Trump links border security to trade talks with Mexico

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," April 3, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I've been speaking with General Mattis. We're going to be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military.

We have horrible, horrible, and very unsafe laws in the United States. Hopefully soon, hopefully Congress will get their act together and get in and create some very powerful laws, like Mexico has and like Canada has and almost all countries have. We don't have laws. We have catch and release.

We will be doing things with Mexico, and they have to do it otherwise I'm not going to do the NAFTA deal.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: The president talking about immigration, talking about NAFTA, talking about how he's going to shore up the southern border with the U.S. military. Now the Mexican ambassador to the U.S., who we had on "Special Report" last night, is asking for an official clarification from the U.S. government on exactly what is going to happen.

Let's bring in our panel and start there: Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of the Washington Free Beacon; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio, and Katie Pavlich, news editor at OK, Mara, president was on a tear, tweeting and talking both in the news conference and at the cabinet room a lot of about the U.S. military along the border.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yes. And this is a dramatic, tough action that he can send a message, yes, I'm doing something about illegal immigration, even though I couldn't get funding for my wall in the omnibus. That is a context for this, he's very frustrated about that and he's gotten some pushback from the base because of that.

This has been done before. George W. Bush and Barack Obama used the National Guard to supplement border patrol agents when there was a big surge of illegal immigrants coming over the border. Whether there is one now or not, we don't know. And we don't know exactly what the president means when he says we're going to have the military on the border, but that is something he is meeting with General Mattis about, the defense secretary, and they are going to figure it out.

BAIER: Katie?

KATIE PAVLICH, TOWNHALL.COM: I would say it's not just about illegal immigration on the border. It's about deterrence with cartel and violent operations that are happening there as well. This will probably be welcomed by the governors of Arizona and Texas. It will not be welcomed by the governor of California, to be sure.

But this does go hand-in-hand with the administration's talking points and push this week to end catch and release. And to me, the president announcing he wants the military on the border, we don't know how exactly long that will be. He wants it to be until the wall is built, but considering George W. Bush had the National Guard there for two years, President Obama had them there for about a year in three months. It might not be for as long as it takes to build a wall because that will take longer, probably that has presidency.

But he's clearly sending a message of deterrence by putting the military there when he's talking about preventing people from coming here because our own immigration laws allow people who get air from certain countries, the majority of them, to stay. And it becomes more of a problem for our legal system than it does in terms of borders.

BAIER: And he talked about that today, too, Matthew, about the fact that these folks come in, they seek asylum, and essentially the court system is overwhelmed. It's 700 days is the average now to get from the point of the border to an actual hearing.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI, WASHINGTON FREE BEACON: You could make an argument that immigration politics got Donald Trump the Republican nomination and helped him win back the presidency, so this is a natural issue for him. When he was inaugurated president, illegal border traffic dropped precipitously. It's not been slowly climbing back up. And so I think Katie is right, a lot of these moves are to reestablish the deterrence, to say that we're going to police this border.

There are legislative restrictions on what the military can do once it is dispatched there. They typically serve an advisory role, a logistical role to free up the actual border patrol. And all of this is happening at the same time, Bret, that Trump is exploring ways the Department of Defense can help fund the wall, which is the main object here I think.

BAIER: And funding is the big question. Meantime, talking about the Syria situation, asked a question about U.S. troops in Syria.


TRUMP: It's time. We were very successful against ISIS, we will be successful against anybody militarily. But sometimes, it's time to come back home. I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back on. I want to start rebuilding our nation.

We'll be consulting also with groups of our people and groups of our allies. Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision. And I said, well, you know, you want is to stay, maybe you're going to have to pay.


BAIER: Maybe have to pay, Saudi Arabia or Gulf states. Meantime, at the same time, almost the exact same time, the U.S. Counter ISIS envoy Brett McGurk was saying this to reporters.


BRETT MCGURK, TRUMP ENVOY TO COUNTER ISIS: We are in Syria to fight ISIS, that is our mission. And our mission isn't over, and we're going to complete that mission.


BAIER: So there is -- obviously the president is laying groundwork here for pulling out of that operation. But when it's done it's really the question.

LIASSON: Right, when it's done, and if he pulls out too soon, does he create a vacuum that is filled by Russia and Iran and gives ISIS a chance to regroup. This is exactly what he ran against when he criticized Barack Obama for putting a date certain on pulling troops out of Iraq. He said the bad guys are just going to wait you out. And that's why you have a lot of military experts saying this is not a good idea. As much as Donald Trump's deepest instincts are, come home, use that money to rebuild our nation, he's kind of a hawkish noninterventionist, if there is such a thing. But this is going to be tough for him to figure out how to do this.

BAIER: But think about that sound bite we just listened to, Katie, and his new incoming national security advisor John Bolton, and how those two things track. It's obviously the president who makes policy. Bolton would be an advisor. But clearly he would think otherwise.

PAVLICH: Giving an end date without an actual time-stamp is counter to what the administration has said that they're going to do. And you are absolutely right about John Bolton coming in as the national security advisor. It's going to be very interesting to see how getting out of Syria, no matter when that is, couples with the administration's new plan on Iran. When the president releases national security strategy, Iran was the main focus. Iran was the main focus under General McMaster. It is still the main focus.

It is interesting to see him talking about the Saudis, however. He understands that the Saudis have a vested interest in making sure that that part of the region is stabilized. And he said all along, other countries who have an interest there need to step up. The Saudis seem like in the last couple of months they are willing to do that. But if they are going to continue to be tough on Iran, as they have laid out in their strategies before, Syria, taking it out of the picture is going to be very, very difficult.

BAIER: Finally, I want to just touch on this other issue, and that is Amazon, where the president has really stepped up the attacks. Take a listen.


TRUMP: You take a look at the Post Office, and the Post Office is losing billions of dollars, and the taxpayers are paying for that money because it delivers packages for Amazon at a very below cost. And that is not fair to the United States, it's not fair to our taxpayers. And Amazon has the money to pay the fair rate of the post office, which would be much more than they are paying right now. So Amazon is going to have to pay much more money to the post office.


BAIER: So Matthew, this is kind of -- well, it is, unprecedented for a president to go after one company with tweets and statements. The post office doesn't operate on taxpayer money. It is a paid for service. They obviously operate in buildings and facilities that they don't have to pay taxes on. But what about how the president is describing all of this?

CONTINETTI: Amazon and the post office do have some type of special contract that no one really knows the details of. And I do notice as a frequent buyer of books, both from Amazon proper and from used bookstores, that retail and Amazon, I find the Amazon packages get there much more quickly than the ones that have to go through the regular post office channel. Donald Trump is a populist figure.

BAIER: That's interesting. We're going to do a study there.

CONTINETTI: One anecdotal piece of it evidence from a bibliophile.

BAIER: OK, good.

CONTINETTI: People tend to view this in terms of Trump's relationship with Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos. But I think one stream of communication he is getting is from all of these people in the commercial real estate business and industry who have been really hard-hit by the changing nature of the retail economy. Donald Trump tends to think in terms of tangible objects. And so I think what is bothering him here, among many other things, is the sense that our economy is a shifting in way that his friends who deal in small retail businesses or commercial properties like malls, are losing out to this major Internet giant.

BAIER: Let's just say if he woke up tomorrow and said, Walmart is taking out mom-and-pop stores, too.

LIASSON: There's two things going on. One is, there is a lot of retail and Trump Towers around the country. And he is probably suffering along with everybody else. But this idea that the president of United States would go after an individual company, why isn't the Chamber of Commerce having its hair on fire.

BAIER: They put out a statement.

LIASSON: OK, but why isn't the entire Republican Party who is absolutely - -

CONTINETTI: President Obama went over Koch industries pretty specifically. It's not totally unprecedented.

LIASSON: That was egregious and it was rightly called out. This is absolutely anathema to everything I knew about free market conservatism.

BAIER: Last word.

PAVLICH: And keep in mind that they were government workers who negotiated this contract. So what is the status of their responsibility for Amazon getting the supposed deal that the president is talking about?

LIASSON: We don't even know if they got a deal.

BAIER: We don't know what the deal is. All we know is that something is happening.

LIASSON: By law the post office has to charge to cover his costs. I don't think the post office is allowed to give a cut rate deal to anybody.

PAVLICH: We all know that the government does not always follow the rules. So we'll just have to see if we get that contract.

BAIER: And we're going to order several books from different places.


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