White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told “Fox News Sunday” that the Biden administration plans to allow media into Border Patrol migrant detention facilities at some point in the future and said that the surge in people seeking asylum is the result of destabilizing violence and natural disaster in Central America.
Host Chris Wallace challenged Psaki on transparency, noting that: “At this point, in terms of allowing access to Border Patrol facilities for reporters, you are being less transparent than the Trump administration.”
“The president and you have both been in pains over these first two months to talk about how to pledge that you’re going to be transparent with the American people… Jen, these kids are living in these conditions now. They’re not living in these conditions some indeterminate time from now when the president says everything will be fixed. So why not allow reporters and camera crews in on a pool basis safely to take pictures and show the American people what’s happening in those Border Patrol facilities right now?”
“Chris, we’re absolutely committed to that, the president is committed to that, I’m committed to that, Secretary Mayorkas is committed to that,” Psaki repeated several times.
“But just to clarify, Jen, you allowed a camera crew in to see the HHS facilities. What we’re talking about here are the Border Patrol facilities, the detention cells, you know — there is a law — let me just finish — that they are not allowed to be there for more than 72 hours, many of them are there for ten days,” Wallace explained. “At this point, in terms of allowing access to Border Patrol facilities for reporters, you are being less transparent than the Trump administration.”
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS SUNDAY ANCHOR: And joining us now, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
Jen, welcome back to “FOX News Sunday”.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Great to be here, Chris.
WALLACE: Let’s start with the crisis on the border and what President Biden had to say about that this past week. On the surge of illegal immigration across the board, Mr. Biden said this:
But your own secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, says: We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border then we have in the last 20 years.
So, who’s wrong? The DHS secretary or the president?
PSAKI: Well, Chris, first, factually, there was an increase of about 31 percent of people coming to the border during the final months of the Trump administration. There’s been about a 29 percent increase since President Biden took office.
But our focus is on solutions. This past week we reopen — or we opened I should say several facilities that will provide almost 7,000 beds so that we can move these children from the Border Patrol facilities into shelters. We’ve also taken steps to expedite processing at the border.
The border remains closed. It is not open, we are turning away the majority of adults but what we’re really talking about here is children and how we’re handling that in the safest and most humane capacity.
WALLACE: You know, you can play with percentages, but in absolute numbers, these are record numbers. There are now 18,000 unaccompanied minors in U.S. custody. There are new records being set, 500 to 800 each day.
PSAKI: Well, Chris, our objective is to take a different approach from the last of administration. We are not going to send children under the age of 18, kids under the age of 18, back on this treacherous journey. They are fleeing challenging economic circumstances, hurricanes, prosecution in some scenarios.
It does not mean that they get to stay in the United States. It means their cases are adjudicated and we want to treat them humanely, make sure they are in a safe place while their cases are adjudicated. That’s what we’re talking about here.
WALLACE: The president and you have both been in pains over these first two months to talk about how to pledge that you’re going to be transparent with the American people. But here’s what he said in his news conference about allowing reporters in to see specifically the facilities that are being run by Customs and Border Patrol.
Take a look.
REPORTER: Just to be clear, how soon will that be, Mr. President?
BIDEN: I don’t know.
WALLACE: The only way we know how bad conditions are for some 5,000 minors in his Border Patrol facilities is because of these pictures that members of Congress have released on their own.
Jen, these kids are living in these conditions now. They’re not living in these conditions some indeterminate time from now when the president says everything will be fixed.
So why not allow reporters and camera crews in on a pool basis safely to take pictures and show the American people what’s happening in those Border Patrol facilities right now?
PSAKI: Chris, we’re absolutely committed to that, the president is committed to that, I’m committed to that, Secretary Mayorkas is committed to that.
Just last week, we had a pool camera —
PSAKI: — including — allowing — providing footage to FOX News just last week into the shelters.
We want to provide access into the Border Patrol facilities. We are mindful of the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic. We want to keep these kids safe, keep the staff safe.
But we — we are absolutely committed to transparency and providing access to media to the Border Patrol facilities and we’re working to get that done as soon as we can.
WALLACE: But just to clarify, Jen, you allowed a camera crew in to see the HHS facilities. What we’re talking about here —
WALLACE: — are the Border Patrol facilities, the detention cells, you know —
PSAKI: I —
WALLACE: — there is a law — let me just finish — that they are not allowed to be there for more than 72 hours, many of them are there for ten days.
At this point, in terms of allowing access to Border Patrol facilities for reporters, you are being less transparent than the Trump administration.
PSAKI: Well, first of all, Chris, the Trump administration was turning away kids at the border, sending them back on the treacherous journey, or they were ripping kids from the arms of their parents.
We’re not doing that. We are committed to allowing cameras into the Border Patrol facilities, absolutely.
I would also say we are committed to solutions. That’s why I noted that we reopened or opened three facilities that have almost 7,000 beds to allow for processing these kids more quickly out of the Border Patrol facilities. We absolutely agree these are not places for children and our focus is on solutions and moving them as quickly as possible.
We’re also making sure we are processing kids more quickly at the border. Some of these kids come with a phone number and a pocket. It might be of a parent. We want to make sure we are breaking through the red tape and getting them to their parents as quickly as possible.
WALLACE: Let me switch subjects with you. The president has come out strongly for the voting rights bill that has passed the House and is now being deliberated by the Senate.
But look at some of the things that are in HR-1, the House voting rights bill. It creates public financing of congressional campaigns. It takes redistricting away from state legislatures and it opens the door to D.C. becoming a state.
Now, you can argue whether these are good ideas or bad ideas, but to get bipartisan agreement, to get compromise with Republicans, would the president consider supporting taking some of those elements out and focusing just on voting rights?
PSAKI: Well, the president is absolutely open to the idea from Republicans, from Democrats, to make any piece of legislation better and stronger. But what is not going to allow for its efforts to make it more difficult and harder to vote and efforts to do that, people should question whether they have — why they would be doing that? If they have the best ideas, they should make it easier for people to vote. But you know, this is the process of a bill becoming a law —
PSAKI: Chris, if Republicans want to come to the table have a discussion about what kind of package they can support to make voting more easy, easier and more success accessible, the president is absolutely open to having that discussion.
WALLACE: Some Democrats are urging the president to push to kill the Senate filibuster in order to pass legislation to protect voting rights. Here’s what the president said about that this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: If there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: But, while the president says that the filibuster is a relic of the Jim Crow era, here’s what Joe Biden said when he was in the Senate himself. Take a look.
WALLACE: And just last year, Kamala Harris, when she was in the Senate, led the filibuster against Republican Senator Tim Scott, an African-American, his plan for police reform.
So, is the filibuster racist? Is it wrong?
PSAKI: As the president said just last week, Chris, it’s been abused, and in the first 50 years of the filibuster being around, it was used about 50 times. It was used five times that many last year. The president doesn’t think that’s how the filibuster should be used.
There’s an easy solution here, though, which the president would certainly advocate for, which is Democrats and Republicans, Republicans coming to the table with a willingness and an openness to discussing how we get things done. They want to come the table and talk about how to make voting easier, more accessible, let’s have that conversation. The president is eager to have it.
He’s not eager to move with destroying the filibuster. He’s eager to get things done for the American people, but he’s also not going to stand by and prevent forward moving progress from happening. So that’s what people heard from him last week.
WALLACE: I just want to point out, because some people noted it after the news conference, if you’re talking about abuse of the filibuster over the last two years, the Democrats were in the minority, so they were the ones abusing it.
I agree, it’s been used by both parties.
I want to move on to the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, in the last couple of weeks, and since then, there has been a new push for gun controls.
But Mr. Biden said, and I mentioned it at the top of the program, that one of the keys to being a successful president is understanding how to prioritize your agenda.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: The other problems we’re talking about from immigration to guns and the other things you mentioned are long-term problems. They’ve been around a long time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Some gun control and immigration advocates are — pushed back on that and said, it sounds like the president is saying these are long-term problems, wait your turn.
PSAKI: Well, first, the president has been an advocate for gun safety measures throughout his career. He helped pass the Brady Bill into law, increasing background checks when he was in the Senate. He helped get an assault weapons ban in place. He led the effort in the Obama-Biden administration to put in place a dozen — two dozen executive actions when bipartisan legislation failed.
He’s not new to this issue. It’s an issue he will continue to advocate for.
And, Chris, 90 percent of the public supports universal background checks. That’s something the Senate should be able to move forward on and that the president will continue to push for.
He knows that as president, you’ve got to walk and chew gum. You got to do multiple things at the same time and he’s ready to do that.
WALLACE: Finally, as we said at the top of the program, the president is going to lay out his — the next part of his economic recovery program in a speech in Pittsburgh this week, including infrastructure, education, child care, a number of issues.
Is that going to be just one huge bill, or is it going to be split up into two parts? And how big is the total price tag going to be?
PSAKI: Well, first, Chris, when the president advocated for the American Rescue Plan, he talked about this being two stages: rescue and then recovery. What the American people will hear from him this week is that part of his plan, the first step of his plan towards recovery which will include an investment in infrastructure, we shouldn’t be 13th in the world, I don’t think anyone believes that the wealthiest, most innovative country in the world.
And he’s going to have more to say later in April about the second part of his recovery plan, which will include a number of the pieces you talked about — health care, child care, addressing that. It’s a crisis right now. The number of women who have left the workforce, he wants to help to address that.
The total package we’re still working out, but he’s going to introduce some ways to pay for that, and he’s eager to hear ideas from both parties as well.
WALLACE: So, are we talking about two separate bills? And if so, just briefly, because we’re out of time, is he hoping that infrastructure he can get past with Republican votes, and then he sticks what we’re hearing is going to be $2 trillion in tax cuts in the second package, and then pass that through reconciliation on a straight Democratic Party line vote?
PSAKI: Well, we’re not quite at the legislative strategy yet, Chris, but I will say that I don’t think Republicans in this country think we should be 13th in the world as it relates to infrastructure. Roads, railways, rebuilding them, that’s not a partisan issue. That’s a lot of what the president will talk about this Wednesday.
Then he will have another package, another proposal that he will put forward in just a couple of weeks that will address a lot of issues that American people are struggling with — child care, the cost of health care. So that’s what they can expect to hear from him in April.
WALLACE: But just to lock down, two separate bills, correct?
PSAKI: Two separate proposals and we’ll work with the Senate and the House to see how it should move forward.
WALLACE: Jen, thank you. Thanks for your time this weekend. Please come back.
PSAKI: Thank you, Chris. My pleasure. Thank you.
WALLACE: Up next, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham just back from a trip to our southern border. How does he think we should handle the surge in illegal immigration?