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Border Cities Brace For Migrants Surge Now That Title 42 Expired; Debt Ceiling Standoff Intensifies As Potential Default Looms; Republicans Fear Trump Will Hurt Their 2024 Chances. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 12, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Our borders are not open. The United States tells migrants to turn around. That after Title 42 comes off the books. Already evidence border facilities are stretched way beyond what they can handle.

Plus, here's a debt ceiling personality test. The pessimist view a canceled big meeting today pushes the country further towards default. The optimist take, pockets of progress and staff level discussions are more important than camera ready sit downs.

And a longshot proposal from a longshot GOP candidate. Vivek Ramaswamy wants to raise the voting age to 25 with a carve out, he says, for service members and first responders. Ramaswamy says young Americans should earn the right to vote. The math, though, shows, it may well be a blatant attempt to help Republican odds.

Up first for us, it is a new day at the U.S.-Mexico border and one of uncertainty, both for the thousands of migrants trying to enter the United States and for the border personnel charged with turning them away.

Midnight, Title 42 ended, and so did the Biden administration's power to quickly expel people who enter the United States illegally. The Homeland Security Secretary, marking the moment with a warning. Smugglers, he says, are lying. The border is not open. It is TBD if that message lands or if it's simply too late to level off. An anticipated rush to reach U.S. territory. Today, another 5000 detention beds added and gone are the COVID precautions previously afforded all detainees at intake, transfer or release points.

Border Patrol Unions tell us right now they are busiest in El Paso, the Rio Grande valley and two areas in Arizona. Many of the migrant stories we're hearing on the ground share something we can all understand, regardless of your politics a universal longing for a better life and a willingness to risk everything for it. Hunger is common. Clothes often just what you see on their backs. Families often broken apart by the long, dangerous journey. Let's get straight to the front lines of this in Brownsville, Texas. CNN's Nick Valencia is there. Nick, tell us what you're seeing. NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, there's actually fewer

migrants being received at these nonprofits this morning than there was at the same time here yesterday. I just got on the phone with Team Brownsville. That's the main nonprofit that processes migrants. They help them out after they arrive in the city with basic goods. They're saying that so far today, they've only seen one immigration bus drop off migrants for humanitarian parole. By this time yesterday, we had already seen several buses.

Outside this Greyhound bus terminal, though, there are still dozens and dozens of migrants waiting for enough money to get on their way to get to their next destination. And we thought we'd show you inside here just how crowded it is. Despite those numbers spiking a little bit yesterday, it's well within the numbers that they've been seeing the last two weeks. Between 801,000 migrants being processed at the border and handed over to the care of the nonprofit Team Brownsville.

Take a look how active, though, it is here inside this bus terminal. These migrants waiting really, just to gather enough money to get on to their next destination.

Meanwhile, we just came from the border and we saw limited activity there. It is quite clear that immigration officials are prepared for this so-called surge and an increase in influx of migration, but they're just not seeing it today. We saw a makeshift tent for processing as well as several immigration buses. But so far today is really not the spike that everyone had anticipated. John.

KING: Nick Valencia, live force on the ground. Important reporting, Nick. We know you'll keep an eye on it in the days ahead as week two.

Let's get some important insights on this moment. Caitlin Dickerson of The Atlantic joins us. She just won a fuel surprise for her reporting on immigration. Caitlin, thank you for your time, and congratulations.

What you just heard from Nick Valencia. A lot of people were saying today was going to be a whole lot worse than yesterday. He says today is not. I've seen things you've said and written, that does not surprise you, that in Washington, people say surge, surge, surge. But your point is this is actually pretty constant and it ebbs and flows.

CAITLIN DICKERSON, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: That's right. As somebody who's been covering immigration for years, John, a lot of times my job is to put people's feet back on the ground because about once a year, the country gets really whipped up in a tizzy about a border surge. And then, when, you know, the world doesn't come to an end as expected, people move on and forget about the border until the next surge, so to speak. I think that really distracts us from a much more important conversation that needs to be had about our broken immigration system.


So Title 42 is yet another band aid that the Trump administration put into place with a pretextual policy initially had nothing to do with the COVID pandemic. I wrote a front-page story for the New York Times detailing the history of that policy, but it was really an attempt to crack down on asylum. And so what did you see under Title 42? You saw illegal crossings, which had been previously low, start to rise because these band aid policies, including, I would argue, those that the Biden administration has put forth to replace Title 42, they really are no match for the much more powerful macro forces, both those that push people to the United States.

So violent conflict, as you mentioned, profound hunger and instability. But also, and just as importantly on our side of the border the macro force is drawing people here which is a massive labor shortage. And that, I feel like, is a much more important focus than day to day border numbers.

KING: And yet you're well aware of the dysfunctional politics dating back not just in recent years, but you could go back ten years, 20 years, 25 years or more to this issue being dealt with in an adult way, if you will.

You mentioned the Band Aid, including you talked about the Trump administration, you talked about the Biden administration tools. Now, I want you to listen to Secretary Mayorkas. He says, number one, the administration is taking important new steps. And number two, he's trying to send a message. Listen.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Do not believe the lies of smugglers. People who do not use available legal pathways to enter the U.S. now face tougher consequences, including a minimum five-year ban on reentry and potential criminal prosecution.


KING: I fully accept your point about their limited tools available to them because of the lack of cooperation with Congress and so forth and so on, but they say they're prepared for this. Based on your reporting, are they? Do they have the necessary tools?

DICKERSON: I think the Border Patrol will be able to handle this, John, because the reality is that since 2014, when the Border Patrol saw its first major surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border alone, that agency has been used to it. And as I mentioned in the cycle, at least once a year, processing far more people than they really feel equipped. And so, in a way, the agency is used to being overwhelmed at this point.

KING: And I want to get back to the point. Our David Culver is on the other side of the border. He's on the Mexican side of the border. And again, people have strongly held political views about this. And that's absolutely they're right. I think that what gets lost sometimes is the humanity. Whatever your politics, listen to just what David encountered.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I asked her, why the U.S.? She said to have a better future. It's very dangerous for women, too. And they said food is -- is just really scarce right now.

(Voice-over): Legally or illegally, he will cross, he tells me. I ask him if he's hopeful. I've got a lot of faith, he tells me.


KING: Again, you know this issue better than most. Yes, there's a drug smuggling problem at the Mexico border. Yes, there's a human smuggling problem at the U.S.-Mexican border. But the overwhelming major majority of these people, again, whether you think it's right or wrong, are coming here to try to have a better life, right?

DICKERSON: Coming here to try to have a better life and coming here because American employers are desperate for their labor. Something we really have to be honest with ourselves about as a country. And I think, really, that Congress needs to address.

For example, John, my sources in migrant shelters here in New York City where the mayor has declared an emergency tell me that within days, every adult who arrives is employed and is going to work six or seven days a week, whether they're cleaning houses or offices or cutting lawns or making food or delivering food. I mean, that suggests that it's not just a one-way issue, something we need to look at more holistically as a country.

KING: A critical point there. The question is, can the politicians have a holistic, to use your term, conversation? Mark me down as skeptical there, given recent history. Grateful for the insights, Caitlin, thank you so much for joining us.

Let's continue the conversation with me in studio to share their reporting and their insights. CNN's Manu Raju, Jackie Kucinich of the Boston Globe and Cleve Wootson of the Washington Post.

To Caitlin's point, Manu, the administration has said we need help from Congress. House Republicans are passing a proposal today, but there's a lot of finger pointing. Number one, the Democrats don't like a lot of what's in the House Republican proposal. And number two, there's a finger pointing back and forth. There's been some attempts at a two-year patch essentially to allow Title 42 or something very much like it to stay in place for two more years.


Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who happens to be on the ballot next year in a tough state, Ohio. I don't think you can get something comprehensive of now under the pressure of what's happening at the border. It's clear to me, presence of both parties have failed on this. So we need to send more resources to the border. We need two more years to get this right.


KING: Is it possible there will be some temporary patch or are the politics just too divisive right now? RAJU: Too divisive. I mean, I have been covering this issue for more than two decades being covering Washington, did they have not solved it over two decades? It's been collapsed one proposal after another.

You remember back in the Bush years, George W. Bush, they tried to get a comprehensive immigration bill done then. That was John McCain, Ted Kennedy, they got together that collapsed on the Republican because of the Republican divisions in the Senate.

After 2012, Barack Obama tried to get it through the Senate. He did get it through the Senate with a bipartisan coalition that failed among House Republican opposition and Democrats now, a lot of them, including ones are in swing states, are pushing first more border security, trying to align themselves with some of the more Republican efforts here.

But if you go down that road, others are going to want -- other provisions to help the migrants, help the pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers, for instance. That starts to open up this to other issues and then it ends up collapsing under its own weight. So very difficult situation.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Look, and I just wanted to add, to your point, Manu, the politics are so toxic. Republicans who used to support them -- this, you see them running for the Hills. Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, they were part of some of these compromises initially and are nowhere near them at this point.

KING: Right. Because they see how powerful this is, A, with their base.


KING: And a lot of Republicans hope it helps them with independence. And suburban voters who abandoned Donald Trump and went to Joe Biden in 2020 go to Texas. Pete Sessions, Republican congressman. There again, you heard Nick Valencia, the numbers today are not as bad, at least where he is, than people anticipated. We will watch this in the days and weeks and maybe even months ahead. But if you listen to Republicans, this is essentially the apocalypse.


REP. PETE SESSIONS, (R) TEXAS: It will mean new drugs, new violence, new problems. This is as chaotic as Afghanistan was, and the administration came back and said they were happy with it. This meets their needs, and it is an embarrassment.


KING: This issue, and again, it's not new, but at this moment, where we are in the political calendar, you hear that, that does not leave you any optimism that would be, OK, can we figure out one or two or three things we can do in the short term to try to make things better? Not going to happen. CLEVE WOOTSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah,

because the thing is that it makes Biden, it makes the Democratic Party, particularly the president, look very, very, very bad. And I was struck just by how visual this whole crisis is. I'm an old campaign reporter. That's where I cut my teeth. You know, all of these things look like campaign ads with the words chaos and with the word influx. And even if Biden is to handle this deftly and to figure this out, it still is something that can be used as a hammer against him.

KING: And again, in the short-term, it plays well in the Republican primaries that there's a divide among Democrats, too, about whether Biden administration being too tough at the moment. We will see as it plays out up next to us, so another big issue. Today's big White House debt meeting limit is postponed. Is that a sign of trouble or maybe a sign of progress?



KING: Today's planned White House follow up meeting on the debt ceiling is postponed. And Washington now debating whether that's a sign of a looming crisis or a sign of quiet progress. The public statements from the principals remain consistent. The White House says house Republicans need to change their strategy. The Republican House Speaker says no. It's President Biden who needs a new playbook.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: The White House didn't cancel the meeting. All the leaders decided it's probably in the best of our interest to let the staff meet again before we get back together. If this were staff meetings happening on February 1, I'd call him productive, but I truly believe here looking at the actions of this president, he doesn't want a deal. He wants a default.


KING: On the one hand, the postponement is clearly worrisome. Congress is only scheduled to be in session four more days between now and June 1. That's the rough treasury department estimate when the government will be unable to pay its bills. But there are some who see the postponement as potentially a good thing. These sources say staff negotiations are polite and making at least small progress, and that it might be best to give those talks a little bit more time.

Our great reporters are back at the table. From the president's perspective, he says, I'm not going to negotiate. This is the mega republicans. They want these terrible cuts. He's also a candidate for reelection, and the last thing he needs is volatility in the economy. Do they think the staff can work this out quietly before they get back together? Or are we just running closer to the deadline and the chaos?

WOOTSON: Think or hope? Probably, you know, when they choose our verbs there. You know, as reporters, we always pay attention to the words of the principles and the big magnanimous statements and all of that stuff, but, you know, a lot of us know that the sausage gets made in these smaller meetings. More cordial, more polite, more incremental. So I think the administration is banking that some progress will get hurt. We're just waiting to see if stuff leaks out or comes out.

KING: And so you have the state of play is one of the things they're talking about, is there unspent COVID relief funds we could use to cut spending? Well, what about future spending caps? Should we attach work requirements to federal benefits programs? Is there permitting reform we can get done? The White House says, do not touch the President's signature Inflation Reduction Act. Sorry, Republicans, the White House says you're not going to cut student debt forgiveness. You're not going to touch Medicaid or food benefits like that.

So those are the parameters. And if you look at the New York Times headlines, the White House has this approach that there are 18 Republicans out there who represent districts Joe Biden carried. Maybe we can pressure them because they're on the ballot next year.

But one of them, and the lead person mentioned that piece, Mike Lawler of New York, was on Erin Burnett last night, and he said, so far he's not blinking. And it's the President's problem.


REP. MIKE LAWLER, (R) NEW YORK: Chuck Schumer could talk 'till he's blue in the face about a clean debt ceiling. He does not have the votes for it. And I made that very clear to the President. Yes, we need to lift the debt ceiling. No, we cannot default, but we can't keep going down this path. And so my point to the President is this is not one-party rule.



KING: So publicly, nobody's budged. The question is underneath in those staff, are they at least reaching an understanding of what they need to talk about? It seems that if they're -- if they're having those conversations that quietly, the Democrats might actually be negotiating. Or do they say they're not going to negotiate?

RAJU: Look, I think what McCarthy said yesterday was key, was that he would be more optimistic if this were happening in February, because it does take a significant amount of time to come to a major fiscal agreement. The Republicans have been pushing for the negotiations for some time. Of course, the White House have been saying, no, just raise the debt limit. No negotiations whatsoever.

They are negotiating right now, but getting to a place where they could all agree, drafting the legislative tax, which takes a ton of time, going through the legislative process in the House, in the very slow-moving Senate, all before the first two weeks of June when we could have experienced the first ever U.S. debt default. That is an extraordinarily high hurdle. Perhaps they can clear it, but is really odd stacked up against them right now. KING: And so one of the challenges is Chuck Schumer today in a letter

to colleagues saying, please start explaining this back home. Please start explaining to voters who might not understand how consequential this could be. Jamie Dimon is the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, and he says the same thing. He says, people, this is real.


JAMIE DIMON, CEO, JPMORGAN CHASE: It gets cast robbery. And the close you get to it, you will have panic. And so the closer you get, you have markets get volatile, maybe the stock market go down, the treasury markets will have their own problems. This is not good. And people should remember, the American financial system is the foundation to the global economic system, is, please negotiate a deal.


KING: Jamie Dimon there, Janet Yellen has said much the same thing, and yet when you talk to Democrats or Republicans, they say when they go home, there's not this you know, whatever the position of the voters, there's not this urgency, like, if you don't figure this out, we're doomed.

KUCINICH: I think you just have to wait, right? I mean, the way Congress has operated when things really matter. It's when you start seeing consequences. It's when you start seeing the markets fall. It's when you start seeing some of these cascading effects start happening.

Then all of a sudden, oh, my gosh, lo and behold, that text is crafted and it's here the whole time. So, it's just -- and unfortunately, that is just how things have been handled because of the polarization and because of the unwillingness to negotiate. There was a reason that the president, the former Vice President, was front and center in the last set of negotiations in 2011, because his impulse is to negotiate. I wouldn't be surprised if they do capitulate to some things with Republicans by the time we get to those weaning days.

KING: By the time, in the meantime, the public debate over who has the most leverage shall continue, I guess.

Up next, Republicans cringe at some of what Donald Trump said at the CNN town hall. And in this story, the irony, you might say, is quite rich. George Santos, co-sponsoring a bill, cracking down on unemployment fraud. He just voted for it, as a matter of fact, even after the government accused him of scamming the system.



KING: Donald Trump's performance at this week's CNN Town Hall is stirring Republican fears that his lies and his coarseness will once again hurt other Republicans if Trump keeps his current lead in the GOP presidential field.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, for example, put it this way. He's got a unique ability to rally his base, but not to grow beyond his base, which is a problem. And Senator Mitt Romney, an outspoken Trump critic. Even more blunt.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY, (R) UTAH: People saw last night, what they would get was another term of Donald Trump as president, which is completely untethered to the truth, uncertain as to whether he wants Russia or Ukraine to win.


KING: Our great reporters back at the table. As I said, Romney, a longtime Trump critic. My question is, after watching that, especially given his position in the Republican polling right now, is it beyond that? Is it just the people who have traditionally criticized Trump and worried about his impact on everybody else in the party? Or was it broader?

RAJU: Think it is broader. The question is how broad? There are members who clearly want somebody else. They're looking at Tim Scott and their colleague in the Senate who's expected to run in the matter of days as a potential person who could be someone who could unite their party. Some of them are hoping for Ron DeSantis. Others are pulling for Mike Pence, potentially.

There are just -- there's a hope among a lot of the Republicans on Capitol Hill that what Donald Trump said underscores what John Cornyn's point here is that, yes, he can win a primary, but he can't win a general election. And then there's a real fear that will pull them down in keeping the House and taking back the Senate where they're favored right now. But Trump could hurt them in some of the swing states, which is a real fear among on Capitol Hill.

KING: One of the most interesting things to me is when you see people who work closely with Trump and their take on him. In the New York Times today, Mark Esper, the former Trump Defense Secretary, obviously not in close, not a close friend anymore. From my perspective, there was an evolution of Donald Trump over his four years with 2020, I think, being the most dramatic example of him, the real him. And I suspect, that would be his starting point if he were to win office in 2024.

It is interesting that the people who think that if Trump had any restraint early on which how much, but if he listened to anybody early on. That those days are over. And now what you see is what you get.

KUCINICH: I mean, I think we saw a preview of what a second term/what the 2024 election is going to be like, though I don't know how much he's changed.