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Former WH Press Sec. Josh Earnest: Ending DACA Doesn't Make America Safer

Former WH Press Sec. Josh Earnest: Ending DACA Doesn't Make America Safer Read Transcript

Josh Earnest.

Josh Earnest, the former White House Press Secretary.

Josh, thank you for being here.

Yes, thank you for having me.

It's nice to see you.

JENNA BROWDER: Great to have you.

You know, a of people on this topic of DACA-- a lot of people

do have compassion for these Dreamers.

But there are conservatives who say

from a constitutional viewpoint, this was the right thing to do.

I'd like to get your thoughts on that.

Well, listen, we can certainly have a legal argument

in a court of law.

But what's undeniable is that there

is a legal precedent for presidents

in both parties using prosecutorial discretion

to make sure that our limited law enforcement resources

are being used the most effective way to protect

our country.

And by definition, Dreamers are people

who were brought to this country as children

who have not been otherwise been in trouble with the law

and who are enrolled in school.

Some of them are serving in our military.

These are the kinds of people who

make the United States of America

the greatest country in the world.

People want to come to the United States because

of the opportunity that they have to be here and make

our country great.

And that's something that we should be encouraging, not


And I think that's where people of faith-- and it

is true that people in both parties

have deep concerns about the action

that the president has taken.

So speaking about the president, what

do you say to the critics who have said

that the president has said before, in his own words,

that he really can't make--

the president can't make-- immigration policy.

You've heard this before.

I'm sure you've answered it back in the day.

Well what do you say to folks from his own words,

basically saying he couldn't have done this

to begin with five years ago?

Well, listen, what is demonstrably true--

and there does seem to be widespread agreement about


is this is a problem that Congress should solve.

They have the legislative responsibility

to take on this problem and pass laws

to bring some order to an immigration system

that just about everybody acknowledges is broken.

The question right now is what kind of leadership

do we expect from the president of the United States

in the meantime?

To ensure that we have an immigration policy, such as it

is, that ensures that we have national security,

first and foremost.

What do we do to ensure that we have a functioning

system internally that promotes good economic growth?

And that ultimately, I think, is what

ends up being one of my chief concerns with this policy,

is that at the end of the day, it doesn't make us safer.

It actually has the potential of diverting law enforcement

resources that could be better used

targeting criminals, as opposed to going after Dreamers.

It's not good for the economy.

There's a reason that you have people-- both in big business

and in the labor community-- saying that this

is bad for our economy.

And obviously, there are a whole host of moral concerns

that are raised by this policy--

by the policy course that President Trump has chosen.

So there is nobody who sits back and says that this

is an easy problem to solve.

But there are people on both sides

of the aisle who say that the president's current approach is

the wrong one.

I want to jump in.

What about this idea that Dreamers are taking away jobs?

We've heard this from Americans.

And his whole deal is-- the president--

is Make America First.

What's the response to something like that?

There's just not a lot of evidence to support that claim.

In fact, there's actually a lot of evidence

that undermines that claim.

Because if you just sort of think logically about how

this would play out, if you have people who are Dreamers who

have to go back into the shadows,

once again, they're in a much bigger position-- much better

position-- for employers to potentially exploit them

and to basically say I'm not going

to hire this American worker who's

going to demand that I pay him minimum wage

and pay him overtime if he earns it.

I can just go after and try to hire this undocumented worker

who, if I pay them $3 an hour and not

over time, what are they going to do?

Are they going to quit?

Are they going to go to the authorities

and complain about me?

Of course they're not because they're worried

about their own legal status.

That's why you see labor leaders across the country saying

to the president this is the wrong course of action

because it only undermines the ability of working people

in this country to get a job and make sure that those jobs are

well-paying and that they're treated fairly by employers.

Josh, on the topic of North Korea, President Obama,

he told President Trump, that this

would be his biggest concern.

What do you do in a situation like this?

This is a--

we've seen troubling developments in North Korea,

certainly over the last several months.

But, you know, we've seen it over the last 10 to 20 years.

And presidents in both parties have

grappled with this problem.

I think the biggest concern that people

have right now is twofold.

One is the problem seems to be accelerating--

that we see the North Koreans conducting

ever more sophisticated launches and ever larger nuclear tests.

That combination is obviously dangerous.

I think the other concern to many Americans--

and those who've been following this issue closely--

is the breach that is starting to appear between the United

States and our closest allies that we've worked with

to try to address this problem.

It is not helpful for the United States and South Korea

to be bickering over a trade agreement

or beginning to consider different ways of dealing

with this problem at a time when we're

going to be more effective when we're working together.

The same applies to the Japanese.

So I think my biggest frustration with the way

that President Trump has handled this situation is

that a rupture in our alliance with South Korea and or Japan

only makes this situation more dangerous and harder for us

to contain.

Let me ask you a little bit about--

I want to jump ahead, Jenna, here

on some of these questions.

But the Democratic leadership here--

are you concerned at all that it's just--

they're not going to give this president anything,

and that it's going to come across

as very anti-Trump to the point where voters might say,

hey, you know, even in the midterms,

you know, this is a problem.

I'm just wondering how much you think

this is a problem for Democratic leadership right now?

Look, David, there are Democrats

on Capitol Hill and all around town who are asking themselves

this question.

I think that you're asking exactly the right one.

I think what Democrats have to do

is they have to be willing to stand on principle.

And that means two things.

One is standing up to Donald Trump

and expressing their strong opposition

when he does something that goes against our principles.

And you know, this discussion that we're

having about Dreamers is a good example of that.

But look, if Donald Trump wants to try and find

a way to do the right thing for the country,

then Democrats need to find a way

to try to work with him to do the right thing

for the country.

That's what you're elected to do.

And I you know, I saw the statement

from Leader Pelosi and Leader Schumer

just today indicating that they are

eager to work with Republicans on Capitol Hill

to pass funding for Hurricane Harvey relief

and an increase in the debt limit quickly.

And you know, given some of the divisions

on the Republican side about the debt limit,

those Democratic votes are going to be critical.

So look, I think this is a day-by-day assessment

that Democrats are doing.

But there's no question that it's

critically important for Democrats

to stand and fight on principle.

But if there are opportunities to do

the right thing for the country, they should seize it.

Sounds good.

On the topic of evangelicals and President Trump,

81% of white evangelicals who voted,

they supported President Trump.

At the same time, it doesn't really

seem like Hillary Clinton played up her faith a lot.

Do you think this was a mistake?

Well, again, you know, this is obviously

a very complex question.

And you know, I think what I would

welcome in this country is a greater examination of the role

that our faith and our moral sensibilities

affects our political decisions as a country.

And you know, there certainly is a large contingent

of conservatives, people of faith,

and even evangelicals who when faced

with the question of choosing either Donald Trump or Hillary

Clinton as president of the United States,

were very dissatisfied with their choices.

And many of them, I think in large majorities, actually--

you know, the proverbial phrase--

held their nose and voted for Donald Trump.

I think the question moving forward

is to what extent are those people that

are guided by a strong sense of faith

and are guided in their personal lives

by the teachings of Jesus Christ--

to what extent are they willing to make compromises

on those moral teachings to continue

to support President Trump?

And I would be the first to acknowledge

that people of faith and people with good intentions who

are patriotic Americans may arrive at a different answer

to that question.

They may draw the line in a different place.

But the thing that concerns me as an American

and as a person of faith myself is, are we

asking that question enough in our public life?

And are we taking the need to answer that question seriously


Because it seems to me, again, as a person of faith,

we should be in a position in which partisans

are coming to us, as people of faith, asking for our support

and making a case to us about what they

can do to advance our beliefs and our agenda

in the public square.

Too often it seems that role gets reversed,

where you essentially have people of faith who

are making compromises with partisans

so that they can be on the same partisan team.

That's not the way that it should be.

And that is not good for our democracy.

And look, I also don't think it's

good for the health of our faith communities across the country.

So I'm hopeful that over the course

of the next several years, we will see more

of a robust debate about that.

And it doesn't mean that everybody

is going to arrive at the same answer to that question.

But I think more serious consideration of that

question-- about to what extent we're willing to compromise

on our moral beliefs in a political context--

is good for the country.

I would say the counterargument a little bit

to that would be that we all have our moral failings,

and leaders have their moral failings,

but those evangelicals that voted for Trump--

and I'm not even talking about the hold your nose

evangelicals-- though some of them as well--

they're looking more at the bigger picture--

the Supreme Court-- which they see as a moral issue,

or at least Judeo-Christian principles

that they believe Supreme Court justices, hopefully

in a Republican administration, the way they see it,

would rule on cases.

So the point is is that they see it

more from that moral standpoint rather than the moral failings

of one individual.

Yeah, look, and I think--

I acknowledge that.

And I agree that the people that we

elect to be our political leaders are human beings.

And they're going to have their own failings.

The question is, to what extent do they

bring their own moral makeup to the job?

And how does that influence the way that they do their job?

Look, President Trump is somebody

who famously said that he had never asked forgiveness

from God because he didn't feel like he needed to.

He is somebody who has pursued an approach to policy--

you know, again, going back to the Dreamers-- that

seems to run in stark contrast to the moral teachings

that many of us who are people of faith hold dear.

And, again, I think people are going

to arrive at different answers to these questions.

Say that about the other, you know, the person

that you work for as well.

So I mean, there's two different schools of thought there.

There are.

But I think what we have to do is

we have to draw a distinction between political differences

and our moral faith.

Those are two different things.

The question here-- and this is why it's complicated--

is that there's an overlap.

And so the question is, to what extent do does our moral

teachings-- does our sort of moral foundation--

influence the way that we see politics?

And again, people are going to-- people of good faith--

are going to arrive at different answers to that question.

But we need to spend more time talking about it.

And you know, I know that that's certainly something

that you do on your show.

And I would encourage you to continue to do that.

And I'm hopeful that as people do

that, that that will foster conversations

around water coolers, you know, and in church basements

all across the country.

Very nice.


I wanted to ask you real quick about your faith.

I mean, obviously, it's important you.

Tell us a little bit about your faith walk a little bit.

How does that form your views and all that?

Well, listen, you know, I grew up--

grew up in Kansas City, Missouri.

And I grew up going to church--

Go Royals.

Go Royals.

DAVID BRODY: I got that in for you.

I got that in for you.

And look, it influenced a lot the way

that I did my previous job as the White House Press


And one of the reasons that I was

so proud to work for President Obama

is that his faith sharply influenced the way

that he led his life as a human being

and as a husband and a father to two little girls--

not so little girls anymore-- but also

the way that he made policy decisions

about leading the country.

And, you know, he was drawing on the same kind

of religious teachings and religious faith

and a moral code that resonates deeply within me,

based on my upbringing but also based on my view of the world

as an informed adult. So look, I'm

hopeful that these kinds of discussions

can lead to more careful consideration of the way

that our moral compass influences

the way that we make political decisions in this country.

Josh, we have to ask you.

You know, you know how tough of a job it is.

What would be your advice, if any,

for Sarah Huckabee Sanders?

Dot, dot, dot, if any


Yeah, well listen, you know, what I--

the thing that I would say about Sarah

is the same thing that I said about Sean,

which is that I am genuinely rooting for her success.

Not because I agree with the policies

that she's advocating for, but because the role

that she has in giving independent, professional

journalists access to the decisions that

are being made at the White House

and being accountable for the decisions that

are made at the White House--

are being made at the White House--

is critically important to the success of our democracy.

And so I want her to feel confident

when she walks up to that podium that she's

ready to make an argument, even if it's an argument

that I disagree with.

I want her to keep going out there and making that argument.

And I want her to make a strong argument

because if she's making a strong argument,

that's going to be good for the country.

And it's good for our democratic process,

in terms of making sure that we, as citizens,

and the journalists that are in place to hold people in power

accountable and to demand greater transparency,

that they have a venue for doing that.

And that is certainly true.

The White House Briefing Room is not

the only venue for doing that.

But it's a really important one.

And so I want her to succeed in that role.

I think my advice to her would be to be honest, of course,

and to recognize that those journalists are fulfilling

an important function in our democracy.

And it may mean that there are days

where she's feeling like they're being particularly

tough on her.

There are certainly days when I felt that way.

But recognize that they have a job

to do and recognize that the press secretary, more

than anyone else, has a responsibility

to engage those journalists as they do their job.

Look, I think it's not just good for our democracy.

I think it would be good for the president

if she succeeds in doing that job.

Josh Earnest.

Well thank you sir.

A pleasure for you to be here.

Thank you for being here.

Really appreciate it.

Thanks for having me.

It's really nice to see you both.

We hope you'll come back and visit us again.

Sounds good.

I'd like to.

Thank you, Josh,

Really hope your Royals make the playoffs.

I do, too.

I do, too.

Well, maybe a little bit of a long

shot, but we're counting on it.


All right, long shot.


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