy. And today -- yesterday it was not a policy, today it's a policy for which she's not going to apologize.

BASH: Yes. And you mentioned it's a deterrent. That is a question that she was asked, the Homeland Security secretary, while testifying before Congress in May. Let's just watch that.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Have you been directed to separate parents from children as a method of deterrence of undocumented immigration?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I have not been directed to do that for purposes of deterrence, no.


BASH: OK. Other administration officials have said that it is a policy of deterrence. And, Tal, you have some new information about how, policy or not, clearly this was done -- zero tolerance, they say that over and over again, to try to stop more illegal immigration happening across the southern border, and it's not working.


So, Dana, we've actually obtained some internal documents from the Department of Homeland Security that actually spell out exactly how they expected this policy to have an effect on migrant flows at the border and that we did not see those materialize. And so in those internal documents you see, in early April, when the first sort of steps of this policy were being put into place, they predicted that the full impact of policy initiatives are not fully realized for two to three weeks following public messaging.

And then, as the weeks go on, and you see the exact opposite effect of anything you would predict this policy of having an impact on, so the number of people crossing illegally go up every week, the number of people turning themselves in at ports of entry legally go down every week. They say CVP continues to assess that the deterrent effect of the prosecution initiative, as they are calling it, is not yet fully realized and apprehensions may decline before the end of month, but then we go on to see they don't. Illegal crossings went up 5 percent. The number of people turning themselves in legally went down 9 percent.

BASH: And what's the reaction from DHS?

KOPAN: DHS, now, as we were talking about --

BASH: Their own numbers.

KOPAN: This -- their own numbers. As we were talking about, this mixed messaging, is it a deterrent, is it not a deterrent? The spokeswoman for DHS, Katey Waldman (ph), said, of course we expect the 100 percent prosecution policy at the border to have a deterrent effect, and they hope that applying these consequences for the law would cause people to reconsider coming. But she says they do not expect it to miraculously turn people back within weeks, despite the fact that their own documents predicted that within that first month we would already see an impact. And, in fact, we saw the opposite.

So the important thing that I want to underscore in this is when you talk about the trauma, when you talk about the human impact and how troubling this policy is for so many across the board, the one thing DHS and the administration says is, we need this because this is what's going to help us secure the border. And the important thing about these documents that we've obtained shows it completely undercuts that as the conduct.

BASH: Right. Their only -- the Trump administration's own internal documents and numbers say it's not working, which is -- I just have to say that, as we go to break, and we're going to talk more on the other end, that it's -- there is a place for arguing that you have to deter illegal immigration. Families or not families. But the idea of trying to -- of actively separating them is -- it just -- that's what's getting everybody so outraged. And you can tell I'm on that page.

[12:15:05] Up next, don't go away, we're going to talk about President Trump's tweets on this issue, immigration, making his position pretty clear, right? Well, maybe not so much. Why some Republican lawmakers are so confused about where he stands.


BASH: President Trump is speaking about immigration right now. Let's listen. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Holding facility. Won't

be. You look at what's happening in Europe. You look at what's happening in other places. We can't allow that to happen to the United States. Not on my watch.

For the rest of the world, you look at everything that's taken place. Pick up your newspapers this morning and you see. We want safety and we want security for our country. If the Democrats would sit down instead of obstructing, we could have something done very quickly. Good for the children, good for the country, good for the world. It could take place quickly. We could have an immigration bill, we could have child separation, we're stuck with these horrible laws. They're horrible laws. What's happening is so sad, is so sad. And it can be taken care of quickly, beautifully, and we'll have safety.

This could really be something very special. It could be something maybe even for the world to watch, just like they're watching our great economy, how it's soaring. They could watch this.

We have the worst immigration laws in the entire world. Nobody has such sad, such bad -- and, actually, in many cases, such horrible and tough, you see, about child separation. You see what's going on there.

But just remember, a country without borders is not a country at all. We need borders. We need security. We need safety. We have to take care of our people.

You take a look at the death and destruction that's been caused by people coming into this country without going through a process. We want a merit-based immigration system so that Boeing and Lockheed and all of the people, Grumman, all of the people that are here today, the heads of every company, so that you can hire people on a merit base. You know they're coming in. They're people that came on merit, not based on a lottery or not people that snuck across the border. And they could be murderers and thieves and so much else.

[12:20:06] So we want a safe country. And it starts with the borders. And that's the way it is.

Now I'd like to --

Thank you. Thank you.

And, again, we can do this very quickly if the Democrats come together.

BASH: And you were just --

TRUMP: Everybody wants to do it. We want to do it more than they do. If they come to the table instead of playing politics, we can do it very, very quickly.

So welcome to the third meeting of the National Space Council.

BASH: You were just listening to President Trump speak quite forcefully about immigration, the need to change the laws as we've heard him say so many times as president and before that as candidate, but specifically talking about the fact that Democrats need to come to the table. He's talking about that for several reasons we'll get to, but first and foremost is because there is legislation that is likely to come to the House floor, a pair of legislative -- of bills, rather, and the question is whether any of that will see the light of day, whether any of that will get the votes, and that largely depends on the president himself.

I want to bring in our Phil Mattingly, who knows all about the ins and outs of these two bills, both authored by and being pushed by Republicans to deal with immigration, to deal with border security and the wall and other issues that the president has talked about, maybe not so much depending on which legislation we're talking about, the issue we've been talking about all morning, which is child separation.

Fill us in, Phil.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Dana, I think you need to look at what the House is considering this week as an effort to solve the DACA issue, not the family separation issue. And as you noted, there's two pieces of legislation, one that's considered more hard line conservative, one that moderate Republicans have been behind closed doors negotiating with leadership and conservatives for the last couple of weeks.

Here's the reality, particularly when you jump off what the president just said. This is a partisan effort. This is an effort that does not have a companion piece of work that's moving over in the Senate. Dana, you recall quite well the Senate tried their hand at immigration a couple of months ago. None of the proposal, including the president's own four pillar proposal, got the requisite number of votes to pass. So we're kind of looking at a low bar right now in terms of, can the House do anything essentially on a partisan basis to move something forward on the DACA issue?

Here's what we know right now.

Tomorrow night the president will be on Capitol Hill at 5:30. He will be participating in a closed door briefing of the entire House Republican conference. Now, why does that matter? Because nothing will move through the House floor with Republican support without the president's support.

Now, you heard the president talking about the need to move forward on immigration legislation. Here's kind of the rub on that. On Friday, everything started to fall apart on the moderate bill that had been negotiated when the president said publicly he didn't support it. Then we had a back and forth for hours. We thought there was going to be a clarifying tweet. We thought there was going to be a clarifying statement.

Then there was an article in Breitbart that said the White House was opposed to the bill. Then the White House came out and gave an on the record statement saying they supported the bill. Why this all matters right now? What I'm told from Republican aides is this compromised piece of legislation is the only legislation that has any chance of getting majority vote in the House. That means the president tomorrow night is basically going to have to deliver a strong speech in support of that bill, a bill that a lot of hard line conservatives, hard line immigration advocates, are deeply, deeply opposed to. And that is just the first step of a multi-step process that at this point doesn't have a Senate companion.

Now, real quick, Dana, I just want to note, you talk about the child separation policy. It is addressed in one of the bills, and likely will be addressed in both of the bills before it actually gets there, but it doesn't stop what the administration has chosen to do in terms of prosecutorial discretion, prosecuting on a criminal basis anybody who comes over the border illegally.

What it does do is change a law that has been in place for 20 years regarding how children are actually treated in these types of situations. Basically it would allow for those children to be detained indefinitely with their families as opposed to separating them. When you talk to Democrats and immigration advocates who are very keen on this issue, they say that doesn't go nearly far enough. Some Republicans also agree. So all of these issues kind of combined right now and right now Republicans are just trying to get the votes to pass the bare minimum on their immigration bills later this week, Dana.

BASH: And you say allows the government, the administration, to change policy. That's an important point when we were talking about the child separation because, again, despite what the president said, this is an administration policy to pursue separating the children from their families, it is not something that Congress put into place specifically as part of the law that they have -- that they have to move on in the administration.

Phil, thank you so much for that.

Back around the table.

Just taking it up maybe to 5,000 feet -- excuse me, I also want to introduce Catherine Lucey, from "The Associated Press," who's joining our panel.

[12:25:02] This question about whether Congress is going to act, the House in particular, House Republicans even more specifically are going to act on immigration this week, the fact that we have these competing Republican bills and they don't know where the president stands. It seems to me that if the president puts his weight behind anything, it will be behind what they're calling the compromise bill, which has the backing of the House leadership. If for no other reason than that specifically says that there will be $25 billion for his border security wall. The other just authorizes it. This actually gives $25 million. Do you think he's going to say, OK, I want this one, and will that help get the votes?

KIM: We'll see what happens. First of all, let's make it clear, once again, there is no law that forces family separation. This is an administration policy. And it will really depend on how the president tries to sell one or either of the legislation at his -- at this very highly anticipated Congress meeting tomorrow night. And that's where that confusion that we saw last Friday really doesn't help matters because you see we saw the immediate repercussions of that on Capitol Hill. You had moderates who do want some sort of -- some sort of a piece of legislation passed saying, you know, he may have misspoken, we think the president supports our bill, we will see some sort of walk-back shortly.

And then you had the hardliners who are very uneasy about this so- called compromise saying, the president knows what he's talking about. Like, there are concerns that are being raised with this bill. So I would be -- I'm very interested in seeing how he goes about selling this bill. And that's -- and the reason why this was all the more confounding what he said in the "Fox & Friends" interview last week was that the so-called compromise bill, and it's also a compromise within the Republican Congress --

BASH: Exactly.

KIM: It's not a compromise within Democrats here, is that it has all these four pillars of immigration reform that his administration has touted for months, and yet you saw the word moderate. It made me thought that wasn't the kind of bill he wanted.

BASH: Or maybe he was watching Lou Dobbs on Fox because listen to what he and other conservatives are saying about what they're calling the leadership compromise bill on immigration.


LOU DOBBS, TV HOST: If Ryan and his rhinos have broken the president's promise to build a wall, if Ryan and his rhinos have their way on open borders and continued chain migration at any level, any form of lottery visas and further deceives both the president and his voters, Ryan will have betrayed the president and the party and most certainly will have destroyed the Republican chance of holding their majority in the House.


KNOX: Remember that when the Senate actually voted on this stuff, the president's preferred bill got the fewest number of votes? Remember also CNN's own Phil Mattingly put it much more colorfully, I think it was on Friday, he said, if there were some unicorn legislation that could somehow clear both chambers and get the president's signature, we would already have it. And none of that bodes well for these -- for these proposals in the House.

BASH: And, Catherine, look, I think that we've seen this many times over our years of covering legislative battles, that if and when they have these votes, they're show votes. They're votes so that the moderates can go back to their constituents and say, look, I voted on something that will help the dreamers or, you know, pick your issue, that will help with their constituencies, and the same goes for the conservatives. This is to take a vote, to campaign on, not to actually produce legislative -- legislation that will get signed into law.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, and underscoring all of this is that it's a midterm election year and lawmakers have to go back to their constituents and talk about all this. And also the president is very conscious of his base and we see that with his remarks just now. We see that with the -- sort of the doubling down on tough immigration rhetoric. It will be interesting to see where he takes this tomorrow. But he really believes that a key reason he was elected, a key issue for his supporters is this tough immigration rhetoric.

BASH: Absolutely. And that is why we've -- you guys have done reporting, we've done reporting for a year and a half now about the fact that he -- when he meets with his cabinet officials, particularly those who have jurisdiction over immigration, Homeland Security, he gets very exercised about the fact that this particular promise wasn't kept, which kind of, I think, probably led to this child separation policy as these cabinet officials going overboard to try to please the president. Maybe too overboard.

SHEAR: Right. I mean there's deep division both in this White House and in the Republican Party between people who want to be more aggressive than we've been on immigration and people who want a more moderate approach to dreamers and to others because of the changing demographics of their districts and of their states. And those two battles, both of which, again, are within the Republican Party and within the White House, to say nothing of the Democrats, that's playing out here and it's difficult.

BASH: And Democrats do have a role. We're going to talk about that later in the show because it's important. I'm glad you pointed that out.

[12:30:00] But, up next, the Supreme Court decides not to decide two major cases with huge political consequences. We're going to talk about that, next.