A Station for Everyone
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Democratic And Republican Strategists On SOTU


Let's broaden this conversation about immigration. I want to bring in two other guests. Karine Jean-Pierre is national spokesperson for the progressive advocacy group MoveOn.org. She's in our studio in Washington, D.C. And we have Republican strategist Scott Jennings back. He was an adviser to President George W. Bush, and he joins us from Boston.

Good morning to you both.


SCOTT JENNINGS: Good morning.

GREENE: I want to listen to a little more of the president here. This is President Trump going further to describe what he says is this crisis at the Southern border.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States. We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection. I have ordered another 3,750 troops to our Southern border to prepare for this tremendous onslaught.

GREENE: Scott, tremendous onslaught. And we should say some critics say the president is exaggerating a bit, that actually, many migrants might end up staying in Mexico because of some recent policy changes and actually not try to get to the United States. But my question for you, does pounding this message of danger actually motivate a lot of voters?

JENNINGS: Well, I think the caravan was the weakest part of his immigration argument. The overall policy he laid out on immigration, I think, will sound reasonable to most people. But that's the weakest part. I think his stronger hand, frankly, is to discuss human trafficking, which is a problem, to discuss the influx of illegal drugs, which people do believe is a problem, and to generally sort of castigate both parties for failing to solve this problem. I think it was vital that the president showed some willingness to compromise on this issue. He came down from a concrete wall and reiterated his need, desire, to have steel barriers that are see-through. I thought that was critical. But I think the caravan's a weaker point for him.

GREENE: Karine, is that - do you see that as a compromise, the president coming away from a concrete wall and talking about steel and other materials?

JEAN-PIERRE: No. Here's the thing. Look. That speech last night was so incredibly dark. It was filled with hateful and false rhetoric. And that's the problem. Like, for example, undocumented immigrants are not flooding into the U.S. It's the lowest numbers that we've seen since 1940 - I'm sorry - in 46 years. Undocumented immigrants do not create more crimes. And here's the thing. It's not a crisis in the sense that Donald Trump, the way he talks about it. It's only an immigration crisis because he created it in that way.

He's the one that got rid of DACA and threw DREAMers' lives into a horrible uncertainty. He's the one that separated babies from their parents and is causing that awful humanitarian crisis at the border. He's the one that got rid of TPS, temporary protective status, and now people are worried and in fear about how they're going to - what they're going to do in their future.

GREENE: Which Democrats have been talking about a lot. But I wonder, I mean, does Scott have a point that some of what the president laid out last night does resonate with voters? And in particular, I mean, in 2016, President Trump seemed to win over a good number of white, working-class voters with this argument that illegal immigration is not good for many American workers. So I guess my question, do Democrats have an improved message this time that could resonate better with white, working-class voters?

JEAN-PIERRE: But here's the problem. In 2018, voters rejected that message. He talked - Donald Trump, leading into November 6, doubled down on a caravan, doubled down on hateful rhetoric, on immigration. And it hurt him.

GREENE: A presidential election's probably different than a lot of House races.

JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, but it was clear 2018 was a rebuke, and it was a rebuke of the president of the United States. I mean, that is very clear. It's a midterm election. That sent a loud and loud message. And let's not forget, Donald Trump, if you look at his popularity, it's worse than it was a year ago, in February of 2018. If you look at where the track, where, how people see the country going, the direction of the country, people don't feel like it's going on the right track. They feel like it's more than 60 percent going on the wrong track. That's not good numbers for a president, for President Donald Trump, going into 2020.

GREENE: Scott, there have been reports that undocumented workers who have been, actually, employed at different Trump golf clubs. These are workers who are in the country illegally, have been fired, you know, after years on the job. And two of them - Sandra Diaz and Victorina Morales - were guests of Democratic lawmakers at the speech last night, just as the president is talking about the elite benefiting and the poor suffering from illegal immigration. If he's complaining about that, is he open to hypocrisy charges?

JENNINGS: Well, of course, they have been fired. I don't know what choice they would have had. The press went out and found, you know, evidence that the president's properties had hired these people. And I don't think it would have been an option for them to leave them on the job. I did think it was noteworthy last night that the president ad-libbed a line that he wants people to come here legally in the largest numbers ever. That was not in the speech, but he ad-libbed it right there on the fly from the podium, seemingly softening his stance on cutting the number of laborers and workers that we have coming into this country through a legal system. So I was...

GREENE: Sorry. We're so close to being out of time. Him being elite himself, I mean, is there a charge of hypocrisy that could really undermine his message on immigration?

JENNINGS: Well, I mean, he was the candidate of the working-class voter in 2016. That is how he wants to portray himself. I think he is still more popular among working-class Americans than what the Democrats are likely to put up in 2020. I think you're going to see him go back to these sort of class warfare messages over and over. It's his populist core, I think.

GREENE: This conversation could've gone on for 10 minutes longer. I wish it could. Scott Jennings and Karine Jean-Pierre, thank you so much, to you both.

JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.