The politics of President Trump's immigration agenda

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," March 7, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: How dare you? How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of our law enforcement officers? ICE agents do incredible work every day. They are not backing down. They are not going to be deterred.

GOV. JERRY BROWN, D-CALIF.: This is a political stunt. It's not about the truth, it's not about protecting our state. It's about dividing America. They are talking about going to the Supreme Court. This lawsuit is going to last a lot longer than the Trump administration.

REP. DARRELL ISSA, R-CALIF.: When California thwarts the law, those criminals don't all stay in California. They'll go to adjacent states.


BILL HEMMER, HOST: Just some of the reaction today to the Trump administration going to California and declaring that it will take it to court over a recent state laws passed there to protect illegal immigrants. I want to bring in our panel right now, red-hot issue: Steve Hayes, editor in chief for The Weekly Standard; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio, and Byron York, chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner. Great panel. Nice to see all three of you tonight. We've got a good fight here, Steve. Where does it go?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It's pretty interesting. You have to take the long view of the history of this issue. If you go back to the mid-1990s, California passed something called Proposition 187, which among its many provisions required local law enforcement to report anyone who was here illegally. Activists went to court to block it. In 1997 a federal judge ruled saying California is powerless to end its own legislative -- to enact his own legislative scheme to regulate immigration.

Lawyers for the activist groups, including MALDEF and others, were ecstatic about this, saying no, California has to have -- comply with federal law. We can't have separate schemes. A MALDEF lawyer said at the time the judge has vindicated the principle that we can't have 50 immigration policies. We can only have one.

These same people are responsible for the laws that Jeff Sessions is fighting against today and making the arguments that Jerry Brown and Javier Becerra and others are making.

HEMMER: You would make the argument that the administration stands a good chance of winning this?

HAYES: Who knows where the courts are going to go, but the point is, hypocrisy, there's pretty abundant hypocrisy.

HEMMER: I don't know where the courts are going to go on this. California feels that the feds should do its job on immigration and there state law enforcement officials shouldn't have to do the federal immigration authorities work for them. So the courts are going to decide this.

But what this really is, as you said, this is a huge hot-button issue. This is about immigration, illegal immigration, whether you pick up people, whether you ask them for their citizenship papers. And California has become kind of the hotbed or the capital or the resistance to the Trump administration, and here's the latest.

HEMMER: A lot of evidence was in Oakland with the mayor's decision from a week or two ago about protecting what Jeff Sessions is saying hundreds of criminals. Byron?

BRYON YORK, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I think the Trump administration is on very solid legal ground. And there is a more recent example, which is the Obama lawsuit against Arizona. You remember in 2010, Arizona passed its own immigration law. The Obama administration went to court to stop it and argued that the federal government has preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters. You will find those exact same words in the Trump lawsuit against California. The Obama administration won in the Supreme Court, and I think in the end, the Trump administration is on solid ground with this one.

HEMMER: We had a little taste of Trumpism I think from Jerry Brown. This is the tweet he sent out a bit earlier today. It reads "At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America. Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don't work here," ending it with "Sad," to borrow a word or a phrase from the White House.

To put a fine point on this, California is really where the rubber meets the road on this issue. Just want to show you some numbers here we got from a bit earlier today, 2.5 million illegals live in California. That is a quarter of a total unauthorized immigrant population in the U.S. And 70 percent of California's unauthorized population is from Mexico, 42 percent have been in the U.S. for 15 plus years, 16 percent of ICE apprehensions occur in California. This is where you go when you want to fight this issue now, Steve.

HAYES: It is. And we've seen I think California officials be more openly defiant of the federal government than folks elsewhere, the Oakland mayor, whom you mentioned, Los Angeles has been a sanctuary city now going on three decades, or effectively a sanctuary city now going on three decades. So this is a long fight and it's an intensifying fight.

HEMMER: Meanwhile, Mara, at the White House the president made an outreach today of sorts to Latinos. Just to play a little clip of his address today here earlier in the capital.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Go get DACA. Go push those Democrats. We are ready. You know the expression, ready, willing, and able. We are ready, willing, and able. They are nowhere to be found. They don't care about the immigration system or reform and they don't want to solve the problem. They would rather use it to get elected.


HEMMER: Does the White House think it has an opportunity here?

LIASSON: Republicans have thought that they've had an opportunity with Hispanic voters for a very long time. AND the theory is that Hispanic voters are conservative on social issues, many of them own small businesses. They are kind of culturally, socially, they're pro-family. They are ripe for the picking for conservative ideology and for Republican outreach.


LIASSON: But along comes Donald Trump, who on the day he announced his candidacy, came down the golden escalator and talked about Mexico sending rapists, et cetera, et cetera, and he's had very, very harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric, not just anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric. And a lot of Hispanic voters in America don't like illegal immigration either, but Donald Trump's reason for rejecting the last DACA compromise that came to him was because it didn't do enough to curtail legal immigration, family chain migration, which a lot of Hispanic voters to care about. So I don't know whether Donald Trump has undermined or furthered the Republican Party's efforts for outreach.

HEMMER: Byron, it's an old argument. Where are you on it?

YORK: I believe that Trump did according to the exit polls a point or two better with Hispanic voters than Mitt Romney did. But on the more immediate point of DACA, we are now two days passed then what we thought a big deadline on this but really isn't. And I think that the president is just waiting on Democrats.

And I have thought for a long time that at some point, a straight DACA legalization for the wall, real money for the wall put in a trust fund, $25 billion really there, is a deal that is there still to be had.

HEMMER: Why is that so difficult?

LIASSON: Why is that so difficult? Because the White House came back with a bunch of other things, including this chain migration provision that would've curtailed illegal immigration by 44 percent. And that is something the Democrats wouldn't accept. And that bill got 39 votes in the Senate. So it got much less votes than the wall for DACA.

HEMMER: There are some who believe that Democrats in Congress are not going to go to the White House for a signing ceremony for anything prior to November, and certainly are not willing to pat this president on the back for an immigration reform bill. What's your view on that, Steve?

HAYES: I think that's a fair bet. Democrats believe that their ticket to success in November of 2018 is to oppose the president, oppose him at all times, and make the harshest arguments about him that they possibly can.

HEMMER: So the point on not doing DACA then, you would agree with that?

HAYES: I think there's a lot of politics being played on DACA, absolutely.

HEMMER: Thank you, panel.

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