Transcript: Vice President Mike Pence on "Face the Nation," June 23, 2019

Pence blames Congress for detention center conditions

The following is a transcript of the interview with Vice President Mike Pence that aired Sunday, June 23, 2019, on "Face the Nation."  


MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning and welcome to "Face the Nation." We've got a lot to get to today and we will begin with Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Vice President good to see you. Good morning.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Morning, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: A lot to talk to you about on Iran, but first I want to ask you about the president's announcement this morning that he has decided to delay the roundup of migrants. Why did the president announce this law enforcement operation?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well- well first let's let's- it- we have a crisis on our southern border. We are on track this year to have more than a million people come across our border and for the first time ever the vast majority are families that are bringing children with them to- to exploit what- what we understand are loopholes in our asylum laws. I mean if people come across our border, make a claim of asylum, we can detain them for only 20 days and then they're released into the United States. The truth is 90 percent of those claims are denied and the vast majority--

MARGARET BRENNAN: That figure has been disputed.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, but the vast majority never show up for their hearing. You know, a year, eighteen months, down the road. So- so the president is doing his job. We both took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this country. He set into motion an internal enforcement effort to remove people who've been given due process of law who've been adjudicated through a court order- ordered to be deported. But the president talking with Speaker Pelosi and other Democrats made the decision to delay two weeks and to call on the Congress once again to close the loopholes that human traffickers are using--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that going to happen in two weeks?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --to entice families.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You expect Congress to pass that in two weeks?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Honestly the- the- the president and I believe it could happen in 15 minutes. If Democrats in Congress will simply step up and agree to close the loopholes that we know human traffickers are using to exploit vulnerable families.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But why did the president announce a law--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Add to that more humanitarian assistance on this overwhelmed system--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --enforcement operation?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --and we can solve the crisis.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've lost the element of surprise because he announced the law enforcement operation. And that's why many are saying this is purely for political reasons that the president would announce rounding up of migrants.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Every one that the president said that we're going to identify and arrest and deport have already gone through the legal process. But- but that being said it- it's just essential that Congress step up. I mean the- the president declared a national emergency we're already building the wall on the southern border we'll have 400 miles built by the end of next year. But we recognize this new crisis of families coming up the peninsula taking the long and dangerous journey north at the hands of human traffickers often- often subject to violence and- and worse on the journey north.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about that.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: We only saw that by more humanitarian assistance for the customs and border personnel that were doing their job every day. And by closing the loopholes that human traffickers--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --are using.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --but the president's tweeting about rounding people up. He's not tweeting about some of the conditions that have been described as "crisis level" in the facilities that--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the United States is running, not across the border, not people who are out loose in the United States. But in U.S. detention facilities--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --and there have been details released over the past few days by lawyers who've gone down and looked describing, "Children sleeping on cold floors," "filthy," "lice outbreaks," "flu outbreaks," "not in any way safe and sanitary conditions." Is that acceptable, and what does the White House going to do since, as you say, Congress is doing nothing. What are you going to do?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Margaret, it's- it's totally unacceptable. But the American people deserve to know that our dedicated Customs and Border Patrol agents are literally being overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of people coming across our border to take advantage of loopholes in our laws. But- but it's--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So what are you going to do about it at the executive level?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well--

MARGARET BRENNAN: If you say Congress is not--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well let me be clear--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --what are you going to do?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE:  When the president declared a national emergency earlier this year, we were asking Congress in January to give us more bed space. Democrats in Congress refused. Congress continues- although Speaker Pelosi has indicated a willingness to look at- at a bill that would provide more humanitarian assistance. Over the next two weeks, we're going to look to get those resources as well as close the loopholes. But look, we've- we've asked for more bed space, we've asked for more support. Our Customs and Border Patrol agents are doing a- a job but the system is overwhelmed and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the Homeland Security Secretary has sat here in- in your spot and said this, "crisis levels," for a year.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: It is. It is.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So how is the executive totally powerless to do anything about these unsafe, unsanitary conditions?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, we're- we're- we're- we're doing a lot with what the Congress has given us. But again, Congress refused to increase the bed space in the last appropriations bill. They continue--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --to--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --so--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --to delay efforts--

MARGARET BRENN: --we just have to accept these conditions--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --on additional humanitarian support.

MARGARET BRENNAN" --that are being described here?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: No, absolutely not. It's one of the reasons why the president's taken the strong stand that he's taken on the crisis on our southern border. That's why the president took the strong stand that he took with Mexico just a few short weeks ago. He told the government in Mexico we're going to start imposing tariffs starting at five percent on all goods coming into the United States unless Mexico steps up.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, but this is within US borders--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: I was in those- yeah, Margaret--   

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that we're talking about.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --I was in those negotiations with the Mexican delegation, the secretary of state and our team. And as we speak, Mexico is deploying 6000 troops to their southern border and for the first time ever, Mexico is taking back 100 percent of Central Americans who apply for asylum in our country that now will- that now will now remain in Mexico. We- we think that's part of the solution. But ultimately, closing loopholes, getting our dedicated Customs and Border Patrol agents more resources to deal with this overwhelming humanitarian crisis, that's how we address the issue. And- and the president and I are going to continue to stand strong, call on the Congress to do their job. It- it's amazing to think that- that- that Mexico has done more to secure our southern border in the last ten days than Democrats in Congress have done in the last ten years. The American people deserve better. We're going to continue to demand--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --that Democrats in Congress step up.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well many would say that the people- those children deserve better who are already in US custody--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: They do. I- I- Margaret--

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to move on to Iran--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Let me- just can I say that. I was down at one of the detention centers. It is heartbreaking to see what you see, families that are in these detention centers. What we have--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, what can you do?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Exactly what we're doing. Human--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You can't do anything more other than--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: I- look I've been in Central--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --blame it on the Democratic controlled House?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: No. You can demand that the Congress do its job as the president is doing his job.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why isn't the president tweeting about it? He's tweeting about rounding people up he's not tweeting about babies without diapers and sleeping on cold floors--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well- well part--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the details that are horrific.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Look part of the way that we stem this mass migration that's being driven by heartless human traffickers who are taking $5,000 dollars a person to entice vulnerable families to come north. Part of it is--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --making clear that people will be deported. You know in 2015 when President Obama did a round of nationwide internal enforcement and deported people out of the country actually we saw illegal immigration at the southern border go down. What we have--

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about Iran.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --have to do- we have to do to secure the border with a wall. We have to close the loopholes. Mexico has to implement the agreement that they've made. But Congress has got to step up. The president is going to continue demand they do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: CBS confirmed that the US has conducted cyber operations to hit facilities in Iran linked to missile and rocket launches. Is this retaliation for shooting down the U.S. drone?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, Margaret, as you know we never comment on covert operations.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Has there been any retaliation for shooting down the U.S. drone?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well as- as I said I can't speak to that. What I can tell you is that as of tomorrow we expect the president to announce an additional round of sanctions in response to Iran's downing of an American unmanned vehicle as well as in a very real sense in the wake of what was clearly Iran's action in attacking two tankers in the straits. But look what- what- what the president did on Thursday was- was listen to all of his advisers and- but at the end of the day the president concluded that- that seeing the potential of a hundred and fifty people killed in an American airstrike when an unmanned American vehicle had been downed in airspace was not a proportional response. But Iran should not- Iran should not confuse American restraint with a lack of American resolve. This president's made it clear we are going to protect American forces in the region. We're going to protect American interests in the region and the United States of America will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well Iran says it's going to increase its stockpile pile of enriched uranium. Is there a red line for the president? That could happen this week.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well Iran has announced that literally in a matter of days that they're going to exceed--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --the uranium enrichment limits within the Iran nuclear deal which in- in our judgment was one of the worst deals this country had ever entered into. You know, I was in the Congress back in 2010 when on a bipartisan basis, we were able to enact punishing sanctions on Iran--

MARGARET BRENNAN: And that is the US strategy at this point--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --their economy--

MARGARET BRENNAN:  --is to continue to strangle Iran's economy, and it's- it's devastated its economy, but--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well it has, but it- here's the thing--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the bigger question is, what is the strategy? Because it only seems like Iran's lashing out--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: But, Margaret--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the region is more unstable--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Margaret--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --they are struggling here--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Look, the American people deserve to know--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --so, what is the next step here?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: The American people deserve to know Congress, on a bipartisan basis, enacted sanctions. And from 2010 to 2012, even all the way to 2015--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --they were working. Iran's economy was contracting--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But is that the goal? Just to strangle their economy?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --they were under pressure.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I thought the goal was to get to the negotiating table?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: What we want to do is stand with the Iranian people, thousands of with- gather- gathered outside the White House on Friday, and tens of thousands of which, took to the streets last year in communities across Iran, we want to stand with them to see Iran come--

MARGARET BRENNAN:  But how does choking off the economy--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --forward, step to a future and embrace freedom--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --do- do that? Are you suggesting that the US would do something to support people if they came up to try to throw over the regime, I thought the policy was no regime change?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Since the Green Revolution in 2009, the United States has made it clear that we are with the Iranian people. I- I thought that the president's decision to- to refrain from a military strike when he learned it could cost one hundred and fifty Iranian lives, I hope that sends a message to the Iranian people that while we stand firmly against the Ayatollahs, we have the highest hopes for the Iranian people. But it- but it's time for Iran to recognize that the United States of America will never allow them to obtain a nuclear weapon. That would be a threat to our country, a threat to our cherished ally, Israel, and a threat to the world. But if Iran is- is willing to abandon their nuclear ambitions and end this reign of terror of--

MARGARET BRENNAN: They have already said that they were--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: --forty years, well they said it--

MARGARET BRENNAN:  --well I want to- I want to ask you about North Korea before--

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: But, for forty years, they've propagated terror. They're the leading state sponsor of terror in the world. Those days must come to an end, and America is gonna continue to stand, resolved, with the people of Iran for a better future for them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. Vice President, thank you very much for joining us.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Thank you, Margaret.