California gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner said Wednesday that she is committed to building former President Donald Trump’s wall at the southern border but that she favors “modernizing” the nation’s immigration system to help some of the undocumented immigrants in this country gain US citizenship.
Jenner, who is challenging Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the Republican-led effort to recall him, did not offer any specifics Wednesday night about what changes are needed in the immigration system during her first television interview as a candidate, with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. But she appeared to be trying to straddle the line of appearing compassionate while also describing herself as “pro-law enforcement” and “pro-border protection.”
“We need to spend some money to have a fair and equitable immigration system,” she said when Hannity asked her if she supported “sanctuary cities.” “I am all for the wall. I would secure the wall. We can’t have a state, we can’t have a country without a secure wall.”
When Hannity asked whether she would “eliminate all of the sanctuary status that currently exists in this state,” she replied, “I would do my absolute best to do that.”
At the same time, she added: “We are a compassionate country, OK? We are a compassionate state. … Some people, we are going to send back. No question about that. … But I have met some of the greatest immigrants into our country.”
At one point, Jenner mistakenly said, “I am pro-illegal immigration,” and Hannity quickly clarified that she meant “pro-legal immigration.”
“Legal immigration, yes,” Jenner replied. “Thanks for catching me.”
In a state where more than a fifth of likely voters are Latino, Jenner is clearly attempting to position herself as a GOP candidate who could appeal to a broader spectrum of voters by adopting a more moderate approach on issues like immigration than Trump and other leaders within the GOP base.
Jenner, who announced her candidacy on Twitter late last month, described herself as a socially progressive, fiscally conservative Republican who would advocate lower taxes, less regulation and a “more friendly business environment.” Her inclusive framing of her candidacy is an imperative in a state where Democrats now outnumber GOP voters by more than 2 to 1.
Last month, state officials announced that recall organizers had gathered enough valid signatures for the effort to qualify for the ballot this year, but there are still several procedural steps – including allowing voters to withdraw their support for the recall – before the potential election will be officially announced. No date has been set.
“I can get along with anybody, Sean,” Jenner said when Hannity asked her what she meant when she described herself as a “compassionate disrupter” in a video introducing her candidacy.
“Honestly, I don’t really care if you’re a Republican, a Democrat, a libertarian, vegetarian. You know, it doesn’t make any difference to me,” she said. “I want solutions. If the Democrats are able to come up with great solutions, I am behind that 100%. Solutions to bring this state back, and to give the power of this state back to the people and not to the special interests and Gavin Newsom.”
Though Jenner initially supported Trump, one complication in her effort to win over his supporters in California is that she publicly rescinded her support for the then-President in 2018 in a Washington Post op-ed where she said his administration’s policies were harmful to transgender people.
Jenner, who is running one of the most high-profile campaigns by a transgender person in the nation, now counts some Trump loyalists among her advisers, including Brad Parscale, who ran Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, among others.
“What I liked about Donald Trump is he was a disrupter. You know? He came in and shook the system up,” Jenner said. “A lot of people didn’t like that in Washington, DC, but he came in and shook the system up. I think he did some things that I agreed with, some things I didn’t agree with. On trans issues, LGBT issues, I was more hopeful at the beginning. But there were some good things he did. On the other hand – (President Joe) Biden – I don’t think I’ve agreed with anything.”
Though coronavirus case rates have dropped dramatically in California and the state’s health department reported just two deaths from Covid-19 on Tuesday – the lowest daily toll in more than a year – Jenner was sharply critical Wednesday night of Newsom’s handling of the pandemic. She said she would open up the state without restrictions immediately if she were governor.
The former Olympian also described Newsom as a “hypocrite” beholden to special interests who had abandoned working people and small businesses during the pandemic with restrictive orders that he said were necessary to reduce surging case numbers and protect the state’s limited intensive care unit capacity. Jenner faulted Newsom for attending the birthday party of a lobbyist at the exclusive French Laundry restaurant last November at a time when he was asking Californians to avoid gatherings with members outside their households. Newsom has apologized profusely for that decision and described his attendance at the gathering as a mistake.
But while attempting to portray Newsom as an elitist, Jenner did not downplay her own wealth, noting the interview was taking place in her airplane hangar and offering Hannity a ride in her plane as soon as they finished filming.
Jenner charged that Newsom used Covid restrictions as a “political tool” to “control people.”
“It is like there is one set of rules for Sacramento and there’s another set of rules for everybody else. I mean, you’ve seen the video of him at The French Laundry, OK?” Jenner said. “I can’t go down to my restaurant, and all the employees in that restaurant on there are not working. OK? And he is up there dining. … I’m really fighting the hypocrisy that’s going on.”