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President Trump Sends National Guard Troops to U.S.-Mexico Border; President Trump Reportedly Seeking to Pull U.S. Troops Out of Syria; Interview with Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 5, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Because of the Trump administration actions border crossings are still at an unacceptable 46-year low. Stop drugs.

The president's fixation on this issue has caused his aides to figure out how to get National Guard troops at the border to deal with what they're saying is a surge in illegal immigrants crossing over this spring.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be boarding our border with the military. That's a big step.

PHILLIP: President Trump officially signing a memorandum to deploy the National Guard to the border with Mexico, calling the situation a point of crisis after fuming about immigration for days.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: It will take time to have the details in place. But we are beginning today and we are moving quickly.

PHILLIP: The memorandum declaring that the security of the United States is imperiled by a drastic surge of illegal activity on the southern border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is this such an urgent priority right now for the president to sign?

NIELSEN: I think what I would say is 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.

PHILLIP: Data from a Department of Homeland Security study last fall indicated illegal border crossings through 2016 were at their lowest point in nearly five decades, a continuing trend Mr. Trump has repeatedly bragged about.

TRUMP: I'm very proud to say that we're way down in the people coming across the border. We have fewer people trying to come across because they know it's not going to happen. PHILLIP: But late Wednesday new Border Patrol statistics show a 37

percent spike in attempted border crossings in the last month. The secretary of Homeland Security saying this when pressed about President Trump's suggestion that the military pay for the border wall.

NIELSEN: What he meant was there are some lands that the Department of Defense owns right on the border that are actually areas where we see elicit activity. We're looking into options for the military to build wall on military installations on the border.

PHILLIP: The "Wall Street Journal" reports that U.S. officials are planning to build a wall along at least part of the bombing range along the Arizona-Mexico border. But the military installation only covers 31 of the nearly 2,000-mile-long border.

This as CNN learns new details about President Trump's tense meeting with his national security team Tuesday. Sources say the president grew irritated with his military brass when they advised him against immediately withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria days after Mr. Trump said this.

TRUMP: We'll be coming out of Syria very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.

PHILLIP: Senior administration officials say the president complained at length about the amount of money being spent in the region, telling advisers he wants troops out of Syria within the next six months. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders releasing a statement Wednesday night insisting that the administration won't rest until the Syrian regime is held accountable for chemical attacks after saying this about the president's desire to pull troops out of the country.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We want to focus on transitioning to 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.


PHILLIP: The president is going to be trying to pivot back to taxes today. He's heading to West Virginia for a tax roundtable. And all of this, the border, Syria, taxes, an effort for the president and Republicans to really focus on Republican voters ahead of what could be a very difficult 2018 midterm election cycle, Alisyn and David.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, thank you so much, Abby. So let's bring in CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein to talk about this, and associate editor of Real Clear Politics A.B. Stoddard. Great to see both of you.

So A.B., the president has, as of this morning, tweeted 13 times about immigration and these so called caravans of Central Americans who are heading to the U.S. border, 13 times since Sunday morning. Sunday morning, interestingly, was the morning that "FOX and Friends Weekend" first talked about the caravans of immigrants heading towards the U.S. border. And what's interesting, A.B., is that we often talk about, well, do the tweets matter? Are the tweets just venting? It has actually turned into policy since Sunday. So the president is now sending National Guard troops to the border either because people got in his ear -- we know he dined with FOX News hosts, or because he's seen an uptick in March of illegal border crossings, which is true, there has been a 37 percent uptick. So how do you see it, A.B.?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: It's interesting. If you watch the tweets, and the tweets are official policy, Alisyn. You can see there was a response on Easter Sunday from a foreign minister in Mexico pushing back on the fact that the president was suggesting that Mexico was letting in all these droves of people and wasn't enforcing their laws.

[08:05:00] Clearly someone got to Trump, and you've seen in the subsequent tweets that he keeps praising their strong immigration laws. Now what will be interesting is we know he wants to keep the focus on this topic. He wants to talk about the danger of the caravan, the statement about bringing the National Guard to the border, talks about a drastic surge. The surge numbers are real. This is the time of the year where they do increase. But once he takes credit for convincing the Mexican government to mitigate the threat of the caravan and reduce the number of people coming, will there be a need for the National Guard?

It will be interesting to see how he keeps the political focus on this topic, which he's very keen on doing, while he discusses what a real crisis we have at the border.

The last point I'd make no one is talking about which is this puts incredible pressure on Congressional Republicans to come up with something while they still have the majority, to pass some kind of immigration law that clearly they have no intention of doing.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Ron, if you look at the history of this going back two administrations, it's always set against a backdrop of either a failed comprehensive immigration bill or some demonstration of force to be able to get something.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Look, he is in the position now where having rejected a deal of a DACA legalization for the border wall because he also wanted reductions in legal immigration where he is unlikely to have any legislative progress on this key campaign promise, so he is moving unilaterally to send a signal in the same direction.

The idea that there is a crisis, though, just simply does not hold up. Yes, there is an uptick in March. But if you look at the bigger picture here, for the first five months of this fiscal year, border apprehensions are lower than they were in 2016 and 2015, that the overall trajectory is that in the early part of this century we were running at about 1.5 million apprehensions a year at the southern border. We are now down to about 300,000. That's occurred across multiple administrations, important to point out.

And the best estimates are that the undocumented population peaked in 2007 and is now somewhere between 1 million and 1.5 million below its peak in 2007. And two-thirds of the undocumented in the U.S. have been here for 10 years or more. So the idea that there is some sudden collapse of security on the southern border that requires this step I think is very difficult to sustain.

And I think it is also a mistake to see this as an individual kind of episode. It has to be seen in context of the moves he is making on trade at the same time with the tariffs on China and the aluminum and steel imports. It is just a reminder of how central to his political project this kind of insular nationalism is that views the world as a threat to American security and prosperity that essentially has to be walled off.

CAMEROTA: The secretary of Homeland Security sees it differently. She did provide what she says is some evidence, at least verbal evidence, in the press briefing yesterday that they're seeing, she says, an uptick in advertising from traffickers.

BEVAN: They are.

CAMEROTA: So listen to the secretary of homeland security.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is this such an urgent priority right now for the president to sign?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I think what I would say is 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. We are seeing more and more advertising, very unfortunately, by the traffickers and smugglers to our south, specific to how to get around our system and enter our country and stay. Why today, not yesterday, tomorrow. Today is the day.


CAMEROTA: A.B., any thoughts?

STODDARD: Again, those numbers are real. It is the season where there's an increase in attempted crossings. Again, the onus is on the Republicans who control the entire government to come up with something. If it is not an actual wall, there is $1.6 billion for some wall in the last spending bill. There's going to have to be some other terms of enforcement that President Trump and the Republican Congress can say they have put into place so that they can stop blaming the Obama laws or the Obama-era laws that President Trump keeps talking about.

The pressure he is putting on Republicans by blaming them and saying it's all on Congress again is going to come at a great political cost because ultimately the onus is on the Republican Party which controls the entire government to come up with a solution and not blame prior administrations.

BROWNSTEIN: Where this gets really illogical real quick is when you look at the tweets, the threat from the president has been that if Mexico doesn't crack down now we're going to rescind or revoke NAFTA. You cannot imagine a more counterproductive action if your goal is to reduce pressure on the southern border.

[08:10:03] As I said, the big decline in border crossings came basically in the period from 2005 to 2015. And part of that is smarter and tougher enforcement, but a big part of that is NAFTA has created more economic opportunity in Mexico so there are fewer people crossing the border and looking for work in the U.S.

If you did rescind or severely hobble NAFTA, you would create again that supply side push from Mexico that has largely been substantially reduced in the last decade or so. And it's one reason why, as I said, apprehensions at the border are down 80 percent from what they were at the turn of the 21st century regardless of the very real uptick we are seeing now.

GREGORY: We want to turn quickly to Syria while we have you both here. Here is a president who says I'm going to do everything it takes to defeat is, not going to telegraph my plans about what we're going to do militarily. And now A.B. he's saying, publicly troops are going to come out soon. And now we know from our own reporting that he says I want them all out in six months. Quite a shift.

CAMEROTA: Listen to this.


TRUMP: I'm not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don't talk about military response. I don't want to be one of these guys that say, yes, here is what we're going to do. I don't have to do that.

The late great General Douglas MacArthur and General Patton are spinning in their grave when they hear what we do, how we announce exactly what we're going to do.

I don't want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is. I'm not going to call you up and say, Matt, we have a great plan. This is what Obama does.


GREGORY: So there's the switch, A.B.

STODDARD: President Trump is not the first president to learn that campaigning is different than governing. But I will say this, what we know is they've been talking about Syria all along. This is not a new discussion. He's heard from advisers, the many different ones who have come and have gone about why we must remain in Syria, and the handoff to local forces in Iraq is a subject that's not comparable to what our situation is in Syria.

What's interesting here is that we know from President Trump, there's two themes he always strikes. He likes victories and he doesn't like the feeling that other companies are ripping us off. So rhetorically I think he's going to continue to keep talking about the idea that we should leave while the most important part of the reporting is that Secretary of Defense Mattis has not drawn up any official withdrawal plans.

GREGORY: Quickly, Ron, we've got to go.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick, connect the dots. Troops at the border, tariffs on China, withdrawing from Syria, it is a reminder this insular nationalism is so central to his worldview and that many of the restraints on it, the voices of the traditional Republican international engagement, have been removed from the administration. And this is probably what Republicans in Congress can look forward to more than not over the remainder of this presidential term.

GREGORY: Ron Brownstein, A.B. Stoddard, thank you both so much.

Coming up next, the Trump administration pushing back on China trade war fears. Are the tariffs just a negotiating tactic? We'll ask former treasury secretary Larry Summers what he thinks about that coming up.


[08:16:45] CAMEROTA: The Trump administration downplaying concerns of a trade war, with some officials suggesting the proposed tariffs on China are just part of negotiations.


PHILLIP: Could we lose the trade war?

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: No. How is that? I'll accede to you. I don't see it that way. This is a negotiation using all the tools.

WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: Even shooting wars end with negotiations, so it wouldn't be surprises at all if the net outcome of all this is some sort of a negotiation.


CAMEROTA: All right. So let's discuss this with Larry Summers. He was the treasury secretary under President Clinton.

Secretary Summers, thank you very much for being here.

What do you think of this negotiating tactic?

LAWRENCE SUMMERS, DIRECTOR OF THE WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don't think much of it. I think you've seen in the market response to it, a judgment that it's playing with fire. That it's dangerous.

Look, they may think it's a negotiation and it may turn out to be that, but the uncertainty and the risks around protection will cause businesses to pull apart, will cause businesses not to produce in the most efficient way, will cause businesses to look for other than the most efficient business partners. So, the climate of uncertainty that's created is pretty dangerous, and the strategy they're using which is to go at products that are imported by American manufacturing companies is almost calculated to make American producers less competitive.

For example, 40 times as many people work in steel-using industries as work in the steel industry. So when you put it to steel, you're hurting a lot more people than you're helping. Frankly, this is a bit of a "stop or I'll shoot myself in the foot" strategy.

CAMEROTA: At the moment, these are just threats. Nothing has been imposed yet. These are threats. If there were the imposition of these tariffs, then are we in a trade war?

SUMMERS: Yes. Look, I think when you're making these kinds of threats and businesses responding, you're kind of in the early stages of a trade war when you declare your attention to attack somebody you're in a war before the actual invasion.

So, I don't think the semantic question of whether this is yet a trade war is the important one. The important one is, are we helping or hurting the economy?

And, look, it's absolutely clear what the market thinks. Every time it looks like we're pushing ahead, the market plummets. And when it looks like we're retreating from our policy announcements, the market rises.

That doesn't seem like the way you want to make policy, especially if, as is the case with this administration, it prides itself on being a business-oriented administration and it's got a president who is always talking about the stock market. So, I have trouble seeing the logic of the way they're going about it.

Yes, we should go after China. Yes, we should be in dialogue with China, but a much quieter, firmer strategy with much less bluster and much more following through. Yes, we should go after China. Yes, we should be in dialogue with China, but a much quieter, firmer strategy with much less bluster and much more following through.

[08:20:08] CAMEROTA: But what's firmer strategy that imposing a tariff on them?

SUMMERS: Well, the problem is, we say we're going to impose the tariff. And when the market goes down, the White House economic adviser comes out and says we're a long way from imposing any tariff. Nobody quite knows what's going on. Much quieter kind of diplomacy focused on very specific objectives involving technology and crucially complemented by strengthening our own hand.

Look, what we need to do is figure out how to win at artificial intelligence. That's about our programs, our research and development here, the kinds of people we let into the country to work as entrepreneurs in artificial intelligence. We need to win in pharmaceuticals. That's about the kind of medical

research base we support here. We need to win in logistics. That's about the kind of infrastructure we have.

If all we do is bluster about Beijing, that's not going to be a strategy that works. That's the strategy the British tried for many years in different ways about Germany and the United States, and it cost them their leadership in a global economy.

CAMEROTA: Well, look, as you know, President Trump has been saying for a long time, even before he was president that China doesn't play fair. They have stolen intellectual property. It's time to level the playing field.

I mean, this is a tweet he put out about a possible trade war about a month ago. So, this is where his head was and seems to still be. Let me read it to you: When a country, the USA, is losing billions of trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good and easy to win.

Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don't trade anymore. We win big. It's easy, exclamation point.

Your response to that?

SUMMERS: The idea -- nonsense. He measures whether we're winning or losing from trade by the trade deficit or the trade surplus. When Americans all across the country are getting access to cheaper computers, cheaper clothing, cheaper steel as inputs into our cars, I don't call that losing.

When I go and buy something at Walmart at a lower price, I don't call that losing. Mr. President, notwithstanding, when I buy something at a lower price than I could have imagined five years ago from Amazon, I don't call that losing.

So, the whole idea that when you buy, you're losing, seems to me to be a profound confusion and an especially dangerous one. As with these tariffs, when it's our businesses that are buying and are buying input in order to compete with businesses all over the world. I can't imagine a greater gift to businesses from Korea or Germany than for us to say that input from China are expensive when they're saying that input are cheap.

This is a policy to reduce American competitiveness, not to increase American competitiveness.

CAMEROTA: You just brought up Amazon, and I do want to get your take on what the president is doing from Amazon and Jeff Bezos since the president who has been tweeting about him, who of course owns "The Washington Post," who we believe the president thinks has done unflattering coverage of him. Their stock is down 7 percent.

What do you think about a president picking winners and losers, going after particular companies? SUMMERS: Well, picking winners and losers is problematic. Going on

jihads with the power of the federal government against companies whose CEO's private activity he doesn't find congenial, that's not the stuff of democracy. That's the stuff of much more totalitarian countries.

We've got all kinds of safeguards here and I don't think we're going to become a fascist country, but make no mistake, that's a Mussolini tactic, not an American tactic. And it's one that's potentially quite dangerous for our business confidence.

Are there issues about predator pricing or whatever that appropriate experts should be monitoring with respect to Amazon? Of course. But for the president of the United States to go on an attack against a particular company motivated by a private holding of its CEO, that is not the American way.

[08:25:02] And that is something that should make Americans, and frankly, it should make pro-business Republicans who seem most strongly the benefits of American corporations, it should make them most nervous.

It's a kind of thing that, if a liberal progressive Democrat did, they would be berserk about how dangerous it was for the economy. This is something that's very problematic.

CAMEROTA: Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, thank you very much forgiving us all of your perspective.

SUMMERS: Thank you.


GREGORY: So is president's tough talk on the border and plans to deploy the National Guard scaring migrants? We'll speak with reporters traveling with the caravan of Central Americans through Mexico, coming up next.


GREGORY: A lot of talk this morning about a caravan coming out of Central America.