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Transcript: Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on "Face the Nation," April 18, 2021

U.N. ambassador: Biden refugee move a "first step" to up admissions
U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield says Biden's refugee move a "first step" to increase admissions 08:42

The following is a transcript of an interview with Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, that aired Sunday, April 18, 2021, on "Face the Nation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What new pledges has the US secured, and without India and China on board isn't this going to be a bust?

AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I- I don't think it's going to be a bust. In fact, I think this is an opportunity for us to hear from other countries what new commitments they intend to make. We intend to encourage them to up their game and to openly express in this forum what they intend to do to deal with climate change. And we hope that India and China will join us. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about these thousands of refugees who have learned that they are now stranded. They thought they were coming to the United States, but they're in limbo because President Biden signed this cap on refugee admissions at this historically low number of 15,000. Why did he break his promise?

AMB. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I don't think the president broke his promise, we're looking at this- this is a first step and we're looking at the infrastructure that we have in place to support bringing refugees into the United States. That infrastructure was basically destroyed over the past four years. And so this is just a- a first installment. And I know that the president intends to revisit those numbers over the course of the next few months.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, just two months ago, the president said he up to 62,000 and then yesterday he signed paperwork capping at 15,000, and the White House cited unspecified burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Is that a way of saying that the migrant crisis at the US border is stopping the US from accepting refugees from all over the world?

AMB. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I don't think that's the case, I worked on refugee resettlement issues in part of my career, and I know that to bring in refugees require a very extensive infrastructure of agencies that are involved in processing refugees, agencies that are involved in resettling refugees and communities that will accept those refugees. That infrastructure has to be rebuilt so that we can ensure that we can bring refugees into the United States in an orderly fashion. And I know that that is what is right now under serious consideration and work. And I expect that our numbers will increase. The president is committed to refugees. He made that clear during the campaign and he's made it clear over the past week.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you do expect that goal of 62,500 to be met?

AMB. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I know that that goal is there and everything will be done to meet that goal. I also know--


AMB. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: --how challenging it is to- to reach it, but I can say without any doubt that every resource that we have available to us will be put into reaching that goal and possibly even going beyond.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This past week, you gave a speech that I want to ask you about, because it's gotten quite a lot of attention. You said, "The original sin of slavery weaved white supremacy into our founding documents and principles." You talked about white supremacy being linked to the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor continued discrimination against Muslims and Asian-Americans. America likes to think it provides moral leadership to the world. Are you saying we're deluding ourselves?

AMB. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No, I think we're being tremendous leaders, our country is not perfect, but we continue to perfect it. Those imperfections are part of our history and we have to talk about them. It's- it's our strength that we can talk about our imperfections to the world and call out other nations for those same imperfections. So it's not a- a criticism. It's an acknowledgement of our history. It's an acknowledgement of where we started. But we need to look at where we've come. The fact that I came from a segregated high school and I'm now the permanent representative of the United States in- at the United Nations says everything about what our country is about. And I look forward to continuing to engage with other countries, to use our example, to show those other countries what they might achieve. But we still have a lot of work to do and we have to acknowledge that. But we also have to work to continue to improve our country. (00:08:16)

MARGARET BRENNAN: But it is precisely because of the- the role you have as a cabinet member, that it drew so much criticism. I mean the Wall Street Journal editorial board called you the "Ambassador of Blame America First" saying, "It sounded like you were reciting Chinese propaganda about America and that you believe your job is to bring critical race theory to the world with a focus on criticizing your own country." To be clear, were you comparing bigotry in America to mass atrocities carried out against minorities around the world?

AMB. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I was acknowledging what is a fact in the United States. Racism does exist in this country and I think it was a powerful message. Imagine any other country doing that. Our country, the uniqueness of our country, is that we can self-criticize and we can move forward and our values are clear. And the purpose of that speech was to lay out our values, but also acknowledge our imperfections and acknowledge that we are moving forward. I don't think you will see a Uyghur -a Chinese Uyghur getting on the national stage acknowledging China's issues with- with human rights. I am not comparing our situation. I am acknowledging that we've come a long way and I'm very proud of what we have been able to achieve. But I'm realistic about what we have to do moving forward. And I think if we are going to be a voice around the globe for raising issues of human rights, we cannot whitewash our own issues in- in our own country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ambassador, I really want to ask you about Tigray. You said this week to the UN Security Council, "Do African lives not matter as much as those experiencing conflict in other countries?" You were challenging them because of the systemic rape, the gang rapes that are being carried out against young girls in Tigray, in this conflict area in Ethiopia and Eritrea. This has been well-documented. It's been called ethnic cleansing by the United States. Why haven't we heard from President Biden and Vice President Harris about this concern? What is the US doing?

AMB. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, I think you have heard from President Biden because you've heard from me and you've heard from Secretary Blinken. President Biden has engaged with the Ethiopian government. Secretary Blinken has engaged with the Ethiopian government. President Biden sent a presidential emissary, Senator Coons, to have discussions with the Ethiopian government and lay out our concerns about the horrific situation in Tigray. And as the U.S. representative on the Security Council, I thought it was important that the Security Council's voice also be added to the voices of concern about the situation there. We have seen these descriptions--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you are clearly saying what's being done is not enough.

AMB. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It is not enough, and that's why I raised it in the Security Council, because I think we have to make sure that the victims hear our voices, but also the perpetrators know that we are concerned and that we're watching this situation like we're looking and- and addressing situations elsewhere in the world. So, yes, I agree with you. More has to be done. And that was the purpose of my raising this issue.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ambassador, I'm told we are out of time. Thank you for your time today.

AMB. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you very much.

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