The first panel discussion on Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press focused entirely on immigration-related topics. A group of supposedly objective reporters whined about President Trump’s immigration policies while moderator Chuck Todd pushed a conspiracy theory that “the damage is done” regarding the citizenship question because even if it does not end up on the census, “many Hispanics may hear that it is on the form and they fear that it’s on the form.”
The segment began with Shawna Thomas of Vice News complaining about “kids in cages” and how “this is not how America treats people.” Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg provided a reality check, noting that “this is actually a bigger problem than Trump. The nature of the immigrants who are trying to cross the border is different than what our system was set up to deal with.”
Specifically, “It used to be able-bodied, single men, mostly from Mexico, coming across the border.” Goldberg talked about how the situation has completely changed where “you have Central Americans who are bringing small kids and they basically are using these kids…as a pass to get across the border.” According to Goldberg, the status quo “creates a really perverse incentive to send more people to the border that perpetuates the problem.”
Unmoved by Goldberg’s analysis, WBUR Senior Washington Correspondent Kimberly Atkins rejected the notion that the border crisis was not exclusively a Trump problem: “the incentive is also being exacerbated by the Trump administration and by Trump and his policies and his rhetoric itself...talking about cutting aid to these countries.” Next, NBC News White House Correspondent Peter Alexander complained that President Trump has not “shown the same empathy to some of these children that are in the United States” that he did to “those Syrian children,” referring to the President’s decision to strike a Syrian government air base because of “disturbing” images of children injured in a chemical weapons attack.
The conversation turned to the fight over the citizenship question, with Todd asking “why does he continue to fight this?” After expressing certainty that President Trump’s comment that the purpose of the citizenship question was for “redistricting” sunk his chances to get the question on the 2020 census, Todd worried that “even though it won’t be on the form, many Hispanics may hear that it is on the form and they fear that it’s on the form. He has now said it enough and maybe...the damage is done.” Goldberg responded to Todd’s conspiracy theory by describing it as a “whiff of four-dimensional chess.”
Thomas expressed concern that the President was “trying to turn this into a ploy where we redistrict based on citizenship,” worrying that “if that is the case…what a lot of people have said is that that means Republicans are an advantage. White people have an advantage.” Thomas actually undermined her argument by basically admitting that counting non-citizens in the census helps Democrats. It looks like media hysteria surrounding the citizenship question and President Trump’s immigration policies knows no bounds.
A transcript of the relevant portion of Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press is below. Click “expand” to read more.
Meet the Press
CHUCK TODD: Welcome back. The panel is here. NBC News White House Correspondent Peter Alexander; Kimberly Atkins, the Senior Washington News Correspondent for WBUR in Boston; Shawna Thomas, the Washington Bureau Chief for Vice News, former member, actually, always a member of the Meet the Press family; and Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg, among other attributes. Welcome, all. Shawna, I feel like…and I had…I worried about this going into both of those interviews is that I would come out of it and viewers would come out of it with…
SHAWNA THOMAS: No answers.
TODD: …no answers.
TODD: And we’re in this cul-de-sac and it feels as if…and I think it’s because of the President, but I don’t know how we get out of this cul-de-sac.
SHAWNA THOMAS: Well, I mean, I think Secretary…former Secretary Jeh Johnson’s op-ed in the, the Post was interesting mostly because he basically said comprehensive immigration reform is super hard and we tried it during the Obama administration, didn’t get it done even though there was some bipartisan agreement on what to do.
TODD: They tried it in the Bush administration, and it didn’t get done.
THOMAS: Didn’t get done. Even though there was some bipartisan agreement on what to do and the thing that I keep wondering is the same question you asked them, which is, okay, Republicans and Democrats, you…you both acknowledge that kids in cages and those photos you showed before we went to break is terrible. This is not how America treats people. We don’t have enough space in HHS facilities to move people, which is why it’s taking so long. What are you going to do? And you are going to have to get together and maybe force the President into doing something but I think the other thing we know is the President thinks this is a deterrent.
THOMAS: And every time we put these pictures out there, it’s a deterrent and he is not…
TODD: Is it?
TODD: What’s the evidence that it’s a deterrent? I don’t know if there’s been…right? I mean, we don’t know.
THOMAS: Yeah. That…but he’s hoping it’s a deterrent. And if people come out and their stories are terrible, maybe he will end up getting what he wants out of that.
TODD: Jonah, I have a feeling if the President…Capitol Hill could solve this with…if the President weren’t involved on this one.
JONAH GOLDBERG: Oh, that…that is a true statement about many things. But look, it’s telling. That video you showed at the beginning of Sarah Fabian, the Trump administration lawyer, defending those conditions, what’s left out in a lot of media coverage is that was a case from the Obama administration.
GOLDBERG: And the point being is that this is actually a bigger problem than Trump. The nature of the immigrants who are trying to cross the border is different than what our system was set up to deal with. It used to be able-bodied, single men, mostly from Mexico, coming across the border. We had a legal system to deal with that. Now because of the Flores decision and other aspects of our law, you have Central Americans who are bringing small kids and they basically are using these kids, sometimes they’re not their own kids, sometimes they are, obviously, most of the time they are. They’re using these kids as a pass to get across the border. And Jeh Johnson is absolutely right. Will Hurd is absolutely right. If we don’t deal with the problem as it actually exists rather than the one we imagine it to be, it creates…as the Obama administration discovered, it creates a really perverse incentive to send more people to the border that perpetuates the problem.
KIMBERLY ATKINS: But the incentive is also being exacerbated by the Trump administration and by Trump and his policies and his rhetoric itself. I mean, talking about cutting aid to these countries and, and…you know, using kids as…I don’t know if they’re so much using kids. The vast majority of the time, children come with a family member. If it is not a parent, they are treated as if they are in an unaccompanied minor. But these are people coming as families, escaping atrocious conditions. If they see what’s happening at the border, if they know, that just tells you how atrocious these conditions are. But the President sees this not only as a deterrent, these…but he sees it as a political advantage. He sees he’s being tough on immigration. That’s what his people want. And that’s why he stood, stood up in 2017 and 2018, he had an opportunity to do immigration reform. He could…he could have said, I did what Bush and Obama couldn’t do. And he walked away from it, both times, because he thought it was politically disadvantageous.
PETER ALEXANDER: I’m struck by a couple things here. First of all, the fact that the President had a different reaction when he saw those Syrian children. Obviously, the circumstances were different. He saw the images of what was taking place to these children overseas; he thought the solution was easy. I could bomb these runways. Didn’t hurt anybody and I got to be the hero in this situation. Why hasn’t he had the same impact…why hasn’t he shown the same empathy to some of these children that are in the United States? I spoke to a Trump ally this morning, who said, in effect, it’s because the President thinks this is a lot more complicated, he thinks the bad guy here is less clear. Some people say he’s the bad guy. So clearly the bad guy has to be the Democrats but the President, as you know from day one, he is so focused on marketing and selling, right? So this is all about…that’s why he put out the tweet saying that we’re going to deport millions and millions of these undocumented immigrants. Chuck, they only have 6,000 deportation officers in the country. You’re not deporting millions and millions of people.
TODD: But he’ll keep saying it.
ALEXANDER: Of course he’ll keep saying it because the bottom line is this is the message that he campaigned on.
TODD: Which brings me to the census. Because it’s, it’s, it’s…why does he continue to fight this? He needs to be seen by his base as fighting, but he under…if he was trying to make a legal argument to get it back, this comment here destroyed any chance of that. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, you need it for many reasons. Number one, you need it for Congress. You need it for Congress, for districting. You need it for appropriations. Where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS: Yeah, I mean, number one in this country, when we redistrict based on the census, we do it based on persons, not citizens so what everyone is saying is that when he says that, is he trying to like turn this into a ploy where we redistrict based on citizenship? And if that is the case, what everyone has…what a lot of people have said is that that means Republicans are an advantage. White people have an advantage.
THOMAS: And, and…but the federal government has specifically said in this case that it had nothing to do with discrimination. The Supreme Court didn’t even take that part up.
THOMAS: They didn’t let them take that part up. Now, the Maryland judge is letting them take that part up and now the people on the other side, the plaintiffs, have this.
TODD: But Jonah, I don’t mean to be this cynical here…
GOLDBERG: Go ahead.
TODD: …but the President is going to continue to talk about it, and even though it won’t be on the…on the, on the form, many Hispanics may hear that it is on the form or may fear that it’s on the form. He has now said it enough, and maybe that’s…the damage is done.
GOLDBERG: Maybe. My, my…there’s a whiff of four-dimensional chess that you’re describing.
TODD: Well, and he’s never a four-dimensional player; three-dimensional, two-dimensional.
GOLDBERG: I mean, we should be clear. I actually think the, the…the executive branch has every constitutional right to actually ask about citizenship and nativity, which it did for about 190 years. This was a completely unforced error, where, which Judge…Justice Roberts basically said if you just hadn’t screwed up the way you did this, you could ask it and the problem now is…is that, that Trump is not getting that message, and they’re not getting their ducks in a row. It’s another one of these things where if they just were less on the crazy train, they could get some of the things they want done.
ALEXANDER: It’s the difference between growing pains and the pains of not growing. Right? I was so struck by what the lawyer said when they were, when they were discussing this, the lawyer said, as the tweet came out, this was the first time this lawyer heard about it, said “I’m going to do my absolute best to figure out what’s going on here.”
TODD: By the way, I want to take that quote…we should quickly put it up, guys. I’m sorry. I’m going to take that quote, it could apply to every tweet he has ever said to any administration official. I…I couldn’t. Any administration. Here it is. “The tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the President’s position on this issue, just like the plaintiffs and Your Honor. I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture other than what the President has tweeted. But, obviously, as you can imagine, I am doing my absolute best to figure out what’s going on.”
THOMAS: It’s also the conversation we’ve all had with our bosses. Let’s be honest.
TODD: It is the…that is, to me, the quote of the administration.
ALEXANDER: No, I think…I think you’re exactly right. The bottom line is he has the perception of fighting, though, is what matters here. That’s why there’s all this…there’s all this shifting going on behind the scenes right now to figure out what to do.