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Nielsen ‘failed’ as head of Homeland Security, Rep. Bennie Thompson says

The tenure of outgoing Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen was rife with controversy, from the separation of migrant children and parents to the attempt to keep asylum seekers in Mexico while their cases are processed. Judy Woodruff talks to Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, about her departure and President Trump’s outlook on immigration law.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to our top story: Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's resignation and the fallout.

    Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi is the chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee. And he joins us now.

    Chairman Thompson, welcome.

    What is your reaction to her departure?

  • Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.:

    Well, it was not totally unexpected.

    A lot of us had lost confidence in Secretary Nielsen's leadership. We understand it's a difficult job, but she asked for it, she had an opportunity, and she failed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You said yesterday in a tweet that her tenure at Homeland Security had been a disaster. What would you add to that now?

  • Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.:

    Well, I would say, if you consider putting children in cages, if you consider separating children from families, if you consider not recognizing the asylum laws that Congress has passed here in the United States, and a lot of other things that go against the values of who we are as Americans, then I would say that it was time for her to go.

    But, you know, it's not solely Secretary Nielsen. This has to go to the White House. President Trump's administration has picked on immigrants from day one. He continues to do that. We can't tell people we are full, go back. That's not who we are as Americans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you think this move, bringing someone else, whoever it is, in to be the permanent replacement, or as long as they will stay, for her is going to change administration policy?

    And I want to ask you that, Chairman Thompson, in the context of this federal judge ruling late today out of California that the asylum policy that the Trump administration wanted wherein people seeking asylum had to wait in Mexico for that, the judge is saying that's not going to take place.

  • Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead.

  • Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.:

    Well, thank you very much.

    Well, this is another Trump interpretation of the law. The law is very clear with respect to how we treat people who get to our borders. Our law doesn't say, go back in Mexico and wait. Our laws say we have to acknowledge you when you get here.

    And we put you in a process to make sure we examine, within the fullest extent of the law, exactly what is being considered. So I'm not surprised at the judge's decision. In America, the three branches of government are co-equal. And any time there is a dispute, we take them to the courts.

    It just appears that every time we go to court challenging some of these policies, the people win. And that's why we are a democracy. This is not Trumpville. This is the United States of America.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, the president continues. As you know, he wants tougher immigration policies. He said the country is full. He said that, over the last few days, he's calling on Congress to tighten the laws further.

    What's going to happen? I mean, what — if the Democratic majority in the House is where you are, the president is where he is, what's going to happen?

  • Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.:

    Well, my invitation to the president is, if you genuinely want to work out a bipartisan solution to this immigration problem, let's sit down and talk.

    We shouldn't be tweeting to each other. You shouldn't be firing your leaders because they won't do what you say, even if it's against the law. Let's sit down and talk.

    As the Democratic chair of Homeland Security, I'm ready to talk. But we can talk together. But if he thinks he can just come and lecture Democrats and go home, that's not how a bill becomes law. You have to engage each other. We have to share our differences. We have to share what our beliefs are, and then we work together on that.

    So I encourage the president to come forward with whatever issues he might have, and we will work on that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As you know, now there are a number of vacancies, people in acting positions. The president is moving the head of Customs and Border Patrol over into the secretary role in the short term. That adds to the vacancies there.

    Is all this going to have an effect on policy, on the country?

  • Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.:

    Well, not only will it have impact on policies of the country, but can you imagine, from a leadership perspective, those 220,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security? They don't know from one day to the next now who's in charge.

    Now, there's a question about the president's appointment to be the temporary head of the department, whether or not that's consistent with our law. So we still might have somebody else in charge on Wednesday.

    So, clearly, the president has to exhibit real leadership, and not just throwing fits because he's not getting his way. That's not how you govern.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, thank you very much.

  • Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.:

    Thank you.

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