Rep. Cuellar on battle over separating families at border

This is a rush transcript from "The Story," June 18, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SANDRA SMITH, HOST: Thanks, Bret. Well, breaking news on the border, battle and the controversial policy to separate immigrant children from their parents.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility, it won't be.


SMITH: The Trump administration doubling down tonight, insisting it is simply enforcing immigration laws already on the books and calling on Congress to fix it. Good evening everyone. I'm Sandra Smith, in for Martha MacCallum, tonight.

Well, late this evening, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, appearing in the White House briefing room to clarify the misinformation about the unaccompanied illegal minors being held in detention centers.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: 10,000 of those currently in custody were sent by their parents with strangers to undertake a completely dangerous and deadly travel alone.

We now care for them, we have high standards, we give the meals, we give the medication, we give the medical care, there is videos, there is T.V.s. I visited the detention centers myself.

SMITH: This as Democratic lawmakers spent today and the weekend touring those facilities that officials say could house up to 30,000 illegal children by August.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: And I say to the president, we have zero tolerance for your neglecting, for your policy of selecting a -- separating children from their parents.


SMITH: We've got a big lineup for you tonight. Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar, who admits the same thing was happening under the Obama administration.

Then Ron Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Here to tell us what is really happening on the ground at our southern border.

But we begin tonight with Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts, live at the White House with our top story. John?

JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sandra, good evening to you. All of this goes back to April when the Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the United States was adopting a zero- tolerance policy with people who are entering the country illegally.

Basically, the policy states that anyone who crosses the border at a place other than a port of entry will be subject to criminal prosecution and arrest. And that means that any children that they arrive with will be separated from them while they are in custody.

Much the same way as if you were to commit a crime in the continental United States for any other reason. And you had children, you would be at least, temporarily separated from those children.

Administration officials say they are simply enforcing the law. Laws that other administrations basically ignored because it was politically unpalatable to enforce them. But the point the president was making today, is that if Congress changes the law, provides greater border security which would include building a wall, closes loopholes and immigration laws, those separations will no longer be necessary.

But the president says, whether it be arresting people or changing the law, the United States cannot afford to do nothing. Listen here.


TRUMP: You look at what's happening in Europe, you look at what's happening in other places, we can't allow that to happen to the United States, not on my watch.

We have the worst immigration laws in the entire world. Nobody has such said, such bad, and actually in many cases, such horrible and tough. You see about child separation, you see what's going on there. But just remember, a country without borders is not a country at all.


ROBERTS: But enforcing the law has created a huge backlash for the White House. A lot of Democrats, even some Republicans very critical including the former first lady, a Republican Laura Bush, who wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post, "I live at a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral and it breaks my heart."

Congressional Democrats argue that the White House, the president, the administration is using children as pawns to try to force Congress to make some immigration reforms. I asked the DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about that earlier today. Listen here.


ROBERTS: You're calling on Congress to change the law.


ROBERTS: And that is the big message here. Members of Congress of the Democratic side say that you are using children as a leverage try to get them to take legislative action. What do you say to that?

NIELSEN: I say that is a very cowardly response. It's clearly within their power to make the laws and change the laws, they should do so.


ROBERTS: The President Trump, says that current immigration laws allow too many people, some of them, criminals to enter the country illegally. And a lot of those people are using children as a way to get into the country. Sandra, because the word is out that the United States laws the way they are written means that if you come across the border with a child, you will be treated differently.

Well, that all ended in April, the message doesn't seem to have gotten out because as Kirstjen Nielsen said earlier today, 50,000 plus people have been entering the country illegally over the last three months. That's each month, and there is been a 400 percent increase in the number of so- called family units crossing the border. Sandra?

SMITH: John Roberts at the White House for us, thank you. Here now, a Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar, whose district includes the Rio Grande Valley, and borders McAllen, the site of one of those controversial child detention centers.

Thank you for joining us tonight, sir. If you could, respond to what you heard there from the Homeland Security secretary as she took the microphone at the White House to try to clarify what appears to be a lot of confusion as to what is happening down at our border.

REP. HENRY CUELLAR, D-TEXAS: All right. I'm still here down here at the border and I spend a lot of time with the Border Patrol folks today. When somebody comes then, keep in mind that from October 1st of 2017 to now, 14,500 kids unaccompanied with no parents have come into the Lower Rio Grande.

14,500, so there is no separation involved because they came in by themselves. Either the family units that came in, in the last five weeks. For example, about 1,100 of them have been separated. 700 of them are-- plus, are now with the HHS. And then, another 436 of them were temporarily separated but they're back with the families because they were taken over to be charged or we call Section 1325, which is coming into the United States without documentations. So we're talking about a small amount.


SMITH: So, congressman, what are -- so what -- so you're down there and you're witnessing what is happening, you're trying to tell us about that. So, what are you asking for? What do you want to see done? Democrats are pointing the finger at President Trump and his administration for what is happening.

CUELLAR: Wait, you know, keep in mind this law, Section 1325, you come in the first time without documentation. That means that it's a misdemeanor, the second time, third time, it becomes a felony. So, right now, they're charging this is about a 1950 law that Ronald Reagan, Nixon, Bush, Obama, Clinton, never carried this out. They carried it under a civil process.


CUELLAR: Civil process. So, President Trump is saying, we're going to make it a criminal aspect. And if it's a criminal aspect, that talk to the category about (INAUDIBLE) a child.


SMITH: Well, what I was asking you about what the Homeland Security secretary said today. And she said she is faithfully enforcing the laws enacted by Congress. It is up to Congress to fix this. Congressman Cuellar, we thank you for your time this morning and appreciate that you're down there trying to see what is happening and try to make it better.

We have now with us, Ronald Vitiello. He is the acting deputy commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. And you know, Ron, everyone's looking at the situation down there including the president. And saying, it is awful, nobody wants to see this happen to our children. Nobody wants to see this happen to any children in this world, it is happening.

But Kirstjen Nielsen, says these are the laws. They are enforcing the laws on the books. They are calling on Congress to fix this. What do we need to know about what is happening down at that border that you witnessed on your duty every day?

RONALD VITIELLO, ACTING DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, UNITED STATES CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: So we're seeing this marked increase since the spring or since spring started like you -- like your reporter Sir John Roberts, said.

50,000 people every month for the last three months, and a huge increase in families and children coming unaccompanied. And we have to find a way to make this border safer. We are being distracted with by this humanitarian mission.

And so, when there's -- when the Attorney General said, we could refer all people that cross the border illegally for prosecution, we started to do that and went -- and that's what we're seeing being played out now.

SMITH: Kirsjten Nielsen, makes her case, we're not separating families, legally seeking asylum from point of entry. She started out this day, saying, "If you are seeking asylum, legally seeking asylum, go to a point of entry."

She's stuck by that message, she then, showed up at the White House to address the press. She says they're only separating if they're not familiar with the relationship of the adult -- the child with the -- that with the adult accompanying them. Or if that adult is a danger to the child or the parent is wanted for prosecution. Is -- are those the only reasons for which a child is separated from the adult or parent with them?

VITIELLO: So, that's correct. If the -- if these groups would choose to go to the port of entry and make their asylum claim there, those are the only circumstances by which they would be separated. Where the child was actually in danger, or we could not prove the familial relationship at the ports of entry if they make those claims, they would not be separated.

SMITH: Ron, the numbers are staggering, when you look at the trend that is happening there. When you see it, Congress -- you know, Kirstjen Nielsen, saying this is up to Congress to fix this. You've got Democrats saying that this is -- this is Trump's no tolerance policy. You've got Republicans that say that this is Democrats. Their obstruction is to reforming these three major loopholes in the immigration system that Kirstjen Nielsen keeps talking about.

What do you see that needs to happen? What do you say to Congress to fix this situation down there?

VITIELLO: We've been -- we've been advocating to deliver on the president's promise for border security. And we're asking for these loopholes to be closed.

This happened to us again in 2014. We stood up ICE, we stood up family detention center temporarily. And we started holding people until they got their due process hearing. And the numbers went dramatically down.

At the beginning of this year, the numbers went dramatically down again because people thought there would be a consequence for this illegal activity. We'd like Congress to give us that tool back so that people can be held until their hearing, they can go through a due process that would allow people who are actually qualify for asylum to get it. And then, those that didn't would be removed.

SMITH: Can you leave us off with the thought of these children down there? I mean, right now, Health and Human Services who takes in the kids who were separated has been taking in about 250 children per day in recent weeks. They expect to be taking about 250 kids in each day for the next two months. They could be caring for 18,500 more children by the end of August, we're told.

In HHS was already holding 11,500 children which means it could hit 30,000 by August. Can you tell us something about how these children are being cared for in these facilities?

VITIELLO: I've been to several shelters, they're very well-appointed. Medical staff, dental staff, there are -- there are -- there are places where kids can be safe. Where they -- where they learn things, there's a schoolhouse on site. The medical professionals, that's clean, it's neat, they have cafeterias, they got three meals a day, plus snacks when they want them.

It's probably not an ideal place for them to be but it's a very nice place for a kids to be while they're placed with a family member in the United States, most of them don't stay more than 30 or 40 days.

SMITH: It is a debate that rages on, and people are looking for solutions and it certainly got the attention of this country and others around us. Ron Vitiello, thank you for joining us tonight.

VITIELLO: Thanks for having me.

SMITH: Well this is a Fox News "ALERT". We've just learned that the House Judiciary Committee intends to issue a subpoena to anti-Trump FBI agent Peter Strzok to testimony about that bombshell testify -- about that bombshell I.G. report, Friday.

Byron York, and John Summers, hearing the news that is just in. Plus, Inspector Horowitz and FBI Director Christopher Wray's hearing on the Hill.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, R-LA.: Mr. McCabe who was insubordinate, gets referred from prosecution. But Mr. Comey who was insubordinate doesn't get referred but he gets to keep his pension and his book deals.



SMITH: This is a Fox News Alert. Just moments ago the House Judiciary Committee announcing it will subpoena Peter Strzok. That's the FBI agent removed from the Russia probe after the discovery of those anti-Trump texts he exchanged with FBI lawyer Lisa Page who was also his lover. If struck were to testify something his lawyer indicated he is willing to do without immunity it could be explosive revealing new details about bias within the Russia probe and the future of the investigation. Congressman John Ratcliffe sits on the House Judiciary Committee, he joins us now. Congressman thank you for your time tonight. So first of all, what do you think of this news he's officially been subpoenaed to testify?

REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE, R-TEXAS: Yes, I knew he was going to appear one way or another. We invited him to appear voluntarily or be subpoenaed. He originally said he would come. Now he's been subpoenaed. Either way, Peter Strzok is a central witness in both the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and the Trump Russia collusion case that became the Special Counsel matter. And it's important that we have him appear and explain these text messages as well as his actions taken in both of these matters. And so I'm excited about the fact that he will eventually appear and either answer questions or assert his Fifth Amendment rights. Either way, it'll tell us a lot about Peter Strzok.

SMITH: And of course, we've all had a chance to see in here those text messages by now and we know that there was anti-Trump bias in those text messages and a lot of it. However, the I.G. report found that it was not - - there was no evidence of this used in decision-making. What questions do you have for Peter Strzok specifically?

RATCLIFFE: Well, I think that the Inspector General equivocated a little bit from the written word or his written report in his testimony today. He clearly acknowledged that Peter Strzok had an astonishing level of bias as did Lisa Page and teams full of agents and lawyers involved in these matters. He also today indicated that at least one instance Peter Strzok allowed that bias to influence his actions as it related to the recovery of more than 300,000 e-mails on Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner's laptop that were not supposed to be there. So I thought the Inspector General opened the door today to the expansion of the idea that bias really did impact both of these very important investigations. So you know, we all want the opportunity to get to the truth.

You know, I think that Peter Strzok's credibility ultimately will impact not just the Hillary Clinton e-mail matter but the Trump-Russia investigation because, Sandra, the most important thing that you understand here is that Peter Strzok was the person that the FBI put in charge of investigating Donald Trump, the guy that hated Donald Trump as much as anyone who said that not a single American should vote for him, who promised his girlfriend that he would stop it from becoming president, and then talked about getting him impeached once he became president, was the one collecting evidence, making decisions, formulating an investigative plan against Donald Trump. So he needs to come and account for the things that he has said and the things that he has done and we're going to make him do that one way or another.

SMITH: Does that surprise you that Peter Strzok has -- still has a job at the FBI? Obviously, he's been pulled off the investigations but he's still there and he was asked about that -- the FBI Director was asked about that today and they really couldn't comment specifically on what he's doing there, but he's still there.

RATCLIFFE: I think we're all at a loss for why he's still at the FBI. The best way that Chris Wray can defend the 13,000 agents, many of whom are good, brave men and women who go to work every day to keep our country safe, protect us from terrorist threats is to hold accountable the really bad actors. And at this point in time, there's no question about Peter Strzok, the astonishing level of animus bias and hatred really cannot be ever justified or explained.

SMITH: And that bias was not just towards the President and his administration, it was towards Trump supporters as well as revealed in those text messages. Congressman Ratcliffe, thank you for coming on the program tonight.

RATCLIFFE: You bet. Thanks, Sandra.

SMITH: And the bad news for the FBI does not end there. The agency was roasted by lawmakers and at times by the DOJ Inspector General during a fiery Senate hearing earlier today.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH, R-UTAH: There is a serious problem with the culture at FBI Headquarters.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-TEXAS: It just seemed to be a culture of impunity where the rules did not apply.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: I can't believe that this happened to my FBI.

MICHAEL HOROWITZ, INSPECTOR GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: I can't think of something more concerning than a law enforcement officer suggesting that they're going to try and use or may use their powers to affect an election.


SMITH: Here now is Byron York, Chief Political Correspondent for the Washington Examiner and a Fox News Contributor and Jon Summers, Democratic Strategist and former Communications Director for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Thanks to both of you for joining us. Byron, you and I have spoken a lot leading up to that hearing today. What did you make of that, the culture of the FBI?

BYRON YORK, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you had Republicans making their case that the Horowitz report showed extensive evidence of bias. You were just discussing that with Congressman Ratcliffe. You had Democrats kind of clinging to the conclusion that Michael Horowitz did say that he had not seen any documentary or testimonial evidence of bias, any specific decision whether or not to prosecute Hillary Clinton. But basically Horowitz did say look, there was tons and tons of bias here and Republicans took it from.

SMITH: You know, Jon, this is the FBI. And the American people, they look on at this and they want to have full confidence at the FBI. That needs to be restored, will it?

JON SUMMERS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I hope -- I certainly hope so. I mean, first of all we have to remember what we're talking about as a handful of people, not the entire agency of 37,000. And it's and it's sad to see this department you know, having the baby thrown out with the bathwater on this one because as you just -- as Byron just said, you know, most these agents are hardworking people who work to keep the American people safe and I don't think anyone would consider the FBI a bastion of liberalism. In fact, one of the text messages and I remember Byron reporting on this on Friday, actually mentioned that if you ask anyone around that's who they're voting for they'll tell you it's Trump. So while there may have been this culture issue that certainly needs to be investigated, that's not something that should be applied to the entire FBI. And I think if there's one thing that came out of this hearing is that there was no deep state conspiracy or plot against the president or his campaign. And I'm sorry that you know Republicans don't like it but conclusions do matter. And if we aren't going to trust the Inspector General who's supposed to you know take this non-biased approach, then who do we trust?

SMITH: I want to get Byron to respond to that because Byron, I know that when I spoke to you earlier, we were talking about Peter Strzok. And the fact that he's willing to testify, and now we know Chairman Goodlatte has officially subpoenaed him tonight we could potentially not only -- not only see Peter Strzok up there and answering questions to members of Congress but finally hear the stories. I mean, this could be very revealing testimony.

YORK: Exactly. First, on the issue of it being a handful of people involved, Senator Hatch addressed that today and said well, maybe there was a handful of people, unfortunately, they included the Director of the FBI, the Deputy Director of the FBI, the lead investigator on both the Clinton and the Trump investigation. So they were really, really important handful. Now, on this testimony of Peter Strzok and lawmakers have been trying for months to get this to happen. I think that there's going to be a lot more than just biased questions about Peter Strzok. Remember Strzok actually led the Trump-Russia investigation when it was in the FBI from the summer of 2016 in the middle of the campaign all the way to May 2017 when he joins the Mueller investigation and then stays there until the end of July of 2017. So I think some lawmakers are going to say look, we know you don't like Trump. We got that. How did this investigation start? Tell us about George Papadopoulos. Tell us about Joseph Mifsud. Tell us about the people who approached Trump employees with -- seeking information. Tell us about the informants. There's a lot that lawmakers want to know.

SMITH: And going into this Peter Strzok, before we even learned of the subpoena tonight, Peter Strzok's lawyer said he's willing to testify, he will not plead the Fifth. Do you expect this -- final word to you, Jon -- to be revealing?

SUMMERS: Well, I certainly hope one of the first things he does when he gets up there is provide an explanation to the American people and an apology for what he's done and for casting a shadow on the FBI. But the reality is, you know, you can talk about bias and what led up to the investigation starting but at the end of the day Robert Mueller who's respected by people on both sides of the aisle or at least was up until this point when the President has been trashing him on Twitter and in other places, we have to trust that he's doing the right thing here. And at the end of the day, evidence matters and let's not lose sight of the fact that 13 Russians were indicted as a result of this process. So this investigation matters. It's important and we should let it go on.

SMITH: I think that that evidence is what the Inspector General talked about today. He saw the bias in the text but he had no evidence that that played out in the decision-making of the investigation.

SUMMERS: That's right.

SMITH: Jon and Byron, thank you to both of you.

YORK: Thank you.

SMITH: All right, well still to come, with the midterm elections looming, some Democrats are getting desperate.


RICHARD PAINTER, DEMOCRATIC SENATORIAL CANDIDATE, MINNESOTA: There is an inferno raging in Washington but here in the land of 10,000 lakes we know how to put out a fire.


SMITH: And a firestorm of backlash after the Republican National Committee Chairwoman says it would be a mistake for candidates to not support our President. Ronna McDaniel will be here exclusively to explain. Plus, the Southern Poverty Law Center admits that it wrongly named Maajid Nawaz to its extremist watch list. Marc Thiessen is here on the new developments on a story we have been following right here next.


MAAJID NAWAZ, BRITISH POLITICIAN: They know they've got this wrong but they're being stubborn, they are trying to save their own face with this and they are resisting taking my name off and I think that's -- they've recognized they've made a huge error but it's too late for them to change their mind.



SMITH: Breaking tonight, the Pentagon confirming late today that plans for routine military exercises on the Korean peninsula have officially been called off. Saying in a statement, quote, "The United States military has suspended all planning for this August defensive war game."

The announcement comes one week after President Trump agreed to suspend U.S. military drills on the region as part of a deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

And developing tonight, some vindication for a man unjustly targeted by a controversial organization. The Southern Poverty Law Center is issuing an apology, a retraction and a settlement to Islamic reformer Maajid Nawaz after incorrectly labeling and putting them on an anti-Muslim extremist watch list.

Trace Gallagher is live in our west coast newsroom with this story. Hi, Trace.

TRACE GALLAGHER, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Sandra. It's a major victory for Maajid Nawaz for a few weeks reasons, one it helps to rehabilitate his reputation as a former Islamic extremist who now argues for a peaceful vision of Islam, and two, the $3.2 million settlement will help Nawaz and his Quilliam foundation continued their fight against anti-Muslim bigotry.

In its apology statement the Southern Poverty Law Center writing in part, quoting "Although we may have our differences with some of the positions that Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam have taken, they are most certainly not anti- Muslim extremists."

But critics fear the apology and payout may not be enough, pointing out that SPLC has a history of attacking people and maligning their good names than apologizing. In 2012, when Dr. Ben Carson he believes marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, SPLC added Carson to their hate list for allegedly being anti-gay.

The group later removed his name and apologized. But Maajid Nawaz has argued that SPLC is putting credibility and security at risk. For example, in 2012, when the conservative Christian family research council was added to the hate list, a gunman walked into the FRC headquarters in D.C. and shot a guard. The gunman later pled guilty saying he wanted to intimidate opponents of gay rights.

Here's Maajid Nawaz on the story last June. Look.


MAAJID NAWAZ, FOUNDING CHAIRMAN, QUILLIAM: We often associate violence with far right neo-Nazis or isn't this Jihadist. But in this case it also with hardened and left wing discourse on the hard left it's leading to violence and it needs to be checked. And when you make lists of people in this way, they end up being murdered.


GALLAGHER: And throughout this pattern of attack, retreat and then apologize, the Southern Poverty Law Center isn't exactly lifting its stature. Three years ago, the FBI deleted SPLC from its list of legitimate resources on hates crimes. Sandra?

SMITH: Trace Gallagher in our west coast newsroom, thank you. Here now with more on this is Marc Thiessen, an American Enterprise Institute scholar and a Fox News contributor. Marc, good evening to you.

MARC THIESSEN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening to you. Good to be with you.

SMITH: So I know that this is something that you have been following for quite some time.


SMITH: And to remind everybody from Trace's reporting you got this as well. But this list published in 2016 was intended to serve as a resource for journalists. It was deleted shortly after Nawaz filed this suit two years. Was this a long time coming?

THIESSEN: Absolutely it was. I mean, look, the idea that Maajid Nawaz is a anti-Muslim bigot is absurd. He is a Muslim. He is a former -- a former radical who became a small d, Democrat, was an adviser to three British prime ministers, the Quilliam foundation that he runs is named for a Muslim, a Muslim convert who founded the first mosque in the U.K. in 1989.

He recently was on a televised debate where he defended the proposition that Islam is a religion of peace. So to equate him with the Ku Klux Klan which is what the Southern Poverty Law Center effectively did is absurd.

And this is an organization with once a noble history that did a really important job in the 1970s of taking on suing the Ku Klux Klan and shutting the Ku Klux Klan down. Now they've run out of Klansmen and so what they're doing is they're going after people whose political views they disagree with and who tend to be conservative and it's become a party of the shoddy list and they besmirched the good names of good people with whom they disagree and it's become a caricature of itself.

SMITH: So its readers the SPLC has issued an apology and agreed to pay $3.4 million to Nawaz and Quilliam. Is that apology and that payment is that enough?

THIESSEN: It's a start. I mean, they should apologize to a lot of other people. I mean, for example, last year ABC News ran a story and this is one of the big problems. Because of their history, a lot of the news organizations treat them as a serious organization when they are no longer a serious organization.

So ABC News ran a story saying Jeff Sessions gives speech to anti-LGBT hate group. And if you read the story they were citing the Southern Poverty Law Center, they were talking about the alliance defending freedom.

The alliance defending freedom is a conservative group of lawyers that just won a case in the Supreme Court by 72 in a masterpiece cake shop case. They are respected group of conservative lawyers, they're not the Ku Klux Klan.

And they keep doing this. They did this to the Family Research Council where somebody saw that information and went in and shot somebody because of it. What they're doing is not just defamation it's dangerous. People's lives are at stake when you do this kind of thing.

SMITH: Do you expect more lawsuits?

THIESSEN: I hope so. I this will encourage people, because, you know, people seem to be intimidated by this organization because of their history. But now Maajid Nawaz has shown that if you take them to court and threatened to destroy their livelihood and their funding, they are going to back off and maybe they'll be a little bit more careful now about using this power in this name of theirs that they built many years ago in a good way to attack people who have nothing to do with anything like the Ku Klux Klan.

SMITH: Yes. I know you've been a big part of following that story, so thank you for that. Marc Thiessen, good to see you this evening.

THIESSEN: My pleasure. Good to see you.

SMITH: All right. Well, still ahead, do you see anything wrong with the message on this billboard? Wait until you hear why they were ordered to be taken down? That's coming up.

Plus, more and more Republicans are seeing success running on the Trump agenda in 2018. But what about those who don't? Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the RNC, joins us exclusively, next.


RONNA MCDANIEL, CHAIRWOMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We need to have a Republican majority in the House otherwise it's going to be Nancy Pelosi who will bring impeachment proceedings who will do everything she can to shut down the Trump agenda.




MCDANIEL: We've got a lot more to do and we cannot risk losing out on these midterms so complacency is going to be our enemy, and anyone who doesn't embrace the Trump agenda and doesn't recognize the issues that propelled us to victory in the White House is going to be making a mistake.


SMITH: Well that was Ronna McDaniel, republican National Committee chairwoman on our sister network, Fox Business last week. Those comments sent off a theory of criticism and here now exclusively to explain those words is Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee. Ronna, good evening to you.

MCDANIEL: Good evening, great to be here.

SMITH: Those words reached a lot of people, some perceive them as a threat, even members of your party, if you could clarify or explain what you meant by them.

MCDANIEL: Well, there's no threat coming from me, I'm probably the least threatening person you are going to find, but it is something I'm seeing and I'm hearing as I travel the country. I ran into out voters they say they want to see our candidates, and our party support our president because our president supports us.

He has helped usher in three million new jobs, record unemployment. ISIS is on the run, you are seeing our economy booming and people feel like this is the president who cared about them that's why they voted to put him in office and now they want to see him keep these majorities and have candidates who are supporting his agenda.

SMITH: So is that the winning strategy for your party for Republicans heading into November to embrace the president and his policies?

MCDANIEL: And to embrace the results of his policies. We have a lot to run on, it's not just rhetoric. We actually have results. Good things are happening in this country. People are taking more pay home, their wages are going up. We're having more people entering the workforce. Veterans are being taken care of.

There is a lot to run on for Republicans and these are things that propelled Donald Trump into the White House. Because they talk about the issues that really mattered to everyday Americans and now he's delivering on those promises and every republican should embrace that because that's how we're going to win and keep this majority.

SMITH: Meanwhile, it seems some still on the left, Democrats, are choosing that anti-Trump message. This is Richard Painter, a Democratic Minnesota candidate, Senate candidate, he also happens to be George W. Bush's ethics lawyer, his former ethics lawyer. But he has put together this ad depicting Trump as a dumpster fire. Watch this.


RICHARD PAINTER (D), U.S. SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Some people see a dumpster fire and do nothing but watch the spectacle. Some are too scared to face the danger or they think it will benefit them if they just let it keep on going. Others shrug and say, all this talk of a dumpster fire is just fake news. There is an inferno raging in Washington. But here in Atlanta 10,000 lakes we'd know how to put out a fire.


SMITH: I want to get your response to that.

MCDANIEL: You know the Democrats have really focused on this playbook of resist and standing up to the president. And I just don't understand what they are resisting. They're resisting more jobs, they're resisting better pay, they're resisting a stronger economy.

I mean, so many good things are happening for this country that the Democrats refuse to acknowledge it. They should be embracing these things. So the voters have a choice. Are you going to vote for the party of no, of resist, and of obstruct? Are you going to vote for a party that gets to Washington and actually does things for the average working family that's been struggling for so long in this country.

I think it's a losing message for them. We've seen Republicans turning out in higher numbers than Democrats in these very important primaries in California and Ohio and North Dakota last week. We are energized but beyond that we are delivering and we're making people's lives better.

SMITH: Really quick I want to play this, Cory Stewart, a Republican Virginia Senate candidate and I want to get your thought on something on the other side of this.



COREY STEWART, R-VA., SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Those of us who have tied ourselves to President Trump and who have avowed to support his policies are winning. We are winning in the primaries and we are going to increasingly win as we get closer to November. I think that by that point we will have a red tide because of the popularity of President Trump.


SMITH: Clearly embracing the president and his policies, he has what some see as controversial past. I hadn't seen whether or not the RNC is supporting him as a candidate.

MCDANIEL: So obviously, we support the nominees of states across the country, but we are going to be in the most battleground states, the states where we can pick up Senate seats. And we obviously have to hold Nevada and Arizona, and Tennessee and then we then we look at states like Missouri and Indiana, Florida, and North Dakota, and West Virginia and those other states that President Trump won. It's a big map, we got to expand our majority in the Senate and keep our majority in the House.

SMITH: So as for your support for Corey Stewart?

MCDANIEL: We're not in that race right now, we're in a statewide for a Virginia or New Jersey or Barbara County race but we're not in a statewide -- statewide for Virginia or New Jersey or Minnesota, we are going to be monitoring those races and we've got to show that they are competitive.

SMITH: Got it. Got it. Ronna McDaniel, great to have you on the program tonight. Thank you.

MCDANIEL: Thanks for having me.

SMITH: Well, we have a Fox News alert. President Trump threatened to hit China with $200 billion in new tariffs. We've got the new details, next. Plus why this billboard thing is being called a, quote, "anger provoking." The man behind the message, Pastor Robert Jeffress is here. He joins us next.


SMITH: This is a Fox News alert. News on the escalating trade dispute between the U.S. and China. President Trump has just directed moments ago the U.S. trade office to prepare a brand-new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods. The presidents citing, quote, "unacceptable policies."

He declared earlier today by the way, that further action must be taken to encourage China to change its unfair practices. So the president is making this move tonight and directing the administration to identify $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

All this trade disputes and ongoing disputes led to a sell-off in U.S. stock markets today. A triple digit plunge and tonight we watch those stock index futures, they are down triple digits again.

So we will see where all this goes as we start off the week. More news on Trump and a trade.

Faith under fire in Texas, this billboard taken down after a Dallas newspaper columnist and the mayor took offense with the message. The sign was put up to promote Pastor Robert Jeffress' upcoming event. But the big issue the words America is a Christian nation.

Here now the man behind the message, Robert Jeffress, pastor at first Baptist Church Dallas, and a Fox News contributor. Pastor Jeffress, thank you for being here tonight.


SMITH: So what was the issue with this billboard?

JEFFRESS: Well, according to the Dallas morning news, they wrote the scathing article about this message calling me a bigot for saying that America is a Christian nation. And this sermon, Sandra, is simply my recounting the historical evidence for the Christian foundation of our county.

They interviewed the mayor who said it was also divisive and hatred and, quote, "did not represent who the city of Dallas is." And so, 24 hours later, the billboard company called us and cited that the Dallas morning news article and the mayor's comment in that article and saying they were going to pull down the billboard.

And Sandra, I want to make it clear. We respect the right of the billboard company not to propagate a message they aren't comfortable with. What our argument is with the mayor of Dallas, he does not have the right to weigh in on this to disparage our church and to directly or indirectly influence the billboard company.

You know, one thing the Supreme Court made clear two weeks ago and the wedding cake case was, the government has to remain neutral, cannot be hostile toward the religion, and we think Mayor Rawlings has been hostile to the First Baptist Church in Dallas.

SMITH: What does this say to you that you are asked to take that billboard down, what does it tell you about things today?

JEFFRESS: Well, it shows me the hypocrisy of liberalism, you know, whether it's the Dallas Morning News or Mayor Rawlings, liberal are the most intolerant people of all when it comes to ideas they disagree with. And Sandra, that phrase, America is a Christian nation is actually a quote from John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court and through Supreme Court rulings. So this is hardly an un-American or divisive idea.

SMITH: Has it come down, the billboard?

JEFFRESS: I think so but we have a billboard company another one that has put up 20 to replace this two the first company took down.

SMITH: Pastor Robert Jeffress, it's great to see you.

JEFFRESS: Thanks, Sandra.

SMITH: Thank you. We'll be right back.


SMITH: Tonight's quote of the night from President Donald Trump who, earlier today, laid out his vision for American dominance in outer space by announcing this addition to our U.S. armed forces.


TRUMP: Very importantly I'm here by directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces. That's a big statement. We are going to have the air force and we are going to have the space force. Separate but equal.


SMITH: The space force, there you have it. Well, thank you so much for tuning in tonight. Tweet me your thoughts on the show at Sandrasmithfox. I'm going to get them and sleep. I'm going to see you right back here on "America's Newsroom" 9 a.m. to noon weekdays. Thank you again for joining us. Tucker Carlson is up next.

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