Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Asylum Seekers Now Must Wait in Mexico as Cases are Processed; Conservative Coulter Slams Trump Over Border Wall Retreat; Trump Says, I've Made My Position Very Clear on Wall Funding; Trump Rejects Compromise to Avoid Shutdown. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired December 20, 2018 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, I'm not sure that they really had much of a dialogue before this came out. The mayor of Tijuana, which is really a place that really illustrates the issue of migrants trying to seek asylum in the U.S., the mayor of Tijuana says he was caught off guard as well. That the federal government of Mexico, which is a new administration, by the way, never consulted them to say how this would play out.

And let's put this in perspective with the caravans. There are right now more than 3,000 migrants in Tijuana waiting to seek asylum in the United States of America. They traveled with several caravans that sort of accumulated there in Tijuana. So already there is a very long wait and this could make it even more so. There are concerns among immigration attorneys who say how exactly is this going to work if they're seeking asylum and they're in Mexico, how will they get to court? How would they get the legal information and assistance they should be provided? Many concerns in terms of the details of how this will work.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Right, because it raised the question, does Mexico have the capacity? What about housing? How will this all work? And now as you mentioned, you were in Tijuana with some of the asylum seekers last month. Here's a look at some of the conditions you documented. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTIAGO: Hundreds of tents filled with families, women, children, men, babies in some situations and many of these are just sort of tarps that are sheltering them. I want to show you behind me, there is a strong odor where we are right now, and you can see that cleanliness is an issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Well, today, Leyla, the President tweeted about this saying in part, remember the caravans? Well, they didn't get through and none are forming or on their way. So, Leyla, let's fact check that. Where did those people end up? Kind of break down what the truth is.

SANTIAGO: Two things up out on me on that tweet, that they are not forming anymore. That is not the case. I am very much in touch folks in Honduras right now who are planning the next caravan. So, that's number one.

Number two, they are not getting through. Today I spoke to several migrants that I've sort of followed their cases. And let me paint the picture of where they are now. One was a man traveling on his own. He was deported to Honduras, arrived last night. Another is a woman traveling with her young daughter. She is in San Diego right now heading to Missouri after being processed through the system when she turned herself in to U.S. immigration officials after crossing the border.

And another one is a man traveling with his young son that I met on the caravan and he's here in Atlanta. So are caravans forming? You better believe it. And are they getting through? Yes, some of them are. Some are being deported. But they are going through the process hoping to seek asylum as they flee violence and poverty and go through some horrible conditions to do so. To be fair, that video you just saw, the conditions there got so bad the government of Mexico had a shut it down. But even so, they created a new shelter where they had 2,800 migrants and others in the area, adding up to 3,000 people waiting to seek asylum.

BROWN: All right, Leyla Santiago, thank you very much for your reporting.

SANTIAGO: You bet.

BROWN: And any moment now President Trump will be in front of these cameras for a bill signing and we will take you there live if he answers any questions on the potential government shutdown.

And just minutes ago President Trump teased his farm bill even with this tweet. Event I should say, with this tweet. A throwback from Trump's appearance on the Emmys in 2006. This, mind you, amid a possible government shutdown. Back in just a moment.

[15:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Just in to CNN, the House majority leader saying that he's confident he can get the votes to passes a spending bill in the House with extra money for border security and disaster relief. I want to bring in CNN's Ryan Nobles. You just spoke to him. There is one big catch, though, right?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are probably a number of big catches, Pam, to be honest with you. It seems as though House Republicans who just got back from a meeting with President Trump at the White House are ignoring all the problems that could come up as they introduce this new version of a continuing resolution, which would include that $5 billion for border security. Also, you know, a couple billion for disaster relief after the hurricanes and the wildfires in the West. These problems are first. There may not be enough votes in the House to pass the bill.

And in the second stage of that, is that there are certainly not enough votes in the Senate for it to pass. And in fact, many of these Senators have already left town thinking that their work was already done. And you're right, I did ask the House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, who is among this group of Republicans that's attempting to try to satisfy the President's needs on this while at the same time keeping the government open. And he basically said that's not his problem as a member of the House, that it's up to the Senate. That they're going to pass a bill. The Senate has the option to either pass that bill or not pass that bill. But if it gets out of the House it will then become the Senate's responsibility.

[15:40:00] And Pam, while that is true, that defies a lot of the problems that are happening here on Capitol Hill and it gets things much, much closer to that deadline of midnight tomorrow when the government will shut down. And it seems as though Republican leaders here are either ignoring that fact or are just not dealing with the reality of the situation. Because this seems like a big mountain for them to climb here over the next 24 hours if they plan on keeping the government open through the Christmas holiday -- Pam.

BROWN: There seems to be a bit of a dichotomy here, Ryan, where lawmakers are now scrambling the last minute. Then you have President Trump teasing his farm bill event with this tweet, a throwback from Trump's appearance on the Emmys in 2006. What do you make of that?

NOBLES: Well, you know, it's pretty interesting to see that tweet come down as you're up here in halls of the capitol where the lawmakers are literally scrambling, trying to come up with some sort of a solution to this impasse. And what's also interesting about this, Pam, is that you're not getting a clear understanding from the President of exactly what his goals are.

You know, 24 hours ago, he was in a closed-door meeting with Senate Republicans -- I'm sorry, he wasn't but the Vice President was and Vice President Mike Pence promised those Senators that if they delivered to him a clean continuing resolution that he would sign it into law. Now here we are and he's completely backtracked. So, I think it's difficult for these Republicans leaders to work with the President when his mind changes so often. And then when you couple it with the fact that he's tweeting about an old Emmys' appearance, it makes you wonder what he's focused on at this stage of the game. You know, we are dangerously close to the government shutting down and this is what the President is talking about.

BROWN: And as you pointed out, a number of lawmakers have left, senators who thought it was a done deal. They passed it, went home for the holidays. So, a lot is at stake here. Ryan Nobles, thank you so much.

And my reporting -- and speaking of White House officials is that it irked the President with this pushback. The pressure he was getting from conservatives, from the freedom caucus. And that is in part behind this change of heart. And this love fest between President Trump and conservative media outlets has hit a bump in the road, it appears. This spat started when pundit and commentator Ann Coulter slammed the President for backing off his $5 billion border wall demand. She wrote an article calling him a quote, gutless President and a wall-less country. And in a radio interview, she said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN COULTER, COMMENTATOR: They're about to have a country where no Republican will ever be elected president again. Trump -- it'll just have been a joke presidency that scammed the American people, enraged, that you know, amused the populous for a while, but he'll have no legacy whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: All right. So let's talk about it. I want to bring in CNN chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES". And Joshua Green, national correspondent for Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and a CNN political analyst. All right, Brian, first to you. Oh, I should mention he's also the author of "The Devil's Bargain", of course as well. All right, so Brian, first you. Let's break this down. What do you make of Ann Coulter slamming the President?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: This is Ann Coulter knowing exactly how to press the President's buttons. She's done this before, shall probably do this again. But there she was on a podcast, on a radio show, saying this is going to be a one term presidency. She said she doesn't think the President is going to finish his term in office. I noticed Fox News put that on-screen last night and a half an hour later, Trump unfollowed Coulter on Twitter.

So, we know the President is paying very close attention to this conservative media coverage. The feedback loop between Trump and TV is incredibly tight. It happens in a matter of minutes. And what we're seeing is a rebellion of sorts from his TV cabinet -- his TV and radio cabinet. And Coulter, Dan Bongino, the Fox and Friends gang, Rush Limbaugh. I mean, Rush Limbaugh was on the radio at noon --

BROWN: Hey, I'm going to interrupt you because the President is speaking right now on the government shutdown.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- who hurt women and children and has spread human misery and suffering. Human trafficking and massive drug inflow must also be stopped. It's at a tremendous level. What we're doing and the incredible job being done by border secure, ICE, border patrol, local police and the military. The military has been incredible. And we are stopping them. It a process you wouldn't believe how tough but we're stopping them in record numbers.

At this moment there is a debate over funding border security and the wall, also called -- so that I give them a little bit of an out -- steel slats. We don't use the word wall necessarily but it has to be something special to do the job, steel slats. I've made my position very clear, any measure that funds the government must include border security. Has to.

[15:45:00] Not for political purposes but for our country, for the safety of our community. This is not merely my campaign promise, this is the promise every lawmaker made. It's the solemn promise to protect and defend the United States of America and it is our sacred obligation. We have no choice. For decades Washington abandoned this commitment and allowed millions

and millions of people to enter our country illegally and over the objections of the American people. No one voiced or voted for a policy. No one endorsed this policy and no one ratified this policy. It was a total assault on our democracy itself.

Illegal immigration costs our nation $275 billion a year. You hear many different numbers. You can say billions and billions but the number that I hear most accurate is $275 billion a year at least, millions of jobs and thousands of innocent lives.

More than 90 percent of heroin comes across our southern border. Heroin deaths have tripled since 2002. Every week this illegal heroin kills at least 300 Americans and costs our country over $230 billion to $289 billion or nearly $5 billion a week.

I spoke with President Xi of China and he's agreed to make fentanyl -- another one of the big, big problems and probably I think it's just gone to number one. Kills 80,000 people a year in our country. He's going to make that a major crime in China. And if you get caught you pay a major penalty, it's called the death penalty. And it wasn't a crime until I spoke to him. So I appreciate President Xi for doing that. That's a tremendous -- that's going to have a tremendous impact.

Every day ten known or suspected terrorists try to gain entry into our country. Every day 2,000 illegal aliens try to cross our borders. They try. We get most of them. It hard without a wall. Every year 50,000 illegal children are smuggled by coyotes and criminals into our country. In the last two years alone ICE offices arrested criminal aliens charged with or convicted of 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes and 4,000 murders, it's rough stuff.

Yet the Democrats continue to oppose border security no matter how many innocent people get hurt or die. Ridiculously and dangerously certain people want open borders, which allow potentially massive crime. Our nation has spent trillions of dollars and sacrificed thousands of brave young lives defending the borders of foreign nations. I am asking Congress to defend the border of our nation for a tiny fraction -- tiny fraction of the cost. Essential to border security is a powerful, physical barrier. Walls work, whether we like it or not. They work better than anything.

In Israel, 99.9 percent successful. I spoke to Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister, two days ago. We were talking about it. He said its 99.9 -- I mean, he came up I didn't ask -- I said 99.9 percent successful. We have proposed a steel slat barrier to halt the deadly flow of he's illegal traffickers, smugglers and terrorists.

Every day that we deprive our borders patrol and ICE officers the resources they need, we put many innocent lives in harm's way. It should be bipartisan. I think it will end up being bipartisan. I really do.

Illegal immigration also strains public services that Americans depend on and illegal immigration drives down wages for the neediest Americans. No one who calls themselves a progressive should support illegal immigration. Open borders hurt poor Americans more than anyone else in our society. In life there are certain principles worth fighting for. Principles that are more important than politics, party or personal convenience.

The safety and security and sovereignty of the United States is the most important principle of all. If we don't stand strong for our national borders, then we cease to be a nation and we betray our commitment to the loyal citizens of our great country. I look forward to signing a bill that fulfills our fundamental duty to the American people.

[15:50:04] It is all about, and I say this in any way they want to hear it. It's all about America first. We have to put our country first. We have to put our people first and we have to put safety first.

So thank you all very much, and we'll be working on that, Mitch and Paul and Kevin and everybody, and we'll see what we can do. But hopefully that will all come together. Now to the farm bill. We are proudly joined today --

BROWN: You heard the President's remarks, digging in his heels staying firm on signaling not wanting to sign this short-term funding bill unless there's funding for the border wall. I want to bring in, Charlie Dent, Brian Stelter, Joshua Green to sort of unpack what we heard from the President. First to you, Charlie Dent, what is your reaction? The President clearly doubling down saying that the border wall is of utmost importance saying this isn't just a campaign promise. This is about national security.

CHARLIE DENT (R), FORMER PENNSYLVANIA CONGRESSMAN: Well, as a former member of Congress who actually served on the Homeland Security Committee and on the Appropriations Committee doing homeland security funding, I kind of resent this. I got to tell you, I was in Congress when we passed the Secure Fence Act that authorized over 700 miles of pedestrian and vehicular on the southern borders. We provided for detention beds, more border patrol agents, we've done a lot to improve the situation on the border.

Now when the President talks about a wall, he should be using the term operational control of the border. Is he talking about 2,000 miles of steel slats along the border, or is he talking about something less than that? I have not met one border security expert who has told me we need 2,000 miles of barrier on the southern border.

Now, that said, he's not going to get $5 billion before -- between now and tomorrow evening for the wall, so there's going to be a shutdown. The votes simply are not there in the Senate, and I doubt the votes are there in the House. So I think he's got to get realistic. If he wants a real deal, you know, he could have had a deal on border security with Dacca , but he walked away from it. So, at some point, I think he's got to be serious and realistic about his demand in this late hour.

BROWN: Joshua, your reaction? JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think Trump has been

backed into a corner here. There were signs over the last few weeks, people in the administration had laid the groundwork for some kind of a fig leaf, some kind of a hedge where maybe it would be border security, it would be the wall per se. And then what happened was there was a revolt among the kind of right-wing cable pundits, people like Ann Coulter, whose approval Trump deeply cares about. I think that singed him. That forced him to back into a corner. We heard in these remarks just now. Trump gave absolutely no sign that he was about to compromise. The Democrats, the problem, is he needs Democratic votes to keep the government open, and at least as of now it doesn't look like he's going to get them.

BROWN: It just shows you, Brian Stelter, to your point, Josh, of the power of conservative media and the freedom caucus for that matter.

STELTER: The power, that's right, of the freedom caucus and the conservative media together. The President's message there was be afraid, be very afraid. And most Americans aren't. Most Americans are not afraid of what he was describing, the so-called threat that he sees and portrays from Mexico. However, many members of his base are very concerned, and that is because those concerns are stoked every day by right-wing media. So I think it's notable that the President thinks this is a winning issue for him, even though we just had a midterm election, the President made this his main message right up to the midterms and the GOP lost in a big way in the midterms.

BROWN: Right.

STELTER: This is a winning issue for him and he's still is being supported by the right-wing media voices. Rush Limbaugh, for example, challenging the President to do something and then what did Trump do this afternoon? He sent a message to Limbaugh reassuring him, yes, I will shut down the government if I have to. So, the President is being influenced by these TV and radio voices, and that is a big part of the reason why we may see the government shut down.

BROWN: It really is amazing when some of these personalities go on Fox and make the case to the President and then shortly after he tweets, like we saw this morning. Where all of a sudden out of nowhere he tweeted signaling that he wouldn't sign it, that border funding is a priority. So Charlie Dent, I want to give you the final word. Where do we go from here?

DENT: Well, this is really why this is so sad, that the loudest shrillest voices that are intent on shutting down the government, they don't give a damn about running the country. That's not their business. They have a business model. They are trying to drive their ratings and clicks and eyeballs and shutting down the government is good for them. It's bad for the country. So, bottom line is the President and members of Congress have to tune out these fringe elements that are hell bent on shutting down the government and legislators have a responsibility to keep the government functioning and they ought to just cut the deal they can cut right now and be done with it and come back and fight another day.

BROWN: All right, thank you all. We do appreciate it the.

[15:55:00] And much more ahead on our breaking news on Capitol Hill. President Trump says he was promised a wall and until he gets the funding, he is not signing a bill to keep the government open. We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Just seconds away from the closing bell right now. The Dow is down more than 500 points in part because of the standoff on Capitol Hill over funding for the President's bothered wall and the looming threat of a government shutdown.

Well, thank you so much for being with me. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.