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Biden Announcing Aggressive New Steps On Illegal Immigration; Biden To Dramatically Limit Asylum Claims At The Border; Republicans Lambaste Biden's Border Executive Action; Three Trump Allies Charged In Wisconsin Fake Elector Scheme; Garland Slams Attacks Against DOJ: "I Will Not Be Intimidated"; Republicans Threaten Funding Cuts To Federal Law Enforcement; Biden Calls Trump "Convicted Felon" At Fundraiser. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 04, 2024 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, border crackdown. President Biden is unveiling his most aggressive move yet to stop illegal immigration. It would sharply restrict asylum claims. The goal here is political protection. But so far, the backlash is bipartisan.

Plus, I will not be intimidated. What words from Attorney General Merrick Garland, who is testifying on Capitol Hill? Right now, he's pushing back on Republicans who baselessly accused him of quote, weaponizing the Justice Department against Republicans.

And guns, drugs and explicit photos. The first witnesses on the stand right now in the Hunter Biden trial. And we have new details on the prosecution's case and how personal and uncomfortable it's likely to get to the president's son.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

We begin with breaking news. New details right now on President Biden's announcement today that he will effectively shut down the southern border to asylum seekers coming into the U.S. illegally. That would happen if daily illegal crossings hit a certain threshold. Now, it's Biden's most aggressive crackdown yet on illegal immigration and issue that has bedeviled his president's presidency.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez joins me now from the White House. Priscilla, I know you have all the details. Give us the top lines on this and the political implications.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dana, his is certainly President Biden's most dramatic move on migration since he took office and he's intended to tackle head on one of his biggest political vulnerabilities. We're now learning from senior administration officials that they anticipate invoking this authority and using it later today. So, in effect, this is going to take effect pretty quickly. Now what it does? It shuts off access to asylum for migrants who cross the border illegally, when that duty thresholds of 2500 is met. We've been there. In fact, homeland security officials told me that just yesterday, they encountered over 3500 migrants crossing illegally. This would be turned off when those numbers dropped down to 1500 a day.

Now, unaccompanied migrant, children are exempt from this. There are also some other exemptions for unique circumstances. And the idea here would be that these migrants would be turned back to Mexico or deported to their origin country.

Now senior administration officials acknowledge that they anticipate getting some lawsuits on this from either side of the political spectrum, Republicans or Democrats. They're prepared for that. But this is essentially taking a page from former President Donald Trump's playbook. In fact, in 2018, he tried to use this exact same authority to shut down the border.

Now when pressed about that senior administration official said, this is totally different because they do have exceptions because they do have a way for migrants to come to the United States legally. But there is no question here, Dana, that they are trying to prevent attacks from the former president before that first debate later this month.

That they're also trying to blunt Republican attacks, which have been ongoing over the course of the president's administration. So, this is again a significant move, particularly for a president who began his administration saying that he wanted to restore the asylum system. Dana?

BASH: Priscilla, thank you so much for all of your fantastic reporting on this. I want to bring in some more great reporters, CNN's MJ Lee, Astead Herndon of The New York Times, Leigh Ann Caldwell of The Washington Post. Thank you all for being here.

MJ, you are also a White House correspondent for us. I know you've been doing some reporting as well. What is your sense from the administration officials you're talking to? And maybe, in this case, campaign officials you're talking to about how much they think this will help. We're going to talk about the policy in a minute, but just on the raw politics.

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they fully expect that they're going to be criticized. And I think the criticism has already been pouring in because we've been reporting on the anticipation of this news for a while. They expect that there are going to be legal challenges. They expect that they're going to be slammed by folks on the left by immigration groups.

And, you know, there were senior administration officials that were briefing reporters earlier today on what to expect. And there was one thing that an official said that I thought was really interesting. They said, we expect that we're going to get challenged from everyone on the political spectrum from the left and the right and that is always what happens whenever we do anything on this issue.


And by the way that tells us that there is no lasting solution other than basically Congress acting on bipartisan immigration reform. And I think they happen to be basically right, right? This is an issue where no matter what the president does, he is going to get slammed. If he doesn't act that he's weak. If he does take action, like the one that he's doing today, he's labeled a traitor by the left, by immigration advocate.

BASH: Yeah. And sort of in -- plied in what you just were reporting is the fact that there was a bipartisan Senate bill, and it was done with conservative Republicans. And it was at the behest of Donald Trump killed and never saw the light of day. And that was the reason why senior administration officials at the time, said that they couldn't -- well, that was part of the reason why they said that they couldn't do what the president is doing today because it needed to be done legislatively.

Priscilla mentioned the fact that Donald Trump used an executive action to do some of this. It was rejected by the courts. And that was a big reason why Biden was reluctant to do it and wanted to do it through Congress, but Congress is perennially stuck.

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. I mean, I think that some of this we should see as an acknowledgement from the Biden White House, that some of their political arguments on immigration have been held. When we look back to 2020, most of that Democratic field was mostly saying that what Republicans and Donald Trump was doing were bad, and not really offering an affirmative vision. That hasn't really been able to hold for Democrats while in office.

You've also seen after that Senate bipartisan compromise failed, the White House say, well, voters will blame Republicans and Donald Trump for nuking this deal. And we haven't seen that really bear out in data. To the point where we do see the White House making this action, and I think it's right to point out before the debate to be able to give the president something to insulate himself from Republican attacks.

The Big Tech is also that those down ballots and the Democrats have been running away from Biden on this issue. They've been breaking in axing for harsher border enforcement. And so that shows the kind of parties' language on this issue has shifted.

But to the point about the advocates, they've been upset for a while, do they feel like the top levels of the party have ceded a little ground, a little more ground, a little more ground to the right-wing kind of activist on this issue to the point where it is now the mainstream Democratic position to be enforcement first.

BASH: So that is definitely true when you talk about kind of the frontline Democrats. I mean, Tom Suozzi was in a special election in -- on Long Island Democrat. He won in large part because he was able to kind of flip the script on immigration, not so for a lot of other Democrats, more progressive Democrats.

Leigh Ann, you talk to several of them ahead of this, and I'll just read some of them. Pramila Jayapal, Biden's executive order is very, very disappointing. Sylvia Garcia of Texas, I do not think that shutting the border, "is a remedy." And then Hillary Scholten of Michigan, it's heart wrenching to see this is not going to come close to solving the problem.

Before you weigh in on this, just to sort of put some meat on the bone of what I said at the beginning of the program, which is there's bipartisan backlash. Listen to what some of the Republicans have said.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): Whatever little-short measure that he's going to do here is not going to solve the problem. In fact, by some estimates, it might make it worse.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Why didn't you do this in 2021? Why didn't you do this in 2022? Why didn't you do this in 2023? Why didn't you do this last month? Or the month before? Or the month before? How many dead bodies is enough?


BASH: The answer to that last question is what we were just talking about. They were trying to get Congress to do it and they did it.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, CO-AUTHOR OF THE "EARLY BRIEF" NEWSLETTER: Yeah, that's right. And so, you see the split screen that's happening right now. With Republicans, it's interesting because they say it wasn't Trump. Why we rejected the bipartisan bill? It's because Brian can do this on his own. So, they tried to skirt the issue. And now they're saying, well, maybe this is not even going to be effective in Mike Johnson's words.

But this is something that is providing some angst among the left and the Democratic Party because they think that the president is ignoring the base voters. The people that elected him by doing these actions to appeal to the more independent voters that polling has shown is siding with Trump and Republicans on the border.

But like we've talked about, this is nothing new. Donald Trump did over 450 executive orders when he was in office against his Congress. He partially blew up some of the congressional actions there to. Remember President Obama in 2015 leading into his campaign, he signed the dreamer, the DACA executive order, that was an attempt to shore up his base. It's fascinating how the issue of immigration has shifted so much in the past eight years.

BASH: Yeah. Eight years and even the past like, eight months.


BASH: Right? I mean, and on that note, President Biden did a lengthy interview with Time Magazine, talking about what he would do in a second term just as the former President Trump did with Time.


And one of the things that they were talking about was whether -- was whether or not President Biden overturning what Biden called Trump's inhumane border policies, whether or not that is what helped drive a record illegal border crossing, meaning, he pulled the tough measures back. And whether that got people to say, oh, well, then I can come illegally into the United States.

Here's some of that exchange, the question Were you wrong to lift any of those measures, meeting Trump measures? Biden, if I was wrong, it's because it took too long. You put some back in place, the green card issue, it's been reported that you're looking at reinstating remain in Mexico. Are you looking reinstating -- at reinstating? No.

LEE: I mean, it's a really tough sort of fine line for the president and this White House to walk, right. On the one hand, you know, this was a party that has consistently said, and particularly during the Trump years, everything that he is doing on immigration and at the border is inhumane and we don't support it.

But at the same time, I think the fact that he is leaning on this 212(f) authority, makes this really, really fraught because he is --

BASH: Explain what that is?

LEE: This is the authority that was used repeatedly by the former president to do -- to, you know, do some of the --


LEE: Yeah. And execute some of his hardline immigration policy. So, the fact that Biden is using that same authority makes this really tricky. Now, I think the White House would certainly argue, this is not the same, because for example, you have humanitarian exceptions that are in place.

That's a reference to, you know, people who are coming to the border with really, really dire circumstances, it might be a health issue, it might be that they really believe if they were sent back to their home country. They would be killed. They will be tortured. So, I think that is the argument that they would make.

BASH: OK. Everybody standby because we had some breaking news this past hour. The Wisconsin attorney general filed charges against three allies of Donald Trump accused of taking part of the 2020 presidential fake electoral scheme. CNN's Sara Murray is following that. Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Dana, yeah. Wisconsin just becomes the latest state in a handful that have brought charges due to this fake electoral scheme in 2020, where Republicans signed these sort of alternate electoral slates to try to overturn the presidential election. You see there the three men who are facing a charge of forgery in Wisconsin. Ken Chesebro, who's been accused of being the architect of this scheme, Jim Troupis an ex-Trump campaign lawyer, and Michael Roman, who is an ex-Trump campaign aide. And we reached out to all of them for comment. We're waiting to hear back from two of Chesebro's attorney declined to comment.

But again, this is really interesting because we have seen charges in a number of states already. We know that people will face charges in Georgia, in Nevada, in Arizona, in Michigan. Wisconsin just becomes the latest state to sort of pile on to try to bring some kind of ramifications for what several Republicans did in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.

Wisconsin is also interesting because there was a civil suit there already involving several of the folks who served as fake electors in the states. 10 of them agreed in a civil suit that they essentially tried to improperly overturn the presidential election. But these charges again are against some of the folks allegedly coordinating this effort.

BASH: Thank you, Sara. It's really fascinating to see it. It's kind of the big picture with that map. And that Wisconsin is just the latest, as you mentioned, a lot of other still swing states are dealing with this.

All right. Coming up Attorney General Merrick Garland slams what he calls Republican conspiracy theories about the Justice Department he's testifying right now on Capitol Hill. We'll take you there live next.




BASH: The attorney general not known for packing a politically rhetorical punch is on offense. Right now, Merrick Garland is on Capitol Hill slamming Republicans about lying about the Justice Department since Donald Trump became a convicted felon.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: These repeated attacks on the Justice Department are unprecedented. And they are unfounded. I will not be intimidated. And the Justice Department will not be intimidated. We will continue to work do our jobs free from political influence and we will not back down from defending democracy.


BASH: CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill. While Lauren, he's still was mild mannered in the way he approached that. But what he said we don't hear that very often from him, but he obviously knew what was coming.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, this is about as animated as the Attorney General Merrick Garland gets in these types of settings. But he clearly is frustrated by some of the attacks against career employees, people who he argues are just doing their job.

You know, one of the first lines of questioning today in this hearing came from Matt Gaetz, who was going after Merrick Garland. Asking him a series of questions about a District Attorney Alvin Bragg the case of in New York where Trump was just convicted. And repeatedly what you heard from Garland is that the Justice Department has nothing to do with that.

Meanwhile, Democrats are making clear that that is the case and that this is not about political persecution. Because if you look at a set of high-profile cases that the Justice Department has been working on, it includes some Democrats who are actually members of this body here in Congress. And that was the point from Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee. Here he is.



REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): As far as weaponization of the department goes, did the Justice Department indict Senator Menendez?

GARLAND: It's a matter of public record. Yes.

COHEN: And he's a Democrat?

GARLAND: I'm assuming the answer is yes.

COHEN: And Henry Cuellar, Justice Department indicted him. He's a Democrat --

GARLAND: Yeah. From that a matter of public record.


FOX: And Dana, this is a general oversight hearing. So, what you're seeing in the room from Republicans, especially is a series of popery really have issues that they want to talk about whether that is the Biden administration immigration policies.

You also have had a series of members who had been asking Garland about the release of the audio tapes from hers interview with President Joe Biden. Obviously, that is something that they are continuing to push for something that they actually held Garland in contempt of Congress over the not releasing that tape.

So, this is something that we are going to continue watching, but just a series of issues. Some of them conspiracy theories coming from Republicans as they continue to press the attorney general. Dana?

BASH: OK, Lauren, thank you so much for that. The panel is back with me. Leigh Ann, is it your sense that Democrats who are sort of on the frontline, which is when it comes to getting majority back, whether they believe that these attacks on DOJ -- these claims -- baseless claims that the DOJ is behind, for example, what happened in New York is potent enough to hurt -- not just President Biden, but down ballot?

CALDWELL: So, there's a little bit of a split opinion on how Democrats are going to handle these attacks from Republicans, these attacks from Donald Trump, and Donald Trump's own conviction. Democratic leadership has the opinion that they should not focus on this stuff. They should defend themselves, of course, but not focus on this, instead focus on what have Republicans done for you lately.

Now, it depends on each district. And there's some -- there's, you know, district by district, some members are going to focus -- are going to highlight Trump's conviction, going to highlight Republican antics against the Department of Justice. But it plays into this larger scheme.

Generally speaking, regardless of how aggressively each individual members going to play on this, that it's a MAGA extreme party who doesn't have any answers economically to help people and this is all that they're interested in.

HERNDON: You know, it's interesting, because I see the reasoning for that argument. At the same time, I think what Republicans are doing is much broader than just this specific attack on the DOJ. It's a sowing of distrust and a lot of institutions. They've done this in terms of the legal system. They've done this about media. They've done this in terms of the political process, and that is the kind of what Democrats are up against.

So, sometimes it feels like Democrats are bringing a knife to a gunfight here, because it's not just that Republicans are targeting Merrick Garland, but that Merrick Garland is a proxy for a larger argument they're making to under -- to undercut the validity of the Biden administration as a whole -- about our political system as a whole.

And that's what I think this election is going to be about. That's the message of Donald Trump. And so, it's interesting when we view the -- through the Capitol Hill lens, I see why Garland feels the need to say that I feel lot. I see why Democrats want to focus on kitchen table issues. But what Trump is going to try to do is bring that larger system distrust to your kitchen table. And so that's the question I think is going to be when they make that broader argument to Democrats have a response for that?

BASH: Yeah. That's such a good point. Still, the Republicans, it's the only part of government that they have control over is the House. The House speaker is, at least, rhetorically, at least he's saying that he has a plan to go -- to combat the DOJ. And I want you to listen to what the House Speaker said about that.


They're so desperate to stop him that they are willing to use the judicial system to do so. It is a new low. And it's a dangerous one. Because what they're doing is they're eroding the people's faith in our system of justice itself. And we're going to do everything we can everything within our scope of our responsibility in the Congress to address it.


BASH: So, the point you were making is that by the House speaker saying that he's the one who's contributing to the erosion of the system and not just the DOJ. I should also note that he has a plan, MJ, that includes defunding through appropriations, and aggressive use of oversight, subpoenaing the DOJ and so forth, but defunding the FBI. Wasn't there a name for that on a local level that the Democrats got slammed for --


LEE: Yeah. And can I also say, I mean the point that you were making about, you know, the attacks on Merrick Garland almost being a proxy for the much bigger issues. I mean, that is I think actually exactly what the Biden campaign and any Biden ally would sort of argue, is the way to go on all of these things, right?

So, for example, on the Trump being convicted news, you know, we heard the president talking about this, and you know, for the first time in that kind of political setting at a fundraiser last night, using that label of convicted felon.

But actually, what was interesting was that the remarks that came right after basically mirrored what he has been saying about Donald Trump and what he represents a threat to democracy and democratic institutions for months and months and months now. So, in other words, the convicted felon label is sort of the new hook for him to get into what has been the Biden campaigns theory of the case for a long time.

Now, I think, actually what is more important for Biden supporters in the Biden campaign than that label itself is whether that can sort of end up being the turning point for the voters who are still not paying attention, the voters who are tuned out, the voters who are still not sort of convinced that this is going to be a Biden versus Trump battle, whether that can sort of move the needle and get people to wake up and pay attention that we are in fact talking about Donald Trump.

BASH: Yeah. And that's -- it's such a good point. And to kind of make that point -- maybe to go back to where I started this conversation with you, Leigh Ann, about how the Democrats down ballot feel. We talked yesterday on the show about the fact that there was kind of an uncertainty. Democrats trying to find their footing down ballot about how to approach the Trump convictions. It's also true apparently for the Republicans who are in vulnerable districts.

Manu Raju caught up with a couple of them. Watch their reactions.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're supporting Trump still, even if he's a convicted felony with the speaker. REP. MARC MOLINARO (R-NY): I have no issues in supporting Donald Trump for president United States.

RAJU: Are you still supporting Trump after this felony conviction?

REP. JOHN DUARTE (R-CA): Yes. My district is full of very smart people from grasp reality. They can smell bullshit.


BASH: OK. Well, that last one is certainly very clear in how he feels. But particularly in New York, where this was, it's not a clear cut question politically for the Republicans who are on the ballot and could determine whether or not Republicans keep control of the House.

CALDWELL: Yeah. That's absolutely right. So, the Biden campaign talking to them over the weekend, they believe that this is not going to grow Trump's base that their theory of the case. And so how that works down ballot? These individual members have to run their individual races.

Some of these members in New York think that it is actually beneficial because some of their New York Republicans can tie it to Governor Hochul, who's not very popular there. And so that's part of the reason they're standing, taking that more pro-Trump stance. But then you can see people like Representative Molinaro, who didn't really want to touch it.

And so, this is tricky for a lot of these down ballot. Republicans who don't want to make Trump central to their reelection campaign, because many of them as we were talking about before, we're actually running ahead of the former presidents.

BASH: OK. Everybody stand by because right now opening statements are finished. And the jury is already hearing from the prosecution's first witness in the Hunter Biden trial. Three former romantic partners of the president's son could be on the stand soon. Stay with us.