The politics of President Trump's immigration reform plan

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 15, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT: Not one more American life should be lost because our lawmakers failed to secure our borders. We are calling on Congress to fix our terrible immigration laws, stop catch and release, to end deadly sanctuary cities, to stop the visa lottery program.

SEN. DICK DURBIN, D-ILL., SENATE MINORITY WHIP: I'm skeptical as to whether he truly wants to deal with immigration reform. I know he wants a wall.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, D-N.Y., HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: Donald Trump is clearly more interested in creating a political mass to amplify his own electoral agenda.


BAIER: So you are saying there's a chance? Democrats reacting to the president's immigration plan that he will lay out tomorrow, but we have some of those details tonight.

First on the border security part of this plan, build the new wall, modernize points of entry, stop drugs trafficking, human smuggling, close loopholes in the asylum law. Lindsey Graham has a separate bill just dealing with that. Expedite the asylum process, quickly moving those with illegitimate claims out.

On the immigration plan, employment, most immigrants are now admitted because of family ties. They want to change that to a merit-based system - - 57 admitted based on employment and skills, 33 percent based on family, 10 percent admitted on humanitarian or other grounds. Education, age, English proficiency, all part of the equation in that point system.

And it is a crisis, the former Homeland Security secretary saying again.


JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We had 100,000 apprehensions or encounters in the month of March and another 100,000 in the month of April. That is the equivalent of the population of the city of Orlando, Florida showing up on our southern border in the course of two months. That creates a crisis.


BAIER: Gives you perspective. Let's bring in our panel, Tom Bevan, Real Clear Politics co-founder and president, Susan Ferrechio, Chief Congressional Correspondent for the "Washington Examiner," and Jonathan Swan, national politics reporter for "Axios." Susan, ambitious plan laid out different points, in reality on Capitol Hill?

SUSAN FERRECHIO, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Not much reality there in terms of whether it will pass, but what it is is lying down a marker for Republicans, if they can get unified behind this type of deal it will give them a starting point for negotiating with the Democrats.

You will notice if you look for that, none of it addresses the things that Democrats will want in the bill.

BAIER: Namely DACA, the Dreamers.

FERRECHIO: The 11 million illegals who are already here, other immigration issues that they want to address.

But what it does tackle, though, are some really key points that Republicans have wanted, dealing with the visa lottery system by eliminating it, making it a more merit based system.

And most important part where those two bottom bullet points that you just showed, which were expediting asylum-seekers back to their home countries, and making it more difficult -- getting rid of the magnet for illegal immigrants to try to get to the border here, which is part of the reason Jeh Johnson was just saying, you have this massive surge at the border. The asylum laws are making it very attractive for illegal immigrants to try to get in this country because they know they can get released and then stay here.

BAIER: As I mentioned, Lindsey Graham has a targeted bill on just that that he thinks he can get bipartisan support on if they want to deal with us.

Take a look at our new polls, the approval rating for the president overall, 46 percent, staying right about where he was, 53 percent disapprove. And on the issue of handling border security, it matches up with his overall job performance. And on the issue of handling immigration, a takes a little tick down, obviously hammered by Democrats on a number of fronts. Jonathan?

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, "AXIOS": The most important thing about this proposal is that it fundamentally changes the way we think about immigration. So it flips on its head, typically we take the bulk of people based on their family ties. This completely reverses that and it looks at skills and education. And the idea that Jared Kushner will be selling to Capitol Hill, part of it is an economic analysis. So he has Kevin Hassett, who is one of Trump's top economic advisers, produce this analysis which shows you will get more tax revenue because these are more educated people.

But Susan is right, the thing here to bear in mind is this is a Republican proposal. Jared Kushner has been taken around a PowerPoint presentation. It explicitly calls this a Republican plan in that. And they haven't been talking to Democrats. They've been having Republicans in this. So expressly, they have admitted this, there is no bones about it, this is a Republican plan.

BAIER: Which Jared Kushner plan has more of a chance of passing, immigration with Congress or the Middle East peace plan with Palestinians and Israelis?


SWAN: Two intractable problems. He knows how to pick them.


TOM BEVAN, REAL CLEAR POLITICS CO-FOUNDER: We also released a poll today, Real Clear Opinion Research, which listed immigration was third out of six issues in the minds of the American public as being important, health care was number one at 36 percent, the economy at 26, and then immigration was at 15. So it does have political salience right now, and it has been an issue and it will be in the 2020 elections.

The problem is not only do Republicans need to get unified, but also Democrats are offering no solutions. To paraphrase our colleague Mollie Hemingway, orange man hates brown people is a partisan argument, but it's not a policy solution. And so Democrats really aren't coming to the table with anything, and they control half of Congress right now, and Congress writes immigration laws.

BAIER: Does Lindsey Graham's narrow asylum bill have a chance?

FERRECHIO: Not with Democrats, because once you open up the immigration portal in Congress --

BAIER: The issue overall.

FERRECHIO: Correct. Any time you open up that legislation to debate, nothing will pass unless you bringing in the kit-n-kaboodle here. You have got to get in the Dreamers, all the other undocumented immigrants here. Democrats are not going to play ball unless they get a lot of what they want at this point, and I can't see that happening in an election year. The Supreme Court is still weighing in on the Dreamers. At this point there is no true motivating factor despite this crisis on the border.

BEVAN: But the more you pack into the bill, the more there is to attack, and it fractures. And we have seen this historically, it just doesn't happen. Congress can't pass something that bag without it being picked apart.

SWAN: Can I revise?


SWAN: Middle East peace.


BAIER: I want to ask you, is it still the case, do we think, that Donald Trump's reelection plans are going to be on the economy if it still cooking like it is now, immigration, not being socialist or socialism, and maybe late term abortion?

SWAN: I think that is pretty accurate. The other part of it, which we forget, is a big part of Trump's rhetoric no matter what on the campaign trail is whatever cultural issue is bubbling up, the next kneeling in the NFL or whatever he sees to divide the Democrats. But really Trump's campaign style is very personal. He is going to find their weaknesses, their personal weaknesses, and amplify them. Even though yes, he will talk about the economy, he gets bored when he talks it. And he says this to his staff. He's like I know you keep telling me you want me to talk about the economy, but my people don't like it. So it's this very visceral feel that he has for his crowd, and that is why during his campaign it was built the wall, it wasn't two percent GDP growth. I don't think you're going to see that, I'll be honest with you.

BAIER: He likes saying Buttigieg.

Next up, the implications of Alabama's controversial abortion bill that was just before this show signed into law.



BOBBY SINGLETON, D-ALA., STATE SENATOR: I apologize to the woman of Alabama for this arcane law that we passed, for putting them through this process of having to fall under a state that will allow them to be raped, and the fact they would have to carry that child for nine months, for incest and have to carry that child for nine months.

TERRI COLLINS, R-ALA., STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Is that baby in the womb a person? In Alabama law it's a person. Our people in Alabama voted last fall. We believe that and we believe that what it's aimed at. It's not meant to be a long-term, forever law.


BAIER: It's really meant to go to the Supreme Court, even supporters say, that and it is now law, the strictest abortion laws in the country, now signed into law by the governor, Kay Ivey, who just before this show put out a statement saying "No matter one's personal view on abortion, we can all recognize that at least for short term this bill may similarly be unenforceable. As citizens of this great country we must always respect the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court even when we disagree with their decisions. Many Americans, myself included, disagreed when Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973. The sponsors of this bill believe that it is time once again for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit this important matter, and they believe this act may bring about the best opportunity for this to occur."

Back with the panel. Tom, this will factor in. Almost every candidate on the Democratic side has weighed in significantly today, and they are, some of them, fundraising off of this Alabama law.

BEVAN: The governor and the legislators of Alabama are pretty transparent, pretty blunt in their language. That is what this bill was designed to do, force the Supreme Court to revisit the issue.

Abortion has been a flash point of the culture war for decades now. But we seem to have gone from a period of status to where you had liberal states, New York pass these bills that were really liberalizing abortion up until the final weeks, even, and then famously in Virginia Ralph Northam saying that the baby would come out and then we decide what to do with it. And this is the red state reaction to that. We're seeing it in Georgia. We're seeing it in Alabama. And so the cold war over abortion has suddenly gotten very hot.

BAIER: Susan?

FERRECHIO: I feel like this is a battle of the extremes here, where the public, the polling shows, is really in the middle on this. They agree with early term abortion, but they're not in favor of late term abortion, and they're also not in favor of completely eliminating abortion. But yet you have some of these states taking extreme views, maybe to force a Supreme Court consideration. But now this is the fifth state with a rather radical abortion law. There are several states with those heartbeat laws that exist. The public really is not there on either side. So I can't see how either party benefits from this.

BAIER: But it is motivating to a base, and specific voters, pro-life voters in particular who vote on that issue, if you look at evangelicals who supported Trump.

FERRECHIO: That is true, right.

BAIER: You're looking at numbers upwards of 80 to 90 percent.

FERRECHIO: But independent voters, in my campaign travels when I went to swing districts and talked to undecided females in grocery store parking lots deciding between a Romney and Obama, they sit and say which one is going to threaten my reproductive rights. They worry about that, and so it's important.

BAIER: No, I'm saying, which is more motivated, the pro-life evangelical who maybe is a little disillusioned by some of the things that the president has said or tweeted but believes that the justices on the Supreme Court and the federal appeals judges have really changed the dynamic, or the pro-choice Planned Parenthood supporter who fears that if President Trump is reelected, that is changes the whole thing.

SWAN: The interesting thing about Donald Trump is that we all know he is history, back in the 90s he was as pro-choice as you could get. But he has become the most vocal pro-life president probably in history. And certainly when you talk to leaders of the evangelical movement, people like Ralph Reed, they credit Trump's speech in that final debate when he very graphically described ripping a baby out of the womb as a moment that motivated evangelical voters and turned them out in record numbers, even higher numbers than Ronald Reagan received. That and his decision to put out a list for the Supreme Court would really seminal.

And so this is not 2012 and Mitt Romney where the Republican Party in the presidential campaign avoids talking about this. Trump is going to lean into this. He is leaning right into this issue in a way that we haven't seen from a president in recent times.

BAIER: I saw some court watchers, and even former Justice Brennan, write about the recent rulings out of the Supreme Court suggesting that it is setting the groundwork for a relook at Roe v. Wade. If you look at our last justices, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, they avoided the question skillfully. Quickly.

BEVAN: If it gets to the Supreme Court and there is a decision and Roe v. Wade is overturned that it will make this look like a tea party, because that will be a massive sea change.

BAIER: Panel, thank you.

When we come back, a prayer answered.


BAIER: Finally tonight, an emotional reunion.




BAIER: A Utah boy prayed multiple times a day for his older brother, National Guard Sergeant Smoky Osborne to return safe from deployment. On Monday his prayer was answered when Smoky, as you see here, surprised him at school following nearly a year of being deployed overseas. I love those. Just send them in. We'll keep playing them.

Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight. That's it for the “Special Report,” fair, balanced and unafraid. "The Story" hosted by Martha MacCallum starts right now.

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