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Week In Politics: Trump's Border Strategy, AG Barr's Testimony And Netanyahu's Win


President Trump has promised a tougher approach to immigration. And sure enough, in a tweet today, he said he's giving strong consideration to, quote, "placing illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities only." Here's what the president said at the White House today.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They want more people in their sanctuary cities, well, we'll give them more people. We can give them a lot. We can give them an unlimited supply, and let's see if they're so happy. They say, we have open arms. They're always saying they have open arms. Let's see if they have open arms.

CHANG: The administration has so far offered no details on what this would look like in practice, so lots of questions. And we're going to talk through them and more now with our Friday regulars E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. Nice to see you guys.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Great to be with you.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Great to see you.

CHANG: All right. So President Trump is threatening to release migrants who've been detained into these so-called sanctuary cities. These are cities where local law enforcement has decided to limit cooperation with federal immigration officials like LA, Chicago, Denver. And in this tweet I read, the president said he's doing this because, quote, "Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws."

David, do you think this tweet is actually spelling out policy or does it feel more just like a political provocation?

BROOKS: Well, first, it's morally illiterate. These are human beings. We don't treat them as a sort of a subtweet of a prank. But it's of a piece with the Trump policy, which is not really a policy but just a posture of toughness. It's just showbiz. It's sort of performance art to make his base feel good.

And any mayor running this system would create a system. He would expand the detention centers. He'd get more judges to speed the back flow. We'd have a system where you could vet kids in their home countries so they don't have to walk all the way up here. You do a number of concrete things that any normal administration could do. But we don't do that because we just have a posture. We don't have a system. And as a result, we have chaos at the border.

CHANG: E.J., do you agree?

DIONNE: Yeah. Well, first of all, nothing should surprise us anymore about Trump. But the notion that he would use human beings, as David said, purely as political pawns, as what he sees as political punishment for those who disagree with him - I mean, what comes next, he audits - he urges audits of all income taxes of the people who want him to make his taxes public? I mean, there's just something deeply outrageous about this. And we've lost our capacity for outrage.

I think what you are seeing is the difficulty of reaching any agreement on immigration, which is always hard, even when people have goodwill. They - Bush - President Bush, the second one, tried to get immigration reform through. His party foiled him. There was a bill that went through the Senate under Obama. It was foiled. Now you have no goodwill at all coming from the White House, using it only as a political issue for Trump's re-election.

CHANG: Now, on solutions to immigration, E.J., your paper, The Washington Post, is reporting that when the White House first raised this idea months ago about putting migrants in sanctuary cities, ICE leadership said it was not a good idea. But are President Trump's threats to get tougher on immigration putting pressure on Democrats to come up with more viable solutions for the situation at the border?

DIONNE: Well, the one person who has put out a detailed immigration plan among the candidates for president is Julian Castro. And whether you agree with it or not, I think he set out sort of a position that would be compromised a lot if he ever tried to negotiate it. But at least he's come out there and says, here's what I will do. I think the party, like on a lot of issues, has - let's put it charitably - multiple minds where they should go.

And I think a lot of people say, what's the point of putting out a position when we know that we can't negotiate with Trump? Nonetheless, I think over time, they simply have to take a stand, say, here's what we'll do, and let that be their political position - i.e. we're going to try to solve the problem.

BROOKS: Shockingly, I'd be a lot harder on the Democrats. You know, Castro, I think it's - one of the things he does is he repeals a 1929 law making illegal entry a federal crime, which takes immigration very far. I think a lot of the candidates don't know where the left is on this. They don't know how far that we've gone toward open borders, and they don't want to make a mistake. And therefore they don't have policies. But it's making - I think it's politically and morally extremely foolish not to have a policy on what to do with the big central question on our southern border.

CHANG: All right.

DIONNE: I just want to say, on Castro, I think the fact that he came out there is going to put pressure on other Democrats to put out plans. It's still a long time before between now and the caucuses. But on the point that I think they have to say something and be reasonably clear, I agree with that.

CHANG: All right. I want to turn to Attorney General William Barr now. We're expecting a redacted version of the Mueller report to come any day now. And Barr was on the Hill this week testifying about that report. But he also mentioned something else that took a lot of people by surprise. He said that the Obama administration had spied on the Trump campaign.


WILLIAM BARR: I think there was - spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur.

CHANG: All right. So President Trump has repeatedly accused the Obama White House of spying on his campaign. Barr chimes in this week, seems to agree with him, which prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to say that Barr is doing President Trump's political bidding. David, do you agree with Pelosi on that?

BROOKS: I don't know. The guy does seem to be one for dropping tidbits and then not elaborating. And so I don't think he should have said the spying thing without explaining exactly what it was he was talking about because it was bound to be a bombshell. But in general, I'm willing to wait on this. A lot of people are leaping to conclusions and postures and attitudes without knowing what's in the report or how he's really doing. It'll be out in a few days. Let's just wait.

CHANG: All right.

DIONNE: Four strikes and you're out. I mean, he put out that summary which was - didn't even have a full quote from the Mueller report. He absolved Trump of obstruction by fiat. Now he does the spying thing. And he has been totally muddled. I think for Democrats, he has shown himself to be a partisan figure and not the attorney general of everybody.

CHANG: All right. In our last minute, I want to talk briefly about the Israeli elections. We saw Benjamin Netanyahu win a fifth term as prime minister. And I want to ask you, what does this outcome tell us? Because he won this pretty close election despite the fact he's fighting a lot of corruption allegations. David, you want to begin?

BROOKS: Well, first, if you're a Democrat, don't get overconfident because these kind of campaigns can win. Second, we're in a different situation. Israel tried to be a pluralistic ethnic country with the Oslo peace process and all that. It failed. Netanyahu is the kind of leader you elect when you fail to become a pluralistic democracy. We're still trying to do that. We want to be that kind of country.

CHANG: All right. E.J., in the last 30 seconds.

DIONNE: I think that Israelis, for now, have given up on the peace process. And they see Netanyahu as a tough guy who can hold things together. But boy, there are lessons for us in this. He ran a really scurrilous campaign against Arabs. He tried to decrease the Arab vote, and he succeeded. He is Trump's friend, and Trump helped him.

CHANG: That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. Thanks to both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.