Sen. James Lankford on Face the NationDecember 11, 2023
The following is a transcript of an interview with Sen. James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, that aired on Dec. 10, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’re joined now by Senator James Lankford. He is the lead Republican negotiator as the Senate tries to come up with a deal to shore up the US border. He joins us from Oklahoma City. Good morning to you, Senator.
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD: Good morning, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: This morning on another network, the lead democratic negotiator, Senator Chris Murphy, said It is tragic Republicans are tying the border aid package to the issue of Ukraine aid. He said Republican demands right now are unreasonable and must become reasonable in the next 24 to 48 hours. That doesn’t sound like you’re on the cusp of an agreement.
SEN. LANKFORD: So, let me- let me just try to make a couple things clear on this. Actually, this started with the Biden administration saying that we need to do a national security package that has Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and the border. And then they immediately came out and said, we need more than funding. In fact, the word they used is funding for the border is a tourniquet, we need a change in policy. We’ve responded back to that say we 100% agree on it, we’ve got to be able to have a change in policy on this. Right now, the push and pull is really a political push and pull rather than anything else. If I talked to just about anyone in the country outside of Washington DC, they would say the border is chaotic right now. We have the highest number of crossings of any September ever last September, the highest October ever, the highest November ever, and we had the highest single day just this last week. It is literally spiraling out of control. All we’re trying to do is to say what tools are needed to be able to get this back in control, so we don’t have the chaos on our southern border.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the President is asking for that $14 billion, as you said, but they separate funding from policy changes. But the President did say he’s- he’s willing to make significant compromises on policy to fix a broken immigration system. He’s signaling flexibility. So what is the problem?
SEN. LANKFORD: So, the problem is the administration is trying to be able to figure out how to be able to just slow down a little bit of the flow. We had 12,000 people, for instance, on Tuesday of this last week that crossed the border illegally. They’re trying to figure out some way to be able to say, well, we’ll do a few thousand less, but not actually stop the flow. Just to give you a perspective, we’ve had more people cross illegally–
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, what would stop the flow?
SEN. LANKFORD: Well, I would say a lot of things. But let me just give you a context piece on this, though, during- you take any year during the Obama administration, we’ve had more people cross illegally just October, November and December, so far this year than we had in any year in the Obama administration. So this is not a matter of just let’s turn it down a little bit. We’ve got to figure out how to be able to manage this. The first thing’s first is asylum. Right now, people come in and say I want to request asylum. There’s so many people and the cartels know it. And the smugglers know that they can throw thousands of people a day, there’s no way to process that. And so it’s years before they’re processed, so they’re just released in the country. That becomes a pull factor for more–
MARGARET BRENNAN: –I thought the White House was willing on asylum to tighten those regulations.
SEN. LANKFORD: Right now, we’re actually screening about 500 people a day for asylum. A typical day in this last week was 10,000 people a day. Even if you double or triple, as the administration would say, well, let’s just double the number of screens we’re doing. Now, we’re screening 1,000 people a day, and we’re still releasing 9,000 people into the country. So that doesn’t manage the actual issue. We’ve got to be able to figure out how we are going to manage capacity and what does that actually look like? As long as we’re saying, we’ll- we’ll screen 1,000 and then we’ll release everyone else into the country. The cartels know that and everyone coming will just pay the cartels and they know they’ll be released.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, well, I know you don’t want to negotiate in public, but I want to talk to you about what you are actually proposing to fix the problem you’re describing. So, let’s take a break. And we’ll come back and continue that conversation. Stay with us.
*** COMMERCIAL BREAK ***
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face The Nation. We want to pick up where we left off with Oklahoma Republican James Lankford. Senator, I know the Majority Leader in the Senate has said that the Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, will not pass a supplemental package without this bill, H.R. 2 that passed the House with no Democratic votes. You’ve said that’s not realistic. But has the Speaker been clear to you what his red lines are. Can you get House Republicans to approve something if you can get Democrats to agree to it?
SEN. LANKFORD: Yeah, we’re gonna find out on that note. Speaker Johnson has not given me the red line of what it has to be on this, obviously, it’s got to be able to pass the Senate. But it is the challenge of the House Republicans laid out a very good proposal, very thorough, covered a lot of issues, had no Democrats, obviously, we’re not going to get 20, 30 Democrats in the Senate, or a Democratic White House to be able to sign that. But that doesn’t mean we just sit and do nothing. We’ve got to be able to solve this crisis with 10,000 plus people a day, on average, just this last week crossing every day and half a million so far in the last two months. We can’t just sit and say we’re going to do nothing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, POLITICO has reported you are proposing a new expulsion authority similar to Title 42. That would also automate a border shutdown if the number of migrants crossing hits a certain level. You’d mandate electronic monitoring for everyone, including children. And you want to restrict the administration’s parole authority to release migrants from detention. Is that accurate?
SEN. LANKFORD: No, it’s actually not accurate. There are several things that I have proposed on that, some things that I haven’t, and some things that have not, as you mentioned, in the last segment, we’re not going to have the opportunity to be able to- you and I negotiate this out. But I would say we have to deal with the capacity issues, just like any restaurant or theater, they have a capacity issue. So do we on a day to day, we have thousands of agents that have been pulled in. And right now there’s been no consideration with the White House of how do we actually manage the capacity issues that are there? They seem to be focused on how many people can we just release into the country. Until then, we’ll do a hearing sometime later, when literally, we don’t know these people. Literally thousands of people have crossed the border just in the past few months that this administration identified is what they call special interest aliens, specifically saying they’re a national security risk, but they were released into the country on their own recognizance. We’ve got to be able to stop that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. But you’d have to negotiate changes to the law and we are running out of time in 2023. You’ve also attached this, well the House has argued that the border bill would need to be attached to Ukraine funding in order to pass. President Biden says that you, sir, are giving Vladimir Putin a Christmas present, because this doesn’t look like it’s going to pass in 2023 and it’s unclear when it could.
SEN. LANKFORD: Yeah, I’m by far no fan of Vladimir Putin and the President knows that full well. This is not a Christmas present to him. Actually the president himself started by saying, if we’re going to deal with national security, we’ve got to deal with Ukraine, and we have to deal with the border. We’ve responded, “that’s correct.” I don’t meet very many Americans that think what’s happening at the border is going well. And even the President’s team themselves actually said if you hand them more money, it doesn’t solve the problem. It just facilitates more people coming into the country. We have drugs coming into the country, we have national security risk coming into the country, and they’ve literally shut down legal migration. The San Ysidro port, the busiest port in America ,was shut down this weekend as they moved all the staff off of legal migration to help facilitate illegal migration. That’s got to stop.
MARGARET BRENNAN: No, we’re seeing in our own polling that this is a top issue for Americans. So the President would be incentivized here, but what you’re talking about is policy changes, and this linkage to Ukraine. The President says if they don’t get this funding now that it will kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield. Can you get Ukraine aid passed separate from this?
SEN. LANKFORD: No, no, the focus is- what you hear from so many people is why would we deal with other people’s national security and ignore American national security? Why would we literally allow people across our southern border, this administration labels national security risk by the thousands coming into the country? Separate from just the migrants that are coming here for employment, we have individuals, they’ve literally labeled national security risks coming into the country. Why would we not work to be able to stop that? We can do two things at once for the United States of America. These negotiations haven’t been going on a week, they’ve been going on months. So, we’ve come a long ways. It’s time to be able to finish this, make a decision and do what we can do to be able to help the nation. We can’t do everything on the border. But we can do the things to actually begin to control the border so that the United States is in control of our boundaries, not the cartels.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we will watch and see what you’re able to get done in these coming days. Senator, thank you for your time.