Senior Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller has a combative interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on the Thursday broadcast of The Situation Room.
"I'm not going to negotiate here on air, but I would answer that question very simply," Miller said of a potential shutdown. "If Democrats don't want the government to shut down, support border security. It's that simple. I heard earlier you were discussing the steel slat barrier, what that's referring to is the border patrol's preferred method of building a physical impediment to illegal entry."
"Are you talking to Democrats right now to come up with a compromise before midnight tomorrow night?" CNN host Wolf Blitzer asked.
"The Democrats, all they need to do is support border security and the government will be funded," Miller answered.
"The Democrats -- Stephen, the democrats support border security," Blitzer said. "They don't support $5 billion for a wall."
"Could you identify, Wolf, for me some of the border security they support?" Miller asked the host.
"They all support border security," the CNNer responded.
"Like what? They voted against case law. They voted against ending sanctuary cities. They voted against supporting MS-13 gang members, they voted against supporting violent criminals. They voted time and time against a physical border wall to stop illegal entry. I mean, where is the evidence that you keep asserting they're for border security? They haven't been. They oppose closing loopholes for asylum," Miller told Blitzer.
"Stephen, I want to move on to another issue. Stephen," Blitzer told Miller.
BLITZER: Let's talk about all the breaking news. Right now, joining us from the white House, the president's senior adviser Stephen Miller. Stephen, thanks very much for joining us. I see you smiling, but right now it doesn't look like there's a lot to smile about. Very serious issues and I want to talk about a potential government shutdown in a moment.
But I got to get your reaction to the sudden announcement from the Defense secretary that he's quitting. The president, as you know said he's retiring, but clearly General Mattis, the Defense secretary in his letter, he made it clear he's resigning over disagreements with the president. Tell us what you know about this. You're a senior adviser to the president.
MILLER: Thanks. Well, first of all, there is a lot to be happy about right now. As you know, the House passed a criminal justice reform bill. The president signed the farm bill into law today. The economy continues to do great with record low unemployment. As to your question about Secretary Mattis, he and the president had a great relationship.
Secretary Mattis served our country with honor and distinction. At the same time, as you know, President Trump believes that many immensely wealthy countries are taking advantage of the United States. They are taking advantage of our dollars and money and have been for a long time while we protect these wealthy countries. And the president has been emphatic about the need to get a fair deal for the American taxpayer and make sure we're only engaged in activities that are in our national interests.
BLITZER: Let me ask you, Stephen, the president said that Mattis is retiring. Why didn't -- and Mattis is quitting. He's not retiring. He's quitting in protest over the president's policies. So why is the president saying in that statement he made on Twitter that Mattis is retiring?
MILLER: James Mattis is retiring. At the same time as Mattis said, the president's entitled to a secretary of Defense that has strong alignment with his views. And I think that's something all Americans can agree with.
BLITZER: Stephen, hold on a second.
MILLER: It's very normal at this point of the administration to have turnover. Secretary Mattis had always made it made it clear to the president from the beginning he didn't plan to staying through the entire administration. But this is an opportunity for the whole country to get a new secretary of Defense who will be aligned with the president on these critical issues, whether you're talking about in Syria, whether you're talking about across the Middle East in general, whether you're talking about other countries paying their fair share. And the whole America first agenda of this president.
BLITZER: But in his letter, Mattis lays out his views. And let me just briefly summarize some of those views. It's a long letter that he writes. He stands by -- he says, treating allies with respect and being clear eyed about maligned actors and competitors. And then he says because the president has a right to a Defense secretary whose views are better aligned with his, he's stepping down. That sounds to me, Stephen, like a very strong rebuke of the president's policies. Doesn't it?
MILLER: It sounds to me Secretary Mattis believes the president is entitled to a secretary of Defense who is better aligned with his views. And at the same time, this president had a great relationship with Secretary Mattis and thanks him for his service. But let's talk about the big picture here, Wolf. The media that's having this hysterical reaction to James Mattis retiring is the same media in many cases, the same politicians , in many cases who cheered our nation into a war in Iraq that turned out to be a catastrophe. This president got elected to get our foreign policy back on the right track after years of being adrift. One foreign policy blunder after another in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya...
BLITZER: Stephen, does the president want to withdraw the 14,000 troops from Afghanistan and the 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq in addition to the 2,000 troops in Syria?
MILLER: I have no -- I have absolutely no policy announcements of any kind to make tonight whatsoever. What I'm talking about, Wolf is the big picture of a country that through several administrations had an absolutely catastrophic foreign policy that cost trillions and trillions of dollars and thousands and thousands of lives and made the Middle East more unstable and more dangerous. And let's talk about Syria. Let's talk about the fact -- ISIS is the enemy of Russia. ISIS is the enemy of Assad. ISIS is the enemy of turkey. Are we supposed to stay in Syria generation after generation, spilling American blood to fight the enemies of all those countries?
BLITZER: The president says one day that ISIS is defeated. The next day he says ISIS is there and let Russia take care of it.
MILLER: ISIS has been defeated, but if ISIS wants to retrench and regrow and reorganize, it's going to be up to those countries to defeat their enemy. Wolf, when did the American people sign up to be in every war in every place, on every side of conflict all over planet earth?
BLITZER: Why are some of your best friends, national security experts like Lindsey Graham for example, Marco Rubio for example, so many other conservative Republicans and so many of the president's own national security team including the Defense secretary, his national security adviser, the secretary of State, opposed to the president's decision?
MILLER: OK, well, first of all the secretary of State isn't opposed to the president's decisions, I'm not sure where that's coming from. The president, more fundamentally, welcomes robust views, welcome debates, had a fabulous relationship with the secretary of Defense. But again, some of the voices you're talking about like our dear friend Lindsey Graham who we like a great deal have been wrong about Middle East policy...
BLITZER: By the way, Lindsey Graham said publicly on television he spoke with Secretary Pompeo and he said Pompeo opposed the president's decision.
MILLER: Look, I find it amusing the media continues to cite Lindsey Graham as the greatest authority foreign policy in American history. Since when has the United States media become the supporters of every entanglement in the middle east that has bogged down this country? I just don't know where that's coming from.
The American people voted for a president, Donald Trump who's very tough, very strong, very aggressive on terrorism, but at the same time smart. At the same time sophisticated. At the same time, heeding the wisdom of our founders who warned about entangling foreign engagement. Let's defend our national security. Let's put America first. Let's not spill American blood to fight the enemies of other countries as is the case in Syria.
BLITZER: I just want to point out, this isn't about the media. This is about top senators, Republican senators, top national security advisers to the president, Stephen, expressing their opposition to this sudden decision and then all of a sudden the secretary of Defense announces he's resigning, he's quitting because he doesn't agree with the president's policies. This has nothing to do with the media.
MILLER: My point, though, and I don't mean any disrespect with this, Wolf, I'm not referring to your program, I'm just making a general observation, that as you've seen in hour and hour of coverage, breathlessly trying to drag America deeper into a Syrian conflict, breathlessly engaging in propping up quotes from people who have dragged us into conflicts like Iraq, I just find it curious because at least as far as I'm aware, the media is supposed to be filled with a lot of progressives who don't want America to be in endless never ending foreign conflicts.
This president has been clear about the fact he will defend America like no one else. He will have a military power second to none. He will kill terrorists whenever and wherever he has to. But he's also going to be sophisticated and intelligent and smart about it. And he's not going to have us in foreign conflicts like Syria generation after generation after generation, instead of protecting this country. And you want to talk about protecting this country...
BLITZER: All right. Hold on a second. Stephen, hold on. Let's talk about that. I want to talk about that. I want to talk about this looming government shutdown. I suspect -- I want to move onto those issues. I suspect we're not only going to see U.S. troops out of Syria but also eventually out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Clearly you're making that case as well. But..
MILLER: No, Wolf. I'm not making that case.
BLITZER: Well, you're expressing the views -- Stephen. You're expressing the view that it was a blunder to get involved in Afghanistan. It was a blunder to get involved in Iraq.
MILLER: What the president has said is we have been in Afghanistan for 19 years and have spent trillions of dollars. We went into Iraq, we overthrew Saddam Hussein. There weren't weapon of mass destruction. We ended up giving Iran the chance to have a proxy in Iraq. We ended up creating a situation -- we created the power acting (ph) that led to terrorism. No decisions of any kind have been made about the future. I'm talking about the past and how we got here. I'm talking about the voices that we either listen to or don't listen to when making foreign policy decisions. And why this president got elected to chart a better path for American foreign policy.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk about a potential government shutdown at midnight tomorrow night on the eve of Christmas. This is what the president told Democratic leaders at the white House last week, Stephen. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am proud to shut down the government for border security. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn't work. I will take the mantle of shutting it down, and I'm going to shut it down for border security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're apparently in the same position we were a week ago. The president had, as you know, two years of Republican-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate to get this done. To build that border wall. Why did he fail?
MILLER: Well, the House is voting as we speak o border security. The fight is only beginning. As you know, first of all, we’re talking about successful (ph) boarder security, this president has made unprecedented achievements in that area. But right now as we speak, we are rallying Republican lawmakers to try to get a bill out of the House. And the fundamental issue here is whether or not democrat will supply votes to pass border security or whether they're going to push for open borders which...
BLITZER: But the -- I understand completely what you're saying about the importance of border security. I understand what you're saying about the border wall, the president spoke about it in virtually every campaign speech as we know. Here's the question. Why didn't he get the border wall done during his first two years in office with a Republican majority in the House and a Republican majority in the Senate?
MILLER: Well, we actually have completed or have underway a hundred miles. But the president's made clear that he's not interested in continuing to build the one mile, one stretch at a time. He wants to build the wall by getting the money now, just like the president was very clear about for the last year leading up to this funding fight. But let's cut through this. Right now as we speak -- right now as we speak, there is a surge of illegal immigration heading towards our country that presents a national crisis now.
BLITZER: Right now, though...
MILLER: Not a year from now. Right now. And this president took an oath like every lawmaker in Congress to defend the citizens of this country. How many more innocent people have to die in order...
BLITZER: Stephen, hold on a minute, calm down a minute. We don't have to yell. These are important policy issues that we're discussing. The American people have a right to know where you, the president, the White House stands. As you know, why did the vice president, for example, Mike Pence, he was reported to have given a clear signal to Senate Republicans Mitch McConnell, Senator Cornyn of Texas. Why did he say yesterday that the president was willing to sign what was called that clean continuing resolution that the Senate passed unanimously last night? At least to keep the government going until early February.
MILLER: The White House never made a commitment to sign any legislation that doesn't include border security.
BLITZER: Let me tell you what Senator Cornyn unequivocally said yesterday. He said the president would sign what the Senate passed.
MILLER: The president never made any commitment to sign a government funding bill absent border security. I appreciate what you said, Wolf, about how important this conversation is and you're 100 percent right about that. This is about the safety and security of every family, every mother, every man, every child. It's not whether or not we have drug free communities. It's about whether or not poor, working class, and middle class Americans have a fair chance to get a job and a rising wage and a good quality of life. It's about our schools. It's about our living conditions. It's about our communities. It's about protecting the public treasury. It's about all of those things and so much more.
Republicans and Democrats alike have a fundamental duty to the working people of this country to secure our border. This is straightforward common sense. Let's have both parties come together and do what's right for the people of this country and most especially for the needy Americans this time of year who deserve to have a secure country, a secure economy, and a secure...
BLITZER: I understand what you're saying, but let me repeat the question. If it's so important to have that border wall, why didn't the president get it done during his first two years in office?
MILLER: In the first two years in office, in addition to deporting from this country, 200...
BLITZER: The question is about the border wall. Why couldn't the president get the border wall funded in his first two years in office?
MILLER: In addition to the deporting of 200,000 criminal aliens who've preyed upon our people, the president also got funded several billion miles of the border wall. And he's made it clear, this should be no surprise to you, Wolf or anyone else, he's made it clear for over a year now that he expects to get full border security in this year end funding bill. This is not a dramatic request. This is mainstream common sense. How can you fund the government and not fund border security?
BLITZER: You're a close observer to what's going on, Stephen. He hasn't gotten the $5 billion for the border wall. The Democrats are about to become the majority in the House of Representatives. Are you willing to come up with some sort of compromise right now to prevent 900,000 federal workers including 400,000 or 500,000 law enforcement types from -- they will no longer get their paychecks as of midnight tomorrow night if there's a government shutdown.
MILLER: I'm not going to negotiate here on air, but I would answer that question very simply. If Democrats don't want the government to shut down, support border security. It's that simple. I heard earlier you were discussing the steel slat barrier, what that's referring to is the border patrol's preferred method of building a physical impediment to illegal entry which are...
BLITZER: Are you talking to Democrats right now to come up with a compromise before midnight tomorrow night?
MILLER: The Democrats, all they need to do is support border security and the government will be funded.
BLITZER: The Democrats -- Stephen, the democrats support border security. They don't support $5 billion for a wall.
MILLER: Could you identify, wolf, for me some of the border security they support?
BLITZER: They all support border security.
MILLER: Like what? They voted against case law. They voted against ending sanctuary cities. They voted against supporting MS-13 gang members, they voted against supporting violent criminals. They voted time and time against a physical border wall to stop illegal entry. I mean, where is the evidence that you keep asserting they're for border security? They haven't been. They oppose closing loopholes for asylum.
BLITZER: Stephen, I want to move on to another issue. Stephen.
MILLER: I'm just saying I believe government will be funded as long as Democrats make good on the rhetoric you cite and agree to...
BLITZER: But what if there's no $5 billion in the legislation between now and tomorrow night?
MILLER: We'll see what happens, Wolf. But I believe that hopefully some Democrats will come to their senses and support mainstream...
BLITZER: But are you open to a compromise that doesn't include the $5 billion?
MILLER: We want a bill that keeps America safe. The president's been clear about that and in his remarking today at the signing ceremony for the farm bill. And I'm not going to negotiate with you on air, the House is going to pass a bill and send it to the Senate and we'll see what happens next.
BLITZER: You know, when you say we'll see what happens, is that a good enough answer to the nearly 1 million federal workers, many of them law enforcement types who are not going to get a paycheck after midnight tomorrow night?
MILLER: That's the question for the Senate Democrats and especially for Chuck Schumer who apparently at Nancy Pelosi's bidding rescinded their support for a bill supporting border security only a few weeks ago.
BLITZER: Why not have a temporary measure, at least keep people working especially as we're closer and closer to Christmas?
MILLER: Because if the bill doesn't fund border security, it can't keep America safe. In other words...
BLITZER: Is another month or two going to make much of a difference?
MILLER: You know what, Wolf? It makes a difference to the people that get killed by illegal immigrants who are drinking and driving or who get assaulted by gang members that come across the border or who lose their jobs to illegal competition. It makes a difference to all of them, Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm just saying. You got a couple months, at least keep the government going, begin to negotiate, try to work out a compromise with Democrats and Republicans -- there are a bunch of Republicans who is don't agree with you as well. Keep the discussions going but in the meantime, Stephen, at least don't shut down the government.
MILLER: After decades of the American people being betrayed on the issue of border security and illegal immigration, this president is proud to take a stand on behalf of the safety and security of every American family. As you know, he's met with the victims of illegal alien violence. Hes met with those whose family members were killed by MS-13 gang members who came here because of Democrat- supported loopholes in our federal law. He's met with the victims of drug violence.
He's met with the people who've been negatively impacted in so many heart breaking ways by this. Now's the time, right now, to stand up and do what's right for the American people, and that's what this president is doing. And it is a question I hope you'll have Democrats on your program and ask them if they can set aside in some of these cases their dislike of the president that's driving them to hurt the country. Do what's right for the country.
BLITZER: I understand what you're saying. We will get a Democratic senator to respond to what you're saying. My only point is, don't shut down the government, continue the negotiations. Try to come up with a reasonable compromise. A few months ago the president was willing to come up with some sort of compromise involving the so-call DREAMers
MILLER: Yeah. But it was Democrats...
BLITZER: But let's not go through that. Let's not go through that right now.
MILLER: That's fair. But it was Democrats who pulled their support for funding border security only a matter of days ago. And it's Democrats who can fund the government by doing what's right for the hard working citizens of this country and putting America first.
BLITZER: I know we don't have a lot of time left, but let me ask you this. Why should American taxpayers have to pay for the wall along the border with Mexico? Why should almost a million federal workers have to work -- half a million law enforcement types have to work over the holidays without their paychecks, over something the president of the United States as a candidate and as president repeatedly promised to the American people that Mexico would pay for the wall. Why is Mexico -- the president said, guaranteed that Mexico would pay. Mexico clearly -- the former government, the new government said they're not paying.
MILLER: Thank you for asking the question. So first of all, as the president has said, as we've all said, the wall would be paid for through the savings on trade alone. But I want to explain to you..
MILLER: I'm glad you're giving me the chance to answer the question. Because as you know, Wolf, in Washington budgeting, an offset is different than an allocation. Even though the trade savings offset the costs, Congress still has to allocate the funding. Even though it's paid for by trade savings, Congress has to allocate the money. But it's also fully paid for in another very important way, which is the cost of illegal immigration. Everyone talks of the cost of the wall., the cost of the wall is pennies compared to the cost of illegal immigration.
You obviously can't measure the cost of the lives lost to illegal immigration. On both sides of the border and all the horrible things done by vicious and sinister cartels and coyotes. But at the same time, the cost of drugs alone according to our council on economic advisers, heroin over $230 billion a year, over 90 percent of it comes from the border. Public benefits for illegal immigrants, over $100 billion a year.
BLITZER: Those are all fair points, Stephen. But clearly, and I think you'll agree, when the Mexican government, the former government, the current government says they're not paying for the wall, you accept what they're saying?
MILLER: No, I'm saying that the wall's being paid for through savings on trade. Along with many other things. But that alone pays for the wall. My point is as you know, Congress, even though the money's offset still has to allocate it.
BLITZER: Look. Under the separation of powers, Congress can use whatever money is saved through the new U.S./Mexico/Canada trade agreement. They can just use that money if extra money into the U.S. Treasury to cut down the nation's debt. The deficit is exploding right now. They don't have to -- Congress does not have to earmark that money for a wall if Congress, the House and the Senate, don't want to do that.
MILLER: Right. I think we're saying the same thing, though, which is if Chuck Schumer and others want to pass a rule saying it can fund the wall directly, that would be great. But the point is...
BLITZER: They don't want to do that.
MILLER: Right. But the point is, is that it's all offset, it's all paid for. The wall is fully...
BLITZER: The point is, Stephen, that Mexico -- the president promised the Mexican government will write a check and pay for the wall.
MILLER: And the money's paying for it. We're getting lost in the minutia of complicated Washington budgeting.
BLITZER: It's not minutia. It's very significant.
MILLER: No, here's what's really significant, I the literally hundreds of billions of dollars that will be saved for the American people by reducing illegal immigration. Wolf, as you know, illegal immigration -- illegal immigrants on average are lower skilled workers who consume more in public benefits than they pay in taxes. As a result of that, it costs our country hundreds of billions of dollars.
MILLER: This is a matter of social and economic justice for the American team to have a secure border, to have a wall, a physical impediment to illegal entry, and have a system that's humane and just. What we are right now is fundamentally unjust and inhumane, and we have to change that.
BLITZER: Stephen, you've been generous with your time. We appreciate your joining us. We hope you'll come back. But here's a final question before I let you go. Will the president still travel to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida for his holiday vacation tomorrow if the government shuts down?
MILLER: My understanding -- I haven't talked with him about it. My understanding is if there's a shutdown tomorrow that he'll still be here. But I haven't talked to him about it recently. But that's my understanding.
BLITZER: All right. Let's hope there isn't a government shutdown. Because the consequences will be significant.
MILLER: Let's hope that Democrats fund border security.
BLITZER: Let's see if you guys can work together with Democrats and get this resolved just before Christmas. It would be a nice gift to the American people. Stephen Miller, thank you so much. Please come back.
MILLER: Thank you. Thank you, I will. Thanks.