GWEN IFILL: The fight between the White House and Congress grows bitter. The hostilities between Israel and Gaza grow deadlier. And a top U.S. spy is kicked out of Germany. We explore the chasms and the possibilities for compromise on all three fronts, tonight on “Washington Week.”
CROWD: USA! USA!
MR. : Not in Marietta. Not in Marietta.
CROWD: No papers, no fear. (Our children ?) stay here.
MS. IFILL: The immigration debate takes a fierce new turn as House Republicans prepare to sue the president.
HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): (From clip.) Listen. This is a problem of the president’s own making. He’s been president for 5 ½ years. When’s going to take responsibility for something?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From clip.) You hear some of them, they’re, like, sue him. Impeach him. Really? (Applause.) For – for what? You’re going to sue me to do – for doing my job?
MS. IFILL: Tough talk from all sides. But is there any room left for compromise?
The same question looms along Israel’s border with Gaza as rockets and bombs fly.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (From clip.) No country on Earth will remain passive in the face of hundreds of rockets fired on its cities, and Israel is no exception.
AMBASSADOR RIYAD MANSOUR: (From clip.) We call on the Security Council to act now to stop the bleeding in occupied Palestine.
MS. IFILL: Can the U.S. broker a cease-fire?
And nations spying on their allies. Will old friends become new enemies?
Covering the week, Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post, Fawn Johnson of National Journal, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens. Live from our nation’s capital, this is “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill.” Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening.
On the surface this week, the fight was about immigration, whether unaccompanied minors should be allowed to cross the border illegally and then be allowed to stay until they work their way through the legal process. I spoke to White House domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz on the NewsHour.
CECILIA MUNOZ: (From clip.) We’re approaching this as an urgent humanitarian situation, but it’s also true that we have to make it clear to any parent who might be making the decision to put their child in the hands of traffickers and smugglers, that this is an incredibly dangerous thing to do, and they should not do this based on the false premise that they’re guaranteed status in the United States because that’s simply not true.
MS. IFILL: The dispute quickly morphed into another version of the increasingly bitter recurring standoff between the president and congressional Republicans.
SENATOR TED CRUZ (R-TX): (From clip.) Amnesty is unfolding before our very eyes. And I would suggest the only response that will stop this humanitarian disaster is for President Obama to start enforcing the law, to stop promising amnesty, to stop refusing to enforce federal immigration law and finally to secure the border.
MS. IFILL: No thinks the other side has their priorities right, and the bitterness quickly spread to discussion of old frictions, including the president’s use of executive action.
But first, let’s talk about the problem at hand, the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central American countries surging across the border. Before we get to the dispute, let’s explain the law, though. Fawn.
FAWN JOHNSON: The law. Well, I think we need to be clear about what law we’re talking about – I think this is the place where you’re starting to see some confusion in Congress.
The law that’s actually causing all of the stopgaps and the bottlenecks at the border is a anti-trafficking, human trafficking law that was passed in 2008, signed into law by President Bush, and passed on unanimous consent, all sides agreeing in the House and the Senate.
It did two things that have changed things at the border. The first thing that it did was it gave the Department of Health and Human Services full custody of children who are identified as not being with a parent or other guardian when they cross the border who are essentially alien minors. And the other thing that it did is it required HHS to look for a parent or a guardian inside the country to put these children with. So the idea was prior to the 2008 law, they were essentially trying to evaluate whether or not the child was an asylum candidate who should be put in foster care, and a bunch of advocates and a number of people who are involved in these cases said it would be much better if they were with their families. It takes some time to do that. There has been a massive influx of – it’s been growing – escalating – you know, in – a couple years ago it was 10,000, last year it was 20,000 and now we’re up to 40,000 already in this fiscal year of children who come from Central America.
MS. IFILL: And this was originally considered to be an anti-trafficking law.
MS. JOHNSON: Right.
MS. IFILL: This was supposed to find some way to help children who are being victimized by smugglers.
MS. JOHNSON: The whole point is that if you are a child, you are entitled to special rights under the law, that you – if you have – if you are here in undocumented status and you’re a children, you can’t be prosecuted like you would be if you’re an adult. And the reason why the law has been in place for 20 years, it’s been updated to try and reflect that – each of the – all these children, they need – they need some kind of help. There are calls to give them legal representation, which they don’t have now. So –
MS. IFILL: So now we have – so now we have a crisis on our hands. So here is what was the president’s short-term stopgap solution: $3.7 billion to find some way to speak to, to fix this problem, to stop the surge of children across the border. Or is that what it would do?
ED O’KEEFE: It would – it would do a lot of things. You’ve got – nearly $2 billion would go to Health and Human Services to help shelter and care for these immigrants. Another 1.6 billion (dollars) would go to the departments of Homeland Security and Justice for enforcement, to move border patrol down there to help with the influx and to help begin processing this as quickly as possible. Another $300 million, interestingly, would to the State Department to help Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, which are known as the northern triangle of Central America, or the triangulo norte, as they talk about it down there, help those countries repatriate those people and also start an advertising campaign that says, don’t come, it’s unsafe and it’s illegal. That was dismissed today by the top appropriator in the House as “too much money.” They said that they will go –
MS. IFILL: Too much money or spent the wrong way?
MR. O'KEEFE: Too much money and potentially spent the wrong way. They’re reviewing what exactly should be done. House Republicans are at least. They’re going to put forth some policy proposals and potential solutions next week. Once those are in place, the bean counters will sit there and try to figure out how money there is here.
The other problem is Republicans at least are arguing that some of this isn’t necessarily emergency funding, that it’s actually being done through the normal spending process and so probably could be worked out that way.
MARK MAZZETTI: Backing up for a second; so the immigration problem is one that has existed for a long time. There have been children who have been trying to get over the border for a long time. What is creating this present crisis and specifically in those countries you mention?
MR. O'KEEFE: Sure. I talked to the Guatemalan ambassador two weeks ago, and I kind of asked him, you know, are we characterizing this correctly? He said, well, look. You’ve got basically three distinct problems down there. You have incredible gang violence in El Salvador. You know, if you live here in the Washington area, for example, there are gangs that are tied to Salvadorian gangs. And the violence there is such that these kids are just fleeing it because they’re either being recruited into these gangs or they’re trying to get away from them. In Honduras, one of the bigger problems is the drug cartels. And you go to San Pedro Sula, it’s now the most dangerous city in the world, and that’s in Honduras. In Guatemala, it’s a mix of those two things, plus extreme poverty and illiteracy. And that’s a problem in all three countries. So it’s just despair, hopelessness. And so they see or they might hear through the radio, in the newspaper, on TV that the United States is tinkering with its immigration laws, they might hear from somebody who’s here and who says, hey, I hear that they’re starting to let the kids, you know, stay illegally, so they make a run for the border.
MS. IFILL: But Fawn, the political pushback is that these folks are manipulating a loophole in our system in order to take advantage, frankly, to use these children as a shield to allow either their parents to come and stay, to do something to basically find another way across the border.
MS. JOHNSON: And the real problem here is that there is actually disparity in the 2008 law. It was written to be like – to be like this. But back when they wrote it, a lot of the kids that they were apprehending at the border were from Mexico, almost all of them were. And they – so the law specifically required secretary of state to work with the Mexican government to figure out how to send these children back. So they actually have an – we have an agreement in the United States with Mexico, with the child authorities there. And about 11,000 kids have crossed the border from Mexico of Mexican descent that are almost immediately turned back around and turned to the child authorities there. The problem is that we don’t have – those agreements with those other three countries, the triangle. And the law does not actually even require that we should do that, so it’s almost like – you know, it really kind of is a loophole, even though no one wants to call it that, and no one intended it to be that way.
INDIRA LAKSHMANAN: But as the information comes out about the DREAM Act and people hear about that and they think, oh, OK, well, there’s going to be an amnesty for young people who are here, and they’re going to get to go to school and everything, how can you blame them from trying to escape the life on the streets and the gang violence and everything, particularly if their parents, some of them are already over here, and they’re living, you know, almost as orphans in their home countries?
MR. O'KEEFE: Exactly. And that’s where you hear the Republicans say he should enforce the laws that are on the books and not go do this executive action thing because that’s what prompts people to send their kids. I talked to Luis Gutierrez this week who we talk to all the time about immigration; he said, I met with some kids recently up in Chicago at my office who came only recently under the impression that that policy was going to apply to them, and I had to tell them, no, you didn’t get here in time, you’re too late, you’re going to have to go home or find another way to stay here.
MS. IFILL: Tell me if I’m wrong about this, but it seems like everybody’s between a rock and a hard place on this politically and in policy. The president, if he tries to change the law, there are people on the Hill who will say, we don’t care what you suggest, we are not going to give you anything you need, the money to sustain a failed policy, I think someone put it – if you’re Republicans, however, and you have been hoping that the immigration issue would kind of go away because it doesn’t – it doesn’t cut you, they’re also between – and we saw it with Rick Perry this week – between a rock and a hard place about whether they get on board with some solution or to resist. How is that shaking out?
MS. JOHNSON: Well, I – the thing that I was most interested in was the day that the – that the president’s request dropped on Capitol Hill, I was talking to a bunch of Republicans in the Senate and in the House. And in the House, the House Republicans have a terrible relationship with Barack Obama, I don’t need to tell you that. But they were – they were literally rolling their eyes at me. They just couldn’t believe that it was somewhat – they had thought it was going to be 2 billion (dollars), it was 3.7 billion (dollars), they thought he didn’t know what he was doing. And none of them had actually really seen it. I mean, I hadn’t really seen it all that much. But I think that what the administration is banking on is that the Republicans in the House can’t just reject it out of hand because it looks like then they’re ignoring a crisis.
MR. O'KEEFE: And let me leave you with a glimmer of hope. In talking to Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who were the leading republicans members of that Gang of Eight that we talked about last summer –
MS. IFILL: In favor of immigration reform .
MR. O'KEEFE: – as the immigration bill was passed, they said, look, this crisis might potentially be our opening to really try to tackle this because if we fix border security, which is the Republican request, and we use this as a way to do that, perhaps then we can start talking about all those other things we want to get done.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: One quick question: Why did President Obama, when he was in Texas, he was there on a fundraising trip, why did he not go down to the border and be seen with those children? We’ve got a humanitarian crisis; why not do it?
MR. O'KEEFE: Well, logistically, the White House planned these fundraisers months ago, weeks ago, so, you know, making a move to the border was potentially a big logistical nightmare. And you did have some Democrats in Texas saying keep those law enforcement dealing with the situation; don’t have him come. He dismissed it as a potential photo op in a week that he was having several photo ops. There is a belief and there is a hope, certainly, on Capitol Hill, that he will go at some point to see –
MS. IFILL: Or that the optics would have looked bad for him in that photo op.
MR. O'KEEFE: Potentially, yeah.
MS. JOHNSON: The other thing to – that I have considered in thinking about whether he should go down – because I do think he should – is that if he goes and starts treating it like a big refugee crisis, that in turn could totally turn around the message that he’s trying to send, which is don’t come, we can’t take care of you.
MR. MAZZETTI: And is this –
MS. IFILL: And it also – and it also makes a lot of immigration advocates unhappy because they’re not crazy about the enforcement part of this anyhow, so he’s making a lot of his supporters – (inaudible).
MR. O'KEEFE: Right. And think of the images they’re seeing in Central America that, you know, he’s now literally taking care of them. I mean, that might just cause more of a flow.
MS. IFILL: Yeah, it could boomerang.
OK, well, we’re not done with that story yet, but we’re going to move on because in the Middle East, disputes usually move immediately past mere rhetoric. Three Israeli teenagers were found murdered. Airstrikes in Gaza ensured as well as the retaliatory killing of a Palestinian teenager. By tonight the fight was a welter or air raids, rockets, interceptors and something called the Iron Dome. So what is the intent on both sides right now tonight, Indira?
MS. LAKSHMANAN: Right. Well, the crisis at this point is really at a boiling stage. We’ve seen more than a hundred deaths on the Palestinian side. Many of them are reported to be children, women, elderly people, so a lot of civilians in this. We also see that Hamas from the Gaza Strip is saying, we’re not backing down; in fact, we’re going to continue rocketing, we’re going to rocket Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel-Aviv, you know – which his really taking it up to the next level, not just hitting into the areas in southern Israel, where they had been aiming and targeting before, but hitting major cities.
Now, Iron Dome that you mention this is, you know, a U.S.-funded missile defense program, effectively, which has been the reason that you have not seen Israeli casualties yet, you have not seen Israelis dead because of the protection they have from the rockets through Iron Dome.
MS. IFILL: But there have been a lot of Palestinian casualties.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: There have been a lot – as I said, more than a hundred Palestinian casualties, more than a thousand Palestinians who are now homeless because of this. And, you know, the Israelis, of course it goes back down to the same argument we’ve seen a hundred times: The Israelis say, well, the Palestinians started it because Hamas is rocketing us and firing missiles at us, and nobody would stand for being rocketed in their homeland, and we have to defend ourselves. And the Palestinians, of course say, well, this – of course, let me say I don’t want to equate the Palestinians with Hamas; this is Hamas who is doing this. And the Palestinian Authority and the moderate Palestinians, I would say mainstream Palestinians, don’t seem to be supporting this, and certainly the government is Mahmoud Abbas is not supporting this. But Hamas and their followers –
MS. IFILL: It’s not a government, so how do you negotiate?
MS. LAKSHMANAN: Well, yeah, OK, that’s a really good point. How do you negotiate?
I mean, I thought it was very interesting: The White House yesterday read out a call that President Obama had with Bibi Netanyahu of Israel. And one of the lines in there, you know, you would’ve needed to have a semantics expert to really parse the line. And what they said was something along the lines of the United States stands ready to facilitate the cessation of hostilities. OK, everyone jumped all over it, there was a huge Twittersphere, you know, storm about this, and people were saying, my goodness, is President Obama recognizing Hamas? Is he saying he’s going to talk to Hamas? And, you know, the White House had to come back and say, no, no, no, we didn’t say mediate; we said facilitate. And we didn’t say, you know, that we were going to get in there and make a cease-fire happen, but we’re ready to do what we can to try to help them. And I think the larger question, though, is what can the U.S. do to help the situation?
MR. MAZZETTI: You know, the U.S. has been trying to facilitate for decades the end of various hostilities in this, right? And more recently, John Kerry has done the shuttle diplomacy to try to broker some kind of long-term peace deal. It seemed like the White House really wasn’t all that enthusiastic, right? And so where is the White House now? Do they – do they think that this is just hopeless and they will keep fighting, and only after the fighting stops can there be any hope for some kind of deal?
MS. LAKSHMANAN: Look, I think there is a lot of distress in Washington about what is going on over there. At the same time, though, remember we’re seeing a return to what we saw last two years ago. It was 2012 when we had a similar eight-day war between Hamas and the Israelis. And, you know, I heard a term from the Israelis which is used which is called “mowing the grass.” And it sounds disturbing, but you hear Israeli officials say, well, every once in a while, maybe it’s every two years, we need to go in there and get rid of all those rockets. And remember that Hamas has a lot of underground tunnels in Gaza, right underneath civilian areas in which they’ve got rocket workshops, they’ve got storage areas. And one of the, you know, game-changers this time is that they now have larger-range rockets that they didn’t have before that are supposedly Syrian-made, Iranian-supplied, and the Israelis want to take that out. So I think there is a lot of agita in the White House about this. At the same time, I’m not sure that they know what they can do as their influence has declined because the U.S.-brokered peace process fell apart just a couple months ago.
MR. O'KEEFE: So let’s play out what might happen over the weekend. If they start hitting Tel-Aviv, the airport, other parts of the city or even further into Israel, are we looking at a ground war?
MS. LAKSHMANAN: I think that if anyone in Israel is killed, then I think we are looking at definitely ramping up. President Shimon Peres has already said, prepare for a ground war, we may need to do this. They have called up the possibility of tens of thousands of, you know, reservists, although I think only about 1,500 of them have actually been called to duty.
I’m not sure that Israel really wants to take that step of going to a ground war because they would of course be exposing themselves to serious casualties, and I’m not sure that they want to go into Gaza and reoccupy. But they maybe want to put an, you know, exclamation point on this –
MS. IFILL: A marker on this.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: – to say we can do it if we want to, and we’re going to try to knock out your storage facilities.
I mean, another sort of Machiavellian question, conspiracy theory, as you might say, is that maybe there are those in the military wing of Hamas who wanted this to happen, who, you know, used the revenge attack on the Palestinian youth as an excuse for doing this because actually, they maybe want to get out of this unity government with the Palestinian Authority because, you know, they’re under pressure from Islamic Jihad and other extremist factions to not have a unity government.
MS. IFILL: OK. OK. We just have to move on. We have one more segment to get to.
Finally tonight, Angela Merkel is not the happiest leader in the world right now. The problem is that even after the U.S. and Germany seemed to get past last year’s disclosure that the National Security Agency had been listening in on her phone calls, there is now fresh evidence that two more Americans at least have been spying on her government. The White House says they’re working things out behind the scenes.
JOSH EARNEST: (From clip.) Any differences we have are most effectively resolved through established private channels, not through the media.
MS. IFILL: But Merkel complained publicly and expelled the CIA station chief in Brazil, so diplomatic relationships between two old friends are frayed again. How serious is this, Mark?
MR. MAZZETTI: Well, it’s serious when you kick the CIA station chief out of a country. And when it’s Germany, it’s really serious. It’s a very good – historically it’s been a very good intelligence-sharing relationship. The Germans don’t do it lightly. And as we heard today, they did it very publicly. And I think they wanted to embarrass the Obama administration because I think in part they felt that the Obama administration didn’t really appreciate how angry and, in a way, hurt they are about this whole sort of escalation of spying operations.
MS. IFILL: Except the argument is, all friends spy on each other, all nations do this, and that she’s just being a baby about it.
MR. MAZZETTI: Yes, that is – that is the argument you hear. I think most countries do indeed spy on each other. I think, though, that Germans take not only offense because it’s them; I think they feel this is very personal. The cellphone issue became a big deal for Merkel.
It’s also a political issue. She has to sort of stand up to the idea that they can – she can just get pushed around by the White House.
It’s also this idea that OK, last year happened, the Snowden revelations happened. You guys should have learned your lesson. This should not happen, what happened last week, with the German intelligence officer arrested, and so something needed to be done. And so they made this move earlier in the week in kicking the station chief out. And, you know, we’ll see what happens. It was in a way symbolic, but it does show the level of anger.
MS. JOHNSON: Well, and Mark, what will we want to learn anyway from Germany? I mean, why is this such a big deal in the sense that, you know, we would assume that – is it worse that they got caught or that the spying was happening?
MS. IFILL: Isn’t that always the question? (Laughter.)
MR. O'KEEFE (?): Always the question.
MR. MAZZETTI: Right. So, you know, German officials say, you know, that they share, you know, 80 to 90 percent of intelligence with the United States. And the United States may say, well, we’re interested in the other 20 to 10 percent.
But, you know, more seriously, you know, all countries have their own interests, and most – you know, with the exception of a small group of countries; the United States has a sort of quasi agreement with Britain, Canada, other English-speaking countries – the feeling is that those countries are not in line with the United States, so you need to check out what their leaders might be saying to other leaders. There might be, you know, terrorist plots going on inside countries that the other country might not want to notify the United States about. So there is an argument for spying.
However, there is a very good question about when you’re – when it’s – it comes to an ally, and you – they’ve clearly shown that they’re angry about this, if you’re going to do it, you better make sure that the benefits of it really outweigh the costs. And as we’ve seen today, the costs are high.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: And let me ask you, because Angela Merkel came off in this as sort of everyone’s sensible aunt, I thought. She kind of, you know, clucked her tongue and said yesterday, you know, common sense tells you it’s not worth it to waste your time –
MS. IFILL: There are better things to do with your time.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: – you know, to spy on allies. And she said repeatedly, if you want to know something, President Obama, just call me up. You know my number. Call me up and I’ll tell you. We know that – (laughter, cross talk) –
MS. IFILL: Because that – because that’s the way it works, just call them up and they tell you.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: But, you know, and you heard her finance minister saying this is so stupid it makes you want to cry.
MR. MAZZETTI: Yeah. I mean, I think when we – some of the details that have come out so far make it seems like it’s a very kind of low-level operations that was not worth getting – you know, fraying this relationship. There is a lot more to come out. But it’s also particularly embarrassing where this German spy that the United States tried to recruit then may have, in the – in the words of someone (in the United States ?), try to take his talents to the Russians. And –
MS. IFILL: (Chuckles.) I knew you were going to get a LeBron reference in here.
MR. MAZZETTI: Yeah, of course. And so you – you know, that then really blows up in the face of the United States. And that’s what’s another very embarrassing episode.
MS. IFILL: We’re really out of time. I’m sorry. And I know you had another question, but, you know, that’s what our webcast is for.
We’ll get back to this because before we leave tonight, I need to send out condolences to the family of a great man, John Seigenthaler. John was a tremendous journalist. He was a fierce defender of the First Amendment. And he was a courtly son of Tennessee who championed civil rights long before most southern newspaper editors would. He was also a terrific storyteller, a voracious reader and just fun to be around. He and his wife, Delores, were married as long as I’ve been alive. Our thoughts are with her and the rest of the Seigenthaler family tonight. John Seigenthaler, the former editor of the Nashville Tennessean , was 86 years old. I’ll miss him, and if you knew him, you would too.
Thanks, everyone. We have to go for now, but as always, the conversation will continue online. The Washington Week webcast extra streams live at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, plus you can find it all week long at pbs.org/washingtonweek. Among other things, we’ll be talking about a new gun control effort on Capitol Hill. Keep up with daily developments with me and Judy Woodruff on the PBS NewsHour, and we’ll see you here next week on “Washington Week.” Good night.