Remarks by the Vice President, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and OMB Deputy Director Russell Vought in Press Briefing on Border Security
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, welcome to the Vice President's office. It's my first time to welcome many of you here. We had a very busy weekend around this table, and I thought this would be a good place for us to catch you all up on the status of our negotiations. So, thank you all for coming over.You may have already heard that at the meeting of the leadership in the Situation Room on Friday, when the leaders and the President agreed to have our teams talk over the course of the weekend, the President asked me, Jared Kushner, and Secretary Nielsen to lead the administration's efforts. And we spent several hours on Saturday in this room, several hours on Sunday, and I wanted to walk you through the status of those negotiations.
We think it was a productive session on both days — I said so on Saturday; the President said so yesterday. That does not mean to imply that we made progress in negotiations, but I think we gained a better understanding of the issues, the crisis on our southern border, and a better understanding of the priorities on both sides of the aisle to address that crisis.
So, let me — let me give you a quick thumbnail, then I'm going to ask Secretary Nielsen to walk you quickly through the latest information on our border crisis — the security and humanitarian crisis on the southern border. I'll walk you through the White House proposal that was presented at the request of the Democrat staff and leadership yesterday and then we'll get to questions. And I promise to be as brief as possible.
I think the two things we accomplished over the course of the weekend: First and foremost, on Saturday, we — I believe we made progress in establishing the fact that we do have a humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border. The President will address that as he speaks to the nation tomorrow night at nine o'clock. And we're going to continue to make a concerted effort to inform members of Congress in both parties about what we are facing, particularly the precipitous rise in families and unaccompanied children over the last several months that is putting an extraordinary burden and presenting great challenges at our border, as well as the whole issue of the flow of narcotics and other challenges that come.
So that was what we believe we established on Saturday. In fact, I was struck — at several moments in yesterday's discussions, a senior Democrat staff actually used the phrase that they "did not dispute" our facts about the border, which I consider to be evidence of a productive discussion, because if we can agree on the facts first, that may always, in any situation, become a foundation for agreeing on solutions.
On Sunday, we responded to a request that we thought was reasonable: That the administration would put on paper a revised budget estimate for the proposals, including the President's commitment to a physical barrier, to building a wall on the southern border — but also to attach specific numbers and policies to how the President intends or seeks to address the crisis at our southern border.
I'm very proud of the fact that our OMB team and Homeland Security burned the midnight oil Saturday and early Sunday. And by our meeting, early afternoon — Sunday afternoon — we were able to present the document that I suspect most of you already have in hand.
And as I'll articulate in just a few minutes, after Kirstjen speaks, what we did in this document was not only articulate, with a great degree of specificity, the President's request for the budget, but the dollar amounts associated with it, but also we incorporated ideas that Democrat leaders and Democrat staff had brought to our attention over the course of meeting of principals and over the course of the staff meeting. And we were able to clear with the President those things that the administration was prepared to support. We added those to our request, and I'll enumerate those for each one of you.
With that, I want to recognize Kirstjen. I think we've handed out the panels, so we can move through this pretty quickly. But we at least wanted to begin so that you know the information that we shared with the Democratic leadership staff and represents the best real-time information from our experts on the border about what's happening.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Sure. Well, thank you all for being here. We really appreciate you taking the time.
So you do have the slides in front of you. I'm not going to stop on every stat, because you can read them. I just want to give you a quick, broader perspective.
So, just looking at the second slide here: As the Vice President underlined, I think what's important here is there's a real sense of urgency. The crisis is getting worse. So the issue is that the status quo funding, the status quo laws are not able to address the crisis that we're seeing at the borders.
There's a few ticks here on why it's different. I'll get into them a little bit more, but it is a security and a humanitarian crisis. In terms of the solutions we need, those were, as the Vice President described in the letter that you also have in front of us — in front of you — to also include the additional medical resources needed due to the vast increase in illness that we see coming across the border.
So, whenever I give these presentations, particularly to our friends from the south, from the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico, I always start with common cause. So, where I think we are starting to coalesce is around the fact that we need to be able to protect the vulnerable populations. We need to be able to protect border communities. We need to be able to reduce illicit narcotic smuggling. We need to facilitate legitimate trade and travel, which is part — also part and parcel of CBP's mission. And of course, doing all of that within the rubric of national security and homeland security, which is our main mandate.
So if you flip to the next slide, I'm not going to spend any time on this other than to say you all are very familiar with the administration's commitment to reduce drugs. There's some facts on here. There's more that we can give you. We are seeing increased drugs flow across our border. What you'll see in the letter in front of you is an attempt to — based on our conversations with the staff and leadership over the last week, to provide a number that would enable CBP to inspect 100 percent of vehicle traffic coming north for drugs. So that is in that budget proposal.
The next slide, it starts to talk about the part of the security threat. Some of these numbers you have seen before. We're happy to provide a little bit additional explanation on known or suspected terrorists and special interest aliens. Those are very distinct terms, but there has been some confusion lately so I can focus on that.
What's not on here that I just want to point out is visa security within the hemisphere is not the same as the United States. We actually have very strong legislation, very strong authorities. We are able, through targeting and other means, to begin to understand who's coming into our country. That's not the same for countries in the south. So part of this is simply — folks can travel to the south, and then they can drive or walk up. And that's a part of what we're worried about.
On the far right, you'll see $2.5 billion is what is estimated that goes to profit to the transnational criminal organizations. This is important because TCO's of course, are massive criminal enterprises. They don't just deal with smuggling. They exploit children. They deal with trafficking, they deal with drugs. So this an additional concern: They are not humanitarians. This is the main point: Smugglers are not humanitarians.
When you get to the next slide, what we talk about here is part of what's changed. Part of what's changed in the 2,000 migrants that we encounter and apprehend each day is that the vast majority of the flow, for the first time, is made up of unaccompanied children and families.
The reason that's important is for two reasons: One, that's the basis of the humanitarian crisis. The system right now encourages and incentivizes families and UACs to be at the hands of smugglers and to take a very dangerous journey. Once they get to the United States, our outdated laws do not enable us to process them quickly — to either grant them asylum and help them, should they meet the requirements under the statute, or to be able to detain and remove them if they don't have any legal right to stay in the United States.
What's not on here, and I'll just — one second on it. The Commissioner and I spent a lot of time working with the Northern Triangle countries. We've been working with the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees to increase capacity for asylum throughout the region. We're working with the private sector with Mexico every day. We're working to stabilize the situation to the south, but this presentation is really about what we need Congress to do to be able to eliminate the pull factors that are encouraging and incentivizing the problem.
The next slide: What's really different now is, in part, the illnesses that we see. We have very serious illnesses that we're encountering on the border. We are unfortunately having to send about 50 migrants a day to the hospital. Many times, they are discharged from the hospital. Unfortunately, we have to send them back because they remain quite ill. And unfortunately, as you know, we've had two children die as part of this journey. It was the first two in 10 years. So it's very indicative of how dangerous this journey is, how sick they are.
The other thing that's different is when the migrants come through and they don't come through a port of entry, they're coming through very remote parts of the border. So not only is that dangerous for them — walking through a desert, for example — but it's more difficult for CBP to apprehend them because we have a very long border. So CBP is doing a tremendous job to save migrants. They've saved over 4,000 last year who found themselves in distress. But the numbers continue because of the way in which they are journeying.
The last thing I'll focus on: We've talked a bit about a rise in fake families. We do unfortunately see adults that take children who are not their own, present themselves at the border under the belief that if they present as a family, they can gain entrance into the United States and stay. So it's an additional way that unfortunately the system is putting children at risk.
So the three main challenges: We've got detention challenges, adjudication challenges, removal challenges. The one that I'll focus on that you all have heard from us before is the 1 in a 10 asylum claims are eventually granted asylum. The reason that's difficult is because that disables us from helping those who actually need asylum. The system is bogged down. There are a lot of others who are coming for other reasons but do claim asylum. And we have to process them. So, you've heard about the backlog. What that means are, for those who really need asylum, they're now in a very long line mixed in with 9 out of 10 who will not be granted asylum at the end of the day by a judge.
So the last slide, this is what we have presented. In addition to medical resources, which you'll see in the letter, is our suggestion and a way to address this crisis. The bottom line is: This is not a status quo situation. Status quo solutions from Congress will not work. We cannot do more with less.
And so, with that, I know we'll turn it over. I'm happy to provide any additional information.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thanks. And whatever questions you all have for the Secretary, we'll get to that.
Also, these —
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Yes, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — charts. I want to send you out with these as well. I don't think you have them in front of you, but — are these okay to release?
MR. AGEN: Yes, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great. There's — I think there's some very helpful charts that give you some idea of the trajectory of the various categories that we're facing in terms of apprehensions and CBP enforcement actions on the southern border and it gives you an idea of the context.
Okay. So, again, we'll come back to questions on that. Let me shift to what we've presented to the Democrat senior staff this weekend and, frankly, what is part and parcel also among the principals, and now has been delivered to all the relevant committee leadership.
Our position is very simply this: There is a humanitarian and national security crisis at the southern border. The President has been negotiating to open the government and to address the border crisis with resources and reforms. But we'll also touch briefly on the fact the President has directed OMB to take steps to mitigate the impact of the shutdown on everyday Americans, wherever possible. And we'll unpack that for you before we break off.
But first, let me walk you through this letter. Maybe if you just grab it, I can breeze through it pretty quickly. As I said on Saturday, sitting about where you're sitting, one of the leading staff for the Speaker of the House said, you know, "We hear talk, we hear ideas, but we don't — you know, we haven't seen any estimates or a revised budget." We frankly said, "That's fair." So we worked overnight and put together a revised budget estimate for them and I'm going to walk you through it.
First and foremost, the top paragraph. The baseline here is the Senate Fiscal 2019 bill. Okay? These are the changes in various categories of that bill, and represent the priorities the President wants to see addressed going forward.
First is, on the subject of border wall and CBP, the President requests $5.7 billion for construction of a steel barrier for the southwest border. We made it very clear — now in writing, also in our meetings — that the President is prepared to construct a barrier on the southern border in a manner consistent with the existing language in the Senate appropriations bill, a language I believe that 11 Democrats voted for.
And the President also, when he got on the helicopter — all of you were there yesterday. You heard him articulate personally what we told them in the meeting — that he would support a steel barrier for the southwest border. This would require an increase of $4.1 billion over the 2019 funding level.
And we also included, by reference here, the CBP's border security improvement plan, some of which is available publicly because there's law enforcement elements of it. Some of it is not available publicly, but if you have interest in getting more information about that plan, it's literally been on the books for months. Members of Congress have had access to it.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Years.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Various iterations have been on the books for years. But we were able to say, with a high degree of specificity, here's the amount of money that we want, here's what we want to do with it, and there's a plan in place for implementing it.
Secondly, we called for $563 million for 75 additional immigration judges. That is the level of funding in the Senate FY2019 bill, but we reiterated that's our position.
Thirdly, 750 additional Border Patrol agents. That's $100 million over the fiscal '19 funding level in the Senate version of the bill. Immigrations Customs Enforcement — we're requesting $571 million for 2,000 additional agents. This would actually represent an increase of $571 million over the fiscal 2019 funding level. And it addresses the whole issue of gang violence, smuggling, human trafficking, the spread of drugs in our community, and the personnel level that each of these are derived from what our experts and career personnel at DHS have told us will give us the opportunity to meet the need to protect the interests of the American people.
Next page. Detention beds at ICE — we're requesting $4.2 billion to support 52,000 detention beds. This is a $798 million increase over the funding level in the Senate bill. And again, it's informed by the fact that we have border — illegal border crossings have now increased to 2,000 per day. And, as you just heard the Secretary describe, it's predominately — the largest percentage of that is families, unaccompanied children. And so detention beds are a critical need.
You could literally draw a line across the page at that point, because the rest of these items are what I would characterize as "consensus" items. They were derived from last week's meeting among the principals — issues that were raised by Democrat leadership to the President, and that the President has processed and now given us the authority to endorse.
First and foremost, in the category of humanitarian needs, we have vetted $800 million to address enhanced medical support, transportation, and consumable supplies. In the wake of the tragic loss of two children, we also — it was reported to me that we also had an American who lost her life returning from south of the border with one of her children. So we have increased medical needs and humanitarian support. We're prepared to support that.
Next category would be counter-narcotics and weapons technology. This was an issue that a member of the Democrat leadership in the Senate brought up in the principals meeting, and the President readily directed us to investigate it. It's the deployment of detection technology at our ports of entry. And it's a — I think the initial request was about $44 billion. In the discussion among the principals and then in vetting since, we believe that increasing that by $631 million over the '19 level would meet the need of providing the kind of non-intrusive (inaudible) technology to allow us to get at — and not just narcotics, but also, most especially, about human trafficking issues at the border.
The next paragraph — non-indented paragraph — has to do with another proposal that was brought to us by the Democratic leadership and that, frankly, I've heard about in my meetings with leaders of Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. And that is, they made a request that we consider allowing children to apply for asylum at our embassy in those countries, as opposed to only being able to apply for asylum by making the long and dangerous journey north.
The President and the Secretary of State and I met over that issue, and the President has endorsed that reform that obviously would require a statutory change, along with reallocation of State Department resources in the State Department appropriations bill, but it's one that we're prepared to support. And we also believe that we should match that with one other statutory change that the Secretary just alluded to, which is unaccompanied children who apply for asylum, who, after due process, are determined not to be eligible for asylum, we can return them to their families in Mexico. Right now, the law allows us to do that. We cannot return them, even if their families request them to be — we cannot return them to their families in Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala.
So we think — what the Secretary described, is that "pull-factor." We think that — by allowing children to apply for asylum in those countries and by making it clear that those that are not eligible for asylum will be returned to the countries, we think that we will take part of the incentive that human traffickers use to take thousands of dollars cash to take children on a long and dangerous journey, oftentimes facing physical and sexual abuse along the way north, to attempt to come into our country to take advantage of loopholes in our laws.
So, this — what I want to be very clear with you is the document in front of you is a result of the discussions that have taken place between the President and the Democratic leadership as well as the productive discussions that took place over the course of this weekend. And again, you know, I trust that it is evidence that we've been negotiating.
Now, for our part, as I said, our position is there is a crisis on our southern border. We've been negotiating to open the government and address that border crisis. We're also taking steps to mitigate the impact of the shutdown. For their part, I will tell you that, from the outset of our first meeting over the weekend, which was professional and direct, the senior staff for the Democratic leadership and the House and Senate simply informed us that there would be no negotiation until the government — federal government was open. Fortunately, they went ahead and had conversations with us, but their position has been very clear that they refuse to negotiate until the federal government opens.
And now, at this point as well, while a number of their senior staff yesterday did say that they did not dispute the facts that we presented about the crisis on the southern border, you know, what we would welcome and I think the President is going to take a message to the nation tomorrow, is that Republicans and Democrats would come together around the recognition of a humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border and the need to take action.
And, you know, the question that I have is: When are the Democrats going to start negotiating? We made the position of the President very clear, not only in terms of what our proposal is; we've integrated some of their proposals. We also made it very clear, on the President's behalf that the President is not going to reopen the federal government with a promise that negotiations would begin thereafter.
We really believe that we can address these issues now. We stand ready to sit down with the Democratic leadership. The President has not only made plans to address the nation tomorrow night, but he's extended an invitation to Democratic leadership to come back to the White House to give us their response to the President's written proposal. And we hope they take us up on it. We think the American people deserve nothing less.
We recognize the hardship the shutdown can place on some 800,000 federal workers. We've taken some steps. I'm going to ask Russ to conclude here by giving you some facts about how we've taken steps at the President's direction to mitigate the impact of the shutdown.
But I want to — I'll close you with this: That what I said at the end of the meeting yesterday is that this is not about politics. I mean, when you look at these facts, and I think they've got the charts here somewhere that they're going to pass around — I think even the Washington Post, over this weekend, said that we have a "bona fide emergency" at our southern border; that was their term. And then they lamented the fact that there was little urgency in the Congress to address it.
So what I want to tell is what's driving the President and his determination to stand firm and his commitment — not just to build a wall, but to address this crisis with the kind of resources and reforms that will end this crisis at our southern border — that it's being driven by the facts. It's being — it's not being driven by politics or promises made.
I actually said to the Democrat staff, one of my least favorite terms is the one that shows up the media lot — it's the word "base." I don't like the word "base." It's your base, our base. It's not — this isn't about base; this about the American people. This is about human trafficking. This is about a humanitarian crisis. This is about the flow of illegal drugs, illegal immigration, and the President's determination to address that issue with action and with resources.
And what I want to leave you with, with this document, is: You should see this document and this proposal as evidence that we're listening. We're incorporating the ideas of the Democrats. We just need the Democrats to start negotiating.
But, Russ, can you give us a quick — make it really quick, because I know they've got lots of questions and time is short. A quick overview of mitigation efforts, with regards specifically to the shutdown.
DEPUTY DIRECTOR VOUGHT: Our mission from the President has been to make this shutdown as painless as possible, consistent with the law. So we have built on past efforts within this administration not to have the shutdown be used to weaponize against the American people.
This particular shutdown, we have made sure that the Coast Guard has gotten paid. They were not going to get paid. The Coast Guard got their last paycheck. We made sure that flood insurance policies — flood insurance, it was heading down a path where no new flood insurance policies would be done. We ensured that was going to happen. Park Service — Park Service, not only were they kept open, which is consistent with shutdowns under this administration, but, as of this weekend, we're making sure that trash can be collected, that waste — the restrooms can be cleaned out, et cetera.
Fish and Wildlife Service refuges will be kept open for the next 30 days. And then, specifically, I know you all have question on tax refunds. Tax refunds will go out. They will not be non-excepted activities. That's something that we will be sending out guidance on that we're fixing from past administrations.
So just to get back to what the Vice President was saying, we have been trying to make this as painless as possible, consistent with the law.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Russ. We can just go to questions please. Jon.
Q: Mr. Vice President, what do you say to Democrats that say that you're constantly being undermined by the President? So you put forth the idea of a $2.5 billion number for the wall, and the President undermined you. And going back even further, you signaled to Senate Republicans that the President would support the bill that passed the Senate. So what do you say to them? And is the President going to declare a national emergency, and try to do this himself and bypass Congress if he can't get these negotiations going anywhere?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, number one, thanks for asking the first question; I've been dying to answer it. (Laughter.) I really have.
First off, with regard to the CR, senators who were in the room know that what I said that day was the President was very disappointed there was not wall funding. There was no commitment to him signing the bill. I was pressed repeatedly as to whether he was supporting the bill. I said, "The President is very disappointed. He said he's still thinking about it. He said he has an open mind, but that there is no commitment to sign the bill." And my colleagues in the Senate know that's the fact.
The second piece: I can neither nor deny the numbers that have floated around about what was offered on the first day of the shutdown. But I can assure you, it came from the President of the United States. And Senator Schumer knows that. They were provided with documentation of that, that day, to Senator Leahy's office and to Senator Shelby's office.
We made an offer — a very good-faith offer — that was an effort to avoid the shutdown in its entirety. It came directly from the President of the United States after consultation with House Republicans, House conservatives, with Senate Republicans — and everyone involved knows that.
We were told on that day, when we made an inquiry that we were not to expect a counteroffer from the Democrats before Christmas and so we could let staff go. When I came to work the day after Christmas, we were ready to go to work; if there was a counteroffer, it would be Thursday, late afternoon, after Christmas that we were informed there would not be a counteroffer.
So, since then, we've continued to work, we've continued to engage, and we are where we are. But everybody involved in the process knows what the facts are. And the Democrats had documentation of the offer that was made on the Saturday before Christmas.
But, look, where we are today is what we've presented this weekend. And I just — if you leave here with no other conclusion of — "What did Pence invite us over to that very nautical office of his to communicate?" — it would be that the President's position is: There is a crisis at the southern border, and Democrats are refusing to negotiate.
Q: And the national emergency?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: On the national emergency, let me say, the President said in front of all you, just the other day, that it's something that he's considering looking into. He's made no decision on that.
I will say that one of the ways that Congress can find the resources for this is through an emergency supplement. And we did indicate to them, over the course of this weekend, that we would be willing to work with them on forming an emergency supplemental for some of the resources — the additional resources we're asking for.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Hallie, from NBC. So, two questions for you —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, Hallie.
Q: You're good. National emergency — is it appropriate, then, if the President hasn't decided on a national emergency, to use that as a threat now, as a bargaining chip to try to get this wall? And then I have another question for you on what Russ was talking about.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think he was answering a question in the Rose Garden, Hallie. That he was asked if he was considering it; he said he is considering it.
Look, if you'd have been around this table over this weekend, you'd have been — I think you would have been impressed by the professional and substantive and respectful nature of the conversation. There's no threats going on here. People are stating their positions clearly and plainly.
And, you know, when I sat down with the senior staff yesterday from the House and Senate for the Democrats, I looked at them and I said, "Look, let's all start with the recognition: I know you have no authority whatsoever to negotiate. So what I want to do is I want to tell you exactly where we're at. And, in our proposal, I want to show you that we've been listening to what your leaders have been suggesting, and we've incorporated that into some of our proposals here."
But my purpose was to give them something that they could take back. Now we've invited the leadership to come back to the White House and hopefully respond to this proposal.
Q: On some of the details you laid out about how you're relieving the pain for some of these federal workers, right now it seems like you're pretty adamant on your position and Dems are pretty adamant on theirs. If nothing changes, you have a lot of people who won't be getting paychecks no matter what OMB does in the long run, right? At what point does that pain outweigh the President's desire for this border barrier? At what point does that kick in to overrule this desire for a border — steel fence, if you will?
And then, just to clarify, is the President going to declare a national emergency or not? I couldn't tell from that that prior —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, I just said — I said I think he said the other day in the Rose Garden that it's something that he has looked at and is examining. He's made no decision. He's made no decision.
Look, I hope we don't find out the answer to your first question. We can work this out. I actually had a leading member — a Democrat member of the Senate — grab me by the elbow back the other day when I was doing swearing-in ceremonies for folks, which was a great honor for me. He grabbed me by the elbow and said, "You know, we could work this thing out in three hours." I mean, that's the truth of it.
I mean, most of the work has been done on the Senate appropriations bill. One of the things that we heard from the senior staff was we need another 30 days of a CR on the DHS because it's so difficult to rewrite these — most of the work has been done.
Some of you people have been following the congressional — some of you worked on Capitol Hill before. I remember you, right? And the simple fact is: If we can sit down and agree that there is a crisis, then plugging in the numbers into this process and reaching an agreement will not take very long. And the American people deserve to know that. But the Democrats have got to start negotiating.
Q: Thanks, Mr. Vice President, this is Jordan Fabian from the Hill.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Jordan, thanks. Thanks for saying your name. I don't get to (inaudible.)
Q: Absolutely. (Laughter.) So Senators Tillis and Collins and Gardner have said they're fine basically moving forward, without wall funding, to reopen to the government. So how concerned are you, here at the White House, about cracks starting to form among Republicans in Congress? And what are you doing to address that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I mean, we've been in touch with those members and others. I'll be on Capitol Hill tomorrow before the President's national address, briefing House members with the Secretary. We're going to be on Capitol Hill, meeting with the Senate on Wednesday, briefing them on the scope of this crisis.
And I think what we hear from Republican members and, frankly, quietly from many Democrat members is that when they see the scope of this crisis, when they see the facts presented to them, that they understand why the President is so adamant about doing something meaningful to advance border security.
And so we'll just continue educating members. I will tell you that, you know, I heard that a number of House members and — I don't think — I don't remember which show it was on, but there were several Democrat House members that were cited as having talked about their desire to see some sort of a negotiated settlement that would include funding for a wall.
But, look, that's — you know, we'd like to see Congress work its will on this. And I think there might be a lot more support on both sides of the aisle for a negotiated agreement that addresses the President's determination to construct a steel barrier and also advances the other priorities for border security that Democrats (inaudible.)
Q: Can you just say when that briefing with House members is happening? Is that before the speech tomorrow?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's supposed to be before the speech. Is it confirmed?
MR. AGEN: Before the speech, tomorrow night.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah, it will be before the speech. We'll give you — yes, please.
Q: I have two quick questions. The first is, you talked about —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And you can ask anything to Kirstjen or Jared, too. He's here. (Laughter.)
Q: Thank you. You said that the facts matter and that you need to, in some ways, really agree on the facts.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q: Part of what the White House has been saying is that there are a number of people who have crossed the southern border and that are potential terrorists. The reporting I've done shows that a lot of those people were apprehended at airports, and that drugs often come in smuggled through vehicles through legal ports of entry.
Can you walk through why you think a wall — a physical wall — is so essential to — I guess, I know that there's a list of things, but I feel like there are so many experts and immigration people that say there are so many other ways and so many other things we could use resources for other than a wall.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right. Well, I hope you can see there's more than wall in this letter.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: A lot more. And so that would be my first response.
Secondly — this is an issue that came up over the weekend. So the Secretary has got some of her expert people here. You want to address —
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Yeah, sure. I mean, I —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — the known or suspected terrorists number.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Sure.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Because we can — we can give them that.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: And we're going to — we recognize there's been some confusion on these terms over the weekend, so we're putting out a factsheet later today so we can get you as many definitions as you want.
But essentially there's known or suspected terrorists that DHS prevents from traveling or entering this country — 10 known or suspected terrorists a day. Most of those are through airports, as you suggested. Some of them are through land ports of entry, but most of them are through airports.
(Inaudible), a totally different term, is special interests aliens. Three thousand of those were encountered —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: What was that number?
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Three thousand.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Three thousand.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: — were encountered on the southern border last year. Special interest aliens are those who have travel patterns of concern. So what that means is they're traveling under false passports; they are traveling circuitously; they're traveling illegally. So they're cause for concern for us, and we want to give them additional screening. So we had 3,000 of those.
Criminals, you mentioned — 17,000 convicted criminals were stopped at the southern border last year.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: People with previous criminal records.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Exactly, I was just going to say. Important point there, is that. They're previously convicted, not the illegal entry itself. They're previously convicted of a crime.
But I think what's important and what the President and Vice President have made clear is that we do have a duty to understand who's coming into our country, any way in which they come. What we can say is that we absolutely have had cases of terrorists crossing the southern border. The number itself is sensitive, and that's why it's difficult. It's classified for obvious reasons — the ongoing investigations.
But what we can also say — there are thousands, literally thousands, of known or suspected terrorists traveling throughout the hemisphere.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: In our hemisphere.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: And so if we don't have a secured border, it makes it that much more difficult to know who is coming in.
The other point that the Commissioner has repeatedly raised in testimony is, if we lock down the ports of entry, which we're continuing to try to do, unfortunately what that does for nefarious populations, it encourages them to go around the ports of entry and actually enter illegally.
So it's not an "either/or"; it's an "and." We need secure ports of entry and secure, as much as possible, between the ports of entry.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q: And then I want to ask about the real pain of people. I've talked to so many people who are postponing surgeries, who are not getting paychecks, who are worried about HUD and whether or not they can even move into their apartments.
The President, at one point, and Sarah Sanders said, on live television, we'll find this $5 billion somewhere else if we have to for this wall funding. At what point does that pain — as Hallie said, at what point does that pain make the White House go back to that earlier stance where it says, okay, we'll find this $5 billion somewhere else and not shut down the government or keep the shutdown going?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, as I said, I hope we don't ever find out. Look, I honestly believe that Democrats believe in border security. I heard it again and again and again all weekend. I heard it from the leaders when we met twice last week in the Situation Room. They said they're for border security.
We were able, to their senior staff, to present the facts about a precipitous rise in illegal immigration at our southern border, particularly families and unaccompanied children. You hear about the statistics of criminality; you hear about narcotics and the like, and the magnet for human trafficking. And there's no reason in the world why we shouldn't be able to come together as Americans and address this issue.
Q: And what's your message for people?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But make no mistake about it, I mean, we all — as you can see, the President — you know, I have some memory of prior administrations — we're trying to mitigate the impact of the shutdown on everyday Americans instead of the opposite, which I've actually seen in the past. And we'll continue to do that in a manner consistent with the law.
But beyond the 800,000 federal workers — all the good Americans and great families that we're very sensitive to — is the tens of millions of Americans who are deeply troubled about the widening crisis on our southern border, and know that it's time for the Congress to act, and the President is determined to fight for them.
Q: One of your colleagues says that the President's private view has always been that the American people — regular Americans aren't that bothered by government shutdowns; they care much more about having a wall. Is that view shifting as we get closer to real effects on federal housing, food stamps, potentially tax returns? That's question one.
And question two: This was all foreseeable — the crisis, needing money for a wall, Mexico refusing to pay. Why didn't the President request $5.7 billion in his FY19 budget?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first, look, you know, the President — his (inaudible) is protect the American people and promote the prosperity of this country. He takes those very seriously. And it's not a matter of shifting priorities at all; the President is absolutely determined to continue to stand firm, not just for funding for a steel barrier on the southern border but for all of the other resources and reforms that we believe will have a significant impact on advancing the safety and security of the American people.
Q: Sorry, (inaudible) shifting view that the American people don't really care about shutdowns. Is that changing given that you're getting close to real effects?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know that I've ever —
Q: Heard him say that.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Heard him say that.
Q: Okay, great.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't know that I've ever heard him say that. You can ask him next time you see him. I know the President — look, as the President said, you know, he's certainly — you know, he certainly appreciates the challenges that federal workers are facing in the midst of a federal government shutdown, even a partial government shutdown. But his primary concern here is for the safety and security of the American people and for achieving real border security.
And the simple fact is: When you look at these facts, this ought to be one of those moments where we can set politics aside and find common ground.
And let me point again, the President — we put in writing and the President said it, out with you all on the South Lawn, a steel barrier for the southwest border.
Now, when I was in the Situation Room on Friday — some of you did some good reporting on it — that was news to some of the Democrat leaders in the room. That it had been talked about by some others that there might be a — that the President might have — be willing to move away from a concrete barrier on the southern border. And he made it very clear, in the meeting, that he was open to that. We've now put that formally in our proposal; he said that publically yesterday.
So what you see the President doing is looking for common grounds while standing firm on our commitment for border security and building a wall. What we need is for the Democrats to start negotiating.
Now, with regard to your second question, which I think it a really good question — why didn't we request the $5.7 billion — I'm going to tell the budget guy, my short answer is things have gotten a lot worse.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Yes.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Things have gotten a lot worse.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: I mean, the crisis — the charts will help you see that. But the difference is — I mean, we had 60,000 children sent here unaccompanied to the border last year. We have 30 percent of women who are raped on this journey, and that's actually not our stat; that's Doctors Without Borders. We have 70 percent of males — we have 7 out of 10 that are victims of violence. The humanitarian crisis has just skyrocketed since February.
So, as you know, the problem with the budget cycle is it's such a long lead time.
Q: But this money for a wall. You were always going to need to build the wall.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: But what the Vice President is trying to say is, it's not just that, but the crisis is skyrocketing so the need for a holistic security approach must be the only answer. Status — it's not the status quo, so we can't have the status quo budget request.
But, Russ, I'm sorry.
DEPUTY DIRECTOR VOUGHT: Just one thing —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: There's one more too that — and correct me if I'm wrong on this, Madam Secretary, when we made our budget submission, the first of last year, the capacity to deploy those resources and construct, we were told, was roughly at the $1.6 billion level annually.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: That's right. We have expanded.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: They've expanded that capacity dramatically, and so we believe that we can deploy the resources and engage in construction much more readily.
Did you have anything to add?
DEPUTY DIRECTOR VOUGHT: Just that we know that people are watching very closely how fast we spend the money. And so we don't want to request money for things that we can't spend the money. Our capacity to spend has accelerated, and as a result we have this new request.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm going to go to April. But let me also say, when we're talking about federal workers — and, you know, we have great respect for everybody that follows the calling into public service, whether it's elected office or whether it's serving government at every level. But that's also why the Democrats need to start negotiating.
I mean, literally, I just walked you through it. Fortunately, Jon gave me the opportunity to clarify the facts, right? I mean, the day the shutdown happened, there was an offer on the table from the President of the United States that would have ended the shutdown.
And a week — roughly a week later, the Democrats told us, "No counteroffer. No negotiation." We were here through the whole Christmas break. There was no engagement. The President brought the Democratic leadership here twice last week in the Situation Room. We sat down. We felt like, as Speaker Pelosi said, after the second meeting that there was increased understanding and there was progress. I agree; there was progress.
They tasked the senior staff for us to meet with them. And, as I said to you, the proposal we put forward yesterday, we think, represents our effort to incorporate their proposals into things that we're prepared to support.
But the Democrats have got to start negotiating for the sake of border security, national security, and for the sake of those 800,000 federal workers.
April, and then they're telling me I've got time for one more.
Q: Mr. Vice President, this is for you and those others at the table, if they choose to respond. Friday, federal employees get their paychecks — they're supposed to get their paychecks. Do you have hope that there's a possibility that things could be worked out? Because I'm told that the 11th hour is Thursday — that you can work things out up until Thursday, and there could be a mad scramble to make sure that payroll is done for these federal employees. Do you have hope that there could be a fix before Friday?
And also, when you talk about these terrorists and supposed terrorists or suspected terrorists, how many have been arrested and/or arraigned in federal district court in the last two years?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Do you want to answer that second one? Anybody know the answer to that?
SECRETARY NIELSEN: We can — that's the DOJ-tracked number. We can get you whatever is unclassified. (Inaudible.)
Q: Because that would quantify as well as qualify what you've been saying about terrorism at the border.
Q: We'd all like that.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Yeah, of course — if it's available.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good.
Q: Okay. Also, for Vice President Pence.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Do I have hope? I've always had hope. I'm a very hopeful person, if you know me. I mean, we'll get to know each other better; I'm very optimistic, very positive.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But if I can say this, because I obviously haven't said it yet: The Democrats need to start negotiating. I mean, look, I have a lot of respect for senior staff on Capitol Hill. I worked there for 12 years. You all know, those of you that worked Capitol Hill, members debate and then the senior staff sit down and they figure out — they put pencil to paper, and they work their hearts out.
I sat down — very respectful discussion with all these people, but all they were authorized to do was come and tell us we cannot begin negotiations until you reopen the government.
Fortunately, we found a way to facilitate a dialogue both on Saturday and on Sunday. But again, you know, by Sunday, I was able to tell them, "I recognize you have no authority whatsoever to negotiate anything, but tell us — help us understand more of what your position is. We're going to help you understand the metes and bounds of the crisis, and we're going to respond to your request for information with specificity." And we've done that.
Now the hope is that, when they return to Washington, D.C. this week, the Democratic leadership will accept the President's invitation to come here to the White House and start negotiating.
I will tell you, when I saw Steny Hoyer on television over the weekend — as someone who I served with a long time, I have great respect for — he — one of the aspects, the President saying "steel barrier" instead of "a concrete wall," he — I think — I paraphrase — I'm only paraphrasing, but he said something like, "That'll be something that we discuss."
So we'd love to discuss it. We'd love to sit down, and we'd love to begin negotiation, but the Democrats have got to start negotiating.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Phil.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Can you explain: How thoroughly has the White House Counsel's Office reviewed the possibility of the national emergency declaration? And can you assess the confidence of the administration that it would not get tied up in some sort of legal challenge? As you know, a lot of legal experts have said doing so would be an abuse of power by the President. And so what is the administration's position?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, what I can tell you is — what I'm aware of is that they're looking at it and the President is considering it. You know, I would — I wouldn't want to go beyond what the President has said with regard to that. But, look, there's no reason in the world why the Congress shouldn't be able to roll its sleeves up and work together to find a principled compromise to address what is a real crisis at our southern border.
And that's — I was a member of Congress; now I'm Vice President — that's what you get paid to do. So, you know, we'll leave — you know, all I know is that it's something that they've looked at, they've examined.
I do want to be clear not to confuse the point — one of the things we brought up over the weekend, Phil, is that we would be open to addressing some of these funding needs, which clearly would go beyond the cap — those of you that know the budget process well. We'd be willing to address them with emergency supplemental funding. And we indicated that to them because, you know, they — some of the initial conversation was, "Well, but where do you come up with this funding?"
And we honestly believe that we have a crisis at our southern border. I hope when you all — not as reporters, but just also as fellow Americans — look at these facts, you might be prepared, as other journalists have done, to recognize the same and communicate that to the country. And there's no reason in the world why we shouldn't be able to solve this through the regular legislative process.
Q: But why would Democrats yield —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Jim, I was about to call on you (inaudible.)
Q: Well, so — okay, well, I appreciate that.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I really was. Go ahead.
Q: Okay, if you shut down the government as soon as Democrats come into power in the House, what kind of example is that going to set, what kind of precedent is that going to set if the Democrats buckle as soon as they come into power — the very first confrontation that they have with you guys?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q: And I do have a question for Secretary Nielsen on the numbers. There is a State Department —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Actually, can I answer your question?
Q: Sure. Yeah.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Your facts — the government was shut down when Republicans were still in control of the House and Senate. We tried to solve it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Because —
Q: No, I understand that.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Because we need —
Q: But the Democrats were sworn into power —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah, because we need 60 votes in the Senate. You know that. I loved where Jon started, because I was dying to clarify these facts with you all. I can confirm — I can't confirm the number —
Q: 2.5 billion (inaudible)? (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I can neither confirm nor deny the number. What I can tell you is that there was a bona fide, in-writing offer on the day of the shutdown that would have ended the government shutdown. Okay?
The second question you asked, though — you know, I know that it's —
Q: You see where I coming from here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do. It's — but it makes for a lot of good conversation on cable television, but — and I didn't mean that to be a put down. It's not.
Q: It's okay.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: What I'm saying is: That's a political consideration. You're saying: Does it play politically for them or for us? What we're telling you is that — you look at these facts — there has been a precipitous increase in the last three to four months of families, unaccompanied minors coming to our southern border. It's the winter. We believe that it is only going to dramatically increase, as the year turns and we head toward the spring.
Now is the time — for the humanitarian crisis that we're facing, for the security crisis that we are facing — for us to come together, then address the issues that are important to the President — he believes that walls work. He's determined to stand firm until he receives the funds to build a steel barrier.
But the President also believes that additional personnel and the kind of reforms — the consensus reforms that we've now added to our proposal that came from the Democrats — are a real part of the solution.
Q: I just had one tiny little factual thing to ask —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And that's where we ought to stay focused.
Q: I understand. But, Madam Secretary, in a 2016 State Department report on terrorism in various countries — Country Reports 2016 and released July 2017, it says there are no known international terrorist organizations operating in Mexico, no evidence that any terrorist group has targeted U.S. citizens in Mexican territory, and no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.
I assume you're aware of that report.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: What's that from?
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Yeah.
Q: That is a State Department report released July of 2017.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: I am aware, Jim. But, as you know, it doesn't talk about Mexico as a transit country, and that's what we're trying to describe — the transits through Mexico, right? That's an old report, first of all. But, secondly, the —
Q: Well, released last year by your administration in July.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: And what we're saying is, there is a crisis; it changed. But it doesn't talk about transiting. The other thing I just want to make — important from the question over here — is, you know, this terrible adage we have to live with at the Department of Homeland Security, which is we have to get it right every day. And the terrorists — you know, they could get it right one time.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: So one terrorist is too many. We don't want to enable a process that's so broken that it pulls terrorists in. So I told you —
Q: But that number would suggest that there are a very small number —
SECRETARY NIELSEN: But I've just told you there's a thousand terrorists — over a thousand terrorists traveling — watchlisted individuals traveling through the hemisphere.
So what you're saying is a very small part of one report said that they don't have a Mexican terrorist. I'm not disputing what the State Department says one way or another —
Q: It says a member of any terrorist group. Okay.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You guys can continue the conversation, I promise.
Let me conclude just with the thought — you know, the President has said many times, a country without borders is not a country. The President is absolutely committed to border security. He's committed to constructing a steel barrier on the southern border. Our number is $5.7 billion.
But he's also committed to all of the items that are listed in our budget proposal that was presented to the Democrat leadership yesterday. We believe the facts support — and I — the first time I've quoted the Washington Post at one of these things. (Laughter.) But the Washington Post, you know, literally called it a "bona fide emergency" in an article over the weekend, and lamented the lack of — a "bona fide emergency," and lamented the lack of urgency on Capitol Hill to address it.
So our position is there is a crisis at the southern border. The President has directed our team to continue to make efforts to negotiate, to open the federal government, and to address the border crisis. But the Democrats need to start negotiating.
So thank you all.
Mike Pence, Remarks by the Vice President, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and OMB Deputy Director Russell Vought in Press Briefing on Border Security Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/336327