National Archives This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.

Cabinet Room

11:44 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you very much, everybody.  I’ll be leaving for Minnesota today.  We have two stops; one a very big one, and it will be a lot of fun.  I know a lot of you are going with us, so that will be interesting.

We’re meeting right now on immigration.  And we are very strong at the border, we’re very strong on security.  We want security for our country.  The Republicans want security and insist on security for our country, and we will have that.  At the same time, we have compassion.  We want to keep families together; it’s very important.  I’ll be signing something in a little while that’s going to do that.  And the people in this room want to do that, and they’re working on various pieces of legislation to get it done.  But I’ll be doing something that’s somewhat preemptive but ultimately will be matched by legislation, I’m sure.

We’re having a lot of problems with Democrats.  They don’t want to vote for anything.  They don’t care about lack of security.  They really would like to have open borders, where anybody in the world can just flow in, including from the Middle East.  From — anybody, anywhere, they can just flow into our country.  Tremendous problems with that.  Tremendous crime caused by that.  We’re just not going to do it.

I do want to say that because we’re all so busy, and I just mentioned to the congressmen and the senators in the room, that we are going to cancel and postpone tomorrow’s Congressional Picnic.  We have a Congressional Picnic tomorrow.  And I was just walking over to the Oval Office and I said, you know, it doesn’t feel right to have a picnic for Congress when we’re working on — doing something very important.  We have many things that are important.  We’re talking about trade.  We’re talking about many, many things.  But it didn’t feel exactly right to me.

So we will be officially postponing the Congressional Picnic for tomorrow.  We’ll make it another time when things are going extremely well.  And they are going, for the country, extremely well.

We have record-setting numbers in every way economically, but we want to solve this immigration problem, which is going on for 40 years, more.  It’s been going on forever.  And we want to see if we can solve it.  So we are cancelling or postponing the Congressional Picnic tomorrow.

Would anybody in the room have any question or a statement that you’d like to make while the press is here?  Anybody?  Anybody?

SENATOR SULLIVAN:  I’ll say one, Mr. President.  On the issue of immigration, trade, and investment, these are all areas where Congress has a lot of authority under the Constitution, and you have authority; the executive branch has authority under the Constitution.  And I think that’s why meetings like this are really important, bringing the leadership on both sides together because of important issues.

So appreciate the opportunity to let you see our views, hear our views on these issues, where we share authority on important matters.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  And we all very much have the same views.  We want to keep family together; at the same time, we have to be strong on the border.  Otherwise, you’ll have millions of people coming up — not thousands, like we have now; you’ll have millions of people flowing up and just overtaking the country.  And we’re not letting that happen.

So we have to be very strong on the border, but, at the same time, we want to be very compassionate.

Yes.  Lamar.

REPRESENTATIVE SMITH:  Mr. President, thanks for having us.  I think what Dan said was good.  We really have — on the issues, on trade, on immigration — we have a partnership under the Constitution.  We have some authority; the President has some authority.  We need to work together.

I was thinking this morning, when we look at President Nixon’s portrait in the White House, we think that he did the unexpected and he went to China, because he could do that; he was in a position to do it.  And President Reagan did the unexpected.  He went to the Berlin Wall and Moscow.

And when we were here a year ago, I think I suggested to you that immigration, which has bedeviled us for 40 years, as you’ve said — I believe you can — you’re the President who can help us solve the immigration problem with your leadership.  You may be able to do for immigration what Nixon did for China and Reagan did for the Soviet Union.  And a lot of us would like to work with you on that.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Lamar, very much.

We need the Democrats’ support, because we need their votes.  It’s very simple.  You know, people say we have a majority.  Well, we have a one majority in the Senate.  We need 60.  Unfortunately, we don’t go with the majority; we go with 60.  Someday, somebody will explain why, but that’s the way it is.  We have — we need 60 votes; we have 51 votes at the most.  So we need Democrat votes in order to do it, otherwise you can’t do it.

Tom, you were going to say something?  Tom Cotton.

SENATOR COTTON:  I think it’s very important that we protect our border.  We cannot allow a child to be a “get out of jail free” card and a “get into the U.S. free” ticket.

But at the same time, as you’ve said, as we’ve all said, we’d like to keep families together, keep them together at the border for the orderly and timely processing of the adults immigration claim.  If it’s a lawful, legitimate claim, we can admit the family into the country.  If not, they’ll have to go back to their home country.

I’m glad you’re looking for a solution for that.  I know that we, in Congress, are working on legislation that will allow our hardworking Border Patrol agents to keep families together at the border while we process their claims in a timely fashion.

THE PRESIDENT:  You’re right.  And you bring up something that I have to say.  Our Border Patrol agents and our ICE agents have done one great job.  ICE is throwing — we’re throwing, by the thousands, MS-13.  They come into the country.  We’re liberating towns on Long Island and other places.  We’re throwing them out by the thousands.  But we need laws that don’t allow them to come back in.

Mac, you’ve been very involved in this issue.  Do you have anything to say?

REPRESENTATIVE THORNBERRY:  Well, Mr. President, there are a number of issues that we’re going to be able to discuss today that touch on our country’s national security.  And certainly, controlling who and what comes across our border is an element of national security, as we do the compassionate thing with families.

And I look forward to working with you to further strengthen our military.  Together, we have turned around a declining situation.  But that’s also part of what we need to do together.  In fact, to Lamar’s point about we both have responsibilities, we can do more together.

THE PRESIDENT:  I will say, with all of the numbers that you see, if we weren’t strong on the border, you’d have hundreds of thousands of people pouring through the border.  They’d just be pouring through, and the country would not be the country anymore.


SENATOR GRAHAM:  We’ve got a big massive mess that’s been going on for decades, and we’re all going to fix it one day, I hope.  But we got a specific problem that puts the country in a dilemma.  Here’s your dilemma and was President Obama’s dilemma, and our dilemma: If a family shows up at the border and we let the family go into the country, and say please come back for your hearing, about 80 percent of the time the adults never show up for the hearing.  I think most Americans feel like that is bad; it will create a third wave of illegal immigration.

I want to be fair to people who came here under the old system, but I don’t want to create incentives to create a third wave.

The other choice is, is if you detain the parents who broke the law, under the Flores decision you have to break the family up.  So there’s a 1997 Supreme Court case that we’ve got to deal with.

So I would urge my Democratic friends to see if we can find a way to keep families together, have a legislative fix of the Flores decision, and argue about the other things later.

Because right now, Mr. President, you’re in a real bind.  If you detain the adults, the law requires the children to be separated.  If you let the adults into the country, they’d never show up.  It seems to me that we want to keep the family together and have the parents show up for their day in court.

To Senator Schumer: I know there’s a lot we don’t agree on, but surely to goodness we can fix this court decision, because the country is in a bad spot, not just you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, Lindsey, the dilemma is that if you’re weak — if you’re weak, which people would like you to be — if you’re really, really pathetically weak, the country is going to be overrun with millions of people.  And if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart.  That’s a tough dilemma.  Perhaps I’d rather be strong, but that’s a tough dilemma.

SENATOR JOHNSON:  Mr. President —

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, go ahead, Ron.

SENATOR JOHNSON:  In our community, homeland security, we’ve held 30 hearings on border security.  And you know how much I like data.  And, you know, Senator Graham mentioned the fact that we have these incentives.  There’s nothing compassionate, by the way, of enticing people to take a very dangerous journey on a train they call “the beast,” or through the desert.  We’ve seen the pictures of dead — desiccated bodies in the desert.  There’s nothing compassionate about that.

But here’s what’s happened since 2012, since DACA.  Just to talk about unaccompanied children: Prior to that, somewhere between 3,000 or 4,000 unaccompanied children from Central America came into this country.  Then DACA was instituted in 2012, and that problem skyrocketed.  The numbers on it — about 225,000 unaccompanied children, just from Central America; about almost half a million family members.  So we’ve got another 750,000 individuals — very sympathetic — that we’re just incentivizing for coming.  And we have to stop those incentives.

Our goal of our policy should be to reduce the flow of people incentivized to come to this country, and that’s what strong enforcement actually does.

THE PRESIDENT:  So just so everybody knows, this deal was just about done.  We had a deal signed.  President Obama signed DACA.  When he signed it, he said, I’m really not allowed to sign this, and I’m going to sign it anyway.  But he actually said, I’m not allowed to sign this, never going to hold up.  And they got a judge who held it up, and they got another one who held it up.  Then we had a couple that turned it down, and it’s going to be a Supreme Court issue.

But before it was held up, everyone assumed that the DACA would not be held up.  But we had a deal with the Democrats.  It was a deal that everybody agreed to.  It was $25 billion.  We were going to build a wall.  We would take care of many, many different things, including loopholes.  And it was all done, except when this judge ruled in favor of DACA, meaning that it could continue until we get to the Supreme Court, all of a sudden, they weren’t there anymore.  And that’s what happened, and that’s why we’re in this mess — because we had a couple of court decisions, which is going to force an issue to the Supreme Court that shouldn’t be forced to the Supreme Court.

Yes, John.

SENATOR HOEVEN:  Thanks for inviting up on these important issues, and for having this important discussion certainly on immigration, but also on trade.  And the context that I want to make sure we talk about is, we’ve made incredible progress on tax relief, we’ve made tremendous progress on regulatory relief, and it’s reflected in our economy.  Now, if we can do the same thing on trade, think what that means for our country in terms of economic growth, in terms of jobs, in terms of getting wages moving higher, and the impact that has for all Americans.

So we have to look at in that context.  When we talk about trade, it’s on top of tax relief, regulatory relief.  And now, if we can get the right policies in place on trade, think what that means for our country.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we’re doing very well on trade, I will say.  We’ve been really hurt as a country on trade, for many years.  Despite bad trade deals, we’re doing very well.  And now we’re making very good trade deals.  Well, you’ll be seeing that.  They’ll be announced pretty rapidly.  We already have a couple that are made.  But we’re making great trade deals.

And honestly, we need people coming into our country.  You know, we have a lot of companies coming into our country: Chrysler just announced.  We have Foxconn is going up to Wisconsin, as you know, and a great company.  They make the Apple iPhones and laptops and — unbelievable company.  We need people.  We need people that work for these companies because they’re coming in at a number that nobody ever thought possible.

So we want people to come into our country, but I think I can speak for everybody at the table: We want them to come in based on merit.  We want great people that will be great for our country.  And we want them to come in based on merit.  We’re going to need those people because we have so many companies coming to the country.

John, you were going to say something?

SENATOR CORNYN:  Mr. President, to your point, America is the most generous country in the world when it comes to legal immigration.  And I think we ought to draw a very clear line between legal immigration that benefits our country —

THE PRESIDENT:  Right, absolutely.

SENATOR CORNYN:  — and illegal immigration, which is a threat to public safety.

I just wanted to make the one point.  I agree with what Tom Cotton and others have said, what you’ve said, about being able to enforce the law and keep families together.  It’s not a mutually exclusive choice.  We can do both.  And I’m confident we will achieve that goal.

But I just want to point out that, coming from a border state, like Mac and I do, the border — the illegality along the border is a complex problem because it is — as somebody pointed out, it’s “commodity agnostic.”  In other words, they said it’s people, it’s drugs, it’s weapons.  And you talk about an opioid crisis in the United States — it’s not just prescription drugs; it’s heroin that comes from Mexico.


SENATOR CORNYN:  So this is a very complex situation.  We need law and order along the border.  Everybody agrees with that.  We need to be compassionate in the way we handle these families.  But it’s important to remember that larger context, because the cartels and the criminal organizations that benefit from this, they’re just making a lot of money and keeping this situation very dangerous for everybody involved.

THE PRESIDENT:  And, John, in many ways, they’re using the children and always — they’re using the children as a ticket to getting into the country.

SENATOR CORNYN:  Absolutely.

THE PRESIDENT:  And we have to remember that.  You know, there’s a number of the 12,000 children; 2,000 are with the parents, and 10,000 came up with some really horrible people, in some cases.  You have the coyotes, you have the traffickers — the human traffickers — not only drug traffickers, but you have the human traffickers.  And they use these children as passports to get into the country.  So we have to work on that, too.  It’s a very complex issue.

It has been going on — you shouldn’t feel guilty, because it’s been going on for many, many years.  Many, many decades.  But we’re going to solve that, along with a lot of other problems that we’ve already solved.  We’re doing well at solving problems.

You know, when I became President, we had North Korea; we had the Iran deal, which was no good; we had lots of problems with trade and bad trade deals.  There are a lot of things that we’ve solved and we’re solving that, in theory, I shouldn’t have had to solve.  These are things that should have been solved for a long time.  Even on trade.

We should have never allowed our past leaders — should have never allowed China to get to a point where there’s a $500 billion trade deficit with the United States.  When they went up, we should have gone up.  We should have gone up together — not where you allowed one to get so far ahead.  And that includes the European Union and it includes many others.  Shouldn’t have happened.

So we came at a time where there were plenty of problems to solve, and one of the big problems is immigration.  And I hope that within not too long a distance — and I mean beyond just one problem of immigration.  You can mention the word “comprehensive,” or you don’t have to use it.  A lot of politicians don’t like the word “comprehensive immigration reform.”  But I really think we have an opportunity to redo the whole immigration picture, and that’s what I’m looking to do, ultimately.  But right now, we want to fix this problem and I think we’ll be able to do that.

Does anybody else — David, do you want to say something?

SENATOR PERDUE:  Well, Mr. President, the last year and a half has shown an absolute turnaround in this economy.  I mean, we were faced with eight years of 1.9 percent economic growth.  We focused on, as John said, regulation, energy, taxes.  This year, we’ve put a Dodd-Frank bill — a bipartisan bill, and we freed up a couple trillion dollars.

And what this administration has done is freed up $6 trillion to go back into the economy.  This is real jobs — 3.5 million new jobs, 870 regulations reversed.  This economy is moving.  The rest of world is paying attention.

NATO has doubled their investment in terms of their military spending.  We have a new free trade agreement with Korea.  We’re heading in the right direction.  I just hope that we can focus on the priorities right now, within this trade equation, to get equal access.  It’s not right and Alibaba can do cloud computing in the U.S., and Google can’t do cloud computing in China.  And that’s what this is all about.

We’ve reduced global poverty by two-thirds in the last 40 years, while poverty in the United States has remained flat.  That’s not right.  And this is moving to change that.


SENATOR INHOFE:  I appreciate the fact that you call attention to what’s really happening now with the economy, due to two things: the tax bill and the regulations.  You know, we’re killing people with the regulations.  But what hasn’t been said around this table, and I’m surprised, the biggest accomplishment from your administration is what you’ve done with the military.

You succeeded a President who had a policy that said you can’t do anything with sequestration, with the military, unless you do it with the non-defense.  And we changed that.  We had to vote for a lousy budget bill to do it, but nonetheless, it is changed.  We’ve broken parity, and we’re now rebuilding our military.

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s true.  The military is really incredible.  We’re ordering new planes, new ships — all jobs too.  You know, jobs, I would say, in this case is a far second.  But we’re going to have a military like we’ve never had before, and it’s great.  $700 billion approved and $716 [billion].  And in that budget, $6 billion for opioid.  That’s an important thing, too.

So a lot of progress is being made.

Mike, did you have something to say?  Mike Pence?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:   Yes.  Thank you, Mr. President.  And I just — I know I speak for the President when I express the gratitude of this administration for the support of the members of the Senate and the House that are gathered around here.  You’ve delivered for the American people on national security and rebuilding our military; on tax cuts and regulatory reform, restoring our economy.

But what the President reiterated again yesterday, and he has said every day from when he sought this office, is we have a crisis of illegal immigration.  And as the President made clear, we don’t want families to be separated.  We don’t want children taken away from parents.  But right now, under the law — and we sit with these lawmakers — we only have two choices before us:  Number one is, don’t prosecute people who come into our country illegally, or prosecute them and then, under court cases and the law, they have to be separated from their children.

What I want to be clear about is we’re calling on these lawmakers, Mr. President, not just to solve this problem in a way that affirms our commitment to law and order and compassion, which we can do.  And there are proposals in the Senate and proposals in the House to do that.  But the President’s vision, articulated in his State of the Union address, was let’s solve the whole problem.  Let’s build a wall, let’s close the loopholes, let’s solve the problem for 1.8 million people that were brought into this country through no fault of their own, and let’s deal with law and order and compassion with this issue of family separation at our borders.

And I would say, with great respect to the members of Congress, as the House considers legislation tomorrow and the Senate is considering legislation, the President has postponed the Congressional Picnic — we’re calling on Congress to act.  Let’s roll our sleeves up, let’s work the whole problem.  Let’s end this crisis of illegal immigration.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Does anybody else have anything to say?  Because I think we’re pretty much — yes, Adam.

REPRESENTATIVE KINZINGER:  Mr. President, thank you.  And just from the House perspective, I want to say — and as a still-currently serving Guard member — you’re my Commander-in-Chief — there has been a marked difference in the security and the good feelings in the military.  They understand that we’re investing in them again, even though we’re asking them to do a lot.

And secondly, security plays a big role.  So that includes border security.  And the bill that we’re going to bring up, and hopefully pass in the House this week, fully funds the border and takes care of all these issues.  And I hope the House can pass it.  And I wish Democrats would join us, because frankly, it’s a lot of stuff in there that they like, too.  It’s an 80 percent issue.  Unfortunately, I think they like the politics of this a little better.

And I also want to say, we really wish you didn’t take Secretary Pompeo from the House, because he did a great job.  (Laughter.)  He’s doing a great job.

THE PRESIDENT:  He’s doing a great job.  He is doing a great job.  Thank you, Adam, very much.  Appreciate it.

Anybody over here?  Yes.

REPRESENTATIVE CHENEY:  Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to echo particularly what Chairman Thornberry and Senator Inhofe said in terms of the change that we’ve seen — and Adam as well — the change we’ve seen in terms of resources for the military.  We got to make sure we don’t have another CR for the military.


REPRESENTATIVE CHENEY:  And we are working hard in the House.  We’re hopeful we’re going to pass defense appropriations bill next week in the House.  And we need to make sure that that gets taken up and passed in the Senate, and that we don’t give you another omnibus-type bill —

THE PRESIDENT:  Please.  Please, that would be very nice.

REPRESENTATIVE CHENEY: — that we get a straight defense appropriations bill passed and taken up.  And that will be critically important to continue the work you’ve done to rebuild the military.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Liz.  And say hello to your father, please.


THE PRESIDENT:  Great guy.

PARTICIPANT:  Can you tell Adam to shave — (laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  He looks good.  Handsome guy.

So thank you all very much.  We appreciate it.

Q    Mr. President, are you supporting (inaudible) to keep families together?  (Inaudible) executive order?

THE PRESIDENT:  We are.  We’re looking to keep families together.  It’s very important.

Q    Are you signing an executive order?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’re going to be signing an executive order.  We’re going to also count on Congress, obviously.  But we are signing an executive order in a little while.  We’re going to keep families together, but we still have to maintain toughness, or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for, that we don’t want.

So I’m going to be signing an executive order in a little while before I go to Minnesota.  But at the same time, I think you have to understand: We’re keeping families together, but we have to keep our borders strong.  We will be overrun with crime and with people that should not be in our country.

Q    Will you accept a standalone bill addressing the family separation issue?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’re going to see what happens.

Q    Mr. President, did the images of those young children at the border change your mind on this?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.  They affect everybody.  Those images affect everybody.  But I have to say that you have double standards.  You have people that want absolute security and safety, and you have people that do look at the children.  And then you have people like me, and I think most of the people in this room, that want both.  We want the heart, but we also want strong borders, and we want no crime.

We don’t want crime in this country.  We don’t want people coming in.  We don’t want people coming in from the Middle East through our border, using children to get through the lines.  We don’t want that.  We’re doing too good a job to allow that to happen.  So we’re not going to allow that to happen.

Thank you very much.  Thank you.

Q    (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Nothing.  This has been going on for — when you say what took long — this has been going on for 50 years, longer.  This has been going on under President Obama, under President Bush.  This has been going on for many, many years.  We’re going to see if we can solve it.  This is not something that happened just now.

You look at the images from 2014.  I was watching this morning, and they were showing images from 2014.  They blow away what we’re looking at today.  And that was not during this; that was during the Obama administration.  I saw images that were horrible.  And you know the ones I’m talking about because I’m sure you all saw them too.

We are going to see if we can solve the immigration problem like we’ve solved so many other problems.  And I think we’ll get it done.

Thank you very much.

Q    (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  North Korea is doing great.  North Korea is doing great.  North Korea is doing great.

Q    (Inaudible) for North Korea?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, no, no.  North Korea itself is doing really well.

Thank you very much.  Good job, Sarah.


12:10 P.M. EDT