>>Back in 2013, during comprehensive immigration reform, do you remember coming across [Steve] Bannon, Miller, Sen. Sessions? Certainly Sen. Sessions you knew for sometime?>>Well, Stephen Miller was Jeff Sessions’ speechwriter. And so I’ve—I knew where he was coming from, and I certainly knew Sen. Sessions’ position based on floor speeches, speeches in the Judiciary Committee, and scores of amendments that were offered by Sen. Sessions to the comprehensive bill.>>Jumping ahead to the Trump campaign announcement, the rhetoric around immigration during that speech at Trump Tower, you’re watching it. What do you think?>>I can’t believe that this is going to be the hallmark of the campaign, and yet he returned to it over and over again, this notion about rapists and murderers and terrorists coming in from Mexico, and his big, beautiful wall that Mexico was going to pay for. This wasn’t just an accidental issue; it was something he clearly planned.>>When Sessions endorses Trump, are you surprised at the time?>>No. Sessions had gone to his campaign early and became one of his friends early in the campaign when President Trump had very few friends in elected circles, certainly in the United States Senate. So I knew that they were—had kinship, and I assumed it was over the immigration issue. >>And immigration in particular, in most parts, what they win on in some ways. They’ve managed to reshape the messaging on it, and they tapped into sort of an angry and fearful bloc. Have you seen this throughout the campaign?>>Sure. You could see it in several messages that were not so subtle. More immigrants means fewer jobs for Americans. That would be their argument. And more immigrants means you’re going to make less money, because immigrants will work for less. And people who were frustrated by their economic plight can gravitate toward that message as a pretty obvious solution. It turns out in both counts it’s not true, but it really entertains a popular prejudice.>>It’s my understanding you speak to the president on inauguration night about the “Dreamers.”>>I did.>>Can you tell me about that?>>The very first conversation I had with the president, and the reason for it was that I had spoken to President Obama after the election, and we talked about what was going to happen. I said, “Is there any way, before you leave office, that you can protect these folks that are in your DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] program, or the Dreamers in general?” And I know the president looked for ways and couldn’t find anything to help, but he did tell me that the transition meeting he had with Donald Trump, which was scheduled for a half an hour, 45 minutes, went much longer. And he said the topic was DACA. He said, “I tried to convince him to give these young people a break”; that politically, it was not a fight that he needed or wanted, and that they ought to have a chance to be able to live and work in America. So when I saw President Trump for the first time face-to-face, after he’d been sworn in on his Inauguration Day, I thanked him, because he’d said some positive things about “Dreamers,” and I said, “I hope we can work together on that issue.” And he gave me a very positive response.>>He said something about, “Don’t worry.” >>“Don’t worry. We’re going to take care of those kids.” And I thought to myself, well, obviously President Obama was persuasive; we’ve got a chance. >>And Secretary [John] Kelly, around this time period, when he’s named DHS [Department of Homeland Security] secretary, what are your early thoughts?>>I respected his background as a general in the United States Marine Corps. Lost his son in combat. And so when he came to meet me, I had a great deal of respect for him and his family and what he’d given to this country. But I knew, when it came to the Department of Homeland Security, he really was a major player in terms of policy. And I said to him: “You know where I’m coming from. I introduced this DREAM [Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors] Act 18 years ago. This is more important to me than almost any other issue beyond my home state of Illinois.” And he said, “I’m on your side on this DREAM Act.” And I thought, that’s what I want to hear; that’s what I was hoping to hear. And so I not only voted for him and supported him, I encouraged my colleagues to do the same. Many of them said I was being naïve. They turned out to be right.>>… But there are certainly other camps in the White House around this period of time that are trying to moderate the president as well on what to do about the Dreamers.>>I don’t know who that would be, I’ll be honest with you, because I thought Stephen Miller started playing a larger role on this issue. I would talk, from time to time, to Jared Kushner about other issues, and this would come up. But, you know, by and large, we felt that Stephen Miller had the last word in the White House.>>Over the summer, there are meetings at the White House about what to do about DACA, and there’s some talk about an AG—sort of collection of AGs [attorneys general] that are looking to file suit. Do you know about collaboration between—>>I do not.>>OK. Do you know about the suit or the threat to sue over DACA? >>… I asked Attorney General Sessions about this state attorney general action initiated in Texas and what his relationship was to that lawsuit, and he claimed attorney-client privilege and wouldn’t answer my question in committee.>>Did that surprise you?>>It did. It’s rare. In fact, it’s the only time I can ever remember that happened. >>You worked pretty extensively with Sen. [Lindsey] Graham on your bill. I’m now jumping to Jan. 9 and the meeting that is at the White House that suddenly is now televised. Can you kind of tell us what that room is like when you arrive, really walk us through that day?>>Well, here we are in the Cabinet Room, a very famous room and well known to everyone. And I come in, and I notice, to my surprise, that my nameplate is right next to the president of the United States, to his right. I was not a close friend of this president. We had not had any close personal conversations, but somebody decided I would be sitting right next to him. Then came the press in for the usual spray with just televised photos, and then they’d leave. And they come in, and he doesn’t ask them to leave. So now we have the press getting live coverage for this meeting that goes on for about an hour. And the president is referring to me as “Dick” all the time, and I’m thinking, you know, I guess I’m his friend at this point. He makes statements about this whole issue of immigration and the DREAM Act and says, on television: “You send me a bill, I’ll sign it. I’ll take the heat. You just put together a bipartisan bill, and I’ll do it.” And many of us thought, well, what a breakthrough this is; maybe we found a way out of this. Didn’t work. >>Kevin McCarthy sort of reminds him that he doesn’t really feel this way.>>That’s right. And I’ve come to learn how this president operates and how you can’t go to the bank on any promise made today, because tomorrow it’s different. And Kevin McCarthy, congressman from California and one of the leaders in the House at the time, more or less told the president, at this point, you’re way beyond—way over your skis, too far, in some of the statements you’ve made. He was cautioning him to be more careful and more reserved. >>Two days later, a call from the White House comes into your office.>>Two days later, I reached out to the president. We had just worked, Sen. Graham and I, we had put together a bipartisan bill, Democratic [and] Republican senators, that we thought met the president’s test that he had challenged us to come up with the day before. And I called the White House, thinking, well, I’m not likely to hear back from him. Within minutes, the president calls back. “What can I do for you, Senator?” “Well, Sen. Graham and I have a bill.” He said, “Good.” He says, “Graham is supposed to come by and see me this morning, and we can talk about it.” And I said, “Fine.” And I called Graham, and I said, “I just called the president to tell him we’ve got a bipartisan bill that he asked for.” And then momentarily, I get a call from the White House, “Come with Graham,” you know. So my initial call was about 10:00. The meeting was at noon, just to give you an idea of the timeframe. I found that incredible. I couldn’t believe I could ever get in to see a president in short order like that. And so Graham and I got together, drove down together to the White House to meet with the president to present our bill. And it turned out that a group had formed—there were 12 people in the room when we finally met. A group had formed of a lot of people who opposed any bill on the subject. >>Who’s in that room?>>Well, I’d have to jog my memory to remember everyone in the room. There were a number of— I was the only Democrat in the room, I might add. There were a number of Republican senators, [Tom] Cotton and [David] Perdue. There were a number of House members, McCarthy, and I’d have to go take a look at the list of the others who were involved.>>And some White House advisers?>>Oh, yes, the whole—>>Tell me who’s there.>>The whole crew. I’m trying to remember. I’ll have to get down and take a look at the list. >>Was Stephen Miller there?>>I think Miller was in that room. Yes, I do believe that.>>Secretary Kelly?>>Yes, for sure. And Kirstjen Nielsen was in the room as well. She came a little bit late, I remember.>>And what’s the tone?>>Well, things went south in a hurry. Sen. Graham sat close to the president. I was next. And Sen. Graham laid out what our bill would do and addressed a lot of different issues. And almost from his first word, you could tell that the president I spoke to two hours before, and the one two days before who had invited us to come by, had changed dramatically, and now he was opposed to every part of it. And that’s when a lot of the profanity started flying.>>What did you think as that room starts to just devolve?>>Well, I’m an amateur student of history, and I thought to myself, I wonder if words like these have ever been spoken in this White House Oval Office. As I look back on it, probably yes. But it was just stunning to hear some of the language being used by the president to describe his feelings about immigration, you know. For him to say at one point: “Why can’t we have more Norwegians? We need Norwegians. Those are the kind of people we need in America.” And it was jaw-dropping as he went through this long litany of grievances he had against immigrants in this country, particularly those from what he referred to as “shithole countries.”>>Graham pushes back.>>Graham pushed back before I did. I give him credit for it to this day, and said: “Let me tell you the story of my family coming to this country from a shithole country, with not much to offer, making a good life and raising me. And that is the American dream. That’s what this country is all about.” And I thought Lindsey captured it perfectly in those words.>>What changed between Tuesday Trump and Thursday Trump?>>I can’t explain it other than the fact that Gen. Kelly, his chief of staff at the time, and the others who were opposed to it, like Sens. Cotton and Perdue, really had organized their opposition. They were against everything that we had presented.>>What did you learn about Kelly at this moment, going back to your earlier feelings?>>It was clear to me he wasn’t looking for a solution that included the DREAM Act or anything like it. And as a result, I was bitterly disappointed that I had supported him.>>Surprised that he had transformed, or do you think he was always—>>I have no idea. Really, as I said, I began with such admiration and respect for him and what he has given to our country. But by the end of that meeting, I really didn’t know him. I thought I knew him. But at the end of that meeting, I realized I didn’t know him. >>Jumping to family separation and Sen. Sessions’ speech on the border, you know, what is the message that is being set out by the attorney general in this moment? >>He basically said, “We’re going to treat those who come to our border as criminals and remove their children from them.” And he was very proud of it and quoted the Bible, I believe, and felt that this was the way to deter people from coming to the United States. It was an outrageous suggestion. It was not inconsistent with Sessions’ previous speeches and positions on issues, but it just struck me as a dangerous strategy. In the hours and days that followed, we started to see what this meant. And it got so bad and so unpopular, that even the president did something he rarely does. He had to recant and say, “No, we’re not going to follow this policy further.” >>Let me ask you about the caravan ahead of the midterms, that story that sort of is really pushed by the administration. Does it remind you of a 2016 campaign strategy? What is it exactly?>>Well, it struck me the caravan strategy, which was promulgated by Fox and other right-wing sources, was a phony from the start. I mean, if you were going to, quote, “invade the United States,” you don’t announce ahead of time to the cameras: “Come follow our trek and journey across Mexico.” These were desperate people who were trying to make it to our border in the hopes that they could become part of our country, and they were being portrayed as a national security threat to us. It was really appealing to some of the worst instincts of individuals of hate and fear, and the president was using it for political purposes.>>The shutdown. Trump demands money for the wall. This is a very different scenario from where you guys were months earlier. What do you make of, again, the hard-liners sort of coming in, pushing him to shut down the government?>>Well, I never quite understood it. I knew that it was going to be unsuccessful, ultimately, and unpopular all the way, and that’s exactly what happened. I sat in on high-level meetings in the Situation Room with the congressional leadership and the president and vice president and members of the Cabinet. And he was just bound and determined to get his beloved wall, whatever the cost. He would say things which were nothing short of preposterous. “Well, these workers who aren’t being paid, they’re contacting us and saying, ‘That’s fine; keep our paychecks; just make sure we get this wall.’” And you think to yourself, there can’t be an ounce of truth in that statement. And yet he would say things like that in the course of a meeting. It was so hard to try to understand and plumb the mind of this man and follow his thinking as he made these statements. >>He’s alone in the White House during Christmas. It’s a very—it’s a very odd time. You’re having those meetings around that time period. >>Yes.>>Again, advisers that are in those rooms— who’s surrounding him?>>Well, and he had his new acting chief of staff, Mr. [Mick] Mulvaney. I can recall one of the meetings, the second meeting, he came in, and he said, “I’m not going to sit down.” He said, “There’s no point in my sitting down; we’re not getting anywhere here.” He said: “You know we need this wall. America wants this wall. These workers that aren’t receiving a paycheck want this wall. I hear it over and over every single day. I know why you won’t give me this wall. It’s because of impeachment. You want to take this out on me on impeachment.” And there was a pause, and [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi said: “Mr. President, with all due respect, this is not about you, and it’s not about impeachment. It’s about a very bad idea you had in your campaign that we’re not going to pay for.” So those were the types of exchanges going on in these meetings. And it didn’t look very promising.>>The recent turnover at DHS, the idea that some of these hard-liners are also being—being fired by the administration, and everyone is an acting secretary at DHS, at CDP [Center for Domestic Preparedness], at ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. Does this mean that the White House has more power over immigration? Is this sort of part of that strategy?>>No, I think you’ve got to look at it carefully, and you have to understand that they thought they had hard-liners in, but they weren’t hard enough by the standards of Steve Miller and others in the world, and so they replaced them. Now, take a look. Two and a half years, we’ve had four different people leading the Department of Homeland Security, and in every major subagency there, we have acting people in place. And you ask yourself, is this any way to run a department when you’re facing a border crisis, as the president describes it? And in this circumstance, I think we’re seeing something that is built to fail. We have Kevin McAleenan, who was a career employee, 17 years in the department, a University of Chicago lawyer, who is respected for his knowledge of the department and its policy, who is now the acting secretary. Now you have a new crew coming in, a fellow named [Mark] Morgan and [Ken] Cuccinelli and others are coming in, and they are supposed to be harder-liners, hard-liners, in terms of policy. And you think to yourself, how is this department ever going to function with the constant changeover here and what appears to be competing factions within the department when it comes to immigration policy? But when you step back, you say, well, you’re focusing on one department. You could focus on so many others under the Trump administration who are in similar circumstances.>>They’re really leaving a legacy on immigration. >>They are.>>This is not just at DHS. This is also at DOJ [Department of Justice]. This is also at the White House. >>Yes.>>What is that legacy?>>Well, the legacy is a sad one, and embarrassing. To think we started with the travel ban. Then the president decided to abolish the DACA program that protected 790,000 young people. Then we moved to “zero tolerance” and separated 2,880 infants, toddlers and young children from their parents and didn’t keep a record of where we were sending them. Then, of course, we moved to the current situation, where they’re talking about mass arrest. That’s the latest tweet from the president. Put those together and say, is that really what America is all about? At the same time, we have this utter failure at the border, utter failure. The same laws that Obama could use at the border are on the books today, and they have failed, dramatically failed, at the border. And you say to yourself, they’re not keeping us safe; they’re not establishing border security. It’s all about his almighty wall and constant confrontation on the immigration issue. >>And in the interim, a crisis has really been created.>>It’s terrible. I was down there in the middle of April in El Paso. I looked into those detention cells where they were holding people who were detained at the border the night before, the day before, room with a sign over it that says, “Capacity: 35.” I counted 150 standing shoulder-to-shoulder, men. Next to it, “Capacity: 18”—75 women, including nursing mothers, standing shoulder-to-shoulder. The conditions are horrible, and sadly, we’re not moving as quickly as we should have to deal with the humanitarian side.>>Immigration is such an interesting lens on this entire administration. What does it tell us about how this administration operates, how—what the worldview is like? It seems like sort of the fundamental issue of this president.>>On this issue, the emotions that propel it are fear and hate. And sadly, this president and this administration have used Immigration is, throughout the history of this nation of immigrants in the United States, has been turned to in times of economic uncertainty and used as a whipping boy. And we’ve had some pretty sad chapters written.>>Let me ask you one quick follow-up about the Sessions family separation announcement. We’ve heard that that was a surprise to the White House, that that was potentially Sessions operating on his own. Does that ring true to you?>>No, I don’t believe that. I don’t believe anything that significant, that important, that controversial would be done without the knowledge of the White House. … Go back to the very beginning of the interview. In 2013-2014, you were, of course, one of the leads with the Gang of Eight. What were the possibilities back then, how optimistic were you, and how you felt when it didn’t pass through that House?>>I’ve been involved in writing a lot of legislation. I’ve never done it with eight—seven other people in the room, eight all together, as we did with this one. And it was a disciplined process. We met every night, with new topics, and we had to finish those topics before we could move on to the next. And we put together, piece by piece, section by section, this comprehensive bill to try to resurrect this beaten-up immigration system in this country. We had to make some compromises, obviously, between Democrats and Republicans, compromises between labor and business, regions of the country, on and on and on. And we did it. And when it was all over, I think we did a pretty good job. We had the support not just of the labor unions and the business community and the religious community. We had the support of Grover Norquist, for goodness’ sakes, the anti-tax leader, and so many others on the right and the left. It looked like we’d caught a magic moment here. Brought it to the floor after a lengthy markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee and passed it with 68 votes. That, to me, was a high point of a legislative career that we could get this together. What a bitter disappointment when the Republican House of Representatives would not even consider the measure, wouldn’t even take it up. And so all of our work was sitting there. I think it could have solved a lot of problems we face today. And Sessions’ and Miller’s involvement in killing it was how important?>>Well, Sessions played his hand, as we expected. He was never going to support it. We never counted him as a potential supporter. He spoke out against it regularly, speeches on the floor written by his top assistant, Stephen Miller. And then came the Judiciary Committee, and he offered dozens of amendments, all of which were defeated in the course of a hearing that went on, a very lengthy hearing. So he had his day in court. He wasn’t happy with the outcome, but I thought the Senate, on a bipartisan basis, spoke clearly. In September of 2017, when Sessions goes to Trump, and he says, “I cannot defend DACA. The states, the 10 state suits are coming. They have a deadline. This is the point where we have to decide on DACA,” what was going on there? I mean, this seems to be at a time when the president was of mixed feelings about the direction to go, and there seemed to be a battle within the White House between two different sides. What was really going on there? What did you think when you heard Sessions give that statement?>>I thought there was a chance based on statements made by President Trump after he took office that DACA would survive; that he’d have to do it a different way or change this, that or the other, but that DACA would survive. He said so many positive, encouraging things about these young people and the talents that they bring to America and its future. But I knew he was surrounded by people who felt differently, and I knew that, fundamentally, this approach was inconsistent with his immigration policy, which is a hard-line policy. And so the day came when he finally gave up, caved in and announced the end of DACA, and challenged Congress to turn around and do something about it: Pass a law. So we set out to do that. Sen. Graham and I had one of the provisions, which I’ve mentioned earlier, we talked about. And then a group of moderates in the Senate came together and put together what I consider to be a reasonabe alternative for the president. It included a future for DACA and Dreamers. It also included money for his wall. I mean, it really was what he’d asked for. And he not only rejected the work that Sen. Graham and I did, he rejected that bipartisan effort and killed it by a few votes that day. And the last thing is, earlier this year, as the numbers kept growing coming to the borders, I guess the realization that he was losing, not winning, what he had promised to do, he turns his anger on DHS. Nielsen is fired; [Ronald] Vitiello is eventually not put into the role of DHS; [Lee Francis] Cissna eventually goes. What’s going on there? And talk a little bit about the fact that one of the last straws that broke the back of the camel was this shock-and-awe deportation in 10 cities, the plans to go forward with that. And it seems that some of these folks thought that that was a bad idea, that it was being done too quickly. What was going on, do you think, in this White House, with that plan and their reaction in taking apart DHS? >>I think the president realized that he had made border security and immigration major parts of his campaign, and he was failing. His zero tolerance policy, separating these children and infants from their parents, was an abject political failure, so he wanted to show that he could at least get tough with his wall or with border security, and it wasn’t working at all, so heads rolled. And that happens over and over again with this administration. Even if they’re following policies which he one day endorsed, if the results aren’t to his liking, these people are out of work. And just to follow up on that, and because this is going to air much later, we can’t refer specifically to whatever is going to happen next week, but this idea of going— this mass deportation of up to a million people, the plans that were taking place back then with the 10 cities and to take families, how do you view that type of plan, this idea, again and again, that deterrence—what have you told the president, possibly, in conversations about this tactic?>>What I believe is this: When we go to the mass arrest and mass deportations which the president has now threatened, it’s going to backfire on him even worse than zero tolerance with the children. And the reason is this, and I’ve seen it in my own state: You know, when people are told—the fellow that owns that Mexican restaurant on the corner, who’s been here for 10 years, and his kids all go to school, and he’s part of our church and such, is about to be deported, people in that town say: “Well, that’s not fair to Juan. I mean, he’s really worked hard in this country. He should be part of it.” So when the president tries to bring this home to the neighborhoods and cities and towns of America, you’re going to see an even greater backlash. We were talking about 2,000-plus kids we didn’t know, just the inhumanity of separating them. Now we’re going to talk about the inhumanity of kids coming home from school to an empty house because this president has decided to deport the parents. Is there any other message, Senator, that you haven’t covered, that you think is absolutely essential on this issue that the American public understand?>>Well, one of the things that I’ve been told over and over: This president gets it when it comes to the fact that we don’t have enough people working in certain jobs in this country. I think he gets it because of his resorts and his golf courses. And I think he understands it in terms of the workforce and the growth of the economy. I think he understands that part of it. He sees the economic side of it. He just fails to see the human side of this. And that, I think, is a major failing in his immigration policy.