Transcript: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on "Face the Nation," May 19, 2019

Gillibrand wants to eliminate detention system for immigrants

The following is a transcript of the interview with Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York that aired Sunday, May 19, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She's running for the Democratic presidential nomination, and she joins us this morning from New York. Senator, ten states have tightened restrictions on abortion in the past year, and others may follow. I know you flew to Georgia this week to protest it. This is one of the most emotionally charged, divisive issues in politics, and it's a fight the president wants to have because it resonates with his supporters. So why are you embracing it?

SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: This is nothing short of an all-out assault on women's reproductive freedom, an effort to take away our basic human rights and civil rights, and make no mistake, the 30 states that are trying to unwind abortion rights are trying to get rid of Roe v. Wade. It- it- it's nothing more complex than that. And they do not believe that women should have the right to make the most intimate, personal life and death decisions. And I think it's untenable, and I hope America's women are paying attention because President Trump has started a war on America's women. And if it's a fight he wants to have, it's a fight he's going to have, and he's going to lose.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you have said that if you're elected president you would codify Roe v. Wade. To do that, you would need a Congress that agrees to follow your lead on that. Are you assuming a- a Democratic Congress to follow you in 2020?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: I do. We already took back the House in 2018. Women across this country have- have been marching since President Trump became president, and then took their views and voices to the ballot box, electing 120 women to Congress who support women's reproductive freedom and reproductive rights. I think that trend is going to continue. We saw a surge in women's votes. I think that will continue in '20. And hopefully we can actually flip the Senate as well and take back the presidency.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Now the- the chairman of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez has said every Democrat should support abortion rights. And that was met with some outcry because it was seen as- as a litmus test. Now for your party to win you need to be able to attract more people to it. Can you say that there is room in the Democratic Party for people who have a moral objection to abortion? Is- Is there room on your ticket for supporters like that?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: So for voters across America and for individuals, of course you can have your personal views on any issue. There's nothing wrong with having a religious perspective on this issue. But what I do not accept is any Democratic leader or candidate to not believe in full civil rights and human rights for women. We cannot have Democrats who are running for office who do not believe in basic health care and civil rights for women. It- it's just untenable, and it's unacceptable, and I will not support a candidate, and I do not believe any candidate running for president should be undermining women's reproductive freedom and our basic human rights.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator, we have to take a real quick break, I- but we'll continue this conversation on the other side of it. We'll be right back.

*COMMERCIAL BREAK*

MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We continue our conversation with New York senator and 2020 contender Kirsten Gillibrand. I want to ask you now about immigration. Buffalo, New York, in your home state, was one of the locations that Customs and Border Patrol officials had said they were looking at as a place to move some of these migrants who'd been captured at the border into detention facilities in your home state. What have you actually been informed of that may be under consideration and may be happening?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: I've been informed of absolutely nothing by this administration. (00:00:36) And the truth is President Trump's immigration policy is inhumane, ineffective and wrong. I cannot tell you how infuriating it is for our president to still be separating children from their parents at our border in the most inhumane way and then locking them up and paying for it - paying for-profit prison systems - to do this. As president of the United States, I would not fund any for-profit prisons. I would not lock up these families. I would have a humane immigration policy where people seeking asylum and people seeking refuge in this country would have lawyers and have a proper asylum process. We need real immigration judges, which we don't have, that are appointed for life and outside the political process. I think what President Trump's done on immigration is divisive and hurtful and harmful to our national security.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you, then, support something like Senator Graham has proposed which would, you mention family separation, to stop what the administration has used as a justification for that? They have said, "Look, legally, we're restricted to only keeping people in detention together for 20 days." You can't move them through the process that fast.

SEN. GILLIBRAND: I wouldn't keep them in detention at all.


MARGARET BRENNAN: But you- you- do you oppose even what the Obama administration did in terms of keeping families together or keeping them together for a longer period of time in detention?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: I- I wouldn't- as president the United States, I wouldn't use the detention system at all. In fact, what I would do is actually fund the border security measures that are anti-terrorism, anti-human trafficking, anti-drug trafficking, and anti-gun trafficking and I would defund these for-profit prison systems that are harming children and harming families who are seeking our asylum--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But so- it- so for Homeland Security--

SEN. GILLIBRAND: --if someone is seeking asylum, I would assign them a lawyer--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Homeland Security, though, is saying hundreds of thousands of people are- are crossing the border, and they need to go somewhere before their asylum claims are actually heard. What would you do with them?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: They don't need to be incarcerated. They can- if they're given a lawyer and given a process, they will follow it. They can go into the community in the way we used to handle these cases under the Department of Justice.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Should the Trump administration get some of the 4.5 billion dollars they say they need to improve humanitarian conditions?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: We can work with the Trump administration on two things. We can work with them on funding anti-terrorism and border protection when it comes to human and drug trafficking and gun trafficking. We can work with them on resources for more humanitarian treatment, for medical treatment, for support, for humane processes, but I- I do not believe we should be funding for-profit prison systems in any circumstance.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you would oppose moving any migrants to the state of New York?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: What the state of New York does well is we teach- we actually take refugee families into our communities. (00:04:00) We would be delighted to take refugee families into cities like Buffalo and Syracuse and Rochester and Albany.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Your campaign has yet to reach the sixty five thousand individual donors that you would need to qualify to be on that first debate stage. Why do you think that is? Is- is the large number of candidates hurting campaigns like yours?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: Well, all I would say to your viewers is if you like anything that I've talked about today, go to Kirsten Gillibrand dot com and support my campaign. This is a marathon and not a sprint, and we are building support all across the country in all 50 states. And I hope your viewers will join our efforts.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But is the fact that we have nearly two dozen candidates hurting the Democratic bid here?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: I don't think so. I think primaries are so healthy for our party. It allows candidates to talk about their vision for America. My vision is to make sure we deal with the real problems this country is facing, whether it's access to health care as a right and not a privilege, whether it's fixing our public schools or debt free college or actually dealing with underemployment through real job training and supporting our unions and supporting our workers by rewarding work. It's why I want to pass a Green New Deal, and why I want to have affordable day care and universal pre-K and a national paid leave plan. And it's why I'm going to focus on full employment as a way to address underemployment throughout this country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you think you will make it to that debate stage?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: I do, especially with the support of your viewers.

MARGARET BRENNAN:  Senator, thank you.

SEN. GILLIBRAND: Thank you.