North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis joined me this morning to discuss the prospects for a four part Congressional compromise on immigration issues:
HH: Hour three of the program begins with United States Senator Thom Tillis from the great state of North Carolina. Senator, sorry about your Panthers.
TT: Oh, I’m in the pit of misery now, Hugh.
HH: Well, welcome to the Browns’ life. You’re not as deep in the pit as I am.
TT: Yeah, you’ve got a lot of experience.
HH: (laughing) That’s true. If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger, and we’re very strong indeed in Browns land. Senator Tillis, I read the Politico story this morning, the headline of which is that Democratic leaders face internal mutiny over Dreamers deal. I just talked with your colleague, Tom Cotton, about a deal. I noted that the four whips, Senator Cornyn and Senator Durbin, Mr. Hoyer and Mr. McCarthy, are all gathered. But there are other groups meeting as well. The Flake-Graham group is meeting, you and Senator Lankford are meeting. We’ve got Perdue and Cotton. What is going on here?
TT: Well, Hugh, first off, I think you’ve got these discussion groups that you’ve just described, but then Senator Lankford and I, since we filed the Succeed Act, have met with Durbin and Graham. We’ve been very closely linked to Chairman Grassley and John Cornyn. The difference between the Succeed Act and the Dream Act, when we filed it, we said that the baseline DACA provisions that we were trying to get some clarity on and clean up the Dream Act, had to be paired with border security or interior enforcement, or we wouldn’t support our own bill. So that’s really put us in a position to talk with parties across the spectrum and try and bridge the gap so that we do something different. Instead of having a Browns-like record on the Dream Act, we’re trying to actually get something done.
HH: Now careful there. Careful.
HH: Now the Browns are turning it around. Are you going to turn it around on a four-part bill, and those four parts were outlined by the President – yes, extended stay for DACA recipients up to 800,000 of them, yes, border security including barriers, fences and walls, but not across 2,000 miles of it, yes to the end of the diversity lottery, yes to the fact that chain migration is not going to apply to DACA. Isn’t that the basic deal? And is that going to get done?
TT: Well, that’s right. And if you take a look at the DACA side of that equation, all that was embodied in the Succeed Act. And I do think it will. I think that the President moved the ball way down the field, actually, by his, the meeting that we had this week. And he showed flexibility, but he also showed resolve around border security and enforcement that we think is very important. And look, you know, when you had Senators Obama and Clinton vote for border security, we’re just trying to see if they’re kind of changing the rules. All we’re asking them to do is go back to 2006 and recognize then they thought it was important, package that with something, so we not only solve the DACA problem, but we seriously reduce the chances we have another problem ten years from now.
HH: Will Democrats in your body hold the DACA recipients hostage and the budget hostage in order to avoid increasing border security? I really do not understand. I have great admiration for Kamala Harris. I think she’s going to be the nominee of the Democrats in two years to be president. But I do not understand her position that if we’re going to talk about, you know, all these other factors and let’s just talk about comprehensive immigration reform, why not bite, take a bite of the problem off the table and get this deal done?
TT: Well, I think you put your finger on it in terms of Harris’ position. She’s running for president. I can’t imagine anybody who has aspirations to run in 2020 is going to support this bill. They’re going to go to the old talking points. And quite honestly, some of them think that this issue being unsolved is a good issue for them when they’re running for national office. So for my way of thinking, it’s, you know, take a look at the art of the possible. I think that there is an opportunity to get reasonable minded Democrats on immigration issues, this one transaction, to say that the border security provisions we’re talking about make sense. They want to solve the situation for DACA recipients. Now to your point about maybe using this, holding it hostage for funding discussions, I don’t think that that’s a good idea. I think that it will poison the well and make it less likely that we can come up with a solution. So I think that’s more posturing than a reality that a week from now we’re going to be in a shutdown scenario.
HH: Now Senator Tillis, I’ve done a number of public meetings over the years where Dreamers have come and made their case, and I’ve talked with them, and I understand completely where they are. I can’t imagine there is a significant number of the 800,000 who give a lick if a wall is built. They want to stay in the United States. And therefore, I actually view it at objectively immoral to hold them hostage to politics if there is a solution out there, and a solution has been proposed.
TT: Oh, I completely agree. I think they may even, if they really dig in to the benefits of border security, should be pounding the table for it. The reality is the bad actors that come across the border, nobody wants, find themselves in the communities where there are high concentrations of DACA population. The make the communities less safe. I’ve gone into Hispanic communities, and they talk about the challenges they have there with gang members and others. So they should really be looking at this as a way to first give them certainty about their own legal status in the United States, and to actually improve the security of the communities that many of them live in, not all of them, but many of them. And I think it’s unreasonable, and look, I also think, Hugh, you’ve heard me talk about the humanitarian case before. Look, thousands of people die crossing the border over the last 20 years.
HH: Right, right.
TT: Thousands more die attempting to get to the Southern border. How anybody cannot see the compelling humanitarian case for it beyond homeland security tells me that they’re just trying to play games and use this as an issue to make it seem like it’s heartless or not compassionate. It’s quite the opposite. It’s a compassionate coupling of border security with certainty for the DACA population. And I do believe you were talking about the Democrats having a difficult time with it. I think that resonates with many reasonable-minded people on this issue.
HH: Now Senator, who actually has the lead in the Congress on this? Who is actually negotiating legislative language that would pass the Senate? I have Chairman Goodlatte coming up, and they’re going to do a bill, and it’s probably going to get through, and it will come to the Senate. Then, you’ll have to do the conference like the tax bill. But who has got the lead in the Senate?
TT: Well, you know, you have to look at different tracks. You know, we’re relying on Chuck Grassley, who’s moved a lot in favor of coming up with this solution for the DACA population. So you have, it’s, you can’t say that any one person has the lead. Durbin is sort of a reference point, because he’s been doing this for 16 years for the Democratic side. But I and James Lankford have played a role in trying to bridge the gap on the DACA provisions. Lindsey’s playing a role mainly with Senator Durbin on DACA, working very closely with John Cornyn. Now John Cornyn has the ball with respect to setting the schedule. But there are probably about six or seven of us who are very actively engaged, or I should say four or five of us who are actively engaged. But there are other people playing very important roles, people like Tom Cotton, David Perdue are in the mix, particularly when it relates to the lottery and to chain migration. So there’s no one person, and that honestly as we get closer to the finish line, we’ve got to really have clarity around who’s got the ball, who’s taking the point on specific provisions.
HH: One minute ago, President Trump tweeted 45 year low in illegal immigration in this year, and he cited Fox and Friends. Many Democrats will say that’s proof positive that we don’t need a wall. What’s your response?
TT: My response is you need to dig into the numbers. The President’s absolutely right. But a lot of those were front end loaded. If you take a look at what’s happened in terms of border crossings over the past, say, 30 to 90 days, there’s been an influx, because they feel like hey, maybe there’s something here that I can get on board with if I just get across the border. It actually, I think, the data, when you dig into it, builds a compelling case for security the border, because…
HH: All right, and then let me finish with the finish line, because that’s what this audience wants to know. When are you going to deliver or give up, because we just can’t keep going round and round on DACA. We have to either move on and get to infrastructure and other stuff, or we have to get it done. What’s the deal on the finish line?
TT: We deliver before the deadline, no question in my mind. We won’t have to give up. We’ll provide a solution. We’ll get border security. We’ll start funding CIS. And I think we’re successful before the deadline, and I believe long before the deadline.
HH: And how many miles of barrier will that include, I mean, real double-sided, tall, strong barriers with a road in between that the Border Patrol can use, the kind of stuff that Americans think about and see? When they talk about border security on flat lands, they’re thinking about that. How many miles of that, Senator?
TT: Net incremental new? About 700, and then a fair amount of money spent to reinforce and refortify barriers that already exist. That’s what the Department thinks they need as the infrastructure component to the people, technology and infrastructure that they ultimately roll out to fully security the border, but about 700 beyond what we have. And I think right now, we’ve got about 800 or 900 miles there. So it’s going to be at maybe half to 60% of the border will have some sort of larger structures. The other ones will be dealt with either through geography or through other means.
HH: That would be a huge win. Good luck in getting this delivered, Senator Tillis. It would be a big win for everyone, for those who don’t risk their lives anymore, for the DACA people who are here.
End of interview.