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Trump to Deliver "Bipartisan" SOTU as He Weighs Going Around Congress to Fund Border Wall; Interview with Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA); Source: Trump, Kushner Met with Contractors at White House to Discuss Building Border Wall; WAPO: Trump's Company Fires 18 Undocumented Workers. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 5, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:33:56] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump has called it a waste of time, but for the 17 lawmakers working to hash out the border security deal, it is still their job. The bipartisan negotiators have just over a week, until the 15th, to work something out to avoid another government shutdown.

The president is still calling for $5.7 billion for a border wall with Mexico as part of any deal. He has been teasing the idea of declaring a national emergency to go around Congress to get just that, something Democrats and some Republicans we learn say they oppose. How does this end with the State of the Union address now looming large tonight?

Joining me now, one of the negotiators, Democratic Congressman Pete Aguilar, of California.

Congressman, thank you for being here.

REP. PETE AGUILAR, (D), CALIFORNIA: Thanks for having me, Kate.

BOLDUAN: The president has declared your efforts a waste of time. Are there still real negotiations happening toward a deal to keep the government open?

AGUILAR: There are. There are great conversations that are happening. This weekend, staff was negotiating on both sides of the aisle, in both chambers, trying to negotiate a compromise. That is what our colleagues have asked us to do. That is what we want to do. We want to avoid another Trump shutdown. That is why we are continuing to meet.

[11:35:04] BOLDUAN: On the issue of the wall, let me play for you what White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said today about their position right now.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUES PRESS SECRETARY: What we are looking at is a steel barrier that you can see through, but that keeps people from coming in illegally, forces folks to go through the ports of entry so that they have greater technology, which both Democrats and Republicans support.


BOLDUAN: A steel barrier you can look through. Are you any more open to putting money toward a physical barrier at the border today?

AGUILAR: I would say we have that. We have 657 miles of physical barrier right now. So what I would tell the White House and the press secretary is, good, we have that. Let's move on to technologies. Let's move on to other proven methods and make this discussion about what is effective to protect our southern border and fund Homeland Security, which, by the way, includes TSA, Coast Guard, much more than just those ports of entries.

BOLDUAN: And of course, a few things. And he argues that more wall is needed, not just the mileage that is already there. And not just fixing it but building new wall. We have heard that over and over again. He says the new wall is being built as we speak.

The president is not expected to do this. But if he does tonight announce that he is going to declare a national emergency, which would be to go around Congress to get the money, additional funding for the wall, what does that do to your talks?

AGUILAR: The president shouldn't insert himself into the discussions. That would be truly unfortunate. If he does make that declaration, it is not going to go over well with the American public and with my colleagues in Congress on both sides of the chamber. We don't feel he should declare a national emergency. So all we can control is having those conversations, working in a bipartisan, bicameral way, add confidence with the negotiators, and the negotiations that we can continue to make progress on these issues.

BOLDUAN: What does your gut tell you right now? Do you think you will be able to reach a deal to avoid government shutdown among the negotiators at the table? Let's just start there?

AGUILAR: I do. I feel among those negotiators at the table, I think we fashion a compromise. I think we absolutely can do that working in a collaborative way. The tone and tenor of what I heard among the Senators and the House members last week was very positive. I think, if left to our own devices, we could fashion a compromise that the American public would definitely support.

BOLDUAN: Left to your own devices, does that mean Nancy Pelosi is staying out of it?

AGUILAR: I think we have received no guidance. We are working in a bipartisan way. We are trying to follow the evidence of what the solutions are with what Border Patrol and DHS says while working with our colleagues. We are going to continue to move along that way. Hopefully, we can get to that point.

BOLDUAN: So about tonight, the applause lines during a State of the Union address are always something to watch. When the president talks about the strong economy, the low unemployment rate, the strong wage growth that the country has been seeing, will you stand up? Will you applaud?

AGUILAR: Look, I mean, I will have to just see how he couches that. I will tell you, in many places in this country, including places like San Bernardino County, where I'm from, the recovery has been uneven at best. There's still higher-than national average unemployment rate. People are working harder for less. They are working multiple jobs. This recovery that he talks about might happen in some places but it doesn't happen everywhere in the country. I think that I will wait and see how he couches these terms. But I think there's still plenty of work to do. That is why Democrats are concerned about making sure we have an economy that works for everyone, invest in infrastructure, reduce the cost of prescription drugs. Those are things we can agree on.

BOLDUAN: When you talk about investing in infrastructure, will you applaud when the president, who is expected to talk about that tonight? I just wonder, if Democrats want the president to meet them somewhere in order to start compromising, can you applaud when you see an applause line?

AGUILAR: Yes. Absolutely. We can applaud when there's an applause line. We also want him to prove it. Time and time again, he says these things, but then when kept to his own devices with his advisers, you know, the details don't match the rhetoric. So he has a high bar to reach in order to prove that he is willing to work and genuinely work in a bipartisan way and not just blow up deals, bipartisan deals like he has done on immigration and in so many others where he just walked away from the table.

BOLDUAN: Your guest tonight for tonight's address is a Catholic nun who is an immigrant rights advocate in your district. You message with that is very clear. What do you say to some of the president's guests? He has family members of a couple murdered by an undocumented immigrant last month. They will be joining as his guests tonight.

[11:40:12] AGUILAR: What I would love is for Sister Hortensia to talk to his guests, because I think that there's a lot that they can pray about and work through. But what we need to do is honor these individuals, make sure that these migrants are done so in a humanitarian way and have the resource when they claim legal asylum. Those are the things we should continue to work through, making sure that we fix our immigration system. Those are things we can all agree with. But Sister Hortensia is here to listen and to be open minded and to be an advocate for immigrant families.

BOLDUAN: Talking to each other, rather than at each other. A novel idea in this day and age.

Congressman, thank you for coming in.

AGUILAR: Thanks for having me, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We have breaking news just coming in moments ago. A source telling CNN that President Trump and his son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, met with contractors to discuss building the border wall. Details on that next.


[11:45:50] BOLDUAN: Just in, the president's State of the Union address just hours away and a new twist in the fight over border funding. Sources say the president and top adviser, Jared Kushner, sat down with contractors last week to discuss building the wall.

Let's go to the White House. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is there.

Kaitlan, what are you learning?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, basically, this is showing us just how serious the president is about declaring a national emergency and building his border wall. He is so serious about it that he and Jared Kushner, his son and law and senior adviser, who has been heavily involved in the negotiations about funding the border wall, are so serious they invited these contractors to come to the White House last week. They met with them, discussed ways to build the president's border wall. We are told -- and this is actually really telling, Kate, that the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, was also present for the meeting. It shows they know if the president does declare a national emergency, they are likely going to face a court battle over this and they're trying to get prepared for that.

Another thing this shows is the president is not that optimistic that congressional negotiators, who are still meeting to try to hash out a deal to fund the government and please the president by funding his border wall, the president is not optimistic that they are going to find out a solution that he likes and would accept. Clearly, he is moving. He feels very serious about building this border wall.

Kate, that comes despite our Hill team reporting that several senior Senate Republicans and members of GOP leadership are voicing concern about the president using his emergency powers to build his wall, something that they have criticized past presidents for doing, that they think will set a dangerous precedent.

But clearly, the president meeting with these private contractors to discuss building his wall shows just how serious he is about declaring a national emergency and just how he is not that optimistic about negotiators finding a deal -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: It seems all signs are pointing in one direction.


BOLDUAN: Unclear if it does anything to pressure these negotiators to work any faster or go the direction he would like when it comes to border wall funding. Much more to learn tonight. That's for sure.


BOLDUAN: Great stuff. Thanks, Kaitlan.

Coming up for us, a new report on a wave of firings at golf courses owned by the Trump Organization. Undocumented workers who have been employed there for years now let go. Why now? We'll ask one of the reporters that broke that story, next.


[11:51:29] BOLDUAN: Tonight's State of the Union address will see many guests in the House chamber. Included in that guest list this year, an undocumented immigrant recently fired from one of President Trump's golf courses.

Victoria Morales says that she worked for years at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster but was fired late last year and is now facing deportation. Tonight, she will be facing the president, actually, as the invited guest of a New Jersey Democratic congresswoman.

There's also new reporting from the "Washington Post" that Morales is at least one of 18 documented workers fired from the president's golf courses over the last two months.

Josh Partlow, from the "Washington Post" was first to break the story and he is joining me live once again.

Josh, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: We talked last week when your first reporting came out, and now there's been more firings at more golf courses. What are these former workers telling you now?

PARTLOW: That's right. It seems to be a situation that's common across several of the Trump Organization's golf courses and properties. So far, we know that five golf courses in New York and New Jersey have fired undocumented workers in the last couple months who have been working there, at least 18 people. We're not even including the worker you mentioned at Bedminster. The Bedminster firings are not among that total. So it seems to be pretty widespread, the Trump Organization's reliance on undocumented labor, well into his presidency.

BOLDUAN: I'm wondering, after last week, after your first report, and now even more so, are you getting any sense of how much the Trump Organization relies on undocumented immigrants in his business? How many people could we be talking about here?

PARTLOW: It's hard to put a number on it. Partly that's because, in the summer months, you have a lot more people working at these golf courses in jobs like groundskeeping and maintenance and housekeeping and in the kitchen. Especially these northeast clubs, they're closed in the winter or they have a skeleton staff. So the people being fired are already a reduced number of the total population that would work at a club like this. The number could be higher than the 18 we've reported so far.

BOLDUAN: These workers have told you that they presented false documents to get their jobs. Many of them, in your reporting, you say that their supervisors knew about their undocumented status. What were you hearing from Eric Trump -- what you were hearing from Eric Trump is this is all kind of news to them, when they figured it out, and when they found it out, then they fired the people. Can they both be right?

PARTLOW: Well, I mean, in terms of what Eric Trump knew personally, you know, we haven't been able to determine that. The situation -- these workers generally deal with lower-level supervisors or the general managers for these golf courses. Yes, I mean, when they say their supervisors knew, the supervisors that we've been told would joke about it with them, sometimes people would get these jobs under an assumed name with a fake Social Security card or green card, and their supervisors would sometimes joke about them, that these cards looked so fake, that their names were not their real names. You know, after the "New York Times" published a story about this issue in December, that's when the Trump Organization did its audit, which has resulted in these recent firings. That's one thing we're really trying to prove and uncover right now is who knew at these golf courses about these undocumented workers and how high up it went.

[11:55:09] BOLDUAN: And, I mean, I think you get to the point of, overall, I think a lot of folks are wondering, why is this happening now? Have you gotten a clear answer on that?

PARTLOW: The best answer we can figure at this point is that, you know, it's a result of the publicity around these first undocumented housekeepers at Bedminster. The Trump Organization is responding to the fact that this issue is now out in the public.

BOLDUAN: Josh, great reporting. Thank you so much.

PARTLOW: Thanks a lot.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for up, countdown to the State of the Union. The White House says the president will strike a bipartisan tone tonight. So why is he attacking the Democrats on Twitter right now?

Stay with us.