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Trump Changes Border Policy; Capitol Hill Reacts to Change; Trump Talks on Immigration Change. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired June 20, 2018 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:00:23] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing this day with us.
Major breaking news happening just moments ago. Right now at the White House, the president in the Oval Office with reporters, telling them he will soon sign an order ending his administration's border policy. That policy, of course, controversial that separates families.
We do not know yet the exact details of the order. We're waiting for the tape of the president meeting with reporters.
Republicans hope the president's decision to bypass Congress, at least temporarily, will end the growing political nightmare for the Republican Party, and, they hope, quiet down what has become a global controversy. We'll go to Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill in just a moment.
With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal," Perry Bacon with FiveThirtyEight and CNN's Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, we need to see the details. We need to see exactly what the president says he's doing. But this is a major retreat from a president who does not like to admit I was wrong in the face. Pope Francis criticized him today. The Canadian prime minister criticized him. The British prime ministers. More importantly, here in the realm of domestic politics, Republicans are in a panic thinking this policy of separating children from their parents is going to be a nightmare for them in the midterms election year. A big retreat. Why?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly a reversal. And if he does sign something that does do this, which this is all still up in the air because he says he'll be signing something in a little bit, we have no idea what that's going to look like or when he's going to sign something. People on Capitol Hill are just as surprised by this as we are. They have not heard anything on this from the White House and found out about it through tweets.
But if the president does do this, he's going back on everything he has said for the last few days and had his officials say and his DHS secretary that this is a problem for Congress, that it's not their policy, it's not a policy that they can reverse. And now the president saying he's going to sign something to end the separation of families on the border. That is in direct result to something the president did, that zero tolerance immigration policy, that led to this.
So if he does do this, it would be a big reversal for the president. Him essentially backing off, doing what Democrats and Republicans alike have called on him to do for several days. And you wonder why he's doing it now, because he did not have this idea in mind last night when he was meeting with House Republicans behind closed doors. He told them then this is a situation for you to fix, not me.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and, look, you guys are being, I think, maybe diplomatic, saying it's a retreat or reversal. He's caving. He's caving in the face of very, very real political pressure, and that political pressure is born out of genuine outrage that this kind of situation is happening in the United States of America. That you have children, that you have babies who are being taken away from their parents because of a policy that up until I guess maybe now the Trump administration denied was a new policy. But it is a new policy.
And we're waiting to get some details, but it sounds as though what they're trying to do with whatever this executive action is, is try to get over what the administration says has been the biggest challenge to keeping families together, which is a court decision, known as the Flores decision, which allows for -- sorry, not allows for, which requires children to not be with their parents after 20 days. That -- excuse me, that children can't be --
KING: You can't detain children for more than 20 days.
BASH: You can't detain children, thank you, for more than 20 days.
So what the president is going to try to do is somehow override that with his executive action.
So, look, you know, kudos to him to -- if he -- if he does, in fact, do this, to getting it, but it really flies in the face of the comments, day after day, that we've seen all of us saying that this is not possible and it's not a real policy.
KING: And policy drawn up inside the White House by Steven Miller, administered by the Department of Homeland Security, defended by the Justice Department. Throughout the entire controversy, the president has somehow blamed Democrats. Now he's going to sign a piece of paper that essentially says, and he'll never say the words, I was wrong.
MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, let's see what he signs first. I -- Dana and Kaitlan were both using "if." I think there's a really big "if" here. Remember, just a week ago, this was a president who wanted to tell the world that he had reached an agreement to denuclearize the Korean peninsula without actually sharing the details. At the White House plan at that time was not to share any of those details until he left -- until he left Korea. So we'll see what he signs first.
And, like you said, this is not only a policy that has been repeated and underscored by his entire White House and entire administration, but we've seen several reports saying that this was a political strategy for the midterms. So if they -- he pulls back on the policy, this has wide-ranging implications and is going to create a lot more questions than -- than we have answers to.
[12:05:07] KING: Create questions about policy. You're right, we need to read everything, and look where the semi colons are. Apparently the Department of Homeland Security has prepared a memo, an executive action, that allows them to detain people temporarily. Then they're hoping Congress jumps in with a short-term solution.
But the fact, Perry, that the president went up to Capitol Hill last night and essentially, my words, not his, sure, I created this mess, but you have to clean it up, telling Congress, you have to pass legislation. That was just last night, in a room full of Republicans, who will tell cameras, but don't like to stand up to the president, that I'm getting hammered back home, that my pollster tells me I might lose my race. And so something got to the president to say, OK, you know, my party has a problem here. I need to stop this.
PERRY BACON, SENIOR WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Yes, I'll be curious to know what happened between say 6:00 p.m. last night and today, because he seemed very emphatic about this.
Also what we know is Secretary Nielsen seems to have changed her view, too. We don't know what Trump's going to do. We do know that she's already signed -- you know, she's already written up an order, had her department do something, made sure the press knows about it. So essentially she, at least, has changed her view and is no longer ready to defend this policy in the way she did on Monday.
BASH: You know, one of the things that might have changed, I'm sure it's more than one factor, but what we've seen in the last 24 hours are Republican governors --
BASH: And some Democrats, but this is key, Republican governors, like, in Maryland, taking back their decision to send National Guard troops to the border. So their border strategy, their immigration strategy, became quickly harder to actually implement thanks to the outrage about this policy because of Republican governors saying, we're not playing this game.
KING: Right. It's an excellent point because this president is in a very unaccustomed, unfamiliar position. In his experience, he has won these political arguments on immigration. He believes it's why he was the Republican nominee. He believes it's one of the reasons his base sticks with him.
But Larry Hogan, moderate Republican, but the governor of Maryland says I'm pulling my troops -- National Guard troops. Charlie Baker, moderate Republican governor of Massachusetts. But then there's a letter from Scott Walker, conservative governor of Wisconsin, to the Department of Homeland Security.
BACON: Running for re-election.
KING: You're right, all on the ballot, all running for re-election. Welcome to the midterm election year. But that is a very important point, though, that the Republican Party revolted. So many times we've asked, when will the party stand up to the president. This week they did, in part because of their own survival.
COLLINS: And two things to consider here are the optics, because it wasn't the images of these children being separated from their parents that has caused the president to now do something and say he's going to sign something, because those have been played out for days and he has not backed down off of it. So is the political pressure that has clearly gotten to the president, which is the reason he is caving and he is saying he's going to sign something.
And, secondly, when he does sign something, if he does, it's important to keep in mind what he says because I guarantee he's going to blame this on the Democrats and on Congress saying that they wouldn't fix it, so he had to stop in and do it.
But to be clear, this is a mess of the president's own making. This is his policy. So he is fixing something he created, not Democrats, not Republicans, not Congress.
BENDER: WE think it is a combination of the two, though. I know the pictures have been playing out for a few days, but if there's anyone who understands the visceral reaction to pictures of children, to -- you know, to heart-tugging pictures of children, it's this president. And when you -- but I think maybe when you combine that, when you add that, the pressure he's getting from within the party, I -- you have what you have (ph) this morning.
KING: No question. And inside the administration, whether it's the White House or the Department of Homeland Security, they complained. They say the media's overplaying this, the media is hyping this too much. They say the Democrats are playing politics with immigration. It's interesting to hear the Trump administration say somebody's playing politics with immigration. Welcome to the election year.
But listen, again, to understand the president is retreating here. He's caving, as Dana says. Listen to the president. This is just yesterday. The same arguments were being made. Mr. President, do something with your executive powers. Stop this. Help your party. Help these children. Help the country. The president was defiant saying, no, I'm right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They send these people up. And they're not sending their finest. Does that sound familiar? Remember I made that speech and I was badly criticized. Oh, what -- so terrible what he said. Turned out I was 100 percent right. That's why I got elected.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: And that's why he did this. They implemented the policy, even though they were told, even from voices within, this would be very controversial. He believes -- he trusts his gut on his instincts on this, and today he is flipping.
BENDER: Yes, it's striking that that video -- because he pushed back on that speech. He -- for so long, for so many months, said that the media was taking that speech out of context, and you had to read the whole hour and a half long to understand what the point was. But now, here he is, when he thinks he's right, saying essentially that what he said was true all along and -- you know, when he felt like he was winning. And now, when he's getting a little -- when he's getting quite a bit of pushback from within the party, when there's a vote -- when there's a couple of votes on the House floor tomorrow, that, you know, the outcome is in major doubt, a couple months away from the midterms here, a few months away from the midterms, you know, we're seeing some cave-in here.
KING: Right. And one of the -- to the point of caving, one of the conversations today is, standalone legislation to give the administration the authority to detain the families.
[12:10:06] Right now, as Dana noted, the Flores decision, which goes back to the Clinton administration, if my math is right, says you cannot keep children in custody for more than 20 days. Therefore, the argument has been that you have to separate them. If you want to keep the parents in custody while they're awaiting trial on -- you know, for illegally crossing the border or any other charges, you have to separate them.
But this morning, last night, the president went to Capitol Hill and said, no, deal with this in a big package that gives me my wall funding. If you want to pass protection for the dreamers, see what you can get through the Congress. This is the House speaker, Paul Ryan, just a short time ago. So clearly the president shifted quickly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We don't think families should be separated, period. Look, we've seen the videos, heard the audio. He asked us to pass this legislation, which stops this policy for good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: This legislation. But last night it was sweeping legislation. This morning, number one, we're told we're going to get an executive action. We'll hear from the president momentarily. He's, obviously, having a long conversations with the reporters that have bene brought into this meeting. Republican senators also at the White House.
But, number two, word is that there will be some stop-gap standalone legislation. Again, something this president of the United States, a man who -- his trademark is stubbornness, often serves him well, is caving again.
BASH: Yes. And, look, I mean last night was -- I was up on Capitol Hill. I think it was pretty much a bust. And we can talk about that later, since we have this breaking news.
But I think the question is whether it really is even possible for Congress to pass a stop gap measure, to pass legislation that just deals with this issue of separating children, because even if the president deals with the Flores issue, the court issue, through executive action, there still is going to be an outcry for -- to do it by statute.
And the Democrats, who have said that the president should do exactly what he's doing now. Chuck Schumer went out to the cameras yesterday and said, we're not doing anything because the president could just sign something. Guess what? It seems as though he was right. I'm sure we're going to get an "I told you so" from Chuck Schumer.
But the question is whether Democrats are going to over play their hands on that --
BASH: Because they need to -- because they need to also come to the table and play ball to deal with this issue legislatively. And it's an open question whether they will.
BACON: I'll be curious to hear how he explains the policy. If you listen to Miller and Attorney General Sessions particularly, they believe this kind of policy is a deterrent.
BACON: They want to have hard line policies. That is the goal. That is a feature, not a bug (ph). So I'll be curious to see where they go from here, because folding on this issue also means, oh, we -- we don't -- we can get as tough as we want to, so what do we do next, because the whole point is to be really draconian, to prevent people from trying to come into the country in the first place. So that's been the goal of all these policies.
KING: How they explain it will be critical and the language in how they change it will be critical as well.
We're going to take a quick break. We're waiting to hear from the president of the United States, who is now explaining this major decision to retreat on this controversial border policy to reporters. We'll bring you the tape as soon as we can. We'll also get you a live reaction from Capitol Hill. Stay with us. INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.
[12:15:38] KING: Welcome back.
Major breaking news this hour. The president of the United States retreating from that controversial Trump administration immigration policy that separates parents from their children when they are apprehended illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. The president explaining his decision to reporters right now, confirming to them he will sign an executive order, also accusing the media of having a double standard. He saying things were just as bad, if not worse, during the Obama administration. We'll get to the facts of that in a bit. We'll bring you the president's remarks as soon as we can.
This is welcome relief for Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have been urging the president, citing their poll numbers and their midterm election chances to reverse this controversial policy.
CNN's Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill right now.
Phil, seems to be the speaker this morning didn't seem to know about this when he spoke publicly. What is the administration telling key members of the party?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, to give you a window into the last hour or so, when Fox News first broke the possibility that this would happen, I got a text message from a senior Republican with a link to the story that said, do you know anything more about this? And please tell me this is true.
It underscores two key points here. The Hill was not clued in on this reversal until just a short time ago, A. And, B, they desperately wanted some type of escape hatch from the administration, from a policy that the administration unilaterally administered itself.
What I'm being told right now is the White House has started communicating to Republican offices the kind of broad details of what this would be. You guys talked about it in the first segment in terms of the Flores consent decree, trying to find some way around it. While it would not reverse the president's zero tolerance policy, it would allow families to stay together through those criminal proceedings.
Now the big question is, whether something like that would actually stand up in court. I don't know any answers to that. I think there's a lot of things in the details here that are going to be extremely important when it happens.
But you mentioned a key point here. As of last night, the president was steadfast that he was sticking with this policy. As of this morning, House and Senate Republicans were clearly under the impression that was also going to be the case. The speaker talking about the House votes on their broad immigration proposals tomorrow. As of now, they still don't have the votes for those proposals. Over in the Senate, Republicans trying a more targeted approach. As of now, there's no clear pathway on either of those proposals. All with the understanding that the administration wasn't going to help them out.
That appears to have shifted. And I think one key kind of underpinning of that is a simple reality. There was no clear legislative pathway going forward on The Hill. You had Republicans, senior Senate Republicans calling for a freeze in the zero tolerance policy. I've been told by several Republican lawmakers and aides there offices have been inundated with phone calls from people outraged about the policy. Something had to give. Clearly The Hill wasn't going to be the answer,
at least in the near term. And now we see it appears the White House will provide that answer, at least in -- to some degree, John.
KING: Phil, stay with us, if you can. We're about to hear from the president. We're going to play you the tape of his long meeting with reporters.
Among the reporters in the room was our White House correspondent Abby Phillip.
Abby, a major retreat from the president, but I'm going to bet that he did not characterize it that way.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, not at all. The president kept talking about Democrats, but also acknowledged that the images were having an effect. He talked about the dilemma that he faced. That's his word, a dilemma, saying that he could either be tough and look like he had no heart, or he could be weak and look like he had compassion for these families.
But he did confirm that he's going to be signing some kind of executive order that would keep families together. The implication in the room was that this would mean that families would be held in some kind of -- form of detention near the border while they are -- their immigration status is being adjudicated. But we don't have any details at all from the White House about this.
But the president made it clear that he's still waiting for Congress to act on this. And he also -- he had a lot to say about past administrations. He said he felt like there was a double standard being applied to him. That in the past administrations there was no such outrage about --
KING: Abby, I need to interrupt you. Abby, let's listen. Let's -- sorry to interrupt. Let's listen to the president of the United States.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Two stops, one a very big one, and it will be a lot of fun. I know a lot of you are going with us. So that will be interesting. We're meeting right now on immigration, and we are very strong at the border. We're very strong on security. We want security for our country. The Republicans want security, and insist on security for our country. And we will have that.
At the same time, we have compassion. We want to keep families together. It's very important. I'll be signing something in a little while that's going to do that. And the people in this room want to do that. And they're working on various piecing of legislation to get it done.
[12:20:11] But I'll be doing something that's somewhat preemptive, but ultimately will be matched by legislation, I'm sure.
We're having a lot of problems with Democrats. They don't want to vote for anything. They don't care about lack of security. They really would like to have open borders where anybody in the world can just flow in, including from the Middle East, from anybody, anywhere, they can just flow into our country.
Tremendous problems with that. Tremendous crime caused by that. We're just not going to do it.
I do want to say that because we're all so busy, and I just mentioned to the congressman and the senators in the room, that we are going to cancel and postpone tomorrow's congressional picnic. We have a congressional picnic tomorrow, and I was just walking over to the Oval Office and I said, you know, it doesn't feel right to have a picnic for Congress when we're working on doing something very important.
We have many things that are important. We're talking about trade. We're talking about many, many things. But it didn't feel exactly right to me.
So we will be officially postponing the congressional picnic for tomorrow. We'll make it another time when things are going extremely well.
And they are going, for the country, extremely well. We have record- setting numbers in every way economically. But we want to solve this immigration problem, which is going on for 40 years, more. It's been going on forever. And we want to see if we can solve it. So we are canceling or postponing the congressional picnic tomorrow.
Would anybody in the room have any question or statement that you'd like to make while the press is here? Anybody? Anybody?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll say one thing, Mr. President.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, on the issue of immigration, trade, and investment, these are all areas where Congress has a lot of authority under the Constitution and you have authority, the executive branch has authority under the Constitution. I think that's why meetings like this are really important, bringing the leadership on both sides together because they're important issues.
So I appreciate the opportunity to let you see our views, hear our views on these issues where we share authority on important matters.
TRUMP: And we all very much have the same views. We want to keep family together. At the same time, we have to be strong on the border, otherwise you'll have millions of people coming up, not thousands like we have now. You'll have millions of people flowing up and just overtaking the country. And we're not letting that happen. So we have to be very strong on the border. But, at the same time, we want to be very compassionate.
Ah -- SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: Mr. President.
TRUMP: Yes, Lamar?
ALEXANDER: Mr. President, thanks for having us.
I think what Dan said was good. We really have -- on the issues, on trade, on immigration, we have a partnership under the Constitution. We have some authority, the president has some authority. We need to work together.
I was thinking this morning when we look at President Nixon's portrait in the White House, we think that he -- he did the unexpected and he went to China, because he could do that. He was in a position to do that. And we -- and President Reagan did the unexpected, he went to -- he went to the Berlin Wall and Moscow. And when we were here a year ago, I think I suggested to you that immigration, which has bedeviled us for 40 years, as you've said, I believe you can -- you're the president who can help us solve the immigration problem with your leadership. You may be able to do for immigration what Nixon did for China and Reagan did for the Soviet Union. And a lot of us would like to work with you on that.
TRUMP: Thank you, Lamar, very much.
We need the Democrats' support, because we need their votes. It's very simple. You know, people say we have the majority. Well, we have a one majority in the Senate. And we need 60. Unfortunately, we don't go with the majority. We go with 60. Some day somebody will explain why, but that's the way it is. We have -- we need 60 votes. We have 51 votes at the most. So we need Democrat votes in order to do it, otherwise you can't do it.
Tom, you were going to say something? Tom Cotton.
SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: I think it's very important that we protect our border. We cannot allow a child to be a get out of jail free card and a get into the U.S. free ticket. But at the same time, as you said, as we've all said, we'd like to keep families together, keep them together at the border for the orderly and timely processing of the adult's immigration claim. If it's a lawful, legitimate claim, we can admit the family into the country. If not, they'll have to go back to their home country.
I'm glad you're looking for a solution for that. I know that we, in Congress, are working on legislation that will allow our hard-working border patrol agents to keep families together at the border while we process their claims in a timely fashion.
TRUMP: And you bring up something that I have to say, our border patrol agents and our ICE agents have done one great job. ICE is throwing -- we're throwing by the thousands MS-13, they come into the country. We're liberating towns on Long Island and other places. We're throwing them out by the thousands. But we need laws that don't allow them to come back in.
[12:25:01] Mac, you've been very involved in this issue. Do you have anything to say?
SEN. MAC THORNBERRY (R), TEXAS: Well, Mr. President, there are a number of issues that we're going to be able to discuss today that touch on our country's national security. And certainly national -- controlling who and what comes across our border is an element of national security, as we do the compassionate thing with families.
And I look forward to working with you to further strengthen our military. Together, we have turned around a declining situation, but that's also part of what we need to do together. Back to Lamar's point about we both have responsibilities. We can do more together.
TRUMP: I will say, with all of the numbers that you see, if we weren't strong on the border, you'd have hundreds of thousands of people pouring through the border. They'd just be pouring through. And the country would not be the country anymore.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We've got a big massive mess that's been going on for decades, and we're all going to fix it one day, I hope. But we've got a specific problem that puts the country in a dilemma. Here's your dilemma, as President Obama's dilemma, our dilemma, if you -- if a family shows up at the border, and we let the family go into the country and say, please, come back for your hearing, about 80 percent of the time, the adults never show up for their hearing. I think most Americans feel like that is bad. It will create a third wave of illegal immigration.
I want to be fair to the people who came here under the old system, but I don't want to create incentives to create a third wave.
The other choice is, is if you detain the parents who broke the law under the Flores decision, you have to break the family up. So there's a 1997 Supreme Court case that we've got to deal with. So I would urge my Democratic friends to see if we can find a way to keep families together, have a legislative fix of the Flores decision and argue about the other things later.
Because, right now, Mr. President, you're in a real bind. If you detain the adults, the law requires the children to be separated. If you let the adults into the country, they never show up. It seems to me that we want to keep the family together and have the parents show up for their day in court.
To Senator Schumer, I know we -- there's a lot we don't agree on, but surely to goodness we can fix this court decision, because the country's in a bad spot, not just you.
TRUMP: Lindsey, the dilemma is that if you're weak, if you're weak, which some people would like you to be, if you're really, really pathetically weak, the country is going to be overrun with millions of people. And if you're strong, then you don't have any heart. That's a tough dilemma. Perhaps I'd rather be strong, but that's a tough dilemma.
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Mr. President.
TRUMP: Yes, go ahead, Ron.
JOHNSON: In our committee, Homeland Security, we've held 30 hearings on border security. And you know how much I like that. And, you know, Senator Graham mentioned the fact that we -- we have these incentives. There's nothing compassionate, by the way, of enticing people to take a very dangerous journey on a train they call "the beast" or, you know, through the desert. We've seen pictures of dead, desiccated bodies in the desert. There's nothing compassionate about that.
But here's what's happened since 2012. Since DACA. Just talk about unaccompanied children. Prior to that, we've -- somewhere between 3,000 or 4,000 unaccompanied children from Central America came into this country. Then DACA was instituted in 2012, and that problem skyrocketed. The numbers on it, about 225,000 unaccompanied children just from Central America. About -- almost half a million family members. So we've got another 750,000 individuals, very sympathetic, that we're just incentivizing for coming. And we have to stop -- we have to stop those incentives. Our goal of our policy should be to reduce the flow of people incentivized to come to this country. And that's what strong enforcement actually does.
TRUMP: So just so everybody knows, this deal was just about done. We had a deal signed. President Obama signed DACA. When he signed it, he said, I'm really not allowed to sign this and I'm going to sign it anyway. But he actually said, I'm not allowed to sign this. It's never going to hold up.
And they got a judge who held it up and they got another one who held it up. And then we had a couple that turned it down. And it's going to be a Supreme Court issue.
But before it was held up, everyone assumed that the DACA would not be held up. And we had a deal with the Democrats. It was a deal that everybody agreed to. It was $25 billion. We were going to build a wall. We would take care of many, many different things, including loopholes.
It was all done, except when this judge ruled in favor of DACA, meaning that it could continue until we get to the Supreme Court, all of a sudden they weren't there anymore. And that's what happened. And that's why we're in this mess, because we had a couple of court decisions, which is going to force an issue to the Supreme Court that should be forced to the Supreme Court.
[12:30:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President.
TRUMP: Yes, John?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks for inviting us up on these important issues and for having this important discussion, certainly on immigration, but also on trade.