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ANNOUNCER: THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS starts right now.
MARTHA RADDATZ, CO-ANCHOR “THIS WEEK”: Battle over the border.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We’re going to have a wall. We’re going to have safety.
RADDATZ: President Trump digging in on his demand for a border wall as the government shutdown drags into its second week.
TRUMP: I can’t tell you when the government’s going to be open. I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they’d like to call it.
RADDATZ: The president now threatening to close the southern border. U.S. officials conceding a humanitarian crisis. So what’s needed to protect the border and respond to the influx of migrants and how will the new Congress respond? We speak exclusively with the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, plus the incoming chair of the House Democratic Caucus responds. And —
TRUMP: We’re no longer the suckers, folks.
RADDATZ: President Trump makes a surprise visit to U.S. troops in Iraq, delivering a free-wheeling defense of his domestic agenda and foreign policy. Did the president politicize the military during his trip? And is Trump’s America first approach in America’s best interest? Retired four star general Stanley McChrystal takes on Trump —
RADDATZ: You think he’s a liar?
STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, U.S. ARMY GENERAL (RET.): I don’t think he tells the truth.
RADDATZ: Plus, 2019 promises to be a wild year. We’ll look ahead with our Powerhouse Roundtable.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it’s THIS WEEK. Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
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RADDATZ: Good morning and welcome to THIS WEEK. We’re now nine days into the partial government shutdown and seemingly no closer to a resolution. Nancy Pelosi, who’s set to take over as House Speaker Thursday, has said her party will, quote, act swiftly to end the Trump shutdown when Congress returns. She insists Democrats will support funding for border security, but not a border wall. The president is digging in his heels. In a series of tweets, Trump made his demands clear — “We build a wall or close the southern border”. He’s also threatening to cut off aid to three Central American countries where many of the recent migrants are fleeing violence and poverty.
That influx of new migrants is real and growing. This month nearly 25,000 children, a record, are expected to be apprehended at the southern border. And this week the Trump administration came under renewed scrutiny after a second migrant child died while in U.S. custody. But as President Trump blames Democrats for the impasse over wall funding, what’s really needed to address the humanitarian and security concerns at the border?
RADDATZ: To help us separate rhetoric from reality, we’re joined this morning exclusively by Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. Welcome to THIS WEEK, commissioner. And we’re going to start with the sad news. You have now had two young migrant children from Guatemala die in CBP custody in the past three weeks — 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo died just last week and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin earlier in December. What more have you learned about the circumstances of those deaths?
KEVIN MCALEENAN, COMMISSIONER, CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: Yes, two deaths this month. Just absolutely devastating for us on every level. It’s been over a decade since we’ve had a child die anywhere in our processes. What I can tell you about these two cases — and I’ve looked at our operation reporting, the initial investigative reporting, I looked at the fathers’ statements and interviews — is that our agents did everything they could as soon as these children manifested symptoms of illness to save their lives.
Jakelin was 94 miles away from the nearest border patrol station. She started to vomit on — on a bus ride to that station, our agents got her there as quickly as they could, where we had a paramedic waiting — an agent who’s a paramedic to — to revive her and get her into emergency medical service and life flight her to a children’s hospital in El Paso. In Felipe’s case, it was actually a border patrol agent who noticed his symptoms and made the decision to take him and his father to the emergency room, where he had the treatment of doctors in Alma Gorda, New Mexico.
RADDATZ: And — and what’s being done to assure this doesn’t happen again?
MCALEENAN: So first of all — and I think the lead-in was — is absolutely appropriate. The — the humanitarian crisis we’re facing — that means there are 60,000 people crossing the border each month — each of the last three months. That’s 30,000 families, 5,000 kids per month. That means we’re going to have 22,000 children come through our system, a system built for adults who are violators of the law. Now they’re coming in to border patrol stations as young children. So that — that’s a huge crisis.
What — what we’ve done immediately, Secretary Nielsen and I have directed that we do medical checks of children 17 and under as they come into our process. That’s not a capacity we’ve had in the past. We’ve checked everyone we currently have in custody. We’re working with ICE to make sure we can transfer them to a better situation for families and children as quickly as possible. But we’re also trying to — to really change the system so that we have the capacity — either with doctors, physicians assistants, paramedics — to do an initial intake check so that we know if a child is healthy as they arrive at the border and then make sure they can get medical care if they need it.
RADDATZ: Could more have been done to prepare for this? I know you have a surge. I know you say it’s unprecedented with the number of children. But the Flores settlement which says children have to be released after 20 days has been in place since 1997. You had an influx of minors in 2014. Couldn’t you have mobilized for this possibility?
MCALEENAN: Well, we have actually. Within our current budget authority, I’ve already directed additional spending on medical care and mental health care for children entering our custody.
RADDATZ: But why are we at a breaking point now, as Kirstjen Nielsen says?
MCALEENAN: The breaking point at the border is because of the volume. Now, you mentioned the Flores settlement, sure it was 1997 but it was actually a 2015 case, then upheld by the 9th Circuit in 2016 that started this dynamic of families being released without any possibility of completing the immigration proceeding or repatriating those who didn’t have a meritorious claim.
So basically that sent a signal, if you arrive with a child, you’ll be able to stay in the United States. And that’s why we’ve seen continued growth month after month of people coming with children. And frankly, Felipe and Jakelin’s parents both said the same thing when they were interviewed about why they came now and what they thought would happen when they arrived at the border.
RADDATZ: Secretary Nielsen, DHS Secretary Nielsen said in a statement she laid blame on smugglers, those who want open borders and migrant parents who put their children at risk by taking the journey. The president blamed the opposing party. Does the federal government bear any responsibility for these deaths?
MCALEENAN: So I think this is a multifaceted problem that requires a multifaceted solution. You mentioned the legal framework, based on that Flores settlement and the court decision families are going to be released. So that’s inviting families into this dangerous journey. We need a sober-minded, nonpartisan look at our immigration laws to really confront and grapple with the fact that children and families are coming into this cycle, that’s first and foremost.
We also need to invest in Central America. The State Department’s announcement of an unprecedented increase in aid, I think, is a tremendous step forwards. There are green shoots of progress, both on security and the economic front in Central America, we need to foster that and help improve the opportunities to stay at home.
We need to partner with Mexico, no question. We need to work with the new administration of President Lopez Obrador and have a joint plan for dealing with migrants in the hands of transnational criminal organizations.
RADDATZ: Let — let me go back to — to Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, you have traveled there, you talked about that aid package. If there wasn’t aid going into there, if that aid was cut off, what would the result be? More problems?
MCALEENAN: Well, I think that the need is for an accountable partner on — on this — in the part of the Guatemalan, Honduran, and El Salvadorian governments. When we work together with well-targeted programs and really targeting them at areas that are — we’re seeing migration, like the Western Highlands of Guatemala where there’s a real poverty and hunger crisis — it’s one of the most food-insecure regions in the hemisphere, huge rates of malnutrition.
USAID along with USDA have great programs there to try to foster that but we need the government to step in and join us in that effort. And I think with the Mexican government coming in now also expressing investment and development in Central America as a priority, we’ve got a real opportunity to make a difference.
RADDATZ: I want to move to the wall, the border wall. The Southern Border is nearly 2,000 miles long. But establish how much new border wall has been built since President Trump took office.
MCALEENAN: So — and — and that’s the fourth element of the strategy I was about to finish with is — is we need investments on the border security side, in addition to the humanitarian needs that I — that I already spoke to. The border all in F.Y. ’17 President Trump’s first budget, we got about $300 million to — to start building new wall for the first time in years. We built 35 out of those 40 miles already, that’s — that’s a record time for a major government procurement of this nature. And we’re already on contract and launching construction for the F.Y. ’18-funded, fiscal year ’18-funded priorities as well.
RADDATZ: I — I’ve been along that border and driven most of that border, there are areas where the wall is clearly ineffective. People are climbing over that wall. How much of that border do you think the wall that exists, or the fencing that exists is ineffective?
MCALEENAN: Right. So our wall system priorities are derived from our agents in the field. They — they offer the capabilities they need to achieve control of their sector — their — theor area of responsibility. So we — we’ve asked for about 1,000 miles of wall in our top 17 priorities on the primary line. These are areas where we have a dense metropolitan area on both sides of the border, where people can disappear quickly into a neighborhood in the U.S. side if we can’t slow them down. And what we’re talking about is not just a dumb barrier, we’re talking about sensors, cameras, lighting, access roads for our agents, a system that helps us secure that area of the border. That’s what we were asking Congress.
RADDATZ: So — so if — if you got — if the administration got $5 billion for a wall, would you want part of that money to be spent for all these technologies that you’re talking about?
MCALEENAN: Absolutely. That’s included in — in the ask of Congress. It’s about 215 miles of wall system which has all of those capabilities included in it.
RADDATZ: And — and you’ve said you need this border security investment. There’s a lot of congressmen I’ve talked to down there who say look, you — you get the wall up there and a drone will just fly over. That’s how they’re delivering drugs and — and other illegal substances.
MCALEENAN: Well, no one’s asking for only a single focus on border security investments. We’ve asked for —
RADDATZ: But — but when you look at a wall, can’t that just be overtaken by a drone or some other method of getting through?
MCALEENAN: When you’re talking about 60,000 people flowing across the border, when you’re talking about drug smuggling increasing between ports of entry, hard narcotics, synthetic opioids, methamphetamine coming — 25 percent increase the — last year. We’ve seen it increase again the first three months of this year. We need a barrier to help us stop that, to push into — the traffic into areas that we can control more effectively. And it’s a multi-faceted approach. Sure, we need counter drone technology too. We appreciate Congress giving the secretary the authority to start exploring that.
We need to attack all of the different vectors that could threaten us.
RADDATZ: And just quickly — you’re having a crisis now. You’re — said you’re at a breaking point, you want money for a wall and other border security but that’s not going to happen quickly so how do you deal with this?
MCALEENAN: But we also need — need money to provide a better process, a different approach for families and children crossing. We’re going to be — in December, 65 percent of our crossings are family and — families and children. We don’t want them in border patrol stations, we want them in a better scenario for these vulnerable populations that we’re seeing. So that’s an immediate thing that we can do much more quickly. The surveillance technology we can deploy very fast. And it’s just for the between the ports. Our ports of entry, these huge gateways for — for our economy, $4 trillion — $2 billion a day on the Southwest border.
We need to be able to stop drugs coming through in vehicles and being carried by individuals crossing that border, too, and we need technology to help us do that.
RADDATZ: Thank you so much, commissioner, for explaining all this to us this morning.
MCALEENAN: Thank you.
RADDATZ: Thanks very much.
And joining us now is Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He’ll serve as chair of the House Democratic caucus, part of the new Democratic leadership. Good morning, congressman. You heard the CBP commissioner say they are overwhelmed at this point and he has asked Congress for funds to improve conditions and medical care for children. Are Democrats prepared to approve that?
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Well, we’re certainly prepared to provide additional funding for enhanced fencing, technology, drones, satellites, lighting, sensors, cell phone towers and the things the experts have clearly indicated would improve our border security. In addition to that, we certainly want to enhance the ability of our officials at the Southwest border to conduct themselves in a humane fashion and to avoid the type of tragedies that occurred with Jakelin and Felipe. That was unacceptable, un-American and unconscionable and we need to do better.
RADDATZ: Do you think the federal government bears any of the blame?
JEFFRIES: Well I think the Trump administration bears blame to the extent the buck stops at the top. And at the end of the day, you had two young innocent children die in American custody. That should never occur.
RADDATZ: The president in a tweet blamed the Democrats for the death of the two Guatemalan children, saying “any deaths of children or others at the border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally. They can’t. If we had a wall, they wouldn’t even try.” Your reaction to that?
JEFFRIES: Well that’s a completely unreasonable statement from the president but not unsurprising. At the end of the day, many of the families and the children who are leaving these very violent Northern Triangle, Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are fleeing places that are overrun with gangs, with drug activity, with sexual predation. Many of them have a credible fear of persecution consistent with our asylum laws.
They have a legal right to be heard to determine whether they have a basis for establishing asylum. And the fact that Donald Trump continues to ignore that legal reality is just shameful.
RADDATZ: The Trump administration announced it’s reached an agreement with the Mexican government for asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while they seek asylum. Are you on board with that process?
JEFFRIES: Well I’m not sure whether we can believe anything that has been said as it relates to the Trump administration reaching an agreement with the Mexican government. This is the same president who repeatedly promised the American people that Mexico would pay for the wall that he plans to build.
Now he’s trying to extract $5 billion from the American taxpayer to pay for something that clearly would be ineffective. We’ll look at whatever agreements he ultimately presents but that is not a credible proposed solution to the challenges that we face at our Southwest border.
RADDATZ: And I want to ask you about that $5 billion in a moment, but I — I want to ask you first about the killing of a young California police officer Ronil Singh. The suspect is an undocumented immigrant. This is what the sheriff said leading the investigation, he said California sanctuary laws stopped local authorities from reporting the suspect to immigration officials during two previous drunk driving arrests.
You’ve defended sanctuary laws. The sheriff says if those laws hadn’t been in place, Officer Singh would be alive today.
JEFFRIES: Well, first of all, that was a very tragic situation and my heart and my prayers go out to the officer’s family as well as to the members of the law enforcement community who work hard sacrifice themselves each and every day to keep us safe. My experience in New York has been different, where members of the NYPD, clearly the most professional highly-trained law enforcement entity in the country, if not the world, has been that these sanctuary laws actually help promote public safety by encouraging cooperation, encouraging communication between community and police in a way that allows the police to better do their job.
RADDATZ: But in California it did not work that way. So address the situation in California. He said Officer Singh would be alive today.
JEFFRIES: Well, you know, I’m not going to take issue with the sheriff’s assessment of the situation, being unfamiliar with California laws. Clearly, it’s a human tragedy. Clearly, we have to do better in terms of preventing these type of occurrences from taking place, and to keep our law enforcement safe to keep our communities safe. That’s what Democrats intend to do and will continue to do on a bipartisan fashion.
RADDATZ: And — and congressman, let’s move back to the shutdown, the partial government shutdown. Nancy Pelosi’s office says House Democrats are considering three options to reopen the government but none of those options include money for a border wall. The president’s team reportedly offered a $2.5 billion compromise. Why isn’t that a good compromise?
JEFFRIES: Well, at its core, our responsibility in government is to manage public money. We can either manage it efficiently or we can waste taxpayer dollars. And what Donald Trump and the Republicans want to do is waste $5 billion in taxpayer money on an ineffective medieval border wall that is a 5th century solution to a 21st century problem.
Yes, we need comprehensive immigration reform. Yes, we need to enhance border security. But we are not willing to pay $2.5 billion or $5 billion and wasting taxpayer dollars on a ransom note because Donald Trump decided that he was going to shutdown the government and hold the American people hostage. That’s unreasonable.
RADDATZ: Is there any circumstances where you would give any funding for a wall or any sort of border? And if not, what do you say to people who are saying it’s — it’s your fault, the Democrats, come January that the government is shut down?
JEFFRIES: Well, first of all, the government’s been shut down now for one of the longest periods of time in modern American history under a situation where Republicans controlled the House, the Senate and the presidency. As you’ve indicated, Leader Pelosi in partnership with Chuck Schumer are going to work expeditiously on January 3rd to reopen the government.
We’ve offered three different alternatives. We’ve offered to put forth bipartisan appropriations bills that have already been agreed to by the House and the Senate related to all of the other departments of the federal government that have been shut down beyond the Department of Homeland Security, and a continuing resolution that would maintain the Department of Homeland Security’s current level of funding. That’s a reasonable proposal. They’ve rejected it.
We’ve offered to put forth a continuing resolution for all of the entities that are shut down through the next fiscal year that would maintain current levels of funding. That’s a reasonable proposal. They’ve rejected it.
We’ve also offered to put forth a proposal that would continue the current levels of funding through February 8th. That’s a bill that passed the Senate unanimously but because Donald Trump decided that he was going to respond to his radical right-wing base rejected it and, therefore, we find ourselves in a government shutdown.
We’ve offered three reasonable proposals …
RADDATZ: OK, Congressman Jeffries, but I’ll — I’ll say again, none of those seem to include a wall, which Donald Trump is — is buckling down on. But thank you very much for joining us this morning.
JEFFRIES: Thank you very much.
RADDATZ: Up next, the president’s decision on troop withdrawals overseas has provoked widespread criticism and the resignation of his own Defense secretary. Is America’s security at risk? We’ll ask the former commander of troops in Afghanistan, retired four-star General Stanley McChrystal.
And later, the powerhouse roundtable looks ahead to 2019. We’ll be right back.
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TRUMP: I don’t know if you folks are aware of what’s happening. We want to have strong borders in the United States. The Democrats don’t want to let us have strong borders. Only for one reason. You know why? Because I want it. But you gave me an idea, just looking at this warrior group. I think I’ll say I don’t want the wall and then they’re going to give it to me. I figured out the solution.
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RADDATZ: That was President Trump in Iraq this week making his first visit to a conflict zone. While the president drew praise for the holiday trip, some say he went too far in injecting politics into his visit with the troops. Retired four star Army general Stanley McChrystal is one of those critics. He served as the top commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan until 2010 and he’s the author of a new book, “Leaders: Myth and Reality.” I sat down with him this week for his take on the commander-in-chief.
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RADDATZ: You saw President Trump there this week talking to troops, not only in Iraq, but in — in Germany. And the speech clearly took a political turn. He was talking about the border wall, he was disparaging Democrats. What did you think when you saw that?
GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE: When leaders visit soldiers, young women and men out in potentially harm’s way, there’s a sacred interaction that occurs.
You have to provide for them leadership. You’re showing that you are there. You’re also listening to their problems. You don’t use that as a time to tout your politics or your personal opinions.
You use it as a time to reassure them that what they are doing is appreciated by people. So, I think it’s very important that we understand the role and a responsibility that leaders have, which is — sometimes transcends what we want to do in the moment.
RADDATZ: And you also saw some of those troops coming forward with red “Make America Great” hats.
RADDATZ: The military rules prohibit active-duty personnel from engaging in partisan political activities and prohibit military personnel from showing any political leanings while in uniform.
Did they violate that?
MCCHRYSTAL: Well, I think they violated the spirit of it.
And I think it’s unfortunate, because, if the U.S. military becomes politicized, it will be something we’re not happy with.
RADDATZ: As we talk here today, Syria’s military is poised to enter the Kurdish-held town of Manbij. What do you think is going to happen there without U.S. troops?
MCCHRYSTAL: Well, I think there’s every likelihood that the Kurds come up in a very difficult position.
We leveraged Kurdish military prowess and capabilities to help deal with ISIS. And I think we did that well. I also think we created a relationship and an expectation with them that was natural. They thought that we would help protect them.
I think now there’s every likelihood that Bashar al-Assad’s forces will do whatever damage they can to the Kurds to try to remind the Kurds that they are in an area in which they are very, very vulnerable.
RADDATZ: Outside of the Kurds, what difference does it make, does it really make, if those 2,000 U.S. forces leave?
You never know until we see how things play out. My sense is that we have a tumultuous regime — or region now that has a Russian presence, which had been out for about 30 years after the 1973 war, and now Russia’s back, and they’re back in an influential way.
Iran has increased influence across the region now. If you pull American influence out, you’re likely to have greater instability. And, of course, it will be much more difficult for the United States to try to push events in any direction.
There is an argument that says we just pull up our stuff, go home, let the region run itself. That has not done well for the last 50 or 60 years.
RADDATZ: And I take it you don’t believe ISIS is defeated?
MCCHRYSTAL: I don’t believe ISIS is defeated. I think ISIS is as much an idea as it is a number of ISIS fighters.
There’s a lot of intelligence that says there are actually more ISIS fighters around the world now than there were a couple of years ago. Doesn’t mean we didn’t do well against ISIS in Iraq and in much of Syria.
But ISIS is an idea. And as long as the fertile ground exists, the causes that cause people to flock to a movement as extreme as ISIS exist, you’re going to have it flare back up again.
RADDATZ: In Afghanistan, the president has ordered them to start looking at drawing down half of those troops there. Do you see that as a problem?
MCCHRYSTAL: I think the great mistake in the president’s leaked guidance is that, just when we were starting to sit down with the Taliban, just when we were starting to begin negotiations, he basically traded away the biggest leverage point we have.
If you tell the Taliban that we are absolutely leaving on date certain, cutting down, weakening ourselves, their incentives to try to cut a deal drop dramatically.
And, of course, I was worried about the confidence of the Afghan people, because, at the end of the day, that’s what determines who wins in Afghanistan. And I think we probably rocked them. We rocked them and their belief that we are allies that can be counted on.
RADDATZ: But, at the same time, this is what President Trump campaigned on. They had to have a pretty good idea he wanted to get out of there.
MCCHRYSTAL: Yes, I think so. There’s — it’s not a — it’s not a big surprise.
And I think the first thing we have to do is navigate from where we are, not from where we wish we were.
RADDATZ: Jim Mattis’ last day as defense secretary is this Monday. You saw his very public rebuke of President Trump.
What do you think Americans should make of a resignation of someone like Jim Mattis?
MCCHRYSTAL: I would guess that Secretary Mattis took a long time agonizing over writing a letter that was as direct about his feelings as that particular letter was.
He knew it would be very public and it would make a very strong statement that was much broader than the Syria issue. It was about America’s role in the world.
I personally think it was valuable. I think maybe it causes the American people to take pause and say, wait a minute, if we have someone who is as selfless and as committed as Jim Mattis resigns his position, walking away from all the responsibility he feels for every service member in our forces, and he does so in a public way like that, we ought to stop and say, OK, why did he do it?
We ought to ask what kind of commander in chief he had that Jim Mattis that, you know, the good Marine, felt he had to walk away.
RADDATZ: So, if someone was asked to be secretary of defense right now who you knew, what would you say to that person?
MCCHRYSTAL: I would ask them to look in the mirror and ask them if they can get comfortable enough with President Trump’s approach to governance, how he conducts himself, with his values and with his world view, to be truly loyal to him as a commander in chief and going forward.
And we’re all instinctively loyal. But the reality is, if there’s too much of a disconnect, then I would tell him, I think it’s — it would be a bad foundation upon which to try to build a successful partnership with that job.
RADDATZ: If you were asked to join the Trump administration, what would you say?
MCCHRYSTAL: I would say no.
I think it’s important for me to work for people who I think are basically honest, who tell the truth as best they know it.
RADDATZ: You think he’s a liar?
MCCHRYSTAL: I don’t think he tells the truth.
RADDATZ: Is Trump immoral, in your view?
MCCHRYSTAL: I think he is.
RADDATZ: What would you say to those Americans, then — and there are a lot of them — who support Donald Trump, who say, I like what he’s doing, he’s shaking things up, I don’t care about this other stuff?
MCCHRYSTAL: Yeah, I would say everyone has to make their own judgment. I can’t tell any supporter of one politician or another that they are wrong.
But what I would ask every American to do is, again, stand in front of that mirror and say, what are we about? Am I really willing to throw away or ignore some of the things that people do that are — are pretty unacceptable, normally, just because they accomplish certain other things that we might like?
If we want to be governed by someone we wouldn’t do a business deal with because their — their background is so shady, if we’re willing to do that, then that’s in conflict with who I think we are. And so I think it’s necessary at those times to take a stand.
RADDATZ: Our thanks to Stan McChrystal.
We will be right back with the roundtable’s look ahead to 2019.
RADDATZ: The roundtable’s all here ready to go and all week long you can get the latest on politics with breaking news alerts on the ABC News app. We’ll be right back.
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MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: Discussion have broken down. We do expect this to go on for a while. A shutdown certainly does look a little bit different under a Republican administration. We’re — we will not be weaponizing the shutdown in order to make it hard on people, like we believe the previous administration does, but we could do this for the long haul.
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RADDATZ: Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney Friday making clear the president is prepared to let this shutdown stalemate continue for some time.
We’re going to discuss that and more with our powerhouse roundtable: ABC News political analyst, Matthew Dowd; Reihan Salam, executive editor of National Review and author of “Melting Pot or Civil War?: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders”; Mary Jordan, national political correspondent for The Washington Post; and ABC News senior congressional correspondent Mary Bruce. We have the double Mary’s over here today, I love it.
Mary number one, we’ll start with you. Week two of the shutdown, the president says he’s in the White House waiting for Democrats to talk to him but he’s made no effort, it seems, at substantial, substantive negotiations. So where are we, what next?
MARY BRUCE, ABC NEWS SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is no end in sight, right now. And it doesn’t seem there has been any real attempt here to negotiate at all. This is truly a game of chicken and both sides are digging in right now and there’s no real political incentive here for either side that seems to compromise or relent. So we know that later this week House Democrats are going to pass some kind of bill to reopen the government but it will not include the funding that the president wants. The pressure then, of course, will be on Senate Republicans and Mitch McConnell, who aren’t likely to do anything unless they’re sure the president can support it.
So once again Donald Trump is the X factor and Martha, it’s just astounding that he canceled his trip, stayed in Washington to try and work this out and it seems there has been zero conversations. I’m told the president has not reached out to Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer. They haven’t actually sat down and talked in 19 days. It seems the more this goes on, the more it’s not really about the wall but just about politics and winning. And there’s just no end in sight.
RADDATZ: And — and just staying home for some reason.
RADDATZ: And — and Matthew, can the president get out of this without folding in some way? And — and why doesn’t he do it sooner? Why doesn’t he do it before Nancy Pelosi —
MATTHEW DOWD, POLITICAL ANALYST, ABC NEWS: Well he put himself — he put — he put himself in this box as a lead up to the show — talked about his own statements and all this, and the chaotic way that he’s led in the midst of this. I’ve often thought we’ve sort of given up on the idea he’s going to act presidential. We’ve sort of given up on that. I thought what — what can — what can we ask him to be in this new year and I thought that I’d give him the advice of Dwight Schrute from “The Office”, who said whenever I’m about to do something, I ask, would an idiot do this and if an idiot would do it, I shouldn’t do it.
And I think Donald Trump has put himself in this position. I think he’s going to have to fold eventually in some way on this. The shutdown can’t go on, obviously, forever and there’s many things that aren’t getting funded that need to be funded in this. But up until now, it’s all — as Mary said, up until now, it’s all been Republicans who have been in charge. Nancy Pelosi takes over next week. It’s going to be a different ball game for many different aspects of this. But the president himself has put himself in this position where he’s shut down the government and now he doesn’t know how to get out of it.
RADDATZ: And Reihan, he’s — he’s clearly looking to his base and trying to please his base. But how effective is that, really, if this drags on and on? When is he really hurt by this, even with the base, if at all?
REIHAN SALAM, FELLOW, NATIONAL REVIEW INSTITUTE: Well, the president realizes that there’s a small sliver of the electorate that accounted for his victory in 2016 — a small number of Obama-Trump voters in a handful of states who are willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt on a wide range of economic policy issues and who agreed with him on a few hot button cultural issues, who agreed with him on immigration. Now, what he’s trying to do is raise the salience of immigration and the wall in the hopes of regaining that constituency that drifted away from him in 2018. The problem, to my mind, is that actually, they gave him the benefit of the doubt because they thought he was not a conventional Republican.
If you’re looking at the first two years when it comes to economic policy, when it comes to domestic policy, he did not govern as a different kind of Republican. And regaining that trust is going to be enormously difficult for him. As much as he might want to raise the salience of immigration and those other cultural issues, it’s not necessarily going to work the same magic when he’s an incumbent president as it did when he was a challenger.
RADDATZ: Do you agree with that, Matt?
DOWD: Well, I think the president — the president didn’t — didn’t win the states that he won the electoral college because of the wall. He didn’t win those voters — if you go back and look at all the analysis and then you look at what happened in the midterms when he pushed this immigration thing, he lost all those voters. So that’s not what’s holding him — him — that’s now what’s holding onto him in this. I think the president ultimately actually has to decide that he’s — he’s going to — he’s going to lead in the consensus and do what’s in the common good, but I think that’s almost impossible for this president to do.
RADDATZ: And — and I want to go to the basics of this partial shutdown, Mary Jordan. President tweeted this week suggesting that the shutdown mostly impacts Democrats. I’m not sure how he came to that. But this really does affect so many people. One government agency even included this suggested language that furloughed workers tend — send to their landlords. “I would like to discuss with you the possibility of trading services to perform maintenance, for example, painting, carpentry work, in exchange for partial rent payments.” They’ve walked that back, but do you think the president does understand the impact of this partial shutdown?
I mean, we’re hearing —
MARY JORDAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: No.
RADDATZ: — from people it really does effect.
JORDAN: What — what people are saying are just stop it, just stop the political game. This is all about politics. It’s really not about the wall. I spent five years writing about Mexico. I’ve been all along the border. Talking about a $5 billion wall and shutting down the government because you want that is kind of like investing in landline technology in the era of cell phones. Along that border, people just dig — you know, they can just dig tunnels. There’s tunnels all over the border. So it’s really not about the wall and it’s silly to blame the Democrats about this. It’s really a deflection.
You know, a lot of bad news for Donald Trump lately. The economy is erratic, the Mueller probe is coming down, it’s not going to be good news for him. And again, he wants the bogeyman. He wants the Democrats.
And I think regular people are like, come on, stop it. Do the hard thing, fix immigration. For one thing, we want a lot of these people to come across the border. We need them in the nursing homes. We need them in these jobs. Do the hard thing. Figure out how to get visas for people who could come over and work, toughen the border where we need it and stop talking about $5 billion on a concrete wall that makes no sense.
RADDATZ: And — and to Reihan’s point, which was such a good point, about whether this really echoes. So if it does or does not, how long — what’s all of your predictions, let’s just go around the table, on how long this could last?
BRUCE: Well, I think if there are any lessons to be learned from past shutdowns, it — it — it could last until public frustration boils over. And when you have 800,000 federal employees who are either working without pay or furloughed, the impacts of this are going to start to be felt. Some of that may not have been felt over the past week, especially with the holiday, but that is going to change.
And early polling does suggest that — that more of the American public are blaming the president and Republicans than are blaming Democrats. The question then becomes, if they do come — find a solution, how long does that solution last? I mean, they can only kick the can down the road for a couple more weeks, or it could be a couple more months, but I think until you hear the public outcry it’s very hard to see how this ends.
RADDATZ: Any predictions, Mary?
JORDAN: I don’t think it’ll last too long because the president is very good at one thing, knowing what the public wants. And the public is going to see through this.
SALAM: Congressman Jeffries, a very shrewd politician, said the Democrats are open to enhanced border fencing but not to a wall. The idea of a wall is medieval, the idea of wall is ridiculous…
RADDATZ: So if you just call it something different?
SALAM: … but enhanced border fencing is fine. Enhanced border fencing, you can dig a tunnel under that too but Democrats seem amenable to something along those lines. They voted for enhanced border fencing, even for a wall funding in various other configurations before. So it remains to be seen because there were about 30 seats where Democrats won over districts that have historically been Republican. That could be an interesting cleavage going forward.
DOWD: I — I think — we’re about — with Donald Trump we’re going to set another record. We think — I think the previous record for a shutdown was 21 days. I think we’ll pass that. I don’t know how much longer after that we go. I think in the — Donald Trump’s already giving up on the wall. He’s now talking about a fence with slats and all that. He’s now given up on Mexico paying for it.
RADDATZ: I bet they call it a wall still though.
DOWD: Well, he calls it a wall with his base but I think ultimately that — and I agree with Reihan — that the solution’s going to be — we’ll pass something that we’re not going to — we’re not going to call a wall, you might call a wall. We’re going to get this done but I think we’re going to set a record, over 21 days.
RADDATZ: Let’s look ahead to that lovely prospect and …
RADDATZ: … and 2019, it is a whole new world for President Trump starting this coming week. So what do you expect, is he prepared for that?
DOWD: No, I don’t think he’s prepared for it, both emotionally and administratively in the White House. First of all, they’re going to have a new — they have a new Chief of Staff coming in, they’re going to have a new Defense secretary coming in, they have acting — acting secretaries in a number of places, and they don’t have an infrastructure in the White House that’s going to deal with the amount of subpoenas and the amount of investigation.
I think Nancy Pelosi is going to play this very smart. She’s going to pass a series of bills of public policy. She’s going to do something on guns. She’s going to do something on trying to eliminate the shutdown. She’s going to do something on Medicare. She’s going to pass a bunch of stuff and she’s also going to let her chair people chair these committees. I think Donald Trump is not going to know what hit him come January 3rd.
RADDATZ: Mary Bruce, that — that sounds interesting, for sure–
RADDATZ: But — but they do have to get something done, the Democrats have to. It can’t be just all investigation.
BRUCE: Yes, and they know that there’s a real danger here in them overplaying their hand, that they can’t just investigate and be, you know, issuing subpoenas until they’re blue in the face, that they have to actually legislate. So first up, they’re planning this huge bill, this big sort of anti-corruption push, which is really about setting a new tone, trying to take on the influence of money in politics. And it has very little to no chance of actually becoming a reality or passing the Senate and getting the president’s signature, but it gives Democrats the chance to say, hey, there’s a new sheriff in town.
And also to kind of dare Republicans because it puts them in a tough situation to say, you know, vote against some of these issues. Vote against the issues of campaign finance, especially as you’re heading into 2020, and that’s something you’re going to see over and over again is Democrats trying to box in Republicans in the Senate.
RADDATZ: And Reihan, Donald Trump, you talked him appealing to his base and wanting to do that. If that doesn’t work, if he sees that falling away a little bit, what kind of 2019 can you expect with Donald Trump?
SALAM: Well, there are a number of things that we haven’t fully figured out yet. For example, it looks as though he might have a deal with China. He might be able to broker some kind of negotiated compromise. That could be a pretty big, pretty significant victory. Similarly, it’s possible that the stock market as in 1987 doesn’t necessarily portend some larger economic correction that you could actually see some significant productivity gains and a decently healthy economy through 2019. That would be very good news, too. So there are still ways he could turn this around.
And another thing relating to the border question that we haven’t discussed as much. The president actually achieved a very big victory by getting Mexico to cooperate with U.S. authorities in pursuing the remain in Mexico proposal. He did not declare victory. He did not claim ownership of that very significant victory but actually further moves in the direction of fostering cooperation with the Mexican government, with Central American governments, could yield further victories that play against type in a really interesting way.
DOWD: That’s probably going to be a —
JORDAN: And prison reform–
DOWD: That’s probably going to be a very fleeting thing with Mexico because of President Obrador in this, who’s a — who’s —
RADDATZ: Yes, we’ll have to see how this works.
DOWD: — as a socialist. We’ll see how long that works.
RADDATZ: — how — how this actually works. And just very quickly, Mary, I want to — I want to ask you each — 2019 is significant in another way. It’s the year before 2020. And we have already seen some potential candidates — Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and I don’t know about Beto O’Rourke but he did have a viral video about the border wall this week. What — what are you expecting this year in terms of presidential politics?
JORDAN: I mean, I think most people are saying that — that in the next few months we’re going to have, you know, two dozen, maybe more serious contenders. I think what’s unusual now is it could actually play out all the way to summer. Because now you don’t have to announce as early as you used to. You can have kind of a star come out a little bit later. I mean, yes, they need the ground game, yes they need to go to Iowa, but it is a little different. So I think we’re going to have — I mean, this whole roll out is going to begin starting January 1 all the way to summer.
RADDATZ: So are you going to see any senators on the hill?
BRUCE: They’re going to be bouncing back and forth between Iowa and Washington, New Hampshire and Washington. I mean, so many have already said that they were taking this holiday break to make that decision, so very interesting conversations, probably, around the holiday dinner table. But a lot of them want to jump in early, I think. And you know, contrary to your point, in some ways they want to get a head start here because the field is so big. You’re looking at north of 30 possible Democratic candidates. A lot of them are very eager to make their mark and make it soon.
RADDATZ: But nobody’s eager to have Donald Trump start trashing them —
DOWD: This’ll be a wedding dress scenario for the Democrats, which is it’s someone needs– something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. But I think what you’re going to look for is there needs to be a woman rise in this.
RADDATZ: Very quickly, Reihan.
SALAM: There are going to be self-funders in this race. An enormous amount of money is going to be spent and because delegates are issued proportionately, this could last a really, really long time.
RADDATZ: It’s going to be a long couple years. OK, thanks. We’ll be right back.
RADDATZ: That’s all for us today. Before we go, a big thank you to everyone who works so hard behind the scenes to bring you THIS WEEK every week. We leave you now with the United States Air Force Band’s performance of “One Voice” at the Washington National Cathedral. Have a happy and healthy new year.
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