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White House Press Briefing; Trump Sending National Guard to Border. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 4, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] KIRSTEN NIELSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: To date what we've discussed are support activities that are very similar to jump- start.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wouldn't be actual enforcement then?

NIELSON: Correct. As of now. As of now. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President also in a tweet said that he -- suggested that he would use some of the military appropriations to fund the construction of the border wall. Does the President have the authority to use money that Congress appropriates to Department of Defense to build the border wall?

NIELSON: So, it's a good question. I'm only going to side step it because I'm not at the Department of Defense and I'm not a lawyer there. What he meant was, there are some lands that the Department of Defense owns that are right on the border. That are actually areas where we see elicit activity as part of what DOD does every day in terms of force protections. We're looking at options for the military to build a wall on military installations on the border. Other than that, I can't speak to the legality of the question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could give a cost estimate to what this will cost?

NIELSON: I can't unfortunately. I think looking at past numbers should be indicative. But it really depends on a very specific mission sets that they'll provide. For example, aerial surveillance is done by flight hours. So firstly, if you translate that to con ops and number of people and then I could tell you those people will cost. So, were working on real time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Approval for any of that?

NIELSON: To activate the guard under title 32, no we do not. But we will do it in conjunction with the governors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much wall can you build with the money that you currently have?

NIELSON: The currently appropriated will build about 150 miles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The $1.7 billion?

NIELSON: So, that's for 17 and 18 together. Yes. We have started building as you know. So, we're building real time in Flexia.


NIELSON: This an important question. To us it's all new wall. If there's a wall before that needs to be replaced, it's being replaced by a new wall. So, this is the Trump border wall. In many cases it will in many cases it will --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Current wall would count as new wall in your words.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how will it cost to complete the entirety of the wall that you desire?

NIELSON: Border Patrol as you know has submitted a very specific plan to Congress. Where we need the wall, what type of wall we need? We have finished evaluating all the prototypes. We have a tool kit, if you will. Some of the parts of the border are very different. In one place we even have a wall that almost floats with the sand because of the conditions there. Other places will have taller walls. Again depending. Some places we have levees to do dual purpose. We're continuing to work it out based on the funding we have and what we have learned from the prototypes. We should have a much better estimate soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, we don't have a total ticket price at this time? It is still unclear what you think it will cost?

NIELSON: We have the down payments and we're working with Congress real time to let them know what additional funds we need for what.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm not sure I understand what the urgency for this is. Seemed like it ramped up over the last several days and since the weekend. The House is not here, the Senate is not here. Why is this such an urgent priority right now for the President to sign?

NIELSON: I think -- what I would say, the numbers continue to increase. April traditionally is a month in which we see more folks crossing the border without a legal right to do so. So, it's partly modelling, partly anticipating. We're seeing more and more advertising very unfortunately by the traffickers and smugglers to the south specific to how to get around our system and enter our country and stay.

We have documented cases of borrowing children appearing at the border as a family unit in a fraudulent way. So why today, not yesterday, tomorrow? Today is the day. Today is the day we want to start this process. The threat is real as I mentioned.

ZELENY: Why not last year? What responsibility does the White House, or the department have for not urging Congress to do something more permanent rather than having National Guard troops who are stretched thin already? NIELSON: Yes, no, it's a great question. I appreciate that

opportunity to clarify. We do want Congress to act. We had been hopeful that we would be able to agree on a bipartisan bill.

[15:35:00] The President has supported two of the four that were offered on the floor this last go around. What we were trying to do is give Congress an opportunity to act. That is not gotten is where we need to be in terms of enforcing the law. We're taking what actions we can as an executive branch and hope that we can soon again start the conversation with Congress.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said you hope deployment begins immediately. What does that mean? Does that mean that troops could be headed to the border as soon as tonight?

NIELSON: It does mean that. But what it also means that we'll do it conjunction with the governors. There want to be very clear. This is title 32. The governors retain control of the National Guard in their region. I'm not going to get ahead of them. The ones that I have spoken to understand our urgency, our request. The National Guard understands the urgency and the request. So, we'll do it as expeditiously as possible but it's an MOA process. We're working through that real time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And follow up with Jeff's question, this is the 440th day of the Trump administration. Talked about the urgency. Talk about a being April. There's a lot of speculation the country that this might have something to do about what the President saw on television Sunday morning. Something to do with the fact that the President was to shore up support amongst his political base. Can you speak to the speculation? Is it true?

NIELSON: I think what is true is that the President is frustrated. He's been very clear that he wants to secure our border. He's very clear that he wants to do that in a bipartisan way with Congress. What you're seeing is the President taking his job very seriously in terms of securing our border and doing everything we can without Congress to do just that. I do hope as soon as Congress comes back I can work with them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long have you been working on this plan? For how long have you been person working on this plan?

NIELSON: It's always on the table. It's never been done before. It's not a new concept. It's nothing new. It's one of many things that we have looked at. We're in continuing conversations with the governors, this is a partnership as you know. It's not new. We're just walking through all of the things that we can do. I listed some of the ones that we have done. We can provide you others. Last one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You spoke of DACA and other programs as a magnet. The President made similar arguments. That same argument was made against the gang of eight bill some years back. Can you describe what sort of immigration bill that covers people that are here without papers would be acceptable and would not be a magnet or is the only bill that would not be a magnet simply one that restricts immigration?

NIELSON: A good question. I don't think it's the bill per se. I think in some cases its that the bill wasn't passed. All of that uncertainty gives the conversation wings in the south of us, hurry and get here now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the time Republicans that opposed the bill said that passing the bill will cause a wave of people coming to take advantage of it. You know, the President just made a similar DACA even though people who arrive now are ineligible for it and you just made a similar argument about similar programs. So, what other than a bill that is only restricts immigration do you think wouldn't be a magnet? Because every time --

NIELSON: Border security. I'm not trying to be flip. That's how the two go together. The problem of doing any of them in a vacuum as we continue the problem. We want a permanent solution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not being difficult. But every time this issue comes up and every time there's any sort of method where -- whether it's administratively or legislatively, attempted to address this problem, the same people every time said it's going to be a magnet. People are going to flood the borders trying to take advantage of it. So, I'm curious, if that constantly a problem every time this issue comes up, then how can you entertain any kind of comprehensive immigration bill?

NIELSON: I understand the question. What I would say is if we put together a package and pass it, the conversation is over. Vote for this tranche. There are those that will receive some sort of permanent status. That's what the President has been clear on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He rejected one this year.

NIELSON: The President also favored two bipartisan bills. What he's been clear on, he will not do half measures. We have to stop the actual pull. We have to have the ability to remove when we interdict. He's been very clear and very strong on this. If we pass a bill that doesn't do either of those two things that would be a pull factor.

We're trying to do them in conjunction. There are some people here we've talked about giving permanent status to. But at the same time, we have to close the loop holes. So that when we do that we don't pull up another huge population being told by the smugglers, go now, go now. That's not how it is going to work anymore.

[15:40:00] I really thank you for your time. Please let us know, Sarah know, we will continue to give you details as we get them. Thank you for your time.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thank you, Secretary Nielsen. We're running long. We'll jump straight into questions. Sean?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back in January, the President told several of us that he was looking forward to willing to answering questions under oath from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He said she expected it to happen in about two or three weeks. Does the President still intend to answer questions from the special counsel and do it under oath?

SANDERS: The President is working in conjunction with his legal team and making a determination. I'd refer you to them on anything specific regarding that matter. We're continuing to be fully cooperative with the office of the special counsel and will continue to drive the same message that we've been driving over a year. There was no collusion and we'll continue to be cooperative until that comes to a full conclusion which we hope is soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, nothing has changed in terms of his willingness to answer questions?

SANDERS: Again, I'll refer you to his legal team. They would make that determination.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is his reaction to learning that he is not a target of the special counsel investigation although he's a subject?

SANDERS: I'm not going to comment on the ongoing and the back and forth out of respect for the special counsel. As we said many times before there was no collusion between the President and Russia. Nothing has changed. We know what we did and didn't do. So, none of this comes as a surprise. Mara?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Sarah. I have two questions. A Russia question and a DACA question. Does he agree with McMaster that we have failed to impose sufficient costs on Russia?

SANDERS: What McMaster said, we've been very tough on Russia. He echoed the President's message that he said yesterday during the press conference with the Baltic leaders that no one has been tougher on Russia than this President. What he also said is that other nations could do more and should do more. We -- that's not different or in contrast to anything that we've said. We have continued to be tough on Russia and continue to be tough on Russia until we see a change in that. At the same time as the President stated yesterday, it would be good for the world if there can be a relationship. We'll have to see what happens. Lot of that is determined by the behavior of Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The President thinks other nations should be tougher but we've been as tough as we can? Is that what you are saying?

SANDERS: We've been tough on Russia and will continue to be. We're asking Russia to make a change in their behavior and be a good actor in the process. But absolutely other countries should step up. We expelled 60 Russian operatives. Other countries did four or five certainly rethink everybody can step up and do more. And put pressure to maintain good behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On DACA, the President tweeted no more DACA deal. Does that mean when the courts resolve this issue he will start deporting the DACA kids? SANDERS: I'm not going to get ahead of anything. We have tried and tried. Democrats have continued not to want to participate and actually find a solution. They failed to show up and do their jobs as they were elected to do. The President has been very clear, put multiple proposals on the table to fix the problem and Democrats have not been willing to take a deal. It was a really good deal and went much further than the previous administration. And when further of the things that they previously supported.

Frankly, you shouldn't be asking me this question or the White House this question. You should be asking Senate Democrats and members of the House Democratic party why they aren't willing to actually fix something that they claim to want to champion day after day?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, Larry Kudlow and the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, both said today that negotiations are the most likely way the trade dispute it's going to be resolved. Does the President agree with that or does he intend to put tariffs on the table, make them real, they're not real yet and see what happens?

SANDERS: We're going through the review period. We're very lucky that we have the best negotiator at the table, in the President. And we'll go through that process, a couple months before tariffs on either side would go into effect and be implemented. We're hopeful that China will do the right thing. China created this problem, not President Trump. But we finally actually have a President that is willing to stand up and say enough is enough. We're going to stop the unfair trade practices. We're asking China to stop unfair trade practices and we're going to work through that process over the next couple of months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any change in Chinese behavior, these tariffs will take effect?

SANDERS: I'm not going to get ahead of the process of where we are. We're in the review process right now. Certainly, we expect China to make changes and stop the unfair trade practices that they participated in for decades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tariffs will take affect?

[15:45:00] SANDERS: I just said I'm not getting ahead of the review process but I would anticipate that if there are no changes to the behavior of China and they don't stop the unfair trade practices than would move forward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the meantime, Sarah, all this is taking place, we're seeing some really wild swings in the stock market which represent billions and tens of billions of dollars in real money. Is the President worried that the saber rattling is cause manage people in this country to lose money?

SANDERS: No, the President is worried that we have countries that have been taking advantage of us for decades and he's not going to allow to happen anymore. We may have short term pain, but we'll have long-term success. We're focused on long-term economic principles and making sure that we have a strong and stable economy. That's exactly what the President is doing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Question on Amazon. The Pentagon could potentially award a very large cloud computing contracts to Amazon. Given the President's recent criticism of Amazon, is this something he would have a concern about, Amazon getting this contract, and would he ever personally intervene in the contract competition?

SANDERS: The President is not involved in the process. DOD runs the competitive bidding process and I would refer you to the Department of Defense on the specifics of how that process would work.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not involved in the process what so ever.

SANDERS: That's something that the President isn't involved in. Again, this is a process run by DOD. And it is a competitive bidding process. For the specifics, I refer you to them.


SANDERS: A lot of Johns here today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President railed against Amazon over the course of the past few weeks calling the deal that they have with the United States Postal Service a sweetheart deal. My question has to do with another sweetheart deal. The $50 a night payment that the EPA administrator Scott Pruitt paid to a lobbyist with the EPA. President promised to drain the swamp. His behavior and actions seem swamp- like. Why is the President OK with this?

SANDERS: We're reviewing the situation. When we have a deeper dive on that, we'll let you know. We're currently reviewing that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the President have confidence in the EPA administrator at this point?

SANDERS: The President thinks he's done a good job on the deregulation front. But again, we take this seriously and were looking into it and let you know when we're finished. I'm sticking with the theme here and go to another John and then mix it up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. Last week, BuzzFeed reported that Christopher Steele was claiming, in a report, documented evidence the FBI had a second report on the mysterious death of Mikhail Lesin, founder of Russian Television, RT, and former press secretary to Vladimir Putin. He died at the Hotel DuPont. Originally, it was said from a fall, but this report said he was bludgeoned after by people hired by oligarchs close to Putin. Does the administration have any comment on this given the concatenation of commentary on Russia and response to Russian activities abroad?

SANDERS: I don't have anything specific on that incident at this point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The other things is, can we have a readout from the Mexican Foreign Minister's meeting here recently, including with the White House staff, and Jared Kushner? SANDERS: I'm sorry, I couldn't hear the last --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand --

SANDERS: Are you asking me if we're going to have a readout?


SANDERS: Sorry. We're continuing in the NAFTA negotiation. We feel like we've made significant progress. We'll keep you posted as that continues. Jeff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, was the President persuaded by his advisors that it's important for the United States to stay in Syria?

SANDERS: The President has maintained all along that our focus has been on defeating ISIS there. We've made significant progress since the President took office and under his leadership -- with a complete collapse of the caliphate there.

We're continuing to make progress. We're continuing to work with our allies and partners in the region, but we want to focus on transitioning to local enforcement and do that over this process to make sure that there's no reemergence of ISIS in -- and take away some of the progress that we've made.

And so that's what we're moving to. As this environment has changed because of the success under the President's leadership, we're evaluating it as we go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President has repeatedly expressed his annoyance or his dissatisfaction with Iran and criticized the Iranian regime. Wouldn't taking U.S. presence out of Syria simply embolden Iran even further?

[15:50:00] SANDERS: No. Because again, the purpose would be to transition that and train local enforcement as well as have our allies and partners in the region who have a lot more at risk to put more skin into the game. And certainly, that's something that the President wants to see happen is for them to step up and for them to do more, and that's what we're working with right now. Julie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, just to follow up on that. The President said yesterday he wanted to see American troops come out of Syria -- come home from Syria.

SANDERS: Absolutely. The goal, again, is to defeat ISIS. And once we completely do that -- we've made significant progress. And when there's no longer a need for troops to be there and we can transition to that local enforcement, that certainly would be the objective.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. So, what does that look like? What is the yardstick for measuring what eradicating ISIS looks like in Syria right now based on the conditions on the ground that military commanders are looking at? And secondly, what did he tell his commanders yesterday during this meeting about how quickly he wants to see that play out?

SANDERS: As the President has maintained, since the beginning, he's not going to put an arbitrary timeline. He is measuring it in actually winning the battle, not just putting some random number out there, but making sure that we actually win, which we've been doing. We're going to continue doing that and that determination will be made by the Department of Defense and the Secretary of Defense which the President has given authority to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But what do you mean by transitioning to local forces doing more --

SANDERS: To training and helping transition to local forces to make sure there isn't a reemergence of ISIS in Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will that be happening now?

SANDERS: We've been -- that's continuing. We've been doing that. And we're going to continue to do that and continue making sure that they're prepared to take that. Cecilia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going back to two things that were talked about earlier. This sense of urgency about sending the National Guard to the border -- the Secretary sort of sidestepped this question: Does this have anything to do with the report that the President saw on Fox News?

SANDERS: I think it has everything to do with protecting the people of this country. I don't think this should come as a surprise.

The President has been talking about securing the border for years, since he started on the campaign trail. He wanted to work through Congress. He asked them to do their jobs. He asked them to pass legislation that actually would close loopholes, that would secure our border, that would build a wall. He asked them to do a number of things.

They failed time and time again and now the President is making sure that, in between the Congress actually doing something, he's doing what he can to protect the people of this country. And he's going to continue to do that and look at different measures that he can do that, whether it's through the National Guard, which is what he's doing today; or whether it's through other administrative actions that he has the authority to carry out without having to involve Congress, since they, simply -- Democrats apparently can't show up and actually do their jobs.

Noah. Sorry, I'm going to keep going.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This announcement of sending the military to the border is coming a week before the President makes his first ever trip, as President, to Latin America. What consideration has the administration given to the signal that sends to a region where the United States has had a long history of military involvement that's been very unpopular in the region? And how does that affect his ability to present the United States' vision of Latin America while he's there?

SANDERS: Look, they have tough laws on immigration, too. A lot of countries in Central and South America have infinitely tougher laws than the United States. I think they probably understand that the loopholes that we have in this country are a problem, and we want to be able to work with them to address it.

We want people to come here, but we want them to come here legally. And we're not going to just have an open border where drugs and gangs and other bad actors can come in. But certainly, we want people from those countries to come here responsibly, and legally, and through the proper process. Peter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, on Syria. Just to be very clear that -- you were saying earlier, as the White House said, that the military mission is coming to a rapid end. The President, just a couple of months ago -- just last month -- said, "We should never ever have left," referring to Iraq. He talked about that vacuum. So why wouldn't leaving control over local forces that allow for a new vacuum just repeat what the President promised would not happen?

SANDERS: Again, we're going to make that determination. We're evaluating this as we go. Progress has clearly been made with the complete collapse of the caliphate, and we want to make sure that there isn't a reemergence. And we're counting the Secretary of Defense, and our troops on the ground, and our commanders on the ground to help make that determination.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, he thinks local forces, at some point -- he has confidence that local forces, independently, will be able to manage those countries and those situations?

SANDERS: Certainly, again, we're going to work with those individuals. We're training the local forces, but we also want all of our allies and partners in the region to step up and do more. Again, they have a far greater risk, being right there in that region with ISIS -- if any chance of them reemerging, they're the ones that are at the greatest risk.

[14:55:00] So they should be stepping up and doing more. And the President is calling on other countries to do just that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just quickly, on DACA -- just because, obviously, this is a historic day --

SANDERS: Sorry, I'm just going to keep going because we're running light on time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A quick one on Scott Pruitt. The President called him the other night. Why?

SANDERS: Because he works for the President. It's pretty routine that the President would speak to members of his own staff and Cabinet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was reported that he called to tell him to buck up, to keep fighting.

SANDERS: I'm not going to get into a private conversation that the President had. I can confirm that they had a call. I can tell you that we're reviewing the allegations, and I don't have anything beyond that at this point.

I'm going to take one last question. Mark. Sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, thank you. Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego tweeted, "Using the National Guard to do border security is very expensive. For what it would cost the Guard to make just two arrests at the border, we could give a homeless veteran permanent housing for an entire year." What's your response? And how concerned is the President with the cost of sending the military?

SANDERS: I don't think you can put a cost on American life. The President sees securing the border as a national security issue and protecting Americans. If that congressman is so concerned, maybe he ought to show up and actually support legislation that would fix these problems instead of blaming the President who's actually trying to do something about it. We'd like to see him work with us in partnership and actually do something instead of just complain about it.

Thanks so much, guys. Hope you have a great day.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: So, let's go back to the headline from Kirsten Nielsen. It was on the notion of sending National Guard members to the U.S./Mexico border. As we've heard the last couple days to help curb immigration, how would it work, how immediate would that be. The headline could be as early as tonight, she said. She said with National Guard, they have to work the states and the governors, working in conjunction with them to get the green light. Let me to go retired general mark, we recognize that there were previous administrations to send National Guard to the border. And we know National Guard can mobilize like that. But how do you expect someone to deploy immediately if all the details haven't been worked out yet the states?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You don't. As simple as that. There is a program in the Pentagon I mentioned this last night and one of the CNN programs called Defense Support to Civilian Authorities. We have been doing this for quite some time. There have been, Operation Jump Start was mentioned in the briefing, that was occurring back during the Bush administration, where you had about 6,000 federalized forces, supporting the border agents.

That support came in variety of ways. It was logistics support, driving trucks for them, doing meals for them so they could put the massive amount of border security doing their job. Whenever you have a decrease in border agents, the ones who do the arrests in the law enforcement, you have to support and sometimes DOD, Department of Defense is asked to do that.

In this case the National Guard is not being federalized under the Northern Command's control. They're being asked to go to the border and provide support. On a daily basis, we have aero stats, the big balloons that have cameras on them and some of the soldiers who are preparing to become UAV pilots actually train on the borders. All of that goes on, on a daily basis.

When the secretary couldn't tell what the numbers were, what the costs were, what they were doing, what the deployment plans were, truthfully, I just was shaking my head. This was thrown together rather quickly, and it is not a very good plan when you talk about the border states that will deploy National Guardsmen into these areas.

BALDWIN: Let me bring in one other perspective, Barbara Starr. Our Pentagon correspondent. You were listening what did you think?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: In recalling the President's original words, he said he wanted to use the military to secure the border. That is not what is happening. The National Guard is of course part of the United States military, but I think most people thought he was referring to active duty troops. That's not happening. We're talking National Guard working with state governors, activated by governors.

As a General Hertling said, it is almost routine. It has happened under Democrats and Republicans. No idea yet. Key questions. What will their exact tasks be? They won't be doing law enforcement. They won't be arresting anybody. How long will they stay? We don't know the could start moving within the coming hour.

BALDWIN: Lastly, Dana Bash, I've got 60 seconds, the politics of all of this. Why is he doing this?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are lots of reasons. First and foremost, we have seen the President on Twitter and elsewhere beat the drum on issues that he feels the base is demanding of him. Immigration, obviously, is first and foremost in his mind and has been since the campaign. So, we've seen that go on really for the past week. And it has accelerated every day.

[16:00:00] I think the fact that Secretary Nielsen didn't have the facts and figures, General Hertling is right, means it is being rushed and you have to keep in mind, as we've heard. The governors have to go along with this. Three of the states along the border have Republican governors, probably won't be an issue. Jerry Brown in California, he hasn't said anything now. He has 140 miles of border with Canada -- I'm sorry, with Mexico, and the last I saw, I was looking around. He criticized the Texas governor for sending National Guard troops to the border. So is hard to imagine that he would go along with it. There is a pretty large border that has Trump friends who will go along with him.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much. We'll let Jake continue this conversation. "THE LEAD" starts right now.