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John Kasich: Hunting down undocumented immigrants is ‘not what America is’

August 19, 2015 at 6:20 PM EDT
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican presidential candidate, joins Gwen Ifill to discuss why he’s ready to run and win, plus the need for a tight border and a path to citizenship for immigrants, setting high educational standards, putting boots on the ground to fight the Islamic State and more.
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GWEN IFILL: John Kasich, the governor of the politically important state of Ohio, is trying to convince Republicans he can return them to the White House.

Before becoming governor, Kasich served 18 years in Congress and has been a businessman, author and talk show host.

Yesterday, at the Home Plate Diner in Des Moines, Iowa, we talked about why he is running.

So, Governor Kasich, thank you for joining us.

You ran before, in 1999, for president.

GOV. JOHN KASICH, Republican Presidential Candidate: Yes. Well, I tried.

GWEN IFILL: You tried.

And you dropped out because you said you weren’t ready. What’s different now?

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Oh. Well, I mean, governor of Ohio, it’s a big job and a lot of responsibility. And I’m a little older.

And I dropped out really back then because I couldn’t raise the money. I mean, ultimately, it gets in some ways to be a money game, not totally, but in some ways. But, you know, I decided — I got in late, and I got in late because I wanted to make sure I really had a chance to win. I’m not doing this on a lark, just to go have fun, although I am having fun.

I mean, I’m really enjoying myself all over the country. So I’m ready. I mean, I’m ready intellectually, I’m ready emotionally to be able to do this and help fix the country.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about some of the issues which you would be facing if you were president, among them, immigration.

There has been a lot of discussion, especially this week, about birthright citizenship. Both Scott Walker and Donald Trump have said that should be revoked. At one point, you had thought that was a good idea.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Yes, actually, I said that.

Look, we have to focus on the biggest issue here, which is, we have to finish the wall and then make it clear, if anybody comes over that wall again, they have got to go back. There should be no debate about that.

That was one of the things that I think we made a mistake on, Gwen, back in ’86, when we did the Reagan reform on immigration. I also think we need to expand the guest-worker program, so people can come in and go back.

And then I think, with the 12 million, they’re here. If they have been law-abiding, then I believe they should have a path to legalization. They’re going to have to pay a fine. They’re going to have to wait, but I — look, they have become a very important part of our society. And…

GWEN IFILL: Path to legalization is something that rubs a lot of Republicans the wrong way.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Well, what do you think we’re going to do, go chasing them down, and put these big lights on top of cars and go into neighborhoods hunting them down?

That’s not — that’s not what America is. And, look, nobody likes that they broke the law, they ditched the line. I have told my kids, as much as you love Taylor Swift, you don’t ditch the line to get into a concert.

But many of them are here and they’re hardworking people. They’re law-abiding. They’re God-fearing. They’re family-oriented. I mean, you know, let’s just — but what we have to do is get the wall fixed, so we can end this, we can control our borders. And then we have to make it clear, if you do that again, if you jump it again, you’re going back.

GWEN IFILL: You have also defended Common Core education reforms and you have defended Medicaid expansion in your state. Let’s talk about them one at a time.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Yes.

Well, first of all, I don’t — this Common Core is a label, OK? In my state, we didn’t have high standards for our kids. We lowered the bar — or we had a low bar so they could jump over it, and everybody would feel good.

Forty percent of our graduates go into colleges and they have to take remedial programs, things they should have learned when they were younger, in high school. I mean, the deal is, we have high standards and the curriculum to meet those high standards is set by local school boards with parental advisory.

I don’t know how else you would do this. I don’t run the program and we certainly don’t let Washington run it. But I want high standards in Ohio. Now, if some states want to choose to do it another way, that’s up to them. But so Common Core…

GWEN IFILL: It’s a state-by-state decision?

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Yes.

But I believe that, look, if I were president, I would want to spend a lot of time going to the legislatures and telling them about best practices, whatever it is, whether it’s about fighting poverty, whether it’s about educating kids. I mean, the states are the laboratories where we can see what works. And I think presidents can have a much better relationship with legislatures.

GWEN IFILL: What about Medicaid expansion?

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Well, you know, we have controlled the growth of Medicaid.

In my second budget, the growth was at, I don’t know, like 2.5 percent. Now, here’s what we do. We take the money and we rehab the drug addicted in our prisons and then we hand them off to the local community, and our recidivism rate is 10 percent, maybe the lowest in the country. I mean, it’s up there.

So we save money from the standpoint of not locking them up. And, secondly, isn’t it great to let people pursue their God-given purpose in life? I mean, that’s what this is about. We can’t turn our back on people who need some help. But, Gwen, in Ohio, our philosophy, I got from my mother. It’s a sin to not help people who need help, but it’s equally a sin to continue to help people who do need to learn how to help themselves.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s take what your mother said and expand it to foreign policy.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: Is helping people who need help, does that extend to putting boots on the ground in order to fight ISIS?

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Look, ISIS represents another threat, in my opinion, to the principles that we respect in Western civilization.

Let me say a couple of things. First of all, ISIS or their ilk are liars. They’re murderers. They’re rapists. We saw the articles recently about what they do. And then they argue to people, if you come here, you will be with friends, and you will be part of our family, and then you will find a way to paradise.

It’s all a lie. It’s all contrived. So, we have got to kill ISIS on the battlefield, and we also have to win the battle of ideas going forward with people — and Western civilization has got to recognize value matters.

GWEN IFILL: You described the problem very well. So, you think the solution extends to U.S. boots on the ground?

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Oh, well, U.S. boots on the ground, first and foremost, go wipe them out, degrade them, kill them. And I have said that for months. And I would like to go in a coalition. I wouldn’t want to go alone.

And we have had, Gwen, a deteriorating relationship with our allies. You know, look, I served on Armed Services for 18 years and have stayed in touch with many people in national security. And you think about — I will give you one good example. They kill these people over there in Paris in that magazine. They have a million people at a ceremony mourning the loss of those people, and we don’t send a high-level official? How’s that even possible?

GWEN IFILL: I want to end this by asking you to take stock of this campaign as it stands today.

How do you explain the excitement in August — it’s August, early yet — for the Donald Trumps of the world, for the outsiders, for the people who seem like they’re not of Washington?

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Well, yes, I totally understand that, because I think people are frustrated with dysfunction, not just dysfunction in government, but a lot of dysfunction that surrounds them.

I get the frustration with drugs in the neighborhood or my kids with big college loans can’t find a job. But people don’t want to stay on the pessimist side. They want to believe. They want you to recognize that there is a problem, but then let’s go fix it.

For me, all the time I have been in government, I have produced results. I mean, think about it. When I left Washington as the chief architect of the budget agreement, we had a $5 trillion surplus. I was involved in welcome reform. I was involved in defense reform.

And, as governor of Ohio, we have gone from $8 billion in the hole to a $2 billion surplus. We have grown 350,000 jobs. We have cut taxes more than any sitting governor in the country. And guess what? People who’ve lived in the shadows now are getting attention.

You have got to have solutions, and you have got to show people that you have a record of achievement. People don’t want any more promises. They want to know that it’s going to happen. They want to know that you can deliver the mail.

GWEN IFILL: Governor John Kasich, thank you very much.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Yes. Thanks. Good to see you again. Thank you, Gwen.

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