All-Star Panel: Politics behind release of hundreds of illegal immigrants?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 27, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We're doing our very best to minimize the impacts of sequester, but there is only so much I can do. You know, I'm supposed to have 34,000 detention beds for immigration.  How do I pay for those?

GOV. JAN BREWER, R - AZ: We don't even know who they have released and what they have been charged with. No one from the administration has contacted my homeland security division. No one has contacted my office. No one has reached out. And obviously they don't know what the heck is going on because they didn't know anything about it either. Who is running this country?

REP. LUCILLE ROYBAL-ALLARD, D - CA: They pose no risk to society. And they were not simply released in to society but rather they were placed in an alternative detention program which has proven to be a very secure program with a success rate of over 90 percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, this was interesting, some illegal immigrants released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), put out a statement Tuesday claiming that the budget cuts mandated by the sequester promised this release -- prompted, rather, this release of inmates in a number of different states.  The White House said they didn't order this. This is how Jay Carney responded to questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This was a decision made by career officials at ICE without any input from the White House as a result of fiscal uncertainty over the continuing resolution as well as possible sequestration. All of these individuals remain in removal proceedings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's possible some of them might not be brought back in.

CARNEY: Well again, I would refer you to ICE. I don't this is a conversation that I can help you with in the specifics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: OK, with that, we will bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, Steve, thoughts?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, it's certainly an interesting day. The White House running as fast and as far as they can away from the claim that that came because of the sequester and blaming it as you saw on career officials.

Look, I think we may be reaching a point in this whole debate where things are turning against the White House pretty quickly. You have had a prominent piece in the Washington Post today suggesting that Education Secretary Arne Duncan wasn't being honest when he said that teachers were getting pink slips all across the country. When he was pressed on that and the Post's Karen Tumulty and others investigated it, it turns out it basically just wasn't true. And they wrote a piece to suggest that some of the claims made by the White House are being hyped.

You had the New York Times today write a story in which they wondered whether the president was going to emerge as the president who cried wolf. You have Bob Woodward not only challenging the claims of the administration but saying in effect that the White House is threatening to come after me, saying that the president would be disappointed if he knew that this was happening.

This feels like it's spinning out of control for the White House here.  And if this is the beginning of a longer analysis of what exactly these cuts do, and we know that they are going to be sort of gradually introduced, does the White House just lose any remaining credibility it has on this question of spending going into a long and significant debate on budgets?  You're going to have the House Republican budget next month, you're going to have the Senate Democratic budget next month, and the White House budget next month. Not good timing if this does in fact turn.

BAIER: Mara, on this specific story of the release, you had the White House and ICE officials saying that this is a supervised release and an Arizona sheriff responding to that possibility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL BABEU, AZ SHERIFF, PINAL COUNTY: This idea of supervisory release is laughable.  These are all people who are multiple border crossers. They could never stop them crossing an international border. How on earth are they going to provide supervised release and supervision over these criminals?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, first of all, this could be an argument over the release of any illegal immigrants who were detained. However, I think the big question is, the charge against the White House is they're doing this to make the sequester look worse than it really is. And I don't think based on what we know about how this happened that there was some kind of a strategy where ICE was told to release them in order to do that.

However, there will be plenty of stories like this. And the Republican strategy during the sequester is to point out at every time how a certain cut didn't have to be made. How instead of doing "x," the president could have done "y." And that is what Republicans are going to have to prove -- that he had the flexibility or he could have made a choice to do something that was less onerous or made more sense.

And the White House is saying our hands are completely tied. We have to cut a certain percentage of every single program completely across the board. So I think we're going to see this as the sequester unfolds. And the big question, you mentioned all those budgets going on the table in April. And the big question is do enough Americans feel so much pain because of these cuts that they are going to demand that something change, or will this appear to be exaggerated by the White House, not so terrible, and then we go forward?

BAIER: Well, the other thing is and has been charged by several Republicans up on the Hill, that this is political tied to the immigration issue and it's tied to the politics of immigration.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, if it is, I think it isn't really smart, because a lot of people disagree on what you do about the 11 million illegal aliens in the country. But I don't think anybody wants to empty the prisons of people who jumped the border and are being held. And we don't really know how they are going to act. I think it's laughable to assume they are all going to show up under this alternate status, you know, and act like good citizens. Here are people who on multiple occasions have crossed the border, which means every time they have been deported across into Mexico they tried again. And now that they are in the U.S. and released, the idea that they are going to show up and allow themselves to be rearrested, I think that is highly unlikely.

But I think the major issue here isn't only will there be a lot of pain and disruption, but how will be the reaction of American people? My argument would be that people have a sense that the government is immensely wasteful. That they've heard about the GAO conference in Vegas, where you had the guy in the hot tub and the martini. They have an instinctive knowledge of what happens when you go to get your driver's license. It isn't as if everybody is acting snappily as in Jiffy Lube. It's a whole a different proposition.

People have this notion that if you're closing essential services there has got to be a lot of bad faith in that and that you are deliberately doing that, whereas you have had a lot of choices. So I'm not sure it will translate immediately against the Republicans. I think it could actually redound against the administration if people imagine, as in this case, that they could be acting in bad faith and deliberately making things really bad.

BAIER: OK, next up, one Democrat says belts are already tightening, but does that line up with the facts? Plus we'll take one of your tweets on the other side of the break.

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