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Trump Hold Cabinet Meeting; Rubio on Enforcing the Law; First Lady Goes to Border; Live Event in Texas with Melania Trump. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired June 21, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:34] DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Thank you for joining INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King has the day off.

President Trump is meeting with his cabinet as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says they are working to quickly reunite families separated at the border. But details on how they'll do that are scant.

And Republican leaders are twisting arms and making final pleas, trying to get enough of their members behind at least one immigration bill up for a vote today. Is the president, though, undermining their efforts? All of this while Democratic leaders are trying to take advantage of the president's 180.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: I hope this represents a turning point with the president. I hope it means this president will stop blaming others for problems he creates and start fixing them himselves.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA, MINORITY LEADER: The president is either not knowing, not caring, delusional, in denial about his own policies being the -- outside the circle of civilized human behavior.


BASH: And you're looking live at -- excuse me, if moments ago, protests on Capitol Hill. They're crowding the Rotunda and their cause is, of course, separation of families. We're going to monitor what's going on there.

But as we speak, Republicans are voting on procedural rules for a pair of GOP immigration bills. Bills that the House will vote on this afternoon, dealing with everything from border security to that wall and so-called dreamers. But hopes are far from high that anything will actually pass. This morning, one senior GOP aide handicapped the odds this way, saying, closer to cooked than passage.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, just moments ago, sounded pretty pessimistic.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Even if we get something out of here, you need nine Democrats to stop trying to stop things, and I don't see that happening.

BASH: More from Capitol Hill in just a few minutes.

But we begin this hour at the White House, where the president is about to hold a cabinet meeting.

CNN's Abby Phillip is there.

And, Abby, the president stopped family separations, but zero tolerance is in full effect. Describe what that means and if there's any new information on what exactly happens now.


A hastily drafted executive order predictably leads to some chaos here as the administration struggles to explain how exactly they are going to enforce it. And as you just mentioned, that zero tolerance policy is, in fact, still in effect, which means people crossing the border illegally are still going to be prosecuted. But instead of separating those families at the border at that point, the administration says they're going to keep the families together in detention while -- if it is safe for the children in order to do so.

The question now turns to these 2,300 children who have been separated already from their families in the last six weeks or so. And last night there was a lot of confusion about this because administration officials were saying at first that there were no plans at all to reunite these families. And then later they said, they misspoke. And now this morning Customs and Border Protection has said that what they're going to do is reunite families once these individuals have been through the process, the prosecution process for crossing the border illegally and that they're working to reunite families through a process that they are in the process of putting together as we speak.

So this is really a policy that this administration is putting together on the fly. And at the same time, while this is happening, there are some questions about what is happening to the families even when they're being detained together. Are they going to be detained indefinitely with parents and children together and where and for how long?

So, Dana, a lot of questions here for this White House, for this president. We'll hear from him shortly in just a few minutes.

BASH: Well, we're looking forward to seeing what he says when he's sitting at that table with his cabinet members. Thank you so much for that report, Abby.

And here at the table to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Franco Ordonez with McClatchy, Jackie Kucinich with "The Daily Beast," and Carl Hulse with "The New York Times."

Good afternoon, everybody. Nice to see you all.

Let's just start with where Abby left off, so many unanswered questions. Very important questions. One of the things that struck me about what she said is that right now, and this could change in an hour because we're getting so many directives as they do figure out this policy on flight, is that the children that we've seen who are in these, you know, facilities might not be reunited with their parents until their parents are already prosecuted, and that could take a while because part of the issue is there aren't enough judges, there aren't enough people down there to actually adjudicate their issues.

[12:05:25] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I mean, some of the estimates are that these -- you know, it could take hundreds of days, right? And one of the things you've seen from folks on The Hill is maybe we should get more immigration judges to speed this process along. Donald Trump says, no, we don't need more immigration judges to handle this.

You know, I think the White House, yesterday, sort of thought they were kind of clearing the decks on this, kind of moving things along, turning the page from some of these awful stories about these kids in tender age facilities, some of them as young as nine months old. But it's not clear what's going to happen with those kids, how quickly they're going to be reunited with their parents if all these private facilities are actually up to it in terms of caring for those kids adequately. Some reports are they might not be. So there is going to be more and more that comes out, I think, over these next couple of days and the White House has really got to figure out how to get this solved in terms of the logistics of it. That's what's going on now.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": The White House also -- I mean there was a program that was eliminated by ICE a year ago about -- actually almost exactly a year ago. And it was called the Family Case Management System. And what it did is it made sure these families showed up for their court dates. After they were processed, they were able to come back. It was eliminated and we haven't gotten an answers why this was eliminated. It worked. It was extremely effective. And yet now it's gone. And, you know, well before this process of separating families were into place. And the fact that -- it's one thing to build the airplane when there aren't -- while it's taking off when there aren't small children involved that are without their parents that have already been subjected to trauma. But the fact that there was no plan in place is just another disaster, self-inflicted wound by this White House.

FRANCO ORDONEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: What you're really looking at is substituting one crisis with another.

KUCINICH: Exactly.

ORDONEZ: I mean ending family separation. And I really have questions whether they will be actually able to end family separation under the scenario that Trump has posed. And replacing it with family detention -- indefinite family detention. That was almost a controversy when Obama was doing that. There were -- there were so many protests. Silio Munoz (ph), a domestic policy adviser, confronted many protests about this issue. And there are many complaints of alleged abuse in these facilities. This is -- this -- this is one problem just replaced with another.

BASH: It is. And it -- and it could grow because, as you said, Jackie, the process has changed, what ICE was doing before has changed, and the reason, I think, it has is because the president's so-called zero tolerance policy is in full effect. And they don't want to release people and just say, OK, we expect you to come back for this court date on x date, because they're keeping people detained in order --

KUCINICH: And you eliminated the program to get them back because of budget cuts.

BASH: Exactly. Budget cuts, and I think to be tougher on --

HENDERSON: Yes, I think that's right.


KUCINICH: Yes, that was -- that's why I said they eliminated the program was because of budget cuts.

BASH: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. And, look, I think the broader question is, what are we going to see in terms of the real humanitarian issue and then the political issues that fall on from that.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, considering that 48 hours ago they weren't going to do any of this, it's not surprising that they have nothing in place, because they had no intention of actually enacting this policy.

But now they're having to do it with this really intense scrutiny on them. And I think that the holes are going to show in their -- in their program.

You know, it's -- this is a really difficult issue. I think they did buy themselves a little room yesterday. You know, the political situation was getting so bad. The Republicans were really -- really, really worried about the political fallout of this.

BASH: But then on the -- OK, just because we're talking raw politics here, then there's --

HULSE: That's what -- that's what I talk about.

BASH: Yes. I know you, Carl.

On the -- on the Democratic side, their -- they are being attacked by the president and by people who didn't like this policy in the first place, like Marco Rubio.

Here's what Marco Rubio said about -- on Twitter about the Democrats. Based on Senate speeches, Democratic position is, don't detain children, don't detain their parents either, so we don't separate families, and don't deport them if they fail to appear for subsequent hearings. So basically, if you enter unlawfully with children, we won't enforce the law.

I mean this sounds like a hard -- you know, maybe a hard line position, but it's actually not. And coming from Marco Rubio, it's really not. So are the Democrats, you know, painting themselves into a position that allows for the Republicans to get political advantage?

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean I think you -- you -- some -- you have some Republicans kind of taking it too far and basically saying Democrats are for open borders. The president saying, you know, the Democrats supported MS-13. I mean those kind of lines of attack of argument are absurd.

[12:10:06] But this idea of what do Democrats actually stand for in terms of immigration reform, you know, in handling this problem at the border in terms of safety, in terms of these specific issues with folks coming over the border with kids? I mean what do they want to do? And you haven't heard a lot in terms of specifics. And you imagine that Republicans who have been so on the run in terms of this issue and painted in awful ways, and sometimes deservedly so in terms of this specific policy of separating folks, you know, they can -- you know, they can score some points with Democrats on this.

BASH: And I -- and I talked to a senator who was part of a bipartisan discussion on if there is a bipartisan way to do this and the response I got was, we're pretty far apart, which says a lot because these are people who actually like to talk to each other.

OK, everybody stand by.

Up next, even if the House manages to pass an immigration bill today, which is a huge "if," is there any hope in the Senate? Spoiler alert, the answer is no. We're going to take you behind the scenes on what we're talking about, though, up next.


[12:15:11] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BASH: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS.

We are waiting for tape of the president speaking to reporters during the cabinet meeting that's going on right now. But one thing we can tell you from the press pool that is in there, they're reporting that the president announced that Melania Trump, the first lady, is currently at the border. That Melania Trump is currently at the border.

Let's get straight to Abby Phillip at the White House to see if we can get any more information about this surprise trip from the first lady.


PHILIP: That's right, Dana, the president announcing at this cabinet meeting that Melania Trump traveled early this morning down to the border, down to Texas, where she is expected in -- shortly, in a few minutes, to tour some facilities where they're housing some of these migrant children, some of them who came here with their parents and were separated, others who came here unaccompanied.

Now, this trip comes just a couple of days after Melania Trump issued an extraordinary statement for a first lady, commenting on her husband's policy and suggesting that she wanted it to end, she wanted the policy of separating children and their families to end.

Now, the first lady is down in Texas. Some of my colleagues at CNN are traveling with her. So we will hear more from them once they arrive.

But the president breaking the news at this meeting saying that his wife is down in Texas --

BASH: Abby?

PHILLIP: Visiting the border now.

BASH: Abby, I'm sorry to interrupt. You mentioned our colleagues are traveling with her. One of them is Kate Bennett. We've got her on the phone. She's in motion with the first lady.

So let's get right to you. Kate, what are you seeing and what are you hearing and give us the latest?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER (via telephone): So, Dana, we've just arrived with the first lady in pouring rain and flash flooding here inside Texas. We're heading inside a facility that houses children. Some of them are tender age, ages five to 17 here.

The first lady is expected to get a roundtable discussion together with experts and then -- I'm sorry, I'm walking and talking -- and then she will tour the facility and perhaps connect with some of these children. She wanted to see firsthand. Her spokeswoman told us that this was 100 percent her decision. That she told the president, I'm heading to Texas, and he said he supports it. This was a decision she made two days ago before the executive order was signed.


BASH: And, Kate, what does it tell you that -- you know, I said the word surprise -- the better word is unannounced. What does it tell you that a first lady who is media shy made the point of bringing you and bringing cameras to capture this in McAllen, Texas? In fact, we're looking at some new images that, Kate, I believe and you your crew just captured.


BASH: What does it tell you and what have you heard specifically about why this was so important to the first lady?

BENNETT: Well, I will say this. We had a short briefing on the plane down here, Dana, and her spokeswoman did say that as a mother, as a first lady, as a human being, she has seen the images on the news, she has heard the recordings. This is something she wanted to see firsthand. That was reiterated to us over and over.

This is not her acting as an emissary on behalf of the president. He is not sending her here, to put it one way. She is certainly here on her own volition.

This trip was hastily put together. I think it does really mean a lot to her to be here and see it in person.

Dana, she's about to walk in, so I'm going to have to hang up here with you.

BASH: Yes.

BENNETT: But, again, this is the first stop of an unexpected two visits, to two facilities while we're down here, if the weather holds. Again, we're in a flash flood situation, so certainly we're playing it by ear. But this facility is operated by HHS. It houses children, about 60 of them, and she expects to take a tour and do a briefing.

BASH: All right, Kate, I've been there, where you're trying to run and gun and still report at the same time.

BENNETT: And talk quietly.

BASH: So, get to it. And talk quietly. Get to it. We will definitely get back to you. Thank you for bringing us this breaking news and for being there with her to bring it to us.

Let's get back with the panel.

I mean there's so many layers to unpeel here.

First and foremost, that we understand from reporting, and I think now the president has even admitted publicly, that the first lady coming to him and saying, you've got to do something helped spur the 180 that he made yesterday in this narrow executive order, as confused as it might be. That combined with the fact that you have this unprecedented bipartisan group of first ladies, who probably helped to really turn the tide on this issue.

[12:20:09] HULSE: Well, you know, I think that she is interested and she wants to show compassion. I know Ivanka Trump also was talking to members on The Hill.

But it does highlight the split between her husband and herself. So in some ways, you know, that -- this is going to emphasize the program. And we'll give people a look.

Now, I presume that it will also, you know, show this facility to be capable and clean and everything, but, you know, it is a tricky situation here due to her opposition to the program that the president was insisting on keeping in force until yesterday.

BASH: Well, but that's a very good point is, what images are we going to see? Are we going to see her, you know, with children who are well cared for? Let's hope. But are we going to see images that the administration wants to put out, even more so than we've seen -- and I should say that we have a picture of the first lady speaking with officials down there in McAllen, Texas, at one of these facilities. She might be speaking publicly. We're going to wait to see that. But, right now, those are the images that you're seeing, her getting a briefing from the officials that are down there.

Go ahead, Jackie.

KUCINICH: I was going to say, yes, she's down there. She's bringing more attention to this issue that there are small children that are still in detention. The real test is, does this go beyond a photo-op, an image management situation? Does she keep the focus on these children, making sure that there is a solution for them? Because as we just discussed, there is not right now. They're ham-handedly, you know, putting it together at the moment. So -- we haven't seen Melania Trump really use the influence that she has, because she certainly does. And, you know, we'll see if this is one of the first time she does.

BASH: Yes, I mean, knowing her and the way that she has, to put it bluntly, trolled her husband on issues like this in the past, that it's likely to be much more than image management, but really a chance to put the spotlight on an issue that she doesn't want to let go of.


HENDERSON: Yes, and we've seen first ladies do this before. Eleanor Roosevelt famously would go out into the country, in the depths of the Great Depression, and bring back stories to FDR, primarily because FDR was in a wheelchair and couldn't do that.

It is, I think, unfortunate, that in some ways compassion has to be outsourced to first ladies, right?


HENDERSON: I mean the president here had to be convinced by his wife, supposedly, and his daughter that this was a bad idea. Why didn't he come to himself? Ted Cruz didn't apparently need his wife to know that this was something that shouldn't happen.

BASH: And I -- oh, OK, I was just going to say, forgive us with the pictures, the images that you're seeing because, obviously, a raw feed coming in from the first lady.

Go ahead.

ORDONEZ: Well, I was just going to add that there is a -- you know, there's a political factor here. I mean this -- the president and the administration had a really difficult time with it. This is, you know, showing a different image.

But at the same time, there's a fine line for the president to walk here. He cannot be -- show too much empathy for this because he has a potential of losing some of his base who want him to be harder. At the same time, he can't go in the other direction because he might lose some of the moderates if he's too sympathetic.

BASH: And we're -- you know what, let's listen in to what's happening there with the first lady.

KURT SENSKI (ph): Good morning, everybody. My name's Kurt Senski. And it's a privilege for me to serve as the chief executive officer of Upbring.

Upbring is a 136-year-old faith-inspired organization. And our mission here in the state of Texas and Louisiana is to break the cycle of child abuse by empowering children, families and communities.

New Hope is a very important part of our mission. And similar to some of the children that we care for at our residential treatment center, our foster homes who may have been removed for opioid addiction, these children also come from a very difficult journey. And our staff here are committed to praying for them, they're committed to providing them with case management services, they're committed to education, they're committed to providing everything a child needs in order to be successful.

One of the -- what we've experienced, Mrs. Trump, is that the evidence demonstrates that for any child to be successful, whether it's your child or my child or a child in Texas or a child here at New Hope, is that we need to surround them with what we call at Upbring the five markers of success. So that's safety, safety's first, life skills, health -- and health would be emotional health, trauma-informed care, spiritual health, as well as physical health -- education -- you'll see at our charter school later -- and then vocation, so that every child has that opportunity to live out his or her calling.

So we appreciate both you and Secretary Azar to be here today. We're honored to show you our shelter. It's a shelter that currently cares for 58 children. Children who come from very difficult journeys. And we treat them like our own children.

[12:25:16] So with that, I'm going to allow the secretary, of course, to say a few words and to introduce our special guest.

ALEX AZAR, HHS SECRETARY: Well, Dr. Senski and Roy DeLeserta (ph), as program director here, and to all of you, thank you so much for welcoming us here.

I just wanted you to know how very grateful we are at the Department of Health and Human Services for the work that Upbring does for these children. And we're delighted to hear more about it and hear more about your sense of passion and mission and what you do. We're privileged to be with you, and I'm just delighted that the first lady is spending -- is spending today with us and is going to meet your children and meet you and hear from you.

So, thank you very much. And, Mrs. Trump, it goes over to you.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: Thank you so much for having me here today. I'm glad I'm here and I'm looking forward to seeing the little children. But, first of all, let me begin to recognize each of you and thanking

you for all that you do, for your heroic work that you do every day and what you do for those children.

We all know they're having -- they're here without their families. And I want to thank you for your hard work, your compassion and your kindness you're giving them in these difficult times.

I'm here to learn about your facility and which I know you house children on a long-term basis. And I also would like to ask you how I can help to these children to reunite with their families, you know, as quickly as possible.

So thank you again for all what you do. And thank you as well. Thank you all for what you do. Thank you very much.

And you can say a few words.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Again, thank you, Dr. Senski, Secretary Azar, first lady, thank you for being here.

What we'll do now is everyone around the table here can introduce themselves and give a brief role of what it is that you all do within your agencies.

Should we start with (INAUDIBLE) here?


Hi. Brian Harrison (ph). I'm the deputy chief of staff for Secretary Azar at the Department of Health and Human Services.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm (INAUDIBLE) Jr. I'm the chief patrol agent on the U.S. Border Patrol. And our role, we're the first that encounter the many unaccompanied children that come into our country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning. My name I'm Maggie Wynn (ph). I'm a counselor to Secretary Azar. And I work with the program that (INAUDIBLE) shelters like Upbring here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning. My name is Mia Sanchez (ph). I'm the lead clinician here. We provide all the mental health services and the support while they're on their journey upon their reunification.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm (INAUDIBLE). I'm the lead case manager here. Our -- my role here is in reunification.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name's (INAUDIBLE). I'm the shelter unit manager. And I take care of the everyday operations with the children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning. I am Beth (INAUDIBLE). I'm the medical care coordinator for Upbring here in New Hope. We do the health screenings for each unique health children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello. Good morning. My name is (INAUDIBLE) Gonzales (ph). I'm the lead teacher aide. I make sure to -- these kids get the best education we can give them so they can have a successful life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello. Good morning. May name is (INAUDIBLE). I am with HHS ORR. And I work with the program in reviewing the cases of the children who will be reunited with their family members.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Jose Gonzalez (ph) and I'm the field specialist supervisor for the division of unaccompanied child operations. It's nice to meet you.

TRUMP: It's nice to meet you. Thank you so much.

I heard you have like 58 children here?


TRUMP: Fifty-five. Oh, very good.




TRUMP: Oh, that's great. So three of them, they were reunited with the families. And those children, how many times they speak with their relatives or families per week, for example?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the children are allowed to communicate with their family twice a week. They get a 10 minute phone call. But first we have to ensure that the persons that they're contacting are family members are indeed their families. So there is a process that we follow all of ORR policies and regulations and make sure that we identify -- positively identify that the persons they are communicating with are, indeed, their family. And that could be through verification of birth certificates, photo identification. But we do communicate with the families.