Transcript: Sen. Roy Blunt on "Face the Nation," June 9, 2019

Blunt: Mexico tariffs send message to China

The following is a transcript of the interview with Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri that aired Sunday, June 9, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We begin with one of the Republican leaders who expressed some doubts about the president's threatened tariffs. That's Missouri's senator, Roy Blunt. Welcome to the program. What can you tell us about this declaration of what was agreed to with Mexico? Is there more to it than the press release?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Well I talked to the president Friday night, actually, and he- he of course, understood that I'm always pretty reluctant to use tariffs. I'm more of an open-the-markets kind of guy rather than look for ways to close those markets. But he was, I think, appropriately pleased with the agreement that's been made. About 10 days ago, we made an agreement with Guatemala to work with them on that southern border of Mexico, the northern border of Guatemala. Having the Mexicans agree to be a big part of that is a huge thing. And- and I actually--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Weren't they already going to do that?

SEN. BLUNT: I don't know that they were. You know, no deal is done until it's done and announced, just like- were the Chinese going to do all the things they agreed to that, suddenly, at a meeting a month ago, they decided they weren't going to do that they had agreed to. I'm not sure if that discussion that occurred before or not, but I think both presidents here have tried to find a good place to be. The new president of Mexico frankly is- surprised me in his willingness to reach out. That rally that was talked about last night in Tijuana was a rally that honored both a growing Mexico and a strong friendship with the United States. So I thought that was a good thing. They had 50 people- president told me this Friday night on the phone- they currently have 50 people- five, zero on the Guatemalan border. 

I- I think we're going to get closer to about- about 6000 Mexican National Guard down there helping with that. We've already announced- I think we were sending- a previous week- about one hundred and fifty people to work with the Guatemalans. Obviously, if you look at, sort of, the funnel of Mexico in your mind, it's easier to secure that bottom border than it is the big border between us and Mexico and frankly- also Margaret- it can't be a good thing for Mexico to have hundreds of thousand or even tens of thousands of people, kind of, wandering through the country from south to north. I think this is a big win for both sides and I think the president's willingness to use tariffs- even though I'm not a big supporter of tariffs- he is- and his willingness to use that probably helped produce a result. I hope we don't have to go back to that as an issue again with Mexico. But--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well the president tweeted this morning that tariffs remain on the table and as you just said this is an agreement in principle it's not a signed binding document, right?

SEN. BLUNT: Well I- I think--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So are- are you concerned that--

SEN. BLUNT: I think they're both committed to it. I think if you listen to the president of Mexico yesterday there's no reason to believe that they don't understand the important part of this. You know if we look at this as a- a one way win that the only country that's affected by all these people coming through Mexico is the United States, that's the wrong way to look at it. This is actually--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you want more aid to Central America?

SEN. BLUNT: Of course--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because that wasn't detailed in that declaration.

SEN. BLUNT: I think more aid to Central America is a good thing to try to help stabilize those economies in ways that are good because they're our neighbors. This is our neighborhood we should be interested in our neighborhood. But the principal point is that the Mexican government itself and the people of Mexico will benefit from trying to get this particular movement of people illegally through their country with people taking them illegally through their country with all kinds of cartel and other involvement cannot be a good thing for Mexico. And we're going to be working together with Mexico and Guatemala to get this under control at the easiest place to get it under control which was the Mexico-Guatemala border.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you know what these side agreements are that the president announced?

SEN. BLUNT: I don't know exactly what the side agreements are. I- I do understand that what I just mentioned. I also understand that there is an agreement that people who do come through the system while they're waiting for their asylum claim to be dealt with will be waiting in Mexico rather than here. And if you do those two things, you know--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, I mean, in your own state agricultural--

SEN. BLUNT: --one out of 10 people--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --is huge. So the president's declaration that there's an agricultural deal, you don't know what that is?  

SEN. BLUNT: I don't know what that is--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mexico is--

SEN BLUNT: --but I know it's good for my state--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --Missouri's second largest trading partner, three billion in goods.

SEN. BLUNT: It- it's a huge thing for my state and the whole NAFTA agreement has been really good for particularly the middle of the country, we'd be the fifth most negatively impacted state if NAFTA went away. And--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think that this--

SEN. BLUNT: And autos and agriculture are the two read- are the two things that probably are our biggest connections right now to Mexico.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What I hear you saying is for you on this, the ends justify the means. But at the same time, this kind of brinksmanship going to the edge with tariffs. Can you reuse that threat? I mean if- if the deal is not done, you have to keep talking. That must make you very concerned.

SEN. BLUNT: I- I think the bigger message here if I--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Would Republicans block tariffs if the president tried to do this?

SEN. BLUNT: If I was guessing- well that's very hypothetical. I think the biggest lesson here, probably the biggest message here is now not to Mexico, but to China. That the president is clearly willing to use tariffs and actually, the president believes that tariffs are a significant positive economic tool. Lots of people in the country agree with that. That's never been my view, but it's always been the president's view, so he is consistently willing to use something that he has always said was- should be part of our arsenal.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know part of the immigration conversations is what to do with the migrants already here. You've been raising concern that funding is about to run out for the unaccompanied minor program--

SEN. BLUNT: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --within 30 days. When will Congress be voting on this?

SEN. BLUNT: Well, thank you for letting me talk about that. I think this is truly a humanitarian crisis. I hope our- our friends on the other side, the Democrats will step up and join us in providing the money needed to take care of unaccompanied kids. Now it's important to understand these are not kids who've been separated from their parents. This is no argument about separating kids from the parents. These are kids who are left- under 18 who came on their own, about 30 percent of them are under 12 or so. The others are teenagers of various ages, but they're minors. They get here on their own

MARGARET BRENNAN: And there's no vote scheduled yet?

SEN. BLUNT: We're going to have about eighty-eight thousand come this year, eighty-eight thousand kids by themselves and everybody when they think about this surely understands you can't let 12 and 13 and 14 year old boys and girls, you can't say OK we don't have any place to go with you. And it's illegal to return you back to your home country. We're just going to let you loose in the United States and you- you show up at some future time to have your case handled.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When will that vote be?

SEN. BLUNT:  Well it should have been - I think - when we voted on the other emergency, but hopefully it will be soon. $2.8 billion will go to homeland- will go not to go not to homeland security, but to Health and Human Services--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.

SEN. BLUNT: --for the sole purpose of taking care of these kids who are here by themselves. And we need to deal with that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator, thank you.

SEN. BLUNT: Thank you.