This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," June 20, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're signing an executive order. It's about keeping families together while at the same time being sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border. And it continues to be a zero tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people enter our country illegally.
HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: We look forward and expect the house to act this week. We asked them to do their job.
SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: Color us dubious that Congress, the House and Senate, with Republican majorities and strong rightwing elements that hate any change in immigration, could successfully pass legislation.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, what is happening with this issue? The president signed an executive order about three-and-a-half hours ago. Earlier in the day he tweeted, "It's the Democrats fault. They won't give us the votes needed to pass good immigration legislation. They want open borders, which breeds horrible crime. Republicans want security. But I am working on something. It never ends!" The something he was working on, this executive order. The question is, what that does and where does it leave the legislation going forward.
Let's bring in our panel: Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of The Washington Free Beacon; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio, and Tom Bevan, Real Clear Politics co-founder and president. Mara, the question is whether this executive order will stay about whether the judge will allow the altering of what was a decision.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Part of the executive order is to tell the Justice Department go to court and see if it can adjust the Flores decision which requires that kids only be detained for 20 days. So that's one thing. It's interesting, why didn't the administration challenge Flores earlier if that was the problem? So that's one question about that.
BAIER: The answer would be there they were thinking that Congress would move, pressuring Congress.
LIASSON: OK, yes, exactly. Leverage on Congress to do something. It didn't work.
Now, there are still bills in front of Congress to deal with the last immigration crisis that the president initiated watch was the Dreamers, and he took away the deportation relief from that because he felt it was unconstitutional. He got kind of a stay from the courts for that one, but the question now is, has Trump given up his leverage with Congress? He just took care of this with an executive order. Will that take the heat off of Congress to pass some kind of legislation to do the same?
BAIER: Congress is voting tomorrow on a couple of different bills. Matthew?
MATTHEW CONTINETTI, WASHINGTON FREE BEACON: Both likely to fail. I think we saw from the Senate earlier in the year that there's not a consensus on immigration in either party, Republican or Democrat. I think on the child and family separation issue, this was travel ban redox. You had a policy that was very important to the policy, this zero tolerance policy, but it implemented in such a way that it left confusion and led to missed messages, and then led again to the president doing another policy, just like he did with the travel ban, that is likely to be challenged in court. Trump found himself on the wrong end of a 70-30 issue.
But now the problem is for the Democrats, because separating families may be unpopular. Zero tolerance, however, is relatively popular. And if the Democrats find themselves attacking a zero-tolerance policy while Republicans are doing their best to unify the families and keep them in detention together, I think the Democrats come up short.
BAIER: Here's the House majority leader on this compromise leadership bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER KEVIN MCCARTHY, R-CALIF.: This is a bill that's has consensus. It's a bill that the president supports. It's a bill that could become law. We have an opportunity to vote on it tomorrow night. The question will be, do people want to play politics or do they want to put people before politics? Or will one party said to the sidelines, complain like they've complained for decades, and not step up and solve the problem? That is the question that will be answered tomorrow night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: So does now with the executive order, whether it stands or not, that change the dynamic for this vote tomorrow?
TOM BEVAN, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, as Mara said, I think it does give up a little bit of leverage. It might take the heat off -- look, both of these bills are unlikely to pass.
BAIER: Democrats are going to vote against both of them.
BEVAN: Correct. And look, does it change the calculus? I think Matt is right. In the short-term, it certainly solves the problem for Republicans. But if the issue becomes zero-tolerance. As Newt said earlier when you interviewed him, the Feinstein bill that all the Democrats in the Senate had signed onto is basically the opposite extreme, which is do not separate. No agency is allowed to separate families under any circumstances anywhere.
BAIER: In fact it says no arrests within 100 miles of the border. How does Jon Tester or Heidi Heitkamp or Joe Donnelly or anybody --
BEVAN: Correct. Meanwhile you have Kamala Harris saying not separating families is fine, but zero-tolerance is also an issue. So if the focus shifts from there I think Republicans might be able to wriggle their way out of this politically in the short term, and we will see where it ends up as an issue in November.
BAIER: What about, Mara, you heard the HHS secretary on the show earlier talking about the conditions and how these kids are treated and the difference between how it's being described by HHS and DHS and some of the Democrats who are going down to these facilities and talking about it.
LIASSON: I don't know if the administration can win the battle over how these kids are treated. I just think as long as they are separated from their parents and they are little and they are crying, that's bad. That's why the president signed the executive order today. Don't forget on Friday he said to "Fox & Friends" when directly asked, why can't you just sign an executive order, he said no, I can't do that. So he has decided that the optics of this were bad, not worth it, the politics were not working for him, and he wants to get this issue off the table.
BAIER: Here is the Senate majority leader and the minority leader about legislation to deal with this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: We're going to fix the problem. The president says we need to act. The Democrats say we need to act, and we say we need to act.
SCHUMER: There are so many obstacles to legislation, and when the president can do it with his own pen, it makes no sense.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN, D-W.VA.: I disagree with Chuck, and Chuck knows it. You always negotiated. We are here to fix things. We're not here to make it worse.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BAIER: Obviously Joe Manchin up for reelection in West Virginia.
CONTINETTI: This is why I don't think the Republicans have lost any leverage, because if they pursue skinny bills which address the family issue alone, forget about DACA, forget about the visa lottery, just focus on this, having families detained together, then the Democrats are on the defensive. How is Schumer going to resist it? You see it in the Manchin quote. I think you see Heidi Heitkamp as well. There would be many red state Democrats that are going to look at the polls in their own states and say if the issue is just the families, we should be addressing this through legislation.
LIASSON: What about the moderate Republicans who signed a discharge petition because they were desperate to vote on something for the Dreamers?
CONTINETTI: Once the pictures of the families came to the fore, that is the issue. No one is going to come to any consensus.
LIASSON: You think it wipes the Dreamer problem off?
CONTINETTI: Totally. Totally. And there is much less social outrage over the Dreamers than there is with the pictures of the children.
LIASSON: A lot of moderate Republicans seemed pretty desperate to vote for the Dreamers just a couple weeks ago.
CONTINETTI: It would be. But we are talking about a 70-30 issue here with families. This is of overriding performance. And so by embracing action to take a -- Trump has done his part, what he can. It might not hold up. But the Republicans, if they say we are for keeping these families together, I think that puts the Democrats on the defensive.
BAIER: It's pretty amazing how the whole thing shifted. It's obviously an emotional issue. You see the pictures and they are emotional, but boy, it just went full steam on that steam.
BEVAN: We reached a tipping point. You had the administration acting -- there wasn't any compassion coming from the administration, any of the officials there, and on the other side you had all emotion coming from Democrats and liberals. Trump, he hates to show weakness. This is the last thing he wanted to do. So the fact that he turned around and did it in such a quick timeframe shows you just how much pressure he was under and what a losing issue he thinks it's going to be.
But he's going to keep pushing immigration, I think. Strong border, he's going to want the wall. He's going to push that all the way through November because he thinks that's a winning issue for his base.
BAIER: And it may be. Panel, thank you.
We have a quick correction. In Peter Doocy's report earlier, we used a picture purportedly showing a child in a cage as part of the uproar over children separated from their parents along the border. We are told this picture is taken out of context. It was in fact staged as part of a protest for detentions. And we apologize for the error that ended up in that piece. We wanted to correct it once we learned about it.
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