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Meet the Press - June 24, 2018

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, crisis on the border. President Trump blames Democrats.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

They don't care about the children, they don't care about the injury, they don't care about the problems, they don't care about anything.

CHUCK TODD:

Blames Mexico.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

They could stop the immigration on the spot. But they choose not to do it.

CHUCK TODD:

Blames the media.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

They are helping these smugglers and these traffickers like nobody would believe.

CHUCK TODD:

In the end, the president moves to stop separating children from their parents.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We're signing an executive order.

CHUCK TODD:

But then says fellow Republicans should stop wasting their time on immigration until after the election. So what is the administration's plan to house the children or to reunite the families? My guests this morning, Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma and Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with the Democrats. Also refugee crisis. Why are so many people from Central America coming to the United States? What are they fleeing? Richard Engel of NBC News has a report from his trip to El Salvador. And political culture wars, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is asked to leave a restaurant because she works for President Trump. Her father, Mike Huckabee, tweets this picture with a caption, "Nancy Pelosi introduces her campaign committee." Is all of this the new normal? Joining me for insight and analysis are NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Kasie Hunt, Stephen Hayes, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard, Heather McGhee, president of Demos, and Erick Erickson, editor of The Resurgent. Welcome to Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest-running show in television history, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. For perhaps the first time in this presidency, Donald Trump lost control of an issue that was defined by television. Not the fact that parents and children were being separated at the border, that was the administration's policy. What mattered was what happened next. It was the wall-to-wall parade of cable and network TV stories of frightened children and desperate, anguished parents. It was all the living former first ladies and the growing number of Republicans who criticized the policy as "inhumane" and "unworthy of the United States." It was the sound of administration officials articulating a policy of separating children from their parents, then denying that their policy was to separate children from their parents. In the end, President Trump did agree to do what he insisted could not be done. He signed an executive order ending the policy. But now there are reports of tense infighting at the White House over how to reunite families. And there's confusion over where and how to house tens of thousands of people. To be fair, this crisis, immigration crisis, which more properly should be called a refugee crisis, predates President Trump and has confounded presidents before him. But with children now in shelters at the border and around the country, this much is clear: the Trump administration has inflamed a humanitarian crisis it has no idea yet how to repair.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

People walk in, they put a foot in, "Please, would you like to register?" Other countries, they say, "Get the hell outta here."

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump is on defense. After first denying the administration could even end the president's policy--

SECRETARY KIRSTJEN NIELSEN:

Congress and the courts created this problem and Congress alone can fix it.

SARAH SANDERS:

There's only one body here that gets to create legislation, and it's Congress.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Wait, wait, you can't do it through an executive order.

CHUCK TODD:

On Wednesday, under extreme political pressure, Mr. Trump signed an executive order he now says would end it.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

So we're keeping families together, and this will solve that problem.

CHUCK TODD:

But the reality is more complicated. Under the 1997 Flores Settlement, the government cannot detain children with their parents longer than 20 days. Likely not enough time for adults to get a court hearing. And out of at least 2,300 children the government has confirmed were separated from their parents since May 5th, so far the administration says just 522 children have been reunited with their families.

REPORTER:

So what happens to the kids now that have been separated from their parents? Why did you guys --

SECRETARY KIRSTJEN NIELSEN:

We did the executive order yesterday, so we’re implementing it.

CHUCK TODD:

Children are scattered across the country, housed in about 100 shelters in 17 states. And despite repeated requests, the Department of Health and Human Services has not allowed cameras inside, forcing the public to rely on government handout images. And this week, in the midst of this crisis, the White House declined to hold a briefing to answer questions for the public for four straight days.

JIMENA:

[TRANSLATION] At least can I go with my aunt? I want her to come...

CHUCK TODD:

0In this audio, released by a civil rights attorney, a six year old, Jimena, from El Salvador, begs to talk to her aunt. Jimena is lucky, because she was able to memorize her aunt's phone number, she connected with her this week on the phone.

FEMALE SPEAKER:

[TRANSLATION] What do you want to do when you get here?

JIMENA:

[TRANSLATION] First, I want to take a bath. A really hot bath. Then I want to eat.

CHUCK TODD:

Many of those charged with the illegal entry into the United States say they have only been given a flyer on how to locate their child.

JODIE GOODWIN:

The children don't have the capacity to even maybe tell them their parents' full name. So being able to identify the parents through the children is something that's impossible.

CHUCK TODD:

Despite the bureaucratic confusion and questions of pure competence, the president has been pretty clear about one thing, the message he wants to send.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

But if we did that, everybody come, if we did that, you would have, you're right, the word is overrun. We will have millions and millions of people pouring through our country.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. He's been taking the lead on finding the short-term congressional fix to the family separation issue. Senator Lankford, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Thank you, good to be back with you.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with just a basic question. Have we misnamed this? Is this more of a refugee crisis than an immigration crisis? Considering this is a specific area-- region of the world where this is emanating from?

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Yeah, this has been a long-term issue. I'm not sure I would call it a refugee crisis. Obviously some would be able to target that, but it has been destabilizing for a long time. This is something the Obama administration saw as well. We started three years ago investing about $650 million into El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to help provide some economic activity for them. They helped provide some de-stabl--stabilizing force in their government, and to be able to provide them a reason to be able to stay. I've been in the region multiple times to be able to oversee how that money is being spent. But this is a long-term issue. You go back to 2013 --

CHUCK TODD:

Right

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

--there were about 15,000 families that were coming illegally into the United States as a family unit. Now we're up to 89,000 families a year that are coming at the United States as a family unit.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's go to some specifics here because we haven't gotten a lot of answers from the Trump administration, maybe you have gotten some of these answers. Maybe they're fulfilling their duty to at least let you know what's going on in Congress. Do you know how many of these kids that have been separated, how many of them that are in shelters, how many of them are in detention facilities, and how many of them are already in foster care? Do you feel like we have a good idea of those three categories?

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

We do. Let me clarify this. We know where every single child is. This is an issue that's that’s gone out there somewhat in some of the other media that's not been responsible with this, that with the assumption that the administration lost track of that. So let me clarify a couple things. These are career professionals that work with HHS. And that work with DHS in Customs and Border Patrol and ICE. These are not political appointees. These are career folks. They know where every child is to be able to connect them to their parent or their relative that came. Many of these children that came we don't know if they're with a parent or not, and so trying to be able to make sure that we're connecting the dots on this. As you know, of the 12,000 or so children that are either total, 10,000 of those are unaccompanied minors –

CHUCK TODD:

Right

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

-- that came with no parent at all. And then you've got another 2,000 that are out there that came with a family member of some type, they're all in HHS custody, and they're trying to be able to reconnect them now. But HHS often puts them in foster care across several states because they can't handle the load --

CHUCK TODD:

Right

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

--on the Southern border.

CHUCK TODD: To be clear though, while you said we know where every child is, that the government knows where every child is, the government, of the 2,300 that were separated from their parents, that the government has said, 'The number might be higher. We don't know.' But of the 2,300 they've have confirmed. Do we know where those parents are? That's, that's an unknown, correct? We don't know where all the parent are.

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD: We do. No that. No that, that is, well it's a known of the adult they came with so the child and the adult that they came with, we don't know if that is the parent. Often times that is a parent that is somewhere in the country, often times illegally as well. They came with another relative and so trying to be able to connect the dots to see if they --we need to connect them with their parent that's already here in the country, connect them with a parent that may be in custody, going through procedures, whatever that may be. But yes. We do know how to be able to connect the people they came with as well.

CHUCK TODD:

And how does the reunification work? So the child, you identify the parent, the child, then what happens? Is the parent brought to where the child is? Is the child brought to where the parent is? Are they both sent to a separate facility? What can you tell us about that situation?

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Yeah, it's a mixture of all of those actually. We're trying to be able to work through the process to connect with the adult. Several of the adults are given some kind of ankle monitoring system, ankle bracelet, so it monitors them until they get to what's called a Notice to Appear hearing in the days ahead. As you put in your lead-in, which was very well done, the lead-in gave the problem. The Flores Settlement from 1997 --

CHUCK TODD:

Right

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

--says that you can only hold that child for 20 days. It takes about 35 days to actually do a hearing. And so what the court set up in 1997 was this conundrum. You either have to release them if they come as a family into the country and hope they show up, or you can't keep them and actually go through a hearing on it. Only two --to be very clear, only 2% of the family units that come to the United States illegally actually go through and actually have the notice to appear, finish up with the notice of removal, and actually leave the country. So the family units that are coming here, 98% of them end up somewhere in the country, most of them illegally, because they never actually leave after they're given the responsibility for an order of removal.

CHUCK TODD:

Your congressional fix here, let's get into the Flores Amendment here and this 20-day conundrum, because the Trump administration's asking for relief from that-- the courts, they're probably not going to get it, because the Obama administration asked for the very same relief, they didn't get it either. You want to defund it. How is-- How is that going to make the matter easier to deal with? If you don't fund the Flores Settlement, essentially, not allow any Congres--money to go to it, how is that going to help the situation? I'm a bit confused.

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

So let me give you three different options. One is to just say, "We don't fund it," to be able to do a pushback to the court, to say, "We don't, we don’t give the executive branch the ability to be able to operate this. We want to go back to the court and be able to resolve it." The next tier of it is to be able to change the dates on it. To say it's not 20 days, it's maybe 60 days, where we can keep families together. That gives enough time to be able to actually get through a hearing, and so we keep families together the entire time to be able to do that. We've got to add additional judges, which we've asked for 225 additional judges across the country to be added for immigration. But ultimately, we've got to deal with Flores as a whole. The lowest level, what I'm trying to find is what the lowest common denominator, that's defunding it, so we can actually make sure we function together. The best thing that we can do is actually try to reform it, and so that we actually keep families together, keep them there long enough, that we can actually get through a proper hearing.

CHUCK TODD:

And are you in favor of using military bases to house these families? It appears that D.H.S. has made a request to the Defense Department. Is that something you think is a good idea?

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

I do think that's a good idea, because there are locations for that. President Obama used military bases in 2014 for unaccompanied minors. Some of those were in my home state, in Oklahoma. Which, by the way, members of Congress from my state tried to visit those facilities that are in my state, where President Obama was holding those unaccompanied minors. They were turned away at the door and told that they could not come in, the same thing that's happening now. So some people try to say, "This is something new --

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

--that the Trump administration is doing, blocking people out." No, it's the exact same policy that H.H.S. had before. We made it an appointment. Then after we made it an appointment, we were allowed to be able to go in and to go through that process.

CHUCK TODD:

Should that be the process? Or should there be more transparency? Or do you feel as if the White House has been fully transparent with the American public about what they're trying to do here?

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

I don't, actually. Now this has been one of the great frustrations. I think the White House has not been clear on how bad the Flores Settlement is. They tried to say it and say it and say it. The challenge is, you shouldn't just allow anyone to be able to come in at any time, to be able to view a spot where there are children present. I think it's entirely reasonable. This has been H.H.S.'s policy for a long time to say, "If you're going to come into a location where there's children, we need to know who you are, we need to know the background. We can't just trust if you show up with an I.D., that that's who that is. Make an appointment." If you do that, you can get in to get a chance to see them, as a member of Congress, just like I did during the time when President Obama had those children here in Oklahoma at a military base as well.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator, for my final question for you is having to do with whether the president is, is creating more problems, or if he's making this harder to solve, by some of the rhetoric he's using. This is how he's described people coming across the border just this week, senator. Take a listen.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

They could be murderers and thieves. They endanger all of our children. Millions of people flowing up and just overtaking the country. They're human traffickers, they're coyotes, I mean, we're getting some real beauties. We want people in our country based on merit, not based on a draw, where other countries put their absolute worst in a bin and they start drawing people.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe that rhetoric demonizes immigrants and makes your job harder?

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

It does, actually. But the challenge of it is, there is a percentage where the president is absolutely correct on that.

CHUCK TODD:

But what's the percentage?

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

The rhetoric probably needs to mention--

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, we're talking the percentage is pretty small.

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

It is. It is pretty small. And that's the challenge.

CHUCK TODD:

So to do two for two. Right, go ahead, sorry.

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

I would just say I would prefer the president would step out and say, "A lot of these are folks that are coming for economic reasons. They want to be able to flee into an area where they have greater economic opportunities. Every family want to be able to see that for their family. But there are also some individuals that are there." On average, every day, D.H.S. stops or interdicts ten people that are on the terror watch list trying to come into the country. And so I have a real concern that we're demonizing law enforcement folks that really are trying to be able to do their job, because there are very real threats. But the vast majority of these individuals are coming for economic reasons. That's why they're coming from Central America. They're not fleeing to Costa Rica or Belize or Ecuador, who also have great asylum laws. They're coming to the United States because they want to have the economic opportunities. Not just asylum, they're trying to be able to come for economic gains. And I don't blame them for that. But to tell you the truth, 1.1 million people a year become citizens of the United States illegally, and half a million people a day cross legally into the United States from just the southern border. So this can be done legally, but the challenge is, for those individuals, that is a much smaller number that are doing it illegally, how do you process that?

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Lankford, I'm going to leave it there. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views. Much appreciated.

SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now from Brunswick, Maine, is Independent Senator Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats. Want to get a perspective from the other side of the aisle. Senator King, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Great to be with you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

So let me ask -- start with the same question I asked Senator Lankford. Have we misnamed this? Is this a refugee crisis more than it is a migrant or immigration crisis?

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

I think it is. I think that's exactly right. It's more of an asylum and refugee. I think it's important to make some distinctions. These are almost entirely people coming from Central America, not Mexico. Particularly Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. And they are fleeing violence. And that's one of the reasons this idea of a deterrent may not work. If you're looking down the barrel of a gun in your home community, whatever your chances are to get to a free country, you're going to take it in order to save your family's lives. So that really is what we're talking about here. And this is very different from the waves of illegal immigrants coming across the border 15, 20 years ago, mostly from Mexico, simply looking for jobs. Mexican migration has diminished enormously.

CHUCK TODD:

Right, so if you believe it should be treated more as a refugee crisis, so for instance that would be sort of I guess how we handled the Cubans in the '60s, Hungarians in the '50s, Vietnamese in the '70s, how should the policy change? Does the government intervention, should it be different if it's a refugee crisis?

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Well, yeah, because if you're crossing the border illegally with no claim of asylum or refugee status, then that's a crime and we have a process for deportation. People coming to claim asylum are not illegal immigrants. Under the law, they have a right to establish their claim of asylum, that they're in a legitimate fear for their life, that they're fleeing persecution in their home country. And that applies, by the way, to people coming from other parts of the world. But you have that right. And the problem is, James Lankford mentioned this, we don't have enough judges. There's a bureaucratic backlog that can take a year or two in order to get your claim adjudicated. The question then is what do you do with these people in the interim? And the administration made the terrible choice of separating children from their parents. They didn't have to do that. That wasn't required by the law. Now they're saying, "Well, we're going to keep them together, but we're going to keep them together in detention." I don't think that's a necessary choice either. There's a lot of data that there are alternatives to detention that can still ensure that people show up for their court hearing, which by the way, are a lot cheaper for the taxpayers.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly on this, Senator Lankford, he's leading to try to fix this Flores Amendment. You heard him outline different ways you could do that, defund it completely and make it sort of, an administration can't do it because there's no money to do it, extend it to 60 days rather than 20 days. What do you favor? I know there's a bill with Senator Feinstein, but there's no Republican support there. I assume this has to be a bipartisan deal. Is there a part of Senator Lankford's suggestions that you can support?

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Well, there are a number of proposals kicking around. I was in a meeting on Wednesday at Senator Susan Collins's office. It was very interesting sitting next to Dianne Feinstein and Ted Cruz. And Ted Cruz and Dianne both have a bill. Now think of that, the opportunity to vote for a bill, the Feinstein-Cruz bill. When did you ever think that would happen? But they're talking about not separating, then talking about some alternatives. And this is where the discussion is. Does it have to be detention? And I don't like the defunding idea. That's essentially saying, you know, "The courts, we're not going to listen to you." I don't think that makes sense. But I think some additional time may be true. But I want to talk about how do we deal with these people. The other thing, Chuck, we've got to talk about, is what's going on in these countries and why is this surge coming towards us? And in fact before the program this morning, James and I were talking about going to Central America. He's been there a couple of times and trying to figure out what can we do to stabilize those regimes so people don't feel like they have to run for their lives to America.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm curious, considering what happened in 2014, when the Obama administration was tackling essentially the same surge of folks coming from Central America, the Obama administration didn't exactly welcome those folks with open arms either, the goal was -- while they didn't separate -- the goal was to get them back to their home country as quickly as possible. Was that a mistake in hindsight?

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Well, I think they were overwhelmed. If you go back and read about that period, and I went with a couple of other senators to McAllen, Texas, during that period to see how these kids were being treated. The difference between then and now is three years ago, they were unaccompanied kids. What's happening this time is kids are coming with their families, with their parents, and they're being separated. And that's what I think caused this firestorm. But there clearly has to be a better way to deal with this. And I think there are alternatives to detention, more judges, more timely processing of these things. Because, you know, we're a nation of immigrants, number one, except for the African Americans who were brought here against their will, and the Native Americans. But all the rest of us are immigrants and also asylum seekers. The pilgrims were escaping religious persecution.

CHUCK TODD:

Andrew Sullivan argues this week, "Just give Trump is wall." He used more colorful language than that. And just go get something for it if you're the Democrats. Give him his wall, because then maybe there'll be more heart in the rest of these policies, the rest of this migrant crisis. Are you there yet? Give the president his wall and figure this out?

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Ironically, Chuck, we did that. Mike Rounds and I had an amendment, it was the one that got the most votes on the floor of the Senate. We got 54 votes. It was in a sense DACA for the wall. And the wall was fully funded. The Democratic Caucus voted, I think, 46 out of 48 members, 49 members for it. That was a hard sell. But the White House itself torpedoed the bill. They threatened to veto, they sent out a scurrilous press release from DHS and we had the votes. We had probably 65, 67 votes. They killed it. They had the wall in their hand and they let it go because they wanted more. And the question is, they keep sort of raising the ante and saying, "You've got to limit legal immigration, you've got to change this, you've got to change that." And, you know, that's one of the problems is we never know where the goal line is.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask you about a movement that's growing in the Democratic side of the aisle, a hashtag #AbolishICE, referring to the enforcement agency when it comes to immigration. Listen to what your colleague Senator Kamala Harris said about the idea of abolishing ICE. Here's what she told my colleague Kasie Hunt.

(TAPE BEGINS)

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I think there's no question that we've got to critically reexamine ICE and its role and the way that it is being administered and the work it is doing. And we need to probably think about starting from scratch.

(TAPE ENDS)

CHUCK TODD:

What do you make of that? Is ICE the bigger problem here?

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Well, I don't know how you abolish an agency without abolishing the function, and I think the function is necessary. As far as what Senator Harris said about examining what they're doing, how they're doing it, I think that's absolutely something we should do. That's our responsibility to provide oversight. But ultimately, there's going to have to be an agency. Before ICE, it was INS There has to be some agency to administer the immigration laws in the country. But taking a look at how they're doing it and how they're approaching it. The question -- we had a border patrol stop up in here in Maine a couple of weeks ago. Is that constitutional? Do we stop American citizens in the middle of a highway and ask for their papers? There are a lot of questions to be answered. I don't know if I say abolish, I don't think that makes a lot of sense. But I do think looking at it makes a hell of a lot of sense.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright. Senator Angus King, I'm going to leave it there, the Independent senator from Maine who of course caucuses with the Democrats. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views, sir.

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, more on what's behind the border crisis. You heard both senators refer to the issue in Central America. Well, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel is just back from El Salvador, one of those Central American countries where life is so desperate, people are willing to risk everything, including child separation, to get here. That's next.

CHUCK TODD: Welcome back. As I mentioned earlier, what we are seeing on the border is really a bit of a refugee crisis more than an immigration crisis. People from Central America, places like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, are coming here less to find work in the United States than to escape the desperation of life at home. For instance, gang violence is so prevalent in Honduras and El Salvador that according to the United Nations, those two countries currently right now have the highest homicide rates in the world. Those two countries, highest homicide rates in the world. And you wonder why people are fleeing. NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel returned last night from a trip to El Salvador, where he reported on why people are willing to risk this dangerous journey and family separation to come to the United States. And Richard joins me now from Seaside, California, where we made him stop here to get on our show. So Richard, thanks very much. Let me start with this. Normally, I'm talking to you, you're in a war zone somewhere. Maybe you're in Syria, maybe you're in North Africa. Maybe you're somewhere in Asia. But here you are, you're in Central America. What did you see? Was it -- Did it feel like the war zones you cover when you covered the war?

RICHARD ENGEL: It felt in some ways very much like a war zone. Like a low-grade war zone. There are parts of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, where you simply can't go. Where the police and government don't feel comfortable to go. We're talking about an armed population of about 100,000 active gang members. And I think when you have that many people with guns, where you have a government that doesn't feel in control of the capital city, then you're having a war-zone dynamic. People we talked to said they're afraid to go out in the countryside. When they do, they see gang members carrying their weapons openly. There are gang checkpoints stopping you, asking you where you're from, what affiliation you have. And that if they don't like your answers, they will kill you and drop you on the streets. We went to a prison and we met some very hardcore gang members. And one of them bragged to us that he had killed 35 people, just himself. And when you have that number of dangerous people who feel that emboldened, it is not surprising that people want to leave the country and seek different opportunities and don't want their children to get sucked into the gang life and have them become the next generation of killers or victims.

CHUCK TODD: And in some ways, you've spent way too much time in Syria for us at NBC. Compare the story to El Salvador. How much of that country are they actually governing and how much of it is the gangs that are in charge of this? I mean, and is it similar to how Syria was, where you sort of only had parts of the country governed by certain entities?

RICHARD ENGEL: Well, not just the 100,000 people or so who are active gang members, there are some estimates that you have to multiply that number by five or ten to get the real number of people who are actually affiliated with gangs, supported with gangs, make their livelihood with gangs. And this is a small country, El Salvador. We're only talking about 6.5 million people. So that is roughly one in ten people there is either a gang member or makes their livelihood from a gang member. So we're talking about 10% of the population, just of the population, living outside the law. And this is a population that is armed. So they are able to control, exert their will over a lot more of a percentage than that. So there are large parts of the country that are not fully under the government's control.

CHUCK TODD: Now I'm curious, you spent a lot of time on the frontlines, covering the migrant crisis from North Africa into Southern Europe. Give me some similarities, differences between what you witnessed with this migrant crisis coming up from Central America.

RICHARD ENGEL: So you were talking to a lot of your guests earlier, is this a refugee crisis from Central America, or a migrant crisis? Usually when I've seen them, they're always mixed together. You have people fleeing from war zones, you have people who are actively afraid for their lives, and also people who are afraid for their lives and want more economic opportunities.

But what I haven't seen before is this family separation. As I was there in Central America, watching the people try to leave, watching them be deported back home, I remembered covering this massive migration crisis that was in Europe a few years ago. And we saw lots and lots of refugees, lots and lots of migrants. But we didn't see authorities deliberately separating people from families. They didn't see it as necessary. They didn't see it as productive. I was in Hungary. And Hungary has one of the most aggressive, hard-line, anti-immigration policies. We saw people coming into Hungary, and I remember this one moment, and it's seared in my brain, I was watching people loaded onto a bus by Hungarian authorities, they were on the bus, and suddenly the people on the bus started becoming hysterical. They were shouting, they were under guard, but they were very agitated. What had happened is one of the family members on the bus had gotten separated from their child. So everyone on the bus started to scream. The bus stopped, they open the windows, people on the ground lowered -- raised the child, raised the baby onto the bus, so the family could stay together. And the bus drove off. So even in Hungary, which has one of the most right-wing, anti-immigration governments in the world right now, they were stopping the buses, making sure that people could be united with their families, because they didn't want to inflict even more trauma onto the people, so they could control the situation, and not cause unnecessary agitation and stress.

CHUCK TODD:All right, Richard Engel, you've seen quite a bit, this and your travels around the world, Richard, thanks very much for your reporting. Much appreciated. Before we go to break, a quick programming note. MSNBC's Jacob Soboroff has been at the border for months, talking to all sides of this story. Well, tonight, he'll be reporting on the border crisis on a special Dateline Sunday, it's called The Dividing Line. And it airs at 7:00, 6:00 central. We'll be back in a moment with the panel on the border crisis, and Donald Trump's first real retreat as president.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with the panel. Stephen Hayes, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard; Heather McGhee president of the liberal group Demos; NBC News Capitol Hill Correspondent Kasie Hunt; and Erick Erickson editor of the conservative website, The Resurgent. Steve Hayes, President Trump had his first retreat, you could argue the first guardrail that the Republican party signed onto to erect with him, got him to reverse himself. What does that mean?

STEPHEN HAYES:

Well, I think it was the public pressure. I mean, the president didn't do this easily. This is an ad hoc president with an ad hoc decision-making process, leaving his staff and congressional Republicans to scramble in his wake and try to make things right. If you think about the White House line on this, the line that the president's supporters took, they went from separating families is the right thing to do, to separating families is terrible, but Democrats made us do it, to separating families is awful but only Congress can fix it, to the president's executive order has solved the problem. Obviously, there's some inconsistency there. I think you're seeing the president scramble. He doesn't know what he thinks. And look, this is a president who has a history of a variety of positions on this broad, immigration issue. Remember, he in 2012 criticized Mitt Romney for his self deportation plan as maniacal and crazy and mean spirited. And now he's pushing a plan that I think we'd all agree is more aggressive than Mitt Romney's.

CHUCK TODD:

Heather?

HEATHER MCGHEE:

I mean, I think this is what the president of the United States thinks is his political ace in the hole. And he was very clear about that. He said, "My people love the family separation thing," right? You would think the president of the United States would be saying, "My people," meaning all of us, but no, he's talking about a fringe who's been really weaned on these negative images of immigrants of all kinds as criminals, as gang members. He doubled down on that again by saying -- holding that press conference that made it seem like we have an epidemic of people being killed by undocumented immigrants, when we know that immigrants, whether they're undocumented or not, commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. This is a political strategy to divide Americans to make us feel like there's a sense of panic and fear. I actually think any time we use the word "crisis" to talk about border crossings that are at a 40-year low, near a 40-year low, we're actually feeding into that. And frankly, there are things that he's doing to the economy, threats to healthcare, a tax handout to the very wealthy, that are things that he wants to distract from, and that's what's happening right now.

CHUCK TODD:

Erick, he made the case, "You know what, immigration's good for me, good for the party." And I thought -- I think it is -- I understand why he thinks it's good for him. It's been good for his political career. What do you make of his claim that it's good for the party, for the midterms?

ERICK ERICKSON:

You know, this is the first time that I can remember some of his evangelical leaders speaking up, criticizing him. Which is pretty significant when you have evangelicals who have stood with him through everything, criticizing him, having him walk back, having the president, who's the best negotiator, supposedly, walking this back himself. I don't think that's good for the party. But you know, I talked to a congressman last week who said he actually thinks there are about two billion news cycles between now and November. This isn't going to anchor the party. His concern are the tariffs and what's going to happen to the economy.

CHUCK TODD:

Kasie, though, this is the first time I was thinking, "A subject that I talked about last Sunday, and I questioned people last Sunday, is now the same subject I'm actually questioning people on this Sunday." That is a rare occasion. And I think it tells you the potency of this issue.

KASIE HUNT:

I'm with you, Chuck. And I remember thinking the same thing last Sunday as we were heading into the news week. You always wonder, is this the story that's going to be different, that's going to carry through? And you're absolutely right, that this one did. And I also think it's the first time, and Erick mentioned evangelical leaders, it's the first time that congressional Republicans looked at something that this president did and they said, "no way." I mean, how many times have we asked ourselves, Charlottesville, the Muslim ban, when were Republican leaders going to stand up to this president? And the answer was when we saw these awful images of children being separated. There was not a person that I could find on Capitol Hill who would say, "This is what we should be doing." It was, "No. Yes, we have problems at the border." And there were disagreements among Republicans about how to handle asylum claims, should immigration be more limited, should we build the wall. But to a person, nobody wanted to defend this.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm curious, what do you guys think the bigger threat is though to the president in here? Is it how he's handling the issue of immigration or how he handles the cleanup of this? And bring up -- I want to bring up, some people have said, is this his, quote, "Katrina?" I want to put a quote up that actually George W. Bush wrote about Katrina, because I thought it could apply to here. He said, "Just as Katrina was more than a hurricane," this is what President Bush wrote, "its impact was more than physical destruction. It eroded citizens' trust in the government. It exasperated (SIC) divisions in our society and politics and it cast a cloud over my second term." I thought that was an interesting observation of how it is possible, Heather and Steve, that how they reunify or don't reunify becomes a competency issue, not a partisan issue.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

That's right. I mean, I would say that Maria has been President Trump's Katrina, and I think this is another similar issue, where there's just this callousness. And particularly, to the Latino community in this country and in this part of the world, that shows that they really don't care. And when a government doesn't care, you begin to erode the trust. And I think part of what's happened here is that we now have even with the executive order, we now have in every single state, hundreds of thousands of people pledging to go to the border, to go to their state capitals on June 30th to rally. This has become a cultural flashpoint for people who want their country to stand up for something better than this.

STEPHEN HAYES:

Yeah, yeah and I want to just add to that, the main difference between what you said about President Bush is that President Trump I think wants to exacerbate these decisions. President Bush lamented those decisions.

CHUCK TODD:

Right, he regretted what it did in hindsight.

STEPHEN HAYES:

Right, President Trump wants to do this. But look, so do the Democrats. I mean, what was so interesting about your conversation with Angus King and James Lankford, it was a thoughtful, substantive conversation.

CHUCK TODD:

But by the way, they are in the 40 yard lines of American politics.

STEPHEN HAYES:

They are. And the politics here, I think one of the reasons you don't have solutions to the broader immigration problem is because it works politically for both parties, the extremes of both parties. Look, Kamala Harris talking about abolishing ICE? Really? That's the solution here is we're going to abolish the bureaucracy that's responsible for enforcing these things?

HEATHER MCGHEE:

Because Republicans hate abolishing agencies? I mean, this is an agency, I will say--

STEPHEN HAYES:

That's not the point. The point is, she's offering an extreme solution that doesn't actually solve any problem, because somebody's going to have to perform that duty.

CHUCK TODD:

To build on Heather's point here, and I want to get Kasie in here, since you did the interview, is this in a way that conservatives will say, "Abolish the I.R.S.," which is sort of a ridiculous proposition, is this going to become that "Abolish the I.R.S." chant on the left?

KASIE HUNT:

I think it's becoming a litmus test for this issue in potentially a 2020 primary situation. I mean, if you think about Kamala Harris in particular, she has been very consistent quite frankly, if you're an activist on immigration, she is one of your people. She took a vote in the Senate, she was one of only three Democrats, kind of buck their own party on a compromise. I mean she - I mean she is, I don't want to quite describe it as farthest to the left, but she is one far edge --

CHUCK TODD:

Of sort of the mainstream presidentials on this issue.

KASIE HUNT:

Of this issue. She is setting the bar for where that is. And people, frankly, are responding. I mean, the event that we went to cover, she went to visit a detention center where mothers were being held that'd been separated. And they didn't organize a rally, but there were hundreds of people who showed up on the street outside, some with organizations, the A.C.L.U., others, but they came, and they came to see her.

CHUCK TODD:

That's going to be a fascinating debate, if the percolates. You heard Angus King there, you're going to have that debate inside the Democratic party about ICE I think in these primaries. All right, guys. Let me take a quick break here. When we come back, we're going to change gears a bit. President Trump says, "It's easy to win a trade war," but there are already some losers here in the United States. And guess who most of them voted for?

But before we go to break, a word about someone we lost this week, Charles Krauthammer, graduated from Harvard Medical School, and he began his career as a psychiatrist. But he gained political renown as a Pulitzer-prize-winning-political columnist. A diving accident at the age of 22 left him a quadriplegic. Krauthammer was a neo-conservative who championed a muscular U.S. foreign policy, including the invasion of Iraq. In his columns and TV appearances, Krauthammer was tough and intellectually rigorous, but he was never disagreeable. He appeared on Meet the Press six times. More recently, he was on Fox News the morning of election day with quite the farsighted prediction of what a Trump presidency might mean.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER:

The first thing he will do is he will irreversibly reshape the party. This was the party of Reagan and the Bush years were sort of an echo of the Reagan years. Reagan defined the contours of the party. Trump will do that, and it'll be changed, particularly the most obvious issues are going to be immigration and trade. This will be a new party - it’ll be a populist party.

CHUCK TODD:

Talk about being prescient. Charles Krauthammer was 68.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data download time. The escalating trade war President Trump has started between the United States and, well, everybody, hasn't had a direct impact on the lives of most Americans yet. But the one place where people are starting to already feel the pain, the agricultural Midwest. Farmers who grow crops like wheat and corn or who produce pork. And guess what? They're getting hit hard. And when the U.S. hit China with tariffs, China knew exactly where to hit back. For instance, soybeans.

China is the number-one soybean importer in the world. And they announced retaliatory tariffs on U.S. soybeans in April. Previously China got 40% of its soy from the United States. In 2017, 57% of all U.S. soybean exports went to China.

So what's happened? Soybean prices have already fallen 15% since China announced the tariff, more than a two-year low. And in Iowa, for example, the Des Moines Register estimates the new tariffs could cost soybean farmers in the state $624 million. And the political consequences could be significant for the president's party, especially going into the midterms this November.

These are the top ten soy producing states in the United States. Eight of them voted for Donald Trump in 2016. And guess what? He came really close in one more, Minnesota. And within those states, a whopping 95% of the soy-producing counties voted for Donald Trump. In other words, the repercussions of President Trump's trade policies are hurting the very people who supported him the most.

The top soybean states all have either a governor's race, Senate race, or both this year. Minnesota actually has two Senate seats up. These red or trending-red places could very well turn back into tossups or even go blue after November. Of course, there are lots of reasons folks in these states support Donald Trump. And maybe some of them like the tough talk and action on trade. But keep in mind, the trade wars started by the Trump administration has a lot of fronts. Steel, aluminum, cars, are all on the horizon, which means what we are seeing right now in the Midwest, may only be the beginning.

When we come back, endgame, and how our political culture wars, whatever you want to call them these days, just got a lot nastier.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with endgame. All right, we had a couple of interesting former Republicans, I guess, calling for Democrats to take control of House. First you had Michael Bloomberg, he's going to support flipping the House. He says, "Republicans in Congress have had almost two years to prove they could govern responsibly, they failed. As we approach the 2018 midterms, it's critical that we elect people who will lead in ways that this Congress won't." You can argue whether Bloomberg's a real Republican before to switch Democrat. I'll take your point there. But how about George Will, guys? "The Congressional Republican caucuses must be substantially reduced. So substantially that their remnants, reduced to minorities, will be stripped of the Constitution's Article I powers that they have been too invertebrate to use against the current wielder of Article II powers. They will then have leisure time to wonder why they worked so hard to achieve membership in a legislature whose unexercised muscles have atrophied because of people like them." Mr. Erickson, what do you make of that?

ERICK ERICKSON:

You know, I disagree with my friend George Will on this, although I do agree with him, that Congress has let their muscles atrophy in legislating. Congress now apparently is a class of pundits, as opposed to a class of legislators. It's a real problem on both sides of the aisle, where both sides want the issue to campaign on. I do think there's a danger for Democrats though in that typically, in the midterms, you depend on a incumbent party that doesn't turn out. And the progressive culture war, the immigration issues and what not are firing up the Republican base.

CHUCK TODD:

Kasie?

KASIE HUNT:

You know, one risk here that I do think, when I read George Will's comment about diminishing these majorities, I think for some Republicans, they don't realize if they get really close, but they don’t actually - if Democrats don't actually win the House, you're going to be left with the narrowest of Republican majorities, and that's going to hand all of the power to the far right of the conference. So if Republicans, if never-Trump Republicans want Democrats to win the House, they better get their acts together and work as hard as they can, because otherwise the consequences are going to be worse.

CHUCK TODD:

How should you embrace your new progressive friend George Will?

HEATHER MCGHEE:

You know, listen, I have been asking for Republicans to put country over party, you know, since, since Trump walked down those stairs. So I absolutely believe that this is the beginning of the change and rebirth of the Republican party, which is going to be necessary. It is too far to the fringe. We have the fringe in the White House. And this country is not going to be able to be a bipartisan country if the Republicans continue to have this identity.

CHUCK TODD:

Steve, I would say you're in the middle of this fight inside your - inside the conservative movement. I won't call it your party, but the conservative movement, right? Basically one wing versus this Trump wing.

STEPHEN HAYES:

Yes, it's not my party. There's no question that - that what you're seeing is an ideological scramble. And what George Will is doing here is making a long-term argument. And I think members of Congress are living in the short term. They're living between here and (UNINTEL) I think that's the big challenge.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

ERICK ERICKSON:

That was very diplomatic, by the way.

CHUCK TODD:

The culture wars reared their ugly head this weekend. And we’ve had - we had Sarah Sanders get kicked out of a restaurant by the owner because she worked for President Trump. You had Mike Huckabee use a pretty disgusting sort of tweet, picture here to describe Nancy Pelosi and her campaign committee, using gang members on that. Erick Erickson, you were critical of -

ERICK ERICKSON:

Been critical of all of it.

CHUCK TODD:

-all of it. And interesting, you were almost apologetic. You were like, "Yeah, your younger self might have actually participated in some of this." Is this the new normal? Is this going to get even uglier?

ERICK ERICKSON:

Yeah, I think it is going to get uglier. I think that James Hodgkinson is less an anomaly and an inflection point. We're headed towards more violence I think if people on both sides don't rein it in. It's not enough to say, "Well, you started it," "No, you started it," "This happened," or "This happened." It is, we have - I have Trump supporters show up on my front porch to threaten my family. You have the secretary of Homeland Security has progressive activists show up at her house to protest her. You have people getting thrown out of restaurants. If we can't agree to disagree and let each other be, and neither side wants to do that, it becomes a problem. We have, as religion in the country fades, and society becomes more secular, people are finding their salvation in their morals in politics. And that's a bad thing.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

I actually think there's a big difference between one of the most powerful people in the world, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, using her official government platform to claim victim status - and what she's doing is trying to distract from the way that that administration's policies are actually victimizing some of the least powerful people on the planet, you know, refugee children. There's a difference between being discriminated against for who you are and being judged for what you do. And that's what we saw.

KASIE HUNT:

Chuck, I think one thing too here is people, the tenor of the debate on whether or not there are people across the other side of the aisle who you might be able to work with has completely fallen apart. I feel like even--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

You see it a lot on Capitol Hill.

KASIE HUNT:

--in the Senate every day. I mean, you used to be, there were these great alliance and friendships, you know, Ted Kennedy and, you know, across the aisle John Warner, I mean, people worked together and quite frankly, you saw that reflected in voters as well. Voters who were willing to consider voting for somebody else. The tribalism of this, I just fail to see if you think that just because you're a member of the other party that there is no circumstance under which you can work with that person.

STEPHEN HAYES:

Yeah, and there's very little of power in persuasion anymore.

KASIE HUNT:

It's scary.

CHUCK TODD:

I hear you. All I know is whatever happened to the golden rule? If everybody just did golden rule, we might be in a tiny bit better place. That's all for today. Thanks for watching. We're going to continue this conversation. But for now, we'll be back next week because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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