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Thomas Friedman On President Trump Racist Tweet And Israel's Upcoming Election; White House Says Immigration Raids Are Underway. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 15, 2019 - 07:30   ET



[07:32:20] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're joined again by "New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman. Tom, thank you so much for being with us.

We've talked about the president's racist tweet from over the weekend and when I read the tweet it made me think about something you wrote -- I think it was two columns ago for you -- which was, "We have become the biggest threat to ourselves."

What did you mean by that?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES, AUTHOR, "THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE": I meant that, you know, there's no foreign power that's going to defeat us, John. The Chinese aren't going to defeat us, the Russians are not going to defeat us.

What will defeat us, basically, is if we fracture as a country. Is if we do what the president is actually encouraging us to do -- to look at one another and our neighbors as un-American, as the enemy.

You know, we have been the country we have been precisely because we could make a fist. We could out of many, make one, and not only do that on the field of battle but do that in industry, in commerce, the world of education and ideas.

That is America's secret sauce. Our secret sauce is that we can attract the most high-energy and high-I.Q. risk-takers from all over the world and you put them all together in one country and they make the richest and most powerful country in the world. A country that actually used to be the envy of everyone around the world.

And so, when we go dark as a country we not only make for a different world, but we make for a much weaker America.

BERMAN: I want to talk now about some of the challenges facing the United States around the world.

In your most recent column, you talk about the elections coming up in Israel and you do it in very stark terms and I think will make people reflect. You say, "This will be one of the most important elections in Israel's history. If you care about Israel, pay attention because the country you admire is on the line. If you're a Jew, really pay attention because the outcome of this election could tear apart your synagogue and your community. We're talking about Jewish banana republic stuff."


FRIEDMAN: Well, basically, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Likud Party, is facing indictment on multiple counts of fraud and on breach of trust by an attorney general that he appointed. So we're talking about very serious and credible charges. That indictment will -- he gets one last chance to appeal before it comes down and that's in October.

Israel is about to hold an election on September 17th. Netanyahu is desperate to stay out of jail. To stay out of jail, he wants to win this election. Produce a majority coalition in the Israeli Parliament that will then pass a law that number one, will basically make it illegal to indict a sitting Israeli prime minister -- him.

[07:35:12] And number two, will then -- when the Israel Supreme Court strikes that down as illegal, will then overrule the Israeli Supreme Court and make it subservient to his Parliament.

That is banana republic stuff. That's what you see in places like Poland today, in Hungary, in Turkey. It's elected leaders then using their power to undermine the courts, the media, and civil society.

That is where Israel is going and if it goes there, it will be a disaster for the Jewish state and every Jew around the world will have to say how do I feel about that? That is a challenge to their ethical norms.

Do I embrace that Israel when it goes the route of Turkey, of Erdogan, of Poland, of Hungary? Do I embrace that or do I reject it and oppose it? And that will tear apart every synagogue and every Jewish institution in the diaspora and on every college campus.

Now imagine just for a second, John, that the Democrats win in 2020 and you have a Democratic Party whose base is very woke about two things, BDS and MBS, OK? BDS is an anti-Israel movement on college campuses. MBS is the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia.

You will have an American government that is led with a base that is increasingly hostile to an Israeli government and a Saudi government. And I think everyone should think about that as well because if Trump is not here to give protection to the kind of aberrant behavior -- the extreme behavior we've seen coming out of Israel and Saudi Arabia in the last two years -- woe be unto both of them because the base of the Democratic Party today is woke on two issues -- BDS and MBS.

BERMAN: So you think that a complete split or at least some kind of important split between the United States in Israel could happen if politics lines up the right way? FRIEDMAN: Yes, lines up the wrong way. But, basically, the Democratic Party base is going a completely different direction than Netanyahu is going. We'll see if he's reelected. We'll see if we don't hopefully, get a national unity government there.

But these are -- these are big issues at an incredibly sensitive time.

BERMAN: Very quickly, I have time for one more question on China. We're learning this morning the Chinese economy is growing at the slowest rate that it has in more than 20 years -- 27 years. Really, since we started getting any kind of statistics at all from China.

What does that tell you about the trade negotiations and about where they might be headed, and how much more tolerance China might have to deal with these tariffs?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I think it's a very important story and I read it coming in, John.

You know, I believe that President Xi Jinping, in China, needs to find some resolution with the Trump administration that will give American and foreign companies more access to the Chinese economy. He's been resisting that for fears that it will make him look weak at home. But you can now see in the economic statistics coming out of China that this is starting to hurt the Chinese economy.

John, very quickly, I believe America and China are the real "one country-two systems" -- not China and Hong Kong. That is to say our economies are totally intertwined.

You do not want to root for a collapse in or weakening of the Chinese economy. It will -- it will impact us here.

I prefer never to use the word "China." I much prefer to talk about one-sixth of humanity and how one-sixth of humanity develops its economy -- grows or doesn't grow -- will affect everyone across the globe.

BERMAN: Thomas Friedman, I can't thank you enough for joining us this morning --

FRIEDMAN: My pleasure.

BERMAN: -- for an extensive and, I think, very important conversation. Appreciate it.

FRIEDMAN: Thank you, John. Thank you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Really interesting, John.

All right. Meanwhile, the Trump administration says the ICE raids are underway though CNN has not yet been able to confirm any arrests. The acting director of Citizenship and Immigration joins us next to explain what is happening.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:43:30] CAMEROTA: A senior administration official says immigration authorities have started conducting raids to target about 2,000 undocumented immigrants with deportation orders. At this hour, though, advocacy groups in several cities say they have not yet seen any arrests.

Joining us now to discuss this and more, we have Ken Cuccinelli. He's the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Director Cuccinelli, thanks so much for being with us.


CAMEROTA: And I will get to those raids in a moment.

But I do just want to start with the big news from yesterday and that was the president's tweet targeting these progressive freshmen women in Congress.

Let me just read it to people who might have missed it. The president sent this out yesterday at 8:00 a.m.

"So interesting to see 'Progressive' Democrat congresswomen who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe -- the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all) -- now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful nation on earth, how our government is to be run.

Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime- infested places from which they came."

What did you think of that tweet?

CUCCINELLI: Well, I didn't see that tweet, actually. I can hear what you're reading, but I spent the weekend reading litigation and regulatory materials --


CUCCINELLI: -- related to asylum. So --

CAMEROTA: Sure. But now that you've heard it, what do you think of it?

CUCCINELLI: You know, I don't -- I don't -- I can see the president's commenting on some of the splits in the Democratic caucus in the House, presumably, but beyond that, I'm staying focused on trying to fix our asylum system.

[07:45:07] CAMEROTA: Yes.

CUCCINELLI: We have a 300,000-plus case backlog and we have a crisis at the border, and we have a role to play at USCIS in fixing those things. CAMEROTA: Yes, of course. I mean, I guess that I just need to ask you when he says to these U.S. congresswomen, all U.S. citizens, "Why don't they go back and help fix a totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came," do you see that as racist?

CUCCINELLI: No, I see that as presumably, political hand grenades. But I wouldn't go that far, no -- certainly not.

CAMEROTA: But telling women of color --


CAMEROTA: -- to go back to the country from which they came --

CUCCINELLI: -- you've spent a lot of time on Twitter. I've spent a lot of time doing an actual job where --


CUCCINELLI: -- asylum is at risk and where we're trying to process legal immigrants --


CUCCINELLI: -- who are obeying our rules and to turn away the illegals --

CAMEROTA: Yes, understood.

CUCCINELLI: -- who are fraudulently trying to use our system --

CAMEROTA: Understood, and I have a job to do as well, Director.

CUCCINELLI: I understand.

CAMEROTA: But I'm not on Twitter, so I don't -- I don't actually engage on Twitter. But that's --

CUCCINELLI: I haven't been on Twitter in the last 24 hours either, so --

CAMEROTA: Understood.

But now that I'm reading it to you or just the concept of the President of the United States telling duly-elected congresswomen of color to go back to where they came from -- the countries that they came from. These are U.S. citizens.

So you don't find that racist?


CAMEROTA: So how do you explain it? How do you see it?

CUCCINELLI: I don't. You know, you're going to have to ask the president about that. CAMEROTA: The problem is that you represent his immigration policy. You are the acting director of the U.S. --

CUCCINELLI: So let's talk about immigration policy.

CAMEROTA: -- Immigration System.

But, sir, you represent immigration for the administration. Do you think that the President of the United States should be telling U.S. citizens of color to go back to the countries they came from?

CUCCINELLI: I think that the President of the United States should be doing what he is in the immigration space and that is on focusing on trying to fix an obviously broken system when we look at the border, when he's getting almost no help from Congress -- the same congressional people that he's lobbying hand grenades at, I will concede.

But at the same time, they are -- all they do is complain. They don't help fix anything. And some of the solutions we're seeking in the Trump administration are the same as were sought in the Obama administration.


CUCCINELLI: It is not a partisan solution in every instance.

CAMEROTA: So do you think that this tweet from the president is helpful towards fixing the immigration system?

CUCCINELLI: Well, anything that starts to jar them into actually addressing the problem, whether it's out of happiness or being upset with him or whatever it may be -- but when I saw the House calendar come out recently --


CUCCINELLI: -- between now and their vacation in August -- and this was nowhere to be seen. Crisis at the border --


CUCCINELLI: -- that they called a manufactured crisis only a few months ago, and they're not doing a single thing to fix it.

CAMEROTA: I understand your frustration with them. So you think this might be helpful in jarring them to positive action?

CUCCINELLI: I didn't say that. But they are going to have to rouse themselves if they're going to continue to complain and not be part of attempting to solve --


CUCCINELLI: -- the problem that we're facing.

CAMEROTA: We're going to move on. But just to be clear so that you're on the record, you are OK with the president's tweet?

CUCCINELLI: I'm not commenting on the president's tweets. You don't want to let them go but I'm trying to focus on the immigration system.

CAMEROTA: You are the representative of immigration. This is a tweet about immigration.

CUCCINELLI: Yes. I'm not the representative of Twitter.

CAMEROTA: Director, this is about who the president thinks belongs in the United States.

CUCCINELLI: Actually, immigration policy is a lot more about who the president thinks belongs in the United States and we're trying to work on that.

CAMEROTA: That's right. These are part and parcel of the same thing. And so, you have --

CUCCINELLI: I see -- I see no comment on immigration policy in anything you just read me.

CAMEROTA: He said they should go back to their home countries.

CUCCINELLI: Look, if you want to just argue about this instead of talking about actual policy that the Congress is failing to address -- although I have to admit that at least in the Senate, Sen. Graham working with Sen. Durbin, is trying to address some of these problems. It is certainly not happening in the House, all while we see pictures of overcrowding --


CUCCINELLI: -- that is caused because Congress isn't doing its job.


CUCCINELLI: -- leaving the front line officers and ICE agents on the interior to deal with overcrowding and to deal with doing a job Congress charged them to do --


CUCCINELLI: -- without the resources to do it properly.


Director Cuccinelli, did my colleague, Jake Tapper, read you that tweet yesterday on the air?

CUCCINELLI: Yes, he did.

CAMEROTA: So you have heard this tweet before and you have had 24 hours to process it.

CUCCINELLI: So what? So what? I told you I haven't been on Twitter --

CAMEROTA: I'm asking your opinion.

CUCCINELLI: -- in 24 hours. I'm not in there doing the Twitter war.

I'm working on fixing an asylum system and trying to make our immigration system legal and in -- and vetting illegals work correctly. That's what I've been spending my time, including this weekend --

[07:50:01] CAMEROTA: Yes, OK. I --

CUCCINELLI: -- doing. Not tweeting.

CAMEROTA: OK, I got it. I understand that you don't want to talk more about it here.

Maybe you can give us some real information. How many people were arrested yesterday?

CUCCINELLI: I do have operational details. Matt Albence is acting director of ICE and is a career professional law enforcement officer.

CAMEROTA: Has he reported to you on how many arrests were made?


CAMEROTA: Why not?

CUCCINELLI: Well, presumably, because operational details are kept contained within the agency executing the operation, as they should be.

CAMEROTA: Well, beforehand, they're supposed to be, but not -- after the fact, they become facts.

CUCCINELLI: Well, look, that raises a really interesting point. We're talking about this as if it were news and I say that recognizing that this is ICE's job every single day. Their job is interior enforcement.

There are over a million people in this country who have gone through the extensive due process system of our immigration system and have removal orders that they have not obeyed.


CUCCINELLI: The most disobeyed federal order that must exist.


CUCCINELLI: And yet, we're talking about it like it's a special event.

CAMEROTA: Well, the reason that we're talking about it as if it's a special event is because the president announced it on June 17th as a special event. Here's what he said.

"Next week, ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in. Mexico, using their strong immigration laws, is doing a very good job."

He announced it as though it will begin -- the process -- as though it was a special event. We're responding to that.

CUCCINELLI: Well, and again, the president gets to speak for himself. But in terms of details of the operation and specific results, those are not public yet and I don't expect operational details to become public on the front side of their execution at any point.

CAMEROTA: No, again -- of course. I don't mean on the front side of their execution.

CUCCINELLI: And I've told you that I don't have --

CAMEROTA: I mean on the back side.

CUCCINELLI: -- details about any arrests --


CUCCINELLI: -- that have taken place so far with respect to that operation.

CAMEROTA: The reason that I'm asking you is because the different mayors in these cities that we were told were being targeted have said that they haven't seen anything. So it's just hard for us to gauge whether it's really happening.

CUCCINELLI: Understood.

CAMEROTA: Is it really happening?

CUCCINELLI: Well, when ICE is ready to do it and maybe it's already begun, then they'll execute on it. But those are not details they share outside of their own law enforcement agencies with -- in any breadth, so --

CAMEROTA: So they haven't told you, basically?



"Politico" is reporting this morning that you all will be making an announcement to Congress about a change in asylum policy.

It says here, "The Trump administration is readying a new DOJ-DHS rule for asylum claims at the southern border. The administration is set to begin briefing senior figures on Capitol Hill today. The administration has been eager to have Congress change asylum laws but it -- CUCCINELLI: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- appears as if the White House is taking matters into its own hands."

So, what will you be announcing today?

CUCCINELLI: So, as I mentioned earlier, without congressional action, we have been looking at the steps that we can take within the existing legal structure to fix various aspects of our asylum system, among other things. But, asylum is what USCIS is responsible for.

We are working with the Department of Justice on a number of matters and I think that you can expect to see some more details as this week unfolds in that respect.

Again, very traditional regulatory action going on here. It's just a lot slower than if Congress would take steps.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but it doesn't sound that traditional because it sounds like -- I mean, from CNN's own reporting, that what you want to do is bar migrants who are transiting through Mexico from being able to claim asylum here. So, as we know, a lot -- many come through from Central America through Mexico and then claim asylum.

So is that what you're trying to change?

CUCCINELLI: So -- and at the same time, talking to Mexico and Northern Triangle countries about safe third country agreements as well. So we are looking at various aspects of that same strategy, both here regulatory, internally, and with international partners.

CAMEROTA: In addition to going after the undocumented migrants, since you all are interested in deterrence, have you considered going after the employers who provide the economic incentive for migrants to come here -- like, say, the Trump Organization, that has employed dozens of undocumented workers?

CUCCINELLI: So, first of all, they're not undocumented. The people that ICE is targeting have removal orders. They have those documents and they are disobeying them. They have -- they are documented in that respect.

And the answer to your question about employers is absolutely, yes. You have seen time and time again where ICE -- that is part of ICE's enforcement strategy. And you can look back over -- pick your period of time -- a year, five years across administrations -- that strategy has continued.

[07:55:04] And you are correct, Alisyn. That is one of the major draws for people to come and attempt to illegally enter the country, including using the asylum system fraudulently to try to obtain that work. And those are incentives that we are trying to remove as a -- as a matter of policy.

CAMEROTA: OK, Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Thank you very much for coming on today.

CUCCINELLI: Alisyn, good to be with you.

CAMEROTA: Thank you -- John.

BERMAN: That was one heck of a conversation, Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Oh, thank you, John Berman.

BERMAN: All right. I'm using your full name. It was that good.

CAMEROTA: I saw that.

BERMAN: All right. We have asked Republicans to respond to President Trump's openly racist comments from over the weekend. Have we heard from any?

NEW DAY continues right after this.



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump suggesting that some members of Congress should go back to their countries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president feels he is resonating with his core supporters.