Special: Immigration policy under the Trump administration

Sep. 21, 2018 AT 9:41 p.m. EDT

After a recent report found the Trump administration can't locate close to 1,500 migrant children, the panelists discussed the country's current immigration policies.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra , where we pick up online where we left off on our broadcast.

Joining me around the table, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, Peter Baker of The New York Times , Nancy Cordes of CBS News, and Dan Balz of The Washington Post .

The Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy has separated thousands of families since it was implemented by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Now the Trump administration is unable to locate almost 1,500 migrant children that the Department of Health and Human Services placed with sponsors this year, according to a congressional investigation. Earlier this year the department admitted it could not track down over 1,400 children that were moved out of shelters in 2017. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced plans on Monday to set an all-time low cap on the number of refugees that can be admitted to the United States as immigrants.

SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: (From video.) We propose resettling up to 30,000 refugees under the new refugee ceiling.

MR. COSTA: The Trump administration had already cut the number of those refugees to half of what it was under the Obama administration. Andrea, you’ve been talking on Friday with the secretary of state. What’s your take on this whole –

ANDREA MITCHELL: Well, they – he initially, with Secretary Mattis, went into the earlier meetings against this cut. It is considered a really egregious setback in terms of national security and foreign policy. It hurts our – you know, our ally, Jordan, and other allies who are accommodating all of these refugees from Syria. And then, at the last meeting, Mattis wasn’t there. He sent a note, I understand, to John Bolton, the national security adviser. And to the dismay of a lot of people in the State Department, Pompeo apparently caved in. Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator, and others on the Hill complained about this, that this is way too low. It’s the lowest level of refugees being permitted since the program started in 1980. And the fact is, out of millions and millions of refugees, not a single one in all of these decades – not a single one has ever been found guilty of a terrorist act, because refugees are vetted for 18 months, two years, or longer by the UNHCR, by – they go into the refugee camps. The refugees are not the problem. They have not been terrorists. They’re not a national security problem. So this is really hurting us. It’s hurting us with the Atlantic alliance. It’s hurting us in the Middle East. And we’re going into these U.N. meetings and we don’t have clean hands. We have already cut Palestinian aid down to zero.

MR. COSTA: Well, if Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo aren’t driving the policy, who is?

MS. MITCHELL: Stephen Miller. He’s 33 years old. I’m sorry. (Laughter.)

PETER BAKER: No, you’re – that is exactly what I just said.

MS. MITCHELL: For the – for the lead diplomat of the United States, a West Point man, a Harvard lawyer, a former Congress member, former CIA director, who has national security experience and is very smart, to be completely rolled by a 33-year-old hardliner on immigration, a White House staffer, is extraordinary.

MR. COSTA: But he must be rolled because he has the president’s support – Miller has the president’s support.

MR. BAKER: He has the president’s support. He has the chief of staff’s support. And I think that they – you know, this is a president for whom this is a visceral issue. He doesn’t have an ideology on many things, but this is one of them, the idea that America has been shafted by our allies, it’s been shafted by immigration, been shafted on trade. And for aides who are trying to nudge him in one direction or another, the key is to place it in that context. And the idea that refugees are coming in and exploiting us in some way or another is a fundamental precept of this president. So I think Stephen Miller has pushed on an open door.

MR. COSTA: And it’s not just refugee policy. You have the president pushing for his border wall as part of a congressional funding package. Where does that stand?

NANCY CORDES: Right, and there is a sense that if they’re going to get that money it has to happen now because Democrats could take control of the House in these midterm elections. But, you know, we’ve seen time and time again the White House not be able to get this over the finish line and Republican leaders say, you know, just hold on; you know, the next funding package, the next funding package; because it is a large amount of money and even many members of their own caucus feel that it is not money well spent. You know, the White House released these prototypes this week of what the wall would look like and experts very quickly said, well, these walls could be breached, too. And when you’re talking about billions of dollars, you know, the fiscal hawks who remain in the Republican Party say that that is just not where they should be putting their money right now.

Interestingly, Democrats at various points have been willing to give on wall funding if they get what they want. But because they haven’t gotten what they want when it comes to the DREAMers, that is a negotiation that has died more than once.

MR. COSTA: Do you think we’re going to have a shutdown?

MS. CORDES: You know, I still think, at the end of the day, leaders on Capitol Hill have gotten pretty good lately at getting to the brink and then pulling back. They all sort of have a kabuki dance that they all do together. And I think this close to the midterm elections nobody’s interested in getting blamed. So there could be a slipup, but, you know, I think nine times out of 10 they figure out a way to avoid it.

MR. BAKER: We’re looking for one in December. That’s what – that’s what I would look for, is after the election, President Trump has every –

MS. MITCHELL: Is that a debt ceiling deal?

MR. BAKER: No, they can have a CR to get through the parts of the appropriations that are not done before the election and he can shut down just parts of the government, not the – he signed one of the appropriations bills today. He’ll sign maybe, you know, another before it’s all over with a CR on it, a continuing resolution that keeps the government – the rest of the government open. And then in December, he can sign – he can – he can shut down the government on the Department of Homeland Security, which is, of course, the people that would build the wall. So it’s not necessarily over, even if they pass it for now.

MS. CORDES: Right. I mean, all of December will be bananas if Democrats take control of the House because, you know, Republicans will be trying to get everything that they can done before the House changes hands.

MR. COSTA: What do voters think? You were out in Colorado this week. Are they talking about immigration, refugee policy, the wall?

DAN BALZ: Interestingly, I was out in Colorado in June around the time that the child separation issue was really hot and it was – people were talking about it. This time, not so much. And talking to some people in the Latino community, they say people are not talking about it. I mean, it’s not sort of front of mind.

I think on the issue of the wall and on immigration generally, you know, I’m not convinced that the president is ever going to quite make a deal to get the money for the wall because it is part of the issue that he drives with the base. I mean, open borders is one of the, you know, the pillars of the Trump message. And you see it time and time again, whenever he talks about a Democrat that he’s, you know, he’s endorsed a Republican against a Democrat, one of that Democrat’s sins is he’s for – he or she is for open borders. So it is – it is part of the central message of the Trump presidency and of the Trump candidacy.

MS. MITCHELL: It’s so interesting that only a week ago we were all talking about what he said about Puerto Rico and the lack of empathy. The amount of information and of controversies that are coming at us, it’s very difficult. And I think it’s difficult for voters to, you know –

MR. COSTA: To process it.

MS. MITCHELL: – latch onto it and process it.

MR. BALZ: I have – I have talked to so many people over the last year increasingly say I don’t watch much anymore, I’ve stopped watching, I can’t watch cable or I’ve cut way back on cable.

MR. COSTA: Don’t cut back on Andrea Mitchell. (Laughter.)

MS. CORDES: Or Washington Week .

MS. MITCHELL: Or Nancy Cordes.

MR. BALZ: Noon on weekdays and Washington Week on Friday night. But seriously, there is a sense of, you know, kind of sensory overload and people have real lives and they can only take in so much.

MS. MITCHELL: And I think – I think we all feel it and we certainly feel the pressure as journalists of keeping up, making sure that we have our sense of balance and dealing with the accusations and the – especially at the rallies. It’s been really fierce.

MR. COSTA: It’s relentless and it’s history. We’ll leave it there.

That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. While you’re online, check out the Washington Week­ -ly News Quiz.

I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.


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