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Graham Introduces Bill That Would Change Asylum Process And Try To Slow Flow Of Migrants Into U.S.; WH Letter To Nadler: Current And Former Aides Won't Testify; Trump Weighs In On Potential 2020 Opponents. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 15, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And were the President will outline a plan of his own perhaps as early as tomorrow. An important footnote as we delve into the details at the moment, there are no, that would be zero, Democrats on boards with either the White House or Senator Lindsey Graham which means at the moment there is zero reason to believe there's suddenly an opening to get legislation passed.

But to the details now, Senator Graham's proposal would require asylum claims to be filed in the migrant's country of origin or in Mexico. It would allow unaccompanied minors to be deported back to Central America. It would increase the length of time families can be held together from 20 days to 100 days. And it would employ 500 new immigration judges that designed to address the massive asylum court backlog.

The Republican senator says he's open to other things that might bring Democrats onboard. But he says there's only one person who can move the immigration debate from posturing to compromise.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): They know that if you bring a small child, your chance of being deported goes down to almost zero. They know if you ask for asylum, we don't have enough bed space to hold you for your hearing for three years, they'll let you loose in the country, so they come to ask for asylum.

I said, until you change these magnets, these laws, no wall is going to stop the flow. I think you've got that. And the aid makes sense only if you turn off the faucet. We're not going to pass my bill as written. You're going to have to get Democrats in the room. And this is the time for the Tuesday Trump to show up.


KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly joins our conversation, if you don't get the Tuesday Trump reference that is why Al Gore created the internet.

I get it. He's cared about this issue for a long time. Where he is today is almost 180 degrees from where he was in the Bush/McCain/Kennedy days. It was a very different Lindsey Graham then. But he acknowledges, I can't pass this, though, Jared Kushner briefed Republicans on the President's plan yesterday. Is there any hope that people are going to say, OK, we need to do something, therefore, let's bring Democrats into the room or is this, put out a couple of competing Republican plans so we can use them in our campaigns next year?

PHIL MATTINGLY CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think you need to separate the proposals, right? Jared Kushner's proposal is something for Republicans to get behind, related specifically to illegal immigration, kind of a series of kind of policies that perhaps they can tout and say they're for something as opposed to opposed to everything.

Lindsey Graham's proposal is very specific to an issue that is a very real crisis on the border, humanitarian or otherwise in terms of the escalation of migrants trying to cross, migrants trying to claim asylum, children, undocumented children, unaccompanied children that are there. And there are elements of Lindsey Graham's proposal which actually line up with a Senate Democratic proposal that they re- proposed yesterday.

The idea of surging immigration judges are trying and cut on the backlog. That is something that has bipartisan support. Democrats are very big on increasing support, financial aid to the northern triangle countries, something that the Trump administration tried to cut earlier this year, did cut earlier this year. I think you'll probably get a lot of Republicans who would support that as well.

The idea of changing how long you detain -- you can detain family units I think probably wouldn't fly very well. But I think the bigger, the broader issue here is on the Central American migrant crisis, specifically, there are pieces of overlap. I think the big question is, is anytime you start anything on immigration, it becomes an aircraft carrier and people start dumping a bunch of things in and everything falls apart immediately.

KING: Aircraft carrier, or as I say, quicksand. Every time you try to touch this, you know, it just gets you into trouble. But, again, we're heading into a campaign year, Democrats and Republicans have been divided on this issue well before Donald Trump came on the scene. It's worse now because of his proposals. But long before, here is the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, speaking on Capitol Hill. Set your politics aside for a minute. Listen to these numbers.


JOHN SANDERS, ACTING COMMISSIONER, CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: We've apprehended nearly 520,000 people on the southern border. In the past seven days, we have averaged over 4,500 arrests per day. In the last two weeks, we've had our highest single day, over 5,200 apprehensions and our single largest group of more than 420 illegal aliens. Already this fiscal year, we have surpassed the total southern border apprehensions of every fiscal year since 2009.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: So whatever your views, so that math is daunting. Before I bring you in, let me ask this. Is there any indication that the President of the United States is willing to do what Lindsey Graham thinks he should?


GRAHAM: Now, here's the task for you, Mr. President, you had a meeting of Republicans and Democrats and you said, send me a bill. And I will sign it. We sent him a bill and he didn't sign it. So I am urging the President to lead us to a solution. I am urging my Democratic colleagues, in spite of your dislike and displeasure with this President, find a solution to this problem, quickly.


KING: To get the Democrats onboard, Republicans would have to give status for the DREAMers at a minimum. The Democrats right now would say, no, that's not enough, way more than that. But let's just say that's it. The President going to sign a bill heading into the election year that gives the Democrats anything they want?

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: Not like that. I mean he's not going to give anything on the DREAMers. And we saw this in a fight over there was that government shutdown seems a long ago now. But it happened just at the start of this year where the President kind of put forward some things. But all of those were non-starters because he had to have this wall. And then he moved ahead with -- in an emergency declaration.

[12:35:12] And so there is no sign that this President is going to do anything that would upset his base when it comes to immigration. He wants to throw them red meat. He wants to say, I'll shutdown the border, I'll do all of these other things, I'll make sure that they can't apply for asylum here. Of course, all of that's being challenged.

But the idea that they are going to come together and come up with this grand plan, it hasn't happened. And as you said, it's not just President Trump. This was long before President Trump. They haven't been able to come together and come up with a plan.

KING: Right. This has long been the -- if only Nixon can go to China, only Trump can figure this out. If you read your reporting today, there's just like a wait a minute let me make the point here.

This is in your reporting today, if this is quoting Steve Camarota, director of research for the Center of Immigration Studies which is very conservative. If there isn't some reduction in the number, the White House risks alienating some of its stronger supporters, that's his position. The senior administration official disputed this assertion, telling POLITICO that immigration restrictionists are a 'pretty fringe' group that have not been quote, an important part of the president's base. They have bullied a lot of the most rational people out of the conversation. So if you read that, you think maybe the President might be willing to do some business. Is he? ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Jared Kushner, who is the architect of this new immigration proposal inside the White House has told some of the people he's brought in for meetings that, like with criminal justice reform, which he's using as a model, if you put good choices what are in his view, good choices in front of the President, the President will make the right decision, like backing criminal justice reform or backing this new proposal, which doesn't reduce the number of immigrants. So that's what he believes.

But many of the President's strongest supporters are really hoping that he won't do that and they're threatening to pull their support if the President does support this Kushner bill. What I think is interesting is that whether wittingly or not, there is a recognition that in the White House that immigration divided the Republican Party like no other for the past 10 or 15 years, and they realize that this bill isn't going to pass.

But there is a hope to unite the GOP behind a new consensus. And whether or not this becomes law, to have Republicans agree on some sort of new immigration proposal that they can use in the 2020 campaign and going forward.

KING: Let's see if that works.

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Skeptical that Mitch McConnell who himself is on the ballot next year in a red state, in a pretty rural state, is going to bring up any immigration bill.

KING: I'm going to see in the fine print if the Kushner plan somehow cuts the President off from Twitter and watching "Fox News." We'll see it maybe.

Up next, a new report that says that one of the President's flagship properties is staking on water.


[12:42:15] KING: Topping our political radar today, a campaign trail promise from Senator Kamala Harris just this morning.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D-C), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I'm announcing it for the first time today here with you, to take executive action to ban the import of assault weapons into our country.


KING: Standing ovation there just put the politics in context. The so-called assault weapons ban would be big and controversial and meet huge Republican resistance. The measure though, one of a number of proposals from Harris that she says would cut down on gun violence. She also wants universal background checks. And to punish gun dealers who break the law by taking away their license to sell firearms.

A new report says one of the President's most treasured business assets is in steep decline. According to the "Washington Post," net operating income at his Doral Resort in Miami fell 69 percent over the two-year period ending in 2017. The paper says the company blames hurricane and the Zika virus for keeping people away, yet similar resorts in the area did better, according to "The Post." Eric Trump calls the story completely senseless.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says he hasn't made up his mind. Mnuchin today says he's still thinking over how to respond to that House subpoena demanding the President's tax returns. But listen here to the secretary with a clear message. If you're a betting man, bet "no."


STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: We will comply with the timing of it and I think you can pretty much guess how we're going to, but I haven't made a decision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are Democrats weaponizing the IRS?

MNUCHIN: The Democrats aren't trying to weaponize the IRS. It's a very, very dangerous issue. And that's why we are taking this issue very seriously.


KING: Next, the President treats Joe Biden as a front-runner. But whom does that help? And today, New Hampshire, Senator Kamala Harris says the former vice president perfectly qualified for his old job.


[12:44:05] HARRIS: I think that Joe Biden would be a great running mate, as vice president, he's proven that he knows how to do the job.



KING: Some breaking news just into CNN, the White House counsel sending a new letter to the House Judiciary Committee and its chairman, Jerry Nadler. The letter making clear Chairman Nadler will not get records and testimony from dozens of current and former White House staff, this confrontation escalating. Let's get straight to CNN's Capitol Hill correspondent, Manu Raju. Manu, Pat Cipollone essentially saying, "Go away."

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he is. And this is in relation to the Committee's investigation into potential obstruction of justice. You'll recall that Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary chairman sent dozens of letters to individuals and entities including the White House, asking for a wide range of information and here the White House responding, saying, it will not turn over this information.

One passage from this 12-page letter that was just sent out by Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, he says, if the Committee intends to continue its inquiry, it would great advance if the process were to narrow the scope of the request in the March 4th letter and articulate the legislative purpose and legal basis reporting each of the request then it would consider the matter, consider these, but it says very clearly here, John, the constitution does not permit Congress to undermine the President in this manner.

[12:50:05] They say, this would impair the President's ability to carry forward. What they're trying to argue overall is that, this was a sweeping investigation that was conducted by the special counsel's team. There is no need for Congress to redo it. The requests for information undermine the activities of the White House and the view of this White House and that they will not cooperate with a wide range of requests.

And this is just one of a number of fights that are escalating between House Democrats and the White House about a range of issues, this just being the latest, something that could set the stage for yet more court action to try to get this information, but this latest information, this latest letter saying, Jerry Nadler, we're not going to do what you're asking for. John?

KING: The White House of course well aware, you have these court fights that drag on for months and months, potentially through and beyond the 2020 election year. Manu Raju live at the breaking news, appreciate it.

When we come back, President Trump assesses the 2020 field of Democrats and its clear he has, if this is the right word, a favorite.



[12:55:40] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking at the competition. You sort of dream about competition like that, but who knows, who knows? I got boot-edge-edge. Beto is falling fast. What the hell happened? I don't know what the hell happened to Biden. What happened to him? I'm looking and said, that doesn't look like the guy I knew. Bernie, you know, Bernie is crazy. Bernie is crazy. But Bernie has got a lot more energy than Biden. Pocahontas, I think, is probably out. Boy, you've got some beauties there, 350 million people and that's the best we can do.


MARTIN: The friar's club, playing all week.

KING: Some classic President Trump last night in Louisiana. J. Martin wishes he's in Louisiana. Berating and belittling his potential 2020 competitors. His most frequent target by far, lately, the front-runner, Joe Biden. Take a look at these tweets from the President since Joe Biden got into the race. Thirty-one times, the President has tweeted about former Vice President Biden. Only four times, Senator Sanders, one time Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O'Rourke, Cory Booker zero references in the President's tweets. They come up every now and then in the speeches.

You're part of a piece in the newspaper today about some people on team Trump think this is a horrible idea, that you're evaluating Biden.

MARTIN: Yes. Maggie and I have a story in today's paper about what you probably can't call a strategy, because a strategy would probably impute some motive and sort of a bigger picture thinking into what he's doing. If you look at that chart that you guys just showed, that's mostly a reaction to what he's seeing on shows like this, on cable television. And also, what he's seeing when he's reading the paper in the morning.

And he's seeing two things, lots of Biden coverage and coverage of polls that show Biden the leading. And his reaction to that is to then sort of take aim with the guy he sees as the front-runner. And he's doing it in a way that is a gift for Biden in the minds of any Republicans, because the last thing Biden wants to talk about is his primary.

What Biden wants to talk about is Trump. Trump is basically, you know, letting him do that by sort of talking about Biden so much. And that invites Biden to hit back. And the next thing you know, there's more segments on television than Biden than Trump.

KING: Well, to that point, here's the former vice president, well aware he has the President's attention, returns the favor.


JOE BIDEN (D-D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I understand that President has been tweeting a lot about me this morning and for a while. I wonder why the hell he's doing that. The President of the United States has made no bones about it. The only way to stay in power is to divide the nation. The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House. Not a joke. You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.


KING: Does the President's attention help him act like he's the presumptive nominee?

RASCOE: Absolutely. I mean it, makes this like a general election contest, right? And Biden is already --

KING: There is a lot of fun. Can we wait and have a primary debate, please?

RASCOE: When Biden is already on social media, we were talking to some folks, his social media ads are already focused on being anti- Trump. Like, unlike others, who are kind of introducing themselves. I mean, so, this is what he wants. He wants to have this conversation. And he wants to seem as if he is the only person that could beat Trump. And he's the person that Trump is worried about. So that's what Trump is giving him by constantly talking about him. JOHNSON: What really jumped out at me in your piece, Jonathan, was the Trump campaign's response to your inquiries, which is to say, that Biden is one of 20 heads in the Democratic primary's socialist monster. Well, that is not the message that President Trump is giving. He's not treating him as one of a bunch of socialist leaning candidates.

He's treating him like a general election opponent. And that just, I think, shows you how the President is diverging from his campaign and treating this guy. And he told POLITICO in an interview last week, Biden is going to be the nominee. And he's acting very much like that. Not good at -- doesn't have a poker face.

KING: He trusts his impulses and his reflexes. And we saw this in 2016 and we're going to see it again even though that he had bigger more professional campaign now. But it's still him.

MATTINGLY: With good reason, he trusts his impulses and reflexes because it's gotten him to where he is. And nobody ever thought he would get there. All I would note is that, this gives Biden the opportunity to only talk about President Trump, as other Democrats are attacking him. He gets to basically act like he's above it, not paying any attention to it, focus entirely on the guy in the White House. And I think team Biden is probably pretty happy about that.

KING: But he better be ready. He's going to be on a debate stage in just a few weeks.

MARTIN: Very different scenario, yes.

KING: There'll be other issues there. Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS, see you back here this time tomorrow.

[13:00:02] Don't go anywhere. Busy NEWS DAY, Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great day.