Transcript: Sen. Bob Corker on "Face the Nation," June 24, 2018

The following is a transcript of the interview with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, that aired Sunday, June 24, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  


MARGARET BRENNAN: We begin with Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He joins us from Chattanooga this morning. Senator, do you believe the U.S. was committing a human rights violation by separating migrant families?

U.S. SENATOR BOB CORKER: Well, Margaret, it obviously is not something that is realistic. It's not something that appreciates these young children, and it certainly was done in ready, fire, aim way obviously. There was no preparation for it. I can't imagine any American's heart not going out to these families knowing these children are being separated and then where were they going. So I'm glad the administration took the steps they took. That's led to another crisis, if you will, because of the 20 day rule that exists. And so, you know, the administration obviously made a large mistake, I know that some in the White House want to use the immigration issue as a- as a force to activate the base for elections. But obviously the president realized that was a mistake, and now it's up to us in Congress to work with him to come up with a longer term solution.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well on that solution, you're supporting legislation that would essentially allow for longer term detention of families, but to be held together.

SEN. CORKER: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Isn't this just indefinite detention at taxpayer expense?

SEN. CORKER: Yeah, so look Margaret, I wish that we had passed the bill. The House could have made it better, that came out in 2013, that was comprehensive. We keep trying to deal with these micro issues, all of which are important, whether it's DACA or this issue. I realize that before the election that's very unlikely to occur, but we need to deal with the whole of the issue. We've got worker needs in our country. We've got this issue of, we do need to be a nation of laws, and so we need to look at the whole thing. In the interim, between now and November, it's likely we will only deal with some of the micro issues, and the issue just raised is a problem. So--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you even have -

SEN. CORKER: --we've got to deal with this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --have the votes to deal with that micro issue in the Senate?

SEN. CORKER: I hope we will. I know that Jim Jordan is coming on next. I know the House has some things that are coming up this week. But I hope that'll be the case. I think that the Cruz-Feinstein bill, while I'm not sure every detail's been laid out in it yet. But the fact that you've got two people with such ideological differences coming together on this issue does bode for some hope in the Senate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about really kind of an American values question. If you take a look at the latest CBS News poll, our Battleground Tracker, it says 73 percent of Republicans say those who enter the U.S. should be punished as an example of toughness, while 27 percent said they should be treated well as an example of kindness. What does that say to you about the identity of your party right now?

SEN. CORKER:  Margaret, look, we do need to be a nation of laws, and we need to get this right, and we need to cause legal immigration to be easier than it is. We've got needs in our country. I've just never been a part of a group that hated someone for wishing something better for their life. Maybe they have a little different color of their skin and they speak differently. I just have never hated someone who traveled through tough conditions to try to come to a place where they could realize their dreams. And so, I'm just not part of that group that wants to punish. What I do want to do is make sure that we have-

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the majority of Republicans polled identify as part of that group.

SEN. CORKER: Yeah, I understand and I think it's a shame that what we've done with immigrants is to try to cause them to be a part of a terrorist group. I mean many of these people truly, especially in Central America, are living in terrible conditions. And again we need to be working with Central American governments, many of whom I've met with, on the issues there to make sure that in those countries there is more opportunity to live without the threat of crime. But look we need to enforce our laws and when people break them obviously, especially over and over again, there needs to be punishment quote unquote. But look, again, we've got to realize these people are wanting to live in a place like we live. We're the most fortunate people on earth to live in this country. That's why people are drawn to us. And again I don't want to enforce laws out of a sense of hate or animosity towards people who want to live a life like I do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I also want to ask you about a fight that you have been willing to have with the president and that's over trade and tariffs. You recently accused your fellow Republicans of being 'cultish' for not trying to block the president and support your action to rein in his ability to escalate through more terrorists. Do you see any ability for Republicans to stop the president?

SEN. CORKER: I do, and Margaret if I could make sure people understand. There's a 201 section of the Trade Act that- right now is against China dealing with washing machines and solar panels. There's a 301 component to deal with their theft of our- intelligence here in the country, their theft of what our companies are using to create products. That's not what I'm speaking to. The president broadly has used Section 232 of the Trade Act which is national security. It's absolutely an abuse of his authority. It's being used against our European allies: Canada, Mexico, and many other countries. It has--

MARGARET BRENNAN:  And the president is not backing off.

SEN. CORKER: successfully-- He's not. It has successfully united the world against us. There's not a person at the White House that can articulate why they are doing this other than to create leverage on NAFTA. And I don't know of a senator that isn't concerned about the broad use of this. So the amendment, Margaret, is just to say that if he's going to use 232--which has never ever been used in this way. It's absolutely an abuse of authority. If he's going to use it, once- once he completes negotiations on tariffs he should bring it to Congress. It's our responsibility. By the way, Margaret you know a tariff is a tax on Americans. President cannot put tax--

MARGARET BRENNAN: How do you get this passed though?

SEN. CORKER: Well I think- I think there's a jailbreak brewing. I really do. I think people, especially as these tariffs are being put in place against us, these countermeasures, and as people realize that 22,000 companies-- 22000 companies--have asked for exemptions. The White House has only, or the Commerce Department has only, dealt with 98 of those. There is no basis to deal with them. It's not unlike what happened on the immigration issue where there was no preparation.

MARGARET: Yeah.

SEN. CORKER: Are they going to grant these exclusions based on political contributions?--

MARGARET: Senator we've got to—

SEN. CORKER: --Or are they going to base them on something else? So- so we're getting ready to have a similar situation—

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

SEN. CORKER: --to what happened on the immigration policy, and I'm hoping there will be a jailbreak and that we will move towards passing this legislation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will watch for that jailbreak, senator. Thank you for joining us.

SEN. CORKER: Thank you.