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White House: Family separation executive order is ‘temporary reprieve,’ but immigration law ‘ties our hands’

Marc Short, White House Director Of Legislative Affairs, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the struggle to reunite migrant children with their parents, plus President Trump’s candidate for the Supreme Court vacancy, corporate concerns about the president’s tariffs, and his repeated comments that the press is the enemy of the American people in light of an Annapolis newspaper massacre.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    How will the Trump administration respond to the court order to reunite immigrant families separated at the border? And what is the president's process for naming a new Supreme Court justice?

    Some questions for Marc Short, who is the White House director of legislative affairs. And he joins me now.

    Welcome back to the program.

  • Marc Short:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Marc Short, why are young people like Omar, the 17-year-old we just saw in Yamiche's story, still being separate — held separate from their parents? This is over a week after the president said this policy should end.

  • Marc Short:

    Well, the policy ending, which the president signed by executive order, was moving forward.

    Let's keep in mind a couple of things. The executive order is — pretty much provides time for Congress to fix this. When you had me on your show a couple of weeks ago, I said this really is a binary choice. And that remains true, that you either let families come into our country unfettered, which continues to create a bigger problem, or you separate them at the border.

    We don't want to separate them at the border, but the problem is there's a law that says that, after 21 days, the children must be let go. So your choice is let children and parents go into the United States.

    And, therefore, it only increases the problem of more and more children being pushed across the border. We find, of those 2,000 that you're talking about in your story, additionally, in that same time period, 10,000 unaccompanied children came across the border.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Marc Short:

    Many of those children have been sexually abused, physically abused by human traffickers who pushed them across the border.

    When they come through a port of entry and they claim asylum, they have always been kept together. The circumstances in your story are only those crossing the border illegally and not coming through a port of entry.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    OK. I would love to see those numbers, because we haven't been able to establish the numbers that you just cited about unaccompanied children.

    But we are hearing so many of these stories about children not reunited.

    How much of is the fact that government agencies just don't know how to find parents and children who belong together?

  • Marc Short:

    The problem — the separation of parents and children has actually been happening for quite some time, Judy.

    And what's always been the case is that children were often removed and put into HHS custody because there was concern that, in many cases, they were being trafficked and not actually with a parent. So the process is, they do get put in foster care or put together with a family member first.

    So there is a process for reunifying them. The reason in many cases they haven't been to date is because the adult who came across the border illegally is still in the process of being adjudicated and is probably in incarceration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Does the administration, do you, does president now believe that that original decision of six weeks, two months ago to separate families coming across the border was a mistake?

  • Marc Short:

    The president believes that, right now, the law ties our hands.

    And we need Congress to act to provide more clarity. The E.O. he signed, the executive order he signed, provided a temporary reprieve, but right now the law doesn't enable us to do what we need to do to secure the border.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But Congress has gone, as you know — excuse me for interrupting.

    Congress has gone home for the July 4 recess. There's no suggestion that they are able to come together on this. So, in the meantime, is it the administration's responsibility to figure this out?

  • Marc Short:

    Right now, Congress has not given us the tools to, Judy.

    The reality is, the law says that, within 21 days, the child must be released. So your choice is release the child and the parents together or you separate the children from the parents when they come across illegally. Those are your two choices that we face.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So child separation is still happening, is what you're saying?

  • Marc Short:

    No. The president signed the E.O. that provided another 20 days. We need Congress to act.

    And at that point, you will come back to the point we were at a couple weeks ago, which is a binary choice of what you want to do. Do you want to have open borders, where children are used as incentive to get parents into the country, or do you want to have a system in which there is a prosecution for coming across illegally?

    Again, if they come into a port of entry and claim asylum, they're always kept together, if they come in the way they're supposed to.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's turn to the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy announcing this week that he is stepping down.

    The president just told reporters about an hour or so ago that he's narrowed the list already down to I think five to seven people. He plans to see one or two of them this weekend.

    Who is he seeing?

  • Marc Short:

    Well, Judy, I can't tell you exactly who he's seeing, but the American people know who's on the list, because I think this is the most transparent process ever, when the president put forward to all the American people to say, here's my list of the 21 candidates I'm considering.

    That's since been expanded to 25 during the transition. But it's a very public list that we provide to all Americans. So, you know the list the president's choosing from. I think that was one of the factors in many people being comfortable in supporting the president for election, because of the quality of candidates he put forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As you know, Democrats and others are very concerned that the president is not only going to choose a conservative; he is going to choose someone who is even more conservative than Justice Kennedy, and that he will choose someone who will, if not overturn Roe vs. Wade, be prepared to undermine it.

    What is the president looking for in his choice? What does he want their position on Roe vs. Wade to be?

  • Marc Short:

    The president doesn't have a litmus test on Roe v. Wade. I'm not familiar with him asking any of the candidates that question specifically.

    I do think you can look at the quality of the candidates we have put forward, 136 judges that have been nominated for district court and circuit court so far, and know the type of candidate that the president is going to put forward.

    What I do find disturbing right now, Judy, is that there are Democrat senators who have already come forward and said it doesn't matter who he names, we're opposed.

    That it doesn't seem like a democratic process of advise and consent, when they're basically saying, it doesn't matter who, we're opposed, we all need to be opposed, no matter what.

    You don't even allow the person a chance for testimony, to review credentials. There's already suggestion — actually statements from Democrat senators on the record saying, we're opposed no matter what.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Separately, there's a story in The New York Times today that the White House has been quietly pressuring Justice Kennedy for the last year-and-a-half to go ahead and feel comfortable stepping down this year, that it had submitted private relationships between the Trump and the Kennedy families, appointed friends of Justice Kennedy to other justice positions.

    How do you answer that?

  • Marc Short:

    The reality is that Justice Kennedy has served our country nobody. He's 82 years old. He served on the court for 31 years

    I think that to be surprised that he stepped aside and retired is kind of foolish. The reality is that we were unaware as to when he would make this decision. We appreciate his service. The president looks forward to nominating a qualified candidate to replace him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are you saying there was no pressure, quiet or otherwise?

  • Marc Short:

    There was none, no.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The economy, the administration trade policy, quickly.

    General Motors has now become the latest company to warn — and they did this today — that if the president moves ahead with another wave of tariffs, that it could backfire, it could lead to less investment, cutting wages, higher prices for cars.

    How is the White House going to deal with this, as more and more companies come out and express concerns about these tariffs?

  • Marc Short:

    I think what the president laid forward at the G7 is, he basically put on the table to say, let's get rid of all tariffs and all trade barriers for all of us.

    They were unwilling to accept that. Right now, the tariffs that we face in exporting products are significantly greater than those that are imposed upon companies trying to import products into the United States.

    The president is trying to level the playing field and have reciprocity in these rules. He put on the table no tariffs, no trade barriers. That's the ultimate position we're trying to get to.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last question, Marc Short.

    The president has offered referred to the press in this country as the enemy of the American people. Is he going to continue to say that?

  • Marc Short:

    Judy, I think he's often frustrated by coverage and the way that it's perceived. I don't know if he's going to continue to use those words or not.

    But I think we all mourn the loss of innocent life in Annapolis. And I think we all hold those families in our prayers and wish as much healing as possible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you agree with that, that the press are the enemy of the American people?

  • Marc Short:

    Judy, I certainly believe that the press has a responsibility to make sure that they're covering things as accurately and fairly as they can.

    I think a free and fair press is essential to American democracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Marc Short, White House director of legislative affairs, thank you.

  • Marc Short:

    Thanks for having me, Judy.

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