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Source: Trump Pushed Migrant Dump Plan; Pelosi Calls Plan Disrespectful to Immigrants; Pence on Border Crisis. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 12, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's a really good question. I think not. I think that in our conversations with them to get their statement, they didn't mention that. They still have to improve the way Alexa works and needs these conversations.


Great to see you, Alison.

KOSIK: You got it.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

KOSIK: Sure.

KIB: And thank you all so much for joining me. Wild day today.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash starts right now.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off today.

White House officials are downplaying reports that President Trump personally pushed for dumping undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities, specifically in congressional districts of Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats.

Plus, presidential candidate and Mayor Pete Buttigieg isn't the only 2020 contender talking about his religious views.

Plus, I travel with Vice President Mike Pence to the southern border where he made the administration's case for how to deal with the humanitarian crisis there. I also asked him about the moment the world is waiting for, the Mueller report being released any day now.


BASH: How concerned are you that there will be information in this report that will be politically damaging?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we're not concerned at all.

BASH: Not at all? PENCE: No. Not in the least. I mean, Robert Mueller engaged in a

detailed review of all of the facts. He concluded that there was no collusion. And it wasn't his job to exonerate any particular point of view. But reviewing all of the evidence that he assembled, the attorney general and the deputy attorney general determined that there was no obstruction of justice.

BASH: If you feel that confident about it, then should the American people see all of the evidence that went along with this report for full transparency to back up what you just said.

PENCE: Well, I think the American people are always entitled to have the facts, but in this case it's important that we protect grand jury confidentiality.


BASH: We begin this hour with the president, who has long railed against sanctuary cities, jurisdictions that refuse to hand over undocumented immigrants into federal custody. Now, new reporting from "The Washington Post," and confirmed by CNN, shows the president considered making examples of those cities. The idea, to dump migrants detained at the southern border into so-called sanctuary cities.

A source tells CNN that the White House repeatedly pressured Homeland Security officials to follow through. The department objected loudly, sources say, and produced a legal analysis that killed the idea.

Today, the new acting director of ICE says he was never pressured by the West Wing, saying, I was asked my opinion and provided it and my advice was heeded.

Now, the White House, in a statement last hour, they are saying the idea was briefly and informally raised and quickly rejected, adding no one at ICE was pressured by anyone at any time.

But sources say the plan was personally pushed by the White House and specifically immigration hawk Stephen Miller. And its failure, a source says, could help explain why Miller now wants to purge top officials inside Homeland Security.

Now, a Homeland Security source confirmed the policy pursuit and the pressure to implement it was real, describing his bottom line feelings about the proposal, the source put it this way, these are human beings, not game pieces.

Now here at the table to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Phil Mattingly, Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post," Michael Shear with "The New York Times," and CNN's own Evan Perez.

Now, Evan, you have been doing reporting on this. I mean it truly is bizarre and almost really hard to fathom that even in the most darkest of political corners that this is something that was really considered.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It really is and it shows you what sort of damage, frankly, is being done to the Department of Homeland Security by some of these policies that Stephen Miller is trying to push. This is an agency that you know has struggled ever since it was created after 9/11 to sort of find its footing out of the political sphere and spotlight and try to just be law enforcement on par with FBI and other agencies. And that's one of the worries that people have is that their -- that at the end of the Trump administration, the damage will be so great that it will take years to repair it. And you can see why the lawyers at the Homeland Security Department and all the people who have -- who have law enforcement chops there were so against this because they know that they'll be the ones that will have to clean it up and will have to be hauled before Congress to explain it once something like this is done. And that's why they pushed back so hard against it.

BASH: And it is very noteworthy that we are getting this information on the week that we saw the Homeland Security secretary pushed out, that there is -- that there are rumblings about another purge going on. I mean, it's -- it's not an accident that we're seeing this pushback I think it's probably fair to say.

[12:05:11] A little bit more reporting from your newspaper. I want to read the following.

The White House told U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that the plan was intended to alleviate a shortage of detention space, but also served to send a message to Democrats. The attempt at political retribution raised alarm within ICE with a top official responding that it was rife with budgetary and liability concerns and nothing that there are PR risks as well.

Ah, yes. PR. And how about, you know, basic humanitarian negligence.


BASH: And worse.

KIM: Exactly. And we've seen multiple times how this White House, particularly when it comes under pressure over immigration issues, really does stretch the boundaries, you know, legally, politically, of what -- what an administration should be doing on immigration. I mean it was only a few days ago that we were talking about potentially shutting down the entire U.S.-Mexico border to deal with the migration issue on the southern bothered. Obviously the president's declared a national emergency, which is in litigation right now.

But I thought the fact that this was brought up, according to our reporting, twice really remarkable. The fact that first it was surfaced back in November, when the president, as we know, was furious about the caravans that were moving up north towards the border -- or towards the U.S.-Mexico border and then again in February when we saw that Democrats -- first of all, we were in a shutdown and Democrats and Republicans were really clashing over exactly the number of migrants to detain in U.S. custody, the number of detention beds that had become such a contentious issue.

So, obviously, a jaw-dropping reporting that we've seen. But, again, a parent of behavior from this administration that has really, again, pushed the boundaries of what they can do.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. I mean, look, the -- there is no more central promise that Donald Trump made to the American people than the one surrounding his wall and the border and his sort of anti-immigrant zeal. And, you know, I think what you've seen is over the last two and a half years, as that promise has not been met, the wall isn't built, Congress has stopped him, courts have blocked a lot of his initiatives that have been aimed at stopping the flow of migrants, and then what you've seen in the last few months with this real surge, which is real by the way.

BASH: It is real.

SHEAR: I was just down at the border in Calexico and in San Diego at the -- and in Mexico. There are thousands of migrant families coming up, more than we've seen in many, many years, and that is putting a strain on the border. And so -- but it's also putting a strain on his political promise and proving in numbers and images that people can see that he hasn't stopped, you know -- he hasn't stopped this immigration, and that's really frustrating him hand frustrating the White House and they're -- they're sort of turning to every which way that they can think and, you know, some of the ideas are kind of bonkers.

BASH: Yes. And it is real. And we're going to talk in the next segment about my trip to the border with the vice president to talk about that very issue. You had a great piece on that this week in "The Times" as well.

But -- so what we are seeing here is very political, very ugly, but it also is borne out of frustration by this administration to find a way to deal with the reality. Sometimes there's a crisis. Sometimes, depending on where you are in the past two and a half years, it is manufactured. Right now we're at a crisis point.

But they're trying to deal with it with the existing laws that they have, and it is very hard to do. If you -- and what you're seeing is the combination of that and the raw politics and the ridiculous notion of mixing that with political retribution.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I actually think this is a great window into kind of the heart of the frustration inside the White House and the heart of the frustration inside some of kind of the more hawkish advisers in the White House about how restricted they are by current administration -- or by the current laws that kind of dictate the immigration system. I know we'll talk about it in the next block in terms of why it has become a crisis, why the flows have been surging to the degree they have because of the laws that are currently in place.

Now this, again, it's kind of an absurd outlier idea, but it also -- it not only underscores the window into why they're frustrated, but it kind of underscores the reality that there's only so much these agencies can do.

BASH: Exactly. MATTINGLY: There are lawyers at these agencies. There are career lawyers. There are also politicals who, to Evan's very good point, understand that we're going to be here probably longer than this administration.

BASH: Exactly.

MATTINGLY: Whether it's four or eight years --

PEREZ: That's why the president --

BASH: And you probably hear this all the time from (INAUDIBLE).


PEREZ: Right. Right. And that's why the president himself raised it with Kirstjen Nielsen, you know, for an idea that they claimed was briefly brought up and disregarded. This thing, as you said, was brought up in November and then in February. The president himself pressured Nielsen to do this.

Now, DHS is telling us that it never really got to her for a final decision, but it is clear that there was -- there were these conversations.

BASH: Yes. And you saw that this is a window also into the pressure that Kirstjen Nielsen herself was feeling.

[12:10:04] PEREZ: Yes.

BASH: I mean you could kind of see throughout her tenure she was trying to explain this zero tolerance policy. Then she sort of stopped doing that and her rhetoric had got really strong. You could see that she was trying to make way with the president and get in good graces --

SHEAR: Save her job.

BASH: And save her job, and then she just gave up and now we're seeing these stories.

SHEAR: Well, and, look, you know, there was a senior administration official who -- who briefed a bunch of reporters a couple of days ago about the frustration inside the White House that the bureaucracies -- the immigration bureaucracies in the country weren't moving fast enough to implement the hardline agenda, which --

MATTINGLY: Or were moving in the wrong direction.

SHEAR: Or were moving in the wrong direction.


SHEAR: And -- and -- which is remarkable when you think of what has happened in the last couple of years that has already pushed, as Seung Min said, the boundaries of what sort of -- kind of establishment Washington thinks is the right approach. And so the fact that it's not going fast enough for them is really striking.

BASH: Before we go to break, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, just reacted to this story. Let listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Just another notion that is unworthy of the presidency of the United States and disrespectful of the challenges that we face as a country, as a people to address who we are, a nation of immigrants.


BASH: And up next, my exclusive interview on the southern border with Vice President Mike Pence. Stay with us.


[12:15:41] BASH: The immigration debate here in Washington is so white hot, so partisan, it is easy to miss or misunderstand what is exactly happening on the southern bothered. Yesterday I had the chance to go to Nogales, Arizona, with Vice President Mike Pence. He invited me to come on his helicopter as he was briefed by a senior border patrol agent. And we got a bird's eye view of the rugged terrain at that border location that both the migrants and the border patrol agents have to contend with.

We also heard about the realities of a system that is beyond breaking point. Last month there were more migrants apprehended at the border than any month since 2007. And the raw numbers are staggering. Last month, more than 92,000 arrests of undocumented migrants for illegal entry on the southern border. Last March, a year ago, it was 37,390. And a major part of the influx is adults bringing children.

CBP apprehended over 53,000 family members just last month. These are adults with children, coming largely from Central America, many of whom paid smugglers a hefty fee to help them across the border. Not to sneak in and hope to escape authorities, but to look for border patrol, many wanting to get processed for asylum.

And because the system is so overrun, not enough facilities to house them, not enough agents and judges to process their cases in a timely fashion, these migrants are released into the country with notices to appear later in court, especially those with children since the law doesn't allow the government to hold children for more than 20 days. So they're taken to bus stations, some to family members already in the country, some are taken care of by charities at least until their court dates. It is a humanitarian crisis created by a lot of contributing factor, including laws that should be adjusted and resources devoted if only there was the political will right here in Washington to do so.

I talked exclusively to the vice president about this at the border.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH: CBP says that family unit apprehensions have increased nearly 375 percent. The spike is incredible. Can you explain how the administration and -- that ran on making sure that this didn't happen let things get to this point?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well -- well, first, I think the president and I appreciate the fact that people around the country, and even many people in the media are now beginning to recognize that we have a genuine crisis at our southern border. I heard about it again today here in Nogales.

On Tuesday, 4,300 people came across our border illegally along the southern border in its entirety. The vast majority of those people were families and unaccompanied minors being driven by human traffickers and drug cartels that are exploiting these venerable families and they're exploiting loopholes in our laws.

BASH: We have information that the president's been talking about reinstating the zero tolerance policy. Will you vow, standing here at the border, that family separation will never be reinstated?

PENCE: I think the president made it very clear this week, we're not rethinking bringing back family separation. But it's absolutely essential to end a humanitarian crisis that really threatens the security of the American people and is -- and is creating hardship on both sides of our border. Congress needs to act.

BASH: The president tweeted last night the following, I think what the Democrats are doing with the border is treasonous, all caps. Their open border mindset is putting our country at risk. Will not let that happen.

I know you generally say that the president has his own style of talking, but to use the word "treason," which is supposed to be punished by death, how do you get from that rhetoric to the kind of working across the aisle that you're talking about that's needed to fix things here?

PENCE: I think what you hear the president expressing is the frustration of the American people. That last month alone more than 100,000 people came across our southern border illegally. A year ago there were a dozen groups of 100 or more that tried to come into our country illegally --

BASH: But do you concede that Democrats aren't for open borders?

PENCE: In the first six months of this year, there's more than 100 large groups that have attempted to come into our country. The fact that the Democrats are celebrating their first 100 days while an avalanche of illegal immigrants that are flowing into our country, burdening our system and making it possible for more drugs, more human trafficking and more dangerous criminal elements to come into our country is totally unacceptable.

[12:20:21] BASH: But it's so partisan. How do you get to the point where you do something that is a solution to -- to these problems? PENCE: I think -- I think it begins with speaking the truth to power.

That's what the president's always been willing to do is to say to the Congress, what needs to happen? He took the strong stand through the government shutdown to get the funding to secure our bothered, to build our wall. We declared a national emergency to do that. But -- but, Dana, you're exactly right, to end this -- what is an absolute humanitarian crisis flowing across our border every day, we've got to close the loopholes in our law.


BASH: Back around the table. Elana Schor with "The Associate Press" joins us now.

And, Michael, I'm going to start with you, because you have a book coming out on this very issue, "Border Wars." You can pre-order it on Amazon. You're welcome.

But in all seriousness, what we didn't get to in that discussion, but is part of the discussion, and people who are -- I've talked to Republicans on Capitol Hill, the president's fellow Republicans, border agents I've talked to say that part of the many issues that we're seeing down there is the president's rhetoric, saying build a wall, because people are saying -- people are wondering when the wall will be built and they're trying to get in beforehand. That's part of the rise in -- in the flood of the migrants. And also his threat to close the border. That also contributed.

SHEAR: Yes, I mean, look, there's a lot of reasons, as you said in your piece, there's a lot of contributing factors in this. But what -- when you talk to the sort of experts, one of the things that is happening is that, you know, smugglers are going down into the central American countries, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala. They are telling -- they are using the president's rhetoric as motivation to get people to come now. They're saying, if you ever want to get to the United States, now is the time to do this because President Trump says he's going to close down the border, President Trump says he's going to build a wall.

And then the other contributing factor is that, you know, the vice president talked about this as a humanitarian crisis, but the president hasn't been treating it as a humanitarian crisis. He's been treating it as a security crisis. And by slowing down the legal routes of entry, by saying that the asylum seekers are only going to be processed very, very, very slowly at the ports of entry, they're sort of shuffling the -- what would otherwise be a legal flow into the country into the more remote parts of the country -- of the border where they're then coming across. And that's -- that's contributing to the humanitarian crisis. But the -- but the administration isn't doing anything to sort of deal with that part.

BASH: And it's all about Congress now. It's always all about Congress. And Congress has not shown a willingness to do anything on immigration at all.

But the question is, is this different because you're talking about this massive surge? You're talking about children being human trafficked?

MATTINGLY: Yes, look, it's an interesting question. I know Seung Min and I were standing in hallways this week when Jared Kushner and Mick Mulvaney came up and met with Senate Democrats who are on the relevant committees about this issue as an initial discussion. I'm told that there wasn't any type of headway made whatsoever.

But I do think there's a recognition in both parties, along with the White House, that this is a problem that needs to be addressed. And I think you've seen efforts to push more humanitarian aid towards both the border and also to the northern triangle countries. The administration has now cut $450 million in that humanitarian aid.

BASH: Yes.

MATTINGLY: But I think the struggle here -- and I thought this is what was interesting about what you were talking to the vice president about, is just the divergence on the policy side and how do you ever marry these things given how so far apart people are, because the reason why this -- if you look at overall apprehensions, still down based on the last decade or so. If you look at apprehensions of unaccompanied minors, of family units and of asylum seekers, skyrocketing, and that's because the laws are different for those individuals. And that's what frustrates the White House. That's what frustrates Stephen Miller. And that's why there's such a difficulty right now.

BASH: The white hot rhetoric doesn't help.


BASH: OK, everybody stand by. Elana, I promise I'll get to you in the next segment.

Up next, faith in politics making waves in the 2020 presidential field. Stay with us.


[12:29:01] BASH: Today, a big conversation about faith sparked by an old strategy paying new dividends for Pete Buttigieg. An almost 2020 Democratic contender wants a discussion and the spotlight that comes with it on what being a Christian means and what policies are and aren't in conflict with Christian values. His entry point to that debate, punching up. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is gay. He is married to a man. And says Vice President Pence should reconsider his beliefs, along with policies that Buttigieg says attacks his identity and his family.

Yesterday, I asked Pence, the former governor of Indiana, who served with Buttigieg, what he makes of the Democrat's comments.


BASH: I just have to ask you about the mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg. He said, I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand that if you've got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me, you're quarrel, sir, is with my creator.

What he's saying is he didn't choose to be gay. His creator did. What's your response to that?

[12:30:04] MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I've known Mayor Pete for many years. We worked very closely together when I was governor.