DAVID GREENE, HOST:
President Trump's plan to drop detained immigrants off in so-called sanctuary cities appears on again, at least rhetorically speaking. Sanctuary cities now refer to jurisdictions that don't fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The Washington Post first reported on this idea. And critics saw it as a form of political retribution from the president.
The White House initially dismissed this as, quote, "just a suggestion that was floated and rejected" - rejected, it appears, by lawyers and officials within the administration. But then on Friday, the president tweeted that, quote, "We are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities." And now the White House appears to be doubling down. Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley spoke yesterday to NPR's Michel Martin.
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HOGAN GIDLEY: It's not political retribution. If anything, you should consider it - on the Democrat side - to be an olive branch.
GREENE: Conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg is here with us. He's senior editor with National Review. You often hear him on our program. Jonah, thanks for coming in.
JONAH GOLDBERG: Always great to be here.
GREENE: A political olive branch. What exactly is the White House argument here?
GOLDBERG: Well, the White House's argument is that somehow - that since Democrats won't make changes to the existing immigration laws, which I think the Republicans have - or the White House has a good reason to complain about some of that. We do have real problems - that this is somehow a way to deal with the crisis at the border in a way that is sort of asking Democrats to put up or shut up, since they're in favor of sanctuary cities and the rest. I want to be very clear. I think this may be one of the single most asinine moments in...
GOLDBERG: Modern American politics.
GREENE: That's saying a lot.
GOLDBERG: Yeah. I mean, well, you say in the beginning that this is - at least, it's rhetorically back on the table. Rhetorically gives it a very flowery, high-minded, almost Platonic status. This is the triumph of trolling in lieu of public policy, where the president assumes that the entire country agrees with his characterization of the refugees at the border as a bunch of predatory, dangerous criminals that are just massing on the border to invade the country.
GREENE: And polls do not show that most of the country believes that.
GOLDBERG: Right. And moreover, there's no data that suggests that that's what these people really are, right? And so then he says - the assumption is, OK, well, we're just going to give the Democrats what they want, and we're going to unleash these barbarians in their midst. First of all, if your concern is attracting more refugees, announcing that when you get to the border, you're going to get a free bus ticket to the very places these people are trying to get to will only heighten this. And even when you hear the president's defenders - some of them are close friends of mine - on TV, they always say, well, I don't think this is actually going to happen, but this is a brilliant sort of about-face or a brilliant reply to Democratic rhetoric.
GREENE: But what is the point if it's not going to happen? Like, what are we all talking about if even people who support this are saying, this is not going to happen?
GOLDBERG: I think it's fodder for Twitter. It's fodder for cable news talk shows. It's fodder for Trump to sort of get the headlines he likes from friendly outlets. But it is insane on almost every level to take it seriously. And it sort of puts the lie to this stuff about how we're supposed to take the president's rhetoric seriously but not literally - or whatever that, you know, famous phrase was. This is just simply an example of the president wanting a fun talking point that would actually lead to him betraying his central campaign promise, which was to halt the flow of immigrants into this country. He would be the greatest net importer of immigrants into this country if he followed through on this. And let's be clear. The places that these people at the border want to go are precisely the places he's threatening to send them for free.
GREENE: Or joining their family. They want to come into...
GREENE: ...The country. So this would, in some ways - either they would go to cities that they might want to go to. Or they would only spend a few days in a sanctuary city. And I mean, it just makes - can I just step - I mean, just listening to you, it makes me wonder, should we even be talking about this this morning? Like, what is - is this news? How do Republicans in Congress, how do journalists deal with a president who, you know, in an - there's an immigration - substantively, these parties have not come to a comprehensive solution in years. So can the president just say what he wants to fill the vacuum?
GOLDBERG: Well, yeah. There is a very serious crisis. And there are serious people in the White House, in the Republican Party who want to deal with it. There are serious people in the Democratic Party who want to deal with it. But the leaderships are not going to figure - are not doing anything to do it.
On Friday, when the Washington Post story came out, everyone sort of tamped this down and said, this isn't a real story, as you suggested. But when the president reverses that and announces, no, no, no, this is very serious and we're taking it seriously, I don't see how the press has any choice but to talk about it and to take it somewhat seriously 'cause it's the president of the United States saying it.
GREENE: Could that work for the president, heading to 2020?
GOLDBERG: Yes, absolutely. Just as a talking point thing, we are living in this sort of Kabuki theater, you know, shadow puppet theater, where it's just the images on the wall that seem to matter more than any actual substantive policies. And whoever wins the battle for better talking points wins. So maybe it certainly could work because that seems to be the world that we're living in now.
GREENE: Jonah Goldberg is senior editor at National Review. Jonah, thanks for coming in, as always.
GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.