'This Week' Transcript 4-23-17: Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Xavier Becerra
A rush transcript for "This Week" on April 23, 2017.
— -- THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT FOR 'THIS WEEK' on April 23, 2017 and it will be updated.
ANNOUNCER: Starting right now on THIS WEEK with George Stephanopoulos.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From this day forward, it's going to be only America first.
ANNOUNCER: Reality check. After promising so much so fast, claiming victory again and again.
TRUMP: I got it done in the first 100 days. You think that's easy?
ANNOUNCER: What has Trump really accomplished? The surprising answers from our team of reporters, expert analysts, and our brand-new poll.
And now, with that day of judgment fast approaching --
TRUMP: It's going to be great. It will happen.
ANNOUNCER: -- what does Trump have planned for his final 100-day surprise?
TRUMP: And we'll be having a big announcement on Wednesday.
ANNOUNCER: Plus, one of Trump's earliest, most influential supporters -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his first Sunday show interview. All angles on the extraordinary first 100 days of this unprecedented presidency.
From ABC News, it's THIS WEEK. Here now, chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: Good morning. When it comes to politics, not much unites us these days. But I bet we all agree Donald Trump, love him or hate him, is a different kind of president, unlike any we've seen before. Running for president, he broke all the rules and won. Being president, it turns out, a bit more complicated.
And as he completes his first 100 days this week, even Trump seems conflicted. On Tuesday, he boasted of the best start of any president ever. By Friday, he was calling the 100-day benchmark ridiculous. By this time next week, he could be the first president in history to face a government shutdown in his first 100 days.
Over the next hour, we're going to take a deep dive into President Trump's tumultuous start. What is working, what's not. What he must do now to make good on his promise of massive change.
And we begin with some striking results from our brand new poll with "The Washington Post". It finds Trump in a pretty deep hole, the worst approval ratings around the 100-day mark for any president in modern times. 42 percent of Americans give his performance a thumbs up; 53 percent disapprove. And as you see in this chart, no other president has been underwater like that. The average rating since Truman, 69-19.
Remember, for most presidents, this is the honeymoon period. Over time, their ratings drift down. They rarely, if ever, go up. Right now, a majority, 53 percent, do think the president is a strong leader. But nearly 6 in 10 doubt his honesty, temperament, empathy, and judgment. 56 percent believe he just hasn't accomplished all that much in this first three months.
One big bright spot for Trump, no buyer's remorse from the voters who want him in the White House. 96 percent of his supporters stand by their vote. And get this, if a new election were held today, our poll shows that Trump would even beat Hillary Clinton in the popular vote.
That finding is a flashing red light for Democrats. We're going the analyze their predicament today as well. Explore whether a president can governor at home when only his base gives him the benefit of the doubt. And what it means in the face of serious security threats overseas. Will the country stand by an unpopular president if crisis hits?
First off, a view from the White House with our man in the front row of the briefing room every day, chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl. And Jon, let's start with a reality check on this claim from the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days. That includes on military, on the border, on trade, on regulation, on law enforcement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, Jon, that is the kind of hyperbolic claim we've come to expect from the president. It's hard to think of what kind of standard it could be true on. But even by the standard he set for himself on the legislative front, he's not meeting the mark.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, on one hand, George, Donald Trump has truly shaken up Washington and he has big plans for the rest of the year. But by the standards that he set for himself during the campaign, there is no question that he has fallen dramatically short in the first 100 days.
Just take a look at this. Back in October, he offered what he called a contract with the American voter. This is ten specific promises, ten pieces of legislation, that he promised to introduce and, quote, "fight for their passage within the first 100 day of my administration."
Well, George, only one of those has even been introduced. And that is repealing and replacing Obamacare. And obviously, that hasn't passed. There is one area where there has been a significant impact though, in the first 100 days, and that's on regulations. Cutting, rolling back regulations that Obama put in place, especially on the environment. His economic team believes this is already having an impact on business, and they believe that ultimately rolling back those regulations could even have more of an impact that tax reform.
And George, you mentioned him saying this is a ridiculous mark. But I've got to tell you, I am seeing a mad scramble in the West Wing to try to get points on the board before the 100-day marker. On one hand, they want to pass, make another effort to pass health care. And then there's tax reform. You mentioned the promise that he made on Friday that he is going to unveil a plan for tax reform on Wednesday of next week. This shocked his own top advisers.
The idea had been floated a few days earlier. They had agreed that they wouldn't do it yet. It wasn't ready. And then they heard him say it, clearly an indication that he wants to still get something done, something more before they reach that 100 days.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Jon, how about the White House behind the scenes? It's been pretty unsettled. We've seen some of the conflict spill out into the public. There had been some talk of a shakeup. Has that settled down now or do you still think one is coming?
KARL: Well, the infighting seems to have settled down a bit. But, George, I do believe that we will see personnel changes in this White House, perhaps as soon as the coming weeks. There's no question that the president is hearing from his outside advisers. The people he trusts on the outside urging him to make some significant changes to the White House management structure. I don't think this will be immediate, but I would not be surprised to see it coming in the coming weeks.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Jon Karl, thanks very much.
Let's move overseas now to our chief foreign correspondent Terry Moran in London.
And Terry, you know, the world so shocked at first by the election of Donald Trump and some of his promises, but as you look at how he's been handling his various meetings overseas, the various conflicts, some sense that he's trimming his sails, that the world is changing Trump more than Trump is changing the world.
TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what President Trump is learning, George, is what all presidents learn. It was summed up a long time ago by a British prime minister who was supposedly asked by a young reporter what's your foreign policy? And he said events, dear boy, events. And it's true, events can drive presidents more than presidents can.
In just his first 100 days, President Trump has had to deal with the horrific Syrian chemical weapons attack, with the accelerating North Korean nuclear crisis, other things. And in doing so, what he's found is that nations change leaders, but changing the national interest is harder. So, he finds advisers who know how the United States handles itself in the world in this regard. For example, on Russia, whatever he wanted to do, changing the relationship with Russia, it's just a geostrategic fact that the national interest of Russia and the United States in places like Syria and eastern Europe is antagonistic, it's just -- that's just what he's had to deal with.
All that said, he has made a huge mark already from day one on trade and climate change. In that way, he is turning the United States around in the world.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Meantime, his populist nationalist message, he rode that wave following Brexit vote. And you've been reporting on the echoes of that across Europe.
MORAN: It's amazing to see the reaction of Europe to the election of Donald Trump. When he won it was scene a fire bell in the night. That he crystallized this sentiment in many, many countries among voters who think the establishment, the media establishment, the political establishment, the corporate establishment does not have their backs.
And then he started governing. And there was kind of almost a Trump backlash, people alarmed at the failure of the Muslim travel ban, which was too extreme for a lot of European voters to begin with, at the failure of health care, and at the sense this was a daily melodrama that was sometimes unpredictable, sometimes unhinged.
And so when I spoke with French Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen who may well be the next president in France, she wanted to hitch her star to Donald Trump early on. But when I talked to her a couple of weeks ago, she was already kind of distancing herself. I am my own woman. We have our own issues in France. And you see that people much more weary of the kind of leadership.
But once again, he does represent around the world a new kind of politics that voters are desperate for.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we're going to see that French election. Hey, Terry Moran, thanks very much.
Trump is unprecedented in so many ways. The big one, no president in modern times hascontinued to profit from such a sprawling business empire so connected to his personal brand.
Let's bring in our chief business correspondent Rebecca Jarvis. And she's in front of the Trump hotel in Las Vegas for more on that.
And Rebecca, you know, some ethics experts already saying there's never been a worse conflict of interest the fact that the president continues to profit from his businesses. They say it's a violation of the constitution and the lawsuits have begun.
REBECCA JARVIS, ABC NEWS CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, George.
Short of selling all of those assets, putting them into a blind trust run by someone other than the family, these conflicts of interest are bound to continue coming up. Trump businesses span more than 500 companies. They're based from here in Las Vegas around the world. And one big issue that ethics experts point to is that the counter party in a number of these foreign deals have close connections to, for example, foreign governments.
The other issue is that because this is the real estate business, a number of those deals are done with shell companies. And George, we don't know who the counterpart is in the shell companies, often, we're blind to the identity of those individuals.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Not without his tax returns, we don't.
The public doesn't seem too concerned about that right now. But our poll does show they questions about the president having his daughter and son-in-law in the White House. -- 61 percent disapprove. Now those two have gone farther in separating themselves from their businesses but there are plenty of minefields there as well.
JARVIS: Absolutely, George. So Jared Kushner has divested of many of his real estate holdings. Ivanka Trump has handed over the reins of her company to an employee who runs the day-to-day operations. But already we've seen these issues coming up. For example, just a handful weeks ago, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner dined at Mar-a-Lago with the president of China the very same day Ivanka Trump's business won three trademark approvals inside of China.
So George, we do continue to see here these questions, even with the family's making efforts to divest themselves of some of those holdings, their day-to-day operations. But still these questions remain, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Rebecca Jarvis, thanks very much.
And as we saw from our poll, the president is holding a pretty strong grip on his base. 96 percent of his voters say they'd vote for him again.
I want to bring in a man who talks to a good chunk of those voters every day, Bill Cunningham of WLW Radio in Cincinnati. Broadcasts across Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Solid Trump country.
Mr. Cunningham, how do you explain this grip that the president maintains on those voters?
BILL CUNNINGHAM, NEWS RADIO 700WLW, CINCINNATI, OH: You know, George, I think largely it's emotional. Donald Trump is a rock star. And to give you some idea, we're the middle of Trump country. I can walk or drive to Canada, Mexico, the Atlantic ocean, and the border of California, and never set foot in a Clinton state or a Clinton county.
In Cincinnati, also, "USA Today", which is not exactly a conservative publication, sent out a bunch of reporters into Southern Ohio and Kentucky a few weeks ago the to get ready for a story today. And the first sentence of the story is, "Keep it up, President Trump." I think there's a disconnect among the real people who live in America and the coastal elites.
I can go weeks and weeks and never get a telephone call from anyone criticizing the Trumpster. We love Donald J. Trump.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So they love the fact that he's a rock star, but what do they want him to keep up? What's the most important thing they want him to get done for them right now?
CUNNINGHAM: For real people, it's about jobs, the economy, and immigration. Think about this, since he took office, about $2.5 trillion had been put into the American economy through the stock market. The regulation cutback, in one study, had saving American businesses about $86 billion just in one year. With immigration, Ohioans -- Monroe, Ohio, has an MS-13 problem. Pike County, east of Cincinnati, has an MS-13 marijuana grow operation. If you cut down on illegal immigration, you cut down on criminal aliens and you cut down on heroin. Three thousands Ohioans are going to die this year from heroin overdoses. All of that's not coming from Tennessee. It's coming from Guadalajara.
So everywhere I look, whether it's regulations, the stock market, energy -- coal's going to come back -- infrastructure, I see successes everywhere. And so when I listen to the coastal elites talk about how Trump's doing this and Trump's doing that, I think about normal Americans like me and I'm darn proud to have him as our president.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you hearing any warning signs out there?
CUNNINGHAM: You know, George, to be honest with you, no. Maybe it was -- think about this idea. When Obama was in the White House, when Obama was attacked, his core supporters stood up as proud warriors and defended Obama. When we see Trump under withering attacks, morning, noon, and night from the mainstream media, from the front page "New York Times", "Washington Post", we want to harden our support for Trump because we know the alternative was Hillary Clinton? Are you kidding me? Hillary Clinton? We had nothing to do with her. In fact, there were counties in Ohio that voted 60 percent over what Romney won four years ago. This is the middle of Trump country and maybe we see things that bright, smart people in New York City don't see.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is the view from Trump country.
Let's talk to bright, smart people here in New York City right now. Our experts, the former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter, who of course was President Obama's communications director; our chief political analyst, Matthew Dowd; Roland Martin, host and managing editor of News 1 Now.
So, Matthew Dowd, we just heard Bill Cunningham's take. Your take on the first 100 days?
MATTHEW DOWD, ABC NEWS CHIEF POLITICA LANALYST: Well, I look at it this way. In taking a look at this poll, I would describe it as good news, bad news, really bad news for President Trump in this. And the good news is, as we've talked about, he's got a solid level of support. It doesn't surprise me. There's a thing sociologists called anchoring, and voters anchor. And Donald Trump does have an emotional connection, and you can't break an emotional connection with a rational argument. You just can't. And I remember Richard Nixon kept a majority of his vote up all the way up until the day he resigned.
The bad news is a majority of the country doesn't think he's honest and trustworthy, and still questions his temperament.
The really bad news is, and this is a little fact that I looked up this morning, is no president has ever finished his first term going into a re-election with a higher approval rating than he had at his 100 days. That is problematic (INAUDIBLE).
But the interesting thing is Democrats have not taken advantage of any of the polls.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, we're going to talk about the Democrats.
How about that last point, Mr. Speaker, from Matthew Dowd? That was one of the things that I had noticed as well. You start out high here. You don't tend to find things that make you do higher.
NEWT GINGRICH, FMR. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You guys all collectively lived through Trump knocking off the Republicans, Trump knocking off Hillary, being wrong about all of it at every stage. And you turn around and play the same old conventional wisdom. Donald Trump is the most divisive president since Abraham Lincoln. He represents an alternative world so while you have riots at places like Berkeley, he -- you have two parallel universes here. There's actually a very funny Megyn Kelly interview I did two weeks before the election, she's giving me all this polling data. And I said, look, there are two universes.
Now if your universe is right, Hillary Clinton's president. If our universe is right, Donald Trump is president.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I completely take that point. That's how he's being seen out in the country, in parts of the country right now. But how does it affect the governing? Can you govern effectively --
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- with 40 percent --
GINGRICH: Well, first of all, as you know, because you've done it, presidents are really powerful. Presidents who are willful and strong-willed and focused have enormous capability to move the system.
But second, I have a very simple test. Reagan in his farewell address said I am so proud that together we created 19 million jobs. If Trump has the economy rolling in 2020, he'll get re-elected. I don't care what the current numbers are. If Trump doesn't have the economy rolling is 2020, he has a problem.
ROLAND MARTIN, NEWS 1 NOW: It's called patience. All that stuff Bill said, how wonderful they feel about Trump, they'll screw, those some places, they'll screw with their health care, with their education. And so they can love Trump all day but when you start looking at his policies, look his budget, those same people are going to be crying, because his policies are going to hurt them the most.
You talk about coal coming back. We lost more retail jobs under Trump than the number of coal jobs in America. Coal is not coming back. Again, they think that because he keeps saying it. OK, go right ahead. All you got to do is just wait for it, because those same folks are going to be crying a year from now.
STEPHANIE CUTTER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: So -- excuse me. I actually agree with a little bit of what everybody has said here. I think that 100 days is not an extraordinary amount of time for a president who has never governed, never really stepped foot in Washington, to walk into the White House doors and learn what it means to be president. And clearly, Trump is learning in real time on the job. We saw that with health care. He wasn't able to accomplish anything with health care because he had had no idea how Congress worked.
MARTIN: It was so hard.
CUTTER: And he had no idea how health care worked. Will that change in the next go-round? You know, I would like to believe that our president of the United States understands how the American health care system works.
But I think we have to look at this in a bigger picture. These voters that we are talking about, the Trump voters, the president still does have a halo effect with them. Because he hasn't done anything to hurt them that they see yet. He hasn't really done anything to help them.
What's he done? He's put forward a travel ban that's been reversed by the courts. He's rolled back women's rights. He's rolled back LGBT rights. He's shrinking regulation. Those things don't have an everyday impact on those people's lives. But, as Roland said, as budgets get passed, as legislation moves, or as their lives don't get better, all of that's going to change.
DOWD: George, I think, first of all, Donald Trump has always benefited like a guy in basketball that can push up against somebody, right? And the reason he benefited and continues to benefit in this poll is he's pushed up against Hillary Clinton. That's the problem that Democrats have. They have to have an emerging leader. If they don't have an emerging leader that's popular, Donald Trump is going to do well.
The 100 days -- I have the say, the 100 days thing is a little bit of a PR fiction, right? It was started by FDR and it's really not a standard that's predictive. How well you do in first 100 days doesn't tell you how you're going to do in a reelection.
But there ought to be some standard, and I look at the first 100 days in three ways. One, how's your approval rating? It's bad. for Donald Trump What's your level of acceptance on your policies? It's bad for Donald Trump. And the third way, which I think is most important, as Jon said, which is accountability to your own standard. On Donald Trump's own standard of what he said he was going to do in the first 100 days, he hasn't done very well. It's a little bit like the guy that says he's going to lose 20 pounds in 100 days and brags to everybody he's going to lose 20 pounds, and at the end of the 20 days, you say you don't like you've lost -- and he says why are you holding me to that standard?
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to bring that to the speaker right now, because now we're facing -- and Jon Karl's talked about how the president is pushing hard for health care to come back. He's going to introduce something on tax reform, maybe some principles, on Wednesday, all while he's facing this possibility of a government shutdown next week. How does he maneuver through that?
GINGRICH: Well, I mean, first of all, I don't think Donald J. Trump worries a lot about next Saturday. I mean, this is a guy who's --
MARTIN: Except for golf.
GINGRICH: Well, yes, except for golf. But I think this is a guy who has built -- no, this is a guy who's built an empire by thinking about very long term things. He's been very patient. And I think that Stephanie had it right.
DOWD: You're describing Donald Trump as patient?
GINGRICH: Very. He's very patient strategically. He has enormous energy tactically. But he's very -- go back and look at the polls, go back and look at what he went through to get to be president. This is a guy who said I can be president, everybody else laughed at him, literally at him.
DOWD: I don't think...
GINGRICH: Here's what I think he's got to do, and I think he will do. The odds are very high that the House Republicans are going to pass a health reform bill. Dave Brat...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Maybe not next week, but some time in the next few weeks.
GINGRICH: Within the few weeks. The odds are very high that by next Friday, they will pass a one-week extension and not close the government and have to think about it and they then may pass another week extension.
But they're all going to fudge around.
Here's what I think you guys don't get, conservative Supreme Court justice. Done. Coming across the border down by I think 65 percent, 70 percent. That's a fact. Having a guy like John Kelly in charge of homeland security is very impressive if you're a conservative. The fact is that they have passed I think 28 bills. They have had 25 or 26 executive orders.
If you're a normal Trump supporter, you're thinking, OK getting his brains beaten out by the elite media, that's about right. But in fact he's getting a lot done. And you watch this contrast. And I'm really frankly very angry about it, the White House Correspondents' Dinner has brought in a person who is viciously anti-Republican, anti-Trump, anti-gun rights. And you're going to watch people who look at that, people in Ohio who look at that on C-SPAN and watch Trump's rally that night, which is very smart. And they're going to say, OK, which America do identify with? They're going to identify with Trump.
MARTIN: They're bringing in a comedian, whatever.
GINGRICH: Viciously anti-Trump.
MARTIN: OK, fine, whatever you want to call it. He's a comedian.
But here's the deal, you talk about this whole deal with cultural elites. I've traveled this country, OK, somebody who is born and raised in Texas. And the bottom line of this here, those same very people who keep saying they're loving Trump, they're also are scared to death of his health care bill. And if the House Republicans pass a bill that's going the affect their health care, trust me, you think those town halls have been tough so far. These same Republicans are scared to death, and that's why they're canceling them. And those are the same real people you're talking about.
GINGRICH: They're changing the bill. They're going to have guaranteed issue...
MARTIN: You're changing a bill that nobody nose what it is, nobody sees what it is. And when those very same people, when they see the real effects on how it affects them, they're going to stop loving Trump.
CUTTER: I think that there are a couple of signs here, you know, or talk about Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton and Washington elites versus Donald Trump, we're heading into a midterm election where a lot of that is not going to matter except for how much of a drag Donald Trump is on the Republican ticket in terms of energy and enthusiasm with Republicans turning out.
There are a couple of signs here that Republicans are worried. Number one, there's a lot of anxiety about whether they do health care. Why are they going take this vote? Because it will impact the outcome of the midterm election when you're taking away somebody's health care rights, premiums are going up, they're going to own that, big time.
The second thing is we do have some evidence through these special elections that the Democratic base, while it may not be as unified as it could, is an extremely energized. And Trump is a big factor. That not the whole answer, but it's a pig factor. And we've seen that in Georgia, I believe it's your old...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Basically by the anti-Trump fact, but one of the things we also saw in this poll, Matthew, you hinted at before, most Americans now, 67 percent, think the Democrats are more out of touch than Republicans.
DOWD: Well, this is the problematic, this how Donald Trump benefits, right, and this is why Democrats are still -- it's a very problematic situation for the Democrats. And I think everything, you know, god love her, but every time Hillary Clinton shows up at a speech and does that, it doesn't help the Democrats.
They have to -- in my view, they have to figure out who is their next generation, who is their next round of leaders that can push up against Donald Trump.
And I'll think of one exception with some -- or a couple of exceptions, what the speaker said, I grew up in Michigan. I grew up in Detroit. I have ten brothers and sisters. I live in Texas. I see the panorama of the country. I was one of the first people that said Donald Trump was going win the Republican nomination and beat the others, because I saw the level of support out there.
Keep in mind that Donald Trump ever since he was inaugurated as the president, a majority of the country has disapproved of Donald Trump.
And, so, yes, while we have this, while we can keep talking about elites, elites, elites, I know in almost every single urban area in the country -- Austin, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, St. Louis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, the city of Cincinnati, in spite of that, Cleveland, all of those areas they didn't vote for...
MARTIN: It's urban-rural.
CUTTER: Well, it's also suburban.
GINGRICH: Two quick things. First, there's one study last week, 91 percent of the elite media coverage of Trump has been negative. Trump will have negative coverage. It will have an effect on the polls. That's just the reality. This is the war we're in.
DOWD: War of facts and accountability.
GINGRICH: No, it's a war you guys make up.
But the second thing is...
DOWD: You guys?
GINGRICH: I believe, I'm happy to come back and talk about it later in a couple of weeks, by the time they get a bill through the House and the Senate, and through conference committee, they'll be able to answer every question you're talking about in terms of Trump voters and health care. And it will be better than the collapsing Obamacare (INAUDIBLE).
MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE) Senate.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The marker has been set. We'll have you all back. That was great discussion. Thank you all.
Up next, we're going to hear from the president's top lawyer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his first THIS WEEK interview. That's when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: What I talk about immigration and when I talk about illegal immigration and all the problems with crime and everything else, I think of a great man, and I want to just introduce you to him for a second. Do you know who I'm talking about? Who am I talking about? Nobody knows right now. Because we've kept it a surprise. Senator Jeff Sessions!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Candidate Trump's first and most fervent supporter in the Senate Jeff Sessions, now the Attorney General of the United States. General Sessions, welcome to THIS WEEK. Thanks for coming on this morning.
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED S TATES: Thank you, George. Good to be -- good to be with you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's go back to that contract with the American voters that Donald Trump had. Top of the list, this border wall. I want to put it up on the screen right now.
He said he was going to end the illegal immigration, fully funds the construction of a wall on our southern board with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall.
As you know, the president is trying to get a down payment for the border wall in the government funding bill that needs to pass this week. Democrats insist it's a nonstarter. So is the president going to insist on that funding even if it means a government shutdown?
SESSIONS: I can't imagine the Democrats would shut down the government over an objection to building a down payment on a wall that can end the lawlessness. We've already received, George, a 60 percent or so reduction. March was the lowest illegal immigration month in 17 years.
But our goal is not to reduce it 50 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent, but to end illegality, create a lawful system of immigration where people apply to come here, they wait their turn, a system that we can be proud of as Americans.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So the president won't sign the bill if it doesn't include funding for the wall?
SESSIONS: Well, he'll make those decisions. I'm not engaged in the budget negotiations. But I know one thing, we need that wall. It will help us complete the promise that the president has made to the American people. That's what they want. The American people, they have a right to expect it. And I believe Congress will eventually deliver.
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you may know, it's not just the Democrats who are opposed to the wall. "The Wall Street Journal" reports that not a single member of the House or the Senate from the border states would commit to funding the wall. None of the four Republican senators in the border states.
So he has a problem with his own party there, as well.
And, you know, you say the Democrats would shut down the government.
If the president vetoes that bill, he's likely to get a lot of the blame.
SESSIONS: Well, I don't know about that. But I'll tell you one thing, he deserves credit for General Kelly, for a complete reversal in the morale of the Border Patrol and ICE officers that we were with, General Kelly and I were, Thursday and Friday, in Texas and California. We've run -- we are reversing that.
You know, that's one reason I supported him. I truly believed that we could do this and this is a tremendous achievement that a lot of people thought were in -- was impossible.
And I do believe this wall, this barrier, is going to be essential in ending the illegality. It will save us billions of dollars, because the numbers of people that are coming will be reduced dramatically. The amount of drugs entering our country will be reduced.
The number of people we are housing in detention centers will be declining.
We're going to out -- get people out of the country to these countries that aren't taking them back after they're due to be deported. It's going to save us hundreds of millions, billions of dollars.
So this is going to be a great achievement for the American people. It's good and decent and the right thing to do.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You sound quite confident right there.
Do you have any evidence that Mexico is going to pay for it?
SESSIONS: Well, we're going to get paid for it one way or the other. I know there's $4 billion a year in excess payments, according to the Department of the Treasury's own inspector general several years ago that are going to payments to people -- tax credits that they shouldn't get.
Now, these are mostly Mexicans.
And those kind of things add up -- $4 billion a year for 10 years is $40 billion. There are a lot of ways we can find money to help pay for this. But in the long run...
STEPHANOPOULOS: How are you going to...
SESSIONS: -- they've lost those...
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- account for that money?
SESSIONS: What's that?
STEPHANOPOULOS: How are you going to account for...
SESSIONS: Well, we just...
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- that money?
SESSIONS: The Department of Treasury, several years ago, under the Obama administration, said that if you change the regulations and enforced it properly, you would save up to $4 billion a year.
There are other things that we can do at the border to create revenue that would pay for the wall. There's no doubt about that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But in your discussions with your counterparts in Mexico, they have given no indication at all that the Mexican government is prepared to pay a single cent for this wall (INAUDIBLE)?
SESSIONS: Well, I don't expect the Mexican government to appropriate money for it. But there are ways that we can deal with our trade situation to create the revenue for it. No doubt about it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's go on the situation with the Dreamers, those immigrants who were brought here as children.
The president has said they should rest easy. Some of his conservative supporters, including Mark Krikorian, are saying that's a broken promise from the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK KRIKORIAN: During the campaign, President -- now President Trump, had said he was, you know, going to end that on day one because it's an unconstitutional action by the president. And, of course, he's right, it's illegal. And they've done nothing to it. They've done absolutely nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: And he goes on to say that work permits are still being issued to Dreamers who didn't have them before.
So is he right when he says this promise has been broken?
SESSIONS: Well, I think the president is honoring his promise to end the lawlessness at the border. The first thing we need to do is to stop the additional flow of illegal people into our country.
Many of these are involved in criminal enterprises, hauling drugs and that kind of thing. We need to end that.
And then we've got to wrestle with what to do about people who have been here a long time.
But I would say that the president is honoring his commitments to the American people to fix this border and we're going to stay at it. The Border Patrol is working very hard and so is the Department of Justice. We're going to back them up.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Even though he hasn't kept the specific commitment right there, the president did say, as I said, this week, to the Associated Press, that the Dreamers should rest easy. He's not going after the Dreamers. That's his policy, he said.
Is it the policy of the Justice Department?
SESSIONS: That -- the Homeland Security has primary jurisdiction there. Their first and strongest priority, no doubt about it, is the criminal element that we have in our country that have come here illegally. So they're focusing primarily on that and there's no doubt the president has sympathy for young people who were brought here at early ages.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So they can rest easy?
SESSIONS: Well, we'll see. I believe that everyone that enters the country unlawfully is subject to being deported; however, we've got -- we don't have the ability to round up everybody and there's no plans to do that. But we're going to focus first, as the president has directed us, on the criminal element. And we have got to get that under control.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Your Justice Department this week sent a letter to several cities and the state of California, the so-called sanctuary cities, warning that they're putting their federal funding at risk if they don't begin to cooperate more with the federal government. The attorney general of the state of California has responded to that, Xavier Becerra. He's coming up on our program next. And he says that federal threats to take away resources from law enforcement or our people in an attempt to bully states and localities into carrying out the new administration's unsound deportation plan are reckless and jeopardize public safety. Your response?
SESSIONS: It's nothing reckless, it's nothing extreme about saying if someone comes through our country unlawfully and commits a crime, another crime in the country, that they should be deported. That's what the law says. You shall be deported. So, it also says that state and local governments cannot bar their police and law enforcement officers from sharing information with the federal government.
In other words, if a person commits a crime in Los Angeles or in the case of Kate Steinle, San Francisco, and an individual there is released multiple times and he comes back to San Francisco because it's a sanctuary city and commits a murder, that's the kind of situation that that person should have been deported previously and not allowed to return.
There is nothing extreme or unreasonable about that. I urge our mayors and our politicians to listen to their law officers. Let's work together, let's cooperate between the federal and state authorities, let's remove dangerous criminals from America. It only makes common sense.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That letter did raise the ire of one prominent law enforcement official here in the city of New York. The New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill. He was responding to this sentence in that letter you sent. It said New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city's soft on crime stance.
Commissioner O'Neill said that make his blood boil. And the record shows that crime is at record lows right now in New York City, murder below the national average.
SESSIONS: Well, that statement was focused on the sanctuary city policy. But look, for decades...
STEPHANOPOULOS: It said soft on crime.
SESSIONS: I know. I know.
For four decades, New York has been a fabulous city for law enforcement. They have developed some of the best techniques ever. They're so far ahead of many other cities. I think we should all study the tactics that have been developed. Rudy Giuliani and others over the decades have transformed New York. They have proven community-based policing, broken windows policing, to make cities safer saved lives and other cities need to be studying what they've done.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Sounds like you're taking back what you wrote?
SESSIONS: Well, that was a statement that went out dealing with the sanctuary city situation. The police officers, the sergeants association has made a statement saying Jeff Sessions is correct. This is a soft on crime policy.
But, look, we want to work with our mayors, we want to improve law enforcement in America. Half of the murders in New York are gang-related, many of those are people -- gangs who have illegal aliens involved in them. So why would you not want to deport those and make the city even safer?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about the travel ban. You're taking some heat for comments you've made on the Mark Levin show this week. I want to play them for our audience.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SESSIONS: I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS; Of course, that island in the Pacific is the state of Hawaii. You've been blasted by Hawaii's senators, one called it dog whistle politics. Your response?
SESSIONS: Look, they filed a suit, the plaintiffs get to chose the venue. They filed a lawsuit in Hawaii. And the first decision on the new executive order came out of Hawaii. And all I was saying was the president...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not just call it the state of Hawaii?
SESSIONS: The president -- nobody has a sense of humor anymore. Look. The president has to deal with the Department of Defense, the national intelligence agencies, CIA. He knows the threats to this country. He is responsible for protecting America.
This order is lawful. It's within his authority constitutionally and explicit statutory authority. We're going to defend that order all the way up. And so you do have a situation in which one judge out of 700 in America has stopped this order.
I think it's a mistake. And we're going to battle in the courts and I think we'll eventually win.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And at a rally last month, the president said this current ban is just a watered down version of the original. He says the administration should go back to the first one, push that one all the way. Why not do that?
SESSIONS: The first one was lawful. I've got to tell you, I totally support the president's view that the first order was lawful. But we spent tremendous amounts of time to respond and write it in a way that would satisfy the courts.
I'm even more confident that the second order will be upheld. And the president has ever right to say that when you have dangerous countries, six countries, three of them are state sponsors of terrorism, three of them are failed states with terrorism -- terrorists in them, that we need to be really careful.
He has got a 90-day pause in the entries from those countries. That's a reasonable thing. And try to review how we vet people from countries like that, and be careful about it. I think he has a duty to protect America. And the American people should support him 100 percent.
STEPHANOPOULOS: General Sessions, thanks for joining thus morning.
SESSIONS: Thank you, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We have heard from the administration, so how will Democrats fight back? California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joins us next.
STEPHANOPOULOS: When we come back, a response to the attorney general from the attorney general of California, Xavier Becerra.
Plus, a look ahead to today's tumultuous elections in France.
STEPHANOPOULOS: When we come back, a response to the attorney general from the attorney general of California, Xavier Becerra.
Plus a look ahead to today's tumultuous elections in France.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
XAVIER BECERRA, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF CALIFORNIA: I don't believe California wants to stop moving forward. How will we move forward? Whether at times we have to defend against a hostile external force or we have to advance something on our own? I can't tell you. I don't think California is looking to pick a fight, but we're ready for one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: And there he is. The attorney general of California, Xavier Becerra. He joins us from Sacramento this morning. Mr. Attorney General, thank you for joining us.
Hostile external forces, is that the federal government?
BECERRA: Whoever wants to come at us, that's hostility and we'll be ready.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You just heard the Attorney General Jeff Sessions first of all on that issue of sanctuary cities, following up on that letter he sent to you and several cities in Florida, he's calling your policies reckless and he's not backing down at all, threatening the funding that's coming to your sate.
BECERRA: We're ready. We have been abiding by federal law for quite some time before Jeff Sessions became the attorney general. We're going the continue to abide by federal law and the U.S. constitution. And we're hoping the federal government will also abide by the U.S. constitution, which givers my state the right to decide how to do public safety. That's not their responsibility under the U.S. constitution.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He says --
BECERRA: We fully respect that they have the responsibility to enforce immigration law. So, we're in the business of public safety. We're not in the business of deportation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard him. He's saying, especially in California, you're not fulfilling that duty. He pointed out the murder of Kate Steinle.
BECERRA: He can show us how we're doing that right now. And I will tell you that we can prove anywhere we need to where the court of public opinion or the court of law that we are protecting our people. That's why California today is the sixth large economy in the world. We created more jobs than number two Florida and number three Texas combined. And we're doing it by keeping families together, not separating them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, there does seem to be some confusion on the administration's policy toward the DREAMers right now.
We heard President Trump say earlier this week that they should rest easy, it's not his policy to go after them, but we also just heard the attorney general saying right there that everyone who is in this country in an undocumented way is vulnerable to deportation.
BECERRA: Yeah, it's not clear what we can trust, what statement we can believe in, and that causes a great deal of not just anxiety, but confusion, not just for those immigrant families, but for our law enforcement personnel.
We're in California trying to just continue to move forward, to create those jobs. We just made a major investment in building our roads and bridges and fixing our highways. While the federal government and the administration keep talking about doing infrastructure. We're doing it. But it sure makes it tough to be able to move forward and predict what's going to happen at least coming from Washington, D.C., when we're trying to continue to move forward. It's very difficult. And I can understand why any DREAMer, any immigrant family, or anyone on the streets whose policing our streets to keep us safe, is uncertain about what Donald Trump and Attorney General Sessions are talking about.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the cases in the news this week, this man Juan Montez, who he says he was picked up by border agents inside the state of California, they dispute that right now saying that he was arrested after he came back in from Mexico.
Do you have any independent information on that?
BECERRA: Not really, George. And, as you said, the facts still are in dispute.
What I'd like to do, and I've been trying to reach out to Attorney General Sessions and to DHS Secretary Kelly, to get a sense of really what is their policy when it comes to the DREAMers. We have a policy in place that the president has today not changed, and so we'd like to know is it in fact a policy of this president and this administration and this Attorney General Sessions to abide by the DACA policy that allows DREAMers to continue to go to school, to go to work, to believe that they're not going to be out there and be apprehended by ICE agents simply because they look like people who weren't born here. If you can figure that out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You're just coming off 24 years in the House of Representatives. Of course, your former colleagues are facing a real decision this week whether or not to accede to that request from the by the president to fund the border wall. You heard Secretary General Sessions on that right there. He says Democrats are making a big mistake.
Do you see any indications that they're prepared to give the president any of this funding?
BECERRA: George, I'm still trying to figure out who believes that a medieval situation to fix our broken immigrant situation is what we need. And if Republicans are going to insist on having this border wall funding in our federal budget, then, one, Donald Trump is reneging on his promise to have someone else pay. I think here American taxpayers probably are very much aligned with Mexico. None of them, whether it's Mexico or our taxpayers want to pay for a medieval wall to try to fix our broken immigration system. And Republicans, if they had their act in order in congress, wouldn't have to worry about what Democrats are doing, the minority party. And George, I've been – I was a member of congress, as you said, for 24 years both in the majority and the minority.
The minority cannot kill or pass a bill by the sheer fact that you're in the minority. Or the majority can do that. And right now, if the majority doesn't have its act together, that's when you find a government shutdown in the making.
And so right now , Republicans can't get their act together. They're not reaching out to Democrats to have a bipartisan solution. So, if we don't have a budget in place, it's not because of a border wall or anything else, it's because Republicans can't get their act together.
STEPHANOPOULOS: General Becerra, thanks for joining us this morning.
BECERRA: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: When we come back, that critical election in France under way right now. It could send shock waves around the world. We're live in Paris with the latest.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is the scene in Paris today. Tense, heavy police presence, as voters head to the polls for the first round of their presidential elections. It is momentous. Ripples could be felt across Europe and around the world. Our Alex Marquardt is on the scene.
And, Alex, how this one is going to turn out today is anyone's bet.
ALEX MARQUARDT, ABC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It really is. It's a beautiful election Sunday here in Paris. These polling stations have been bustling all day. It's fair the say that this is the most highly anticipated and potentially disruptive election in recent French history.
Its ramifications felt not just here in France but well beyond it. It will be major test for this wave of populism that we have seen sweep across Europe.
Of course, much of the focus is on far right candidate Marine Le Pen whose campaign has been compared to that of Donald Trump's. She has vowed to crack down on illegal immigration, on Islamic extremism. She has promised to take France out of the E.U. and out of NATO.
And then there's the Russian factor. She is seen as the favored candidate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who she met last month. She has gotten millions of dollars in campaign loans from Russian banks.
It's far from a done deal that she'll go through to the second round. But she's among the top four candidates. So there's a significant chance, which is why there's so much focus on her.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And President Trump, of course, with his tweet, suggested that he thinks that terrorist attack in France just the other day could end up helping Marine Le Pen.
But I think what people there are thinking is that even if she gets into the runoff, likely would have a much harder time one-on-one against one of the other candidates?
MARQUARDT: Well, security is going to be major factor in this election no matter what. Keep in mind, France is at its highest state of alert because of the spate of terror attacks that we have seen over the past two-and-a-half years. Some 50,000 extra forces in the streets today.
The big question is whether that terror attack on Thursday that left one policeman dead will change the dynamics. It certainly could. Many immediately assume that it would help Le Pen.
But many experts now also saying that it could help Francois Fillon, who is the embattled former conservative prime minister, who, despite being plagued by a corruption scandal, could be seen in these unsettling times as a steadying hand.
STEPHANOPOULOS: All eyes on France today. Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.
And we'll be right back after this from our ABC stations.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT." And I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."
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