Reps. Dan Crenshaw, Mike Johnson Share How They Want to Tackle Border Crisis

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Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Johnson, R-La., and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, join us to share their thoughts on immigration, socialism, bipartisanship, and more. Read the full interview, posted below, or watch the interview:

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  • President Donald Trump sends a sharp warning to Iran.
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Rachel del Guidice: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the third episode of the Republican Study Committee’s “Elephants in the Room.”

I have the great pleasure of moderating a discussion today with Congressman Mike Johnson from Louisiana and Congressman Dan Crenshaw from Texas.

Thank you both so much for being with us today.

Rep. Mike Johnson: I’m happy to be here.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw: Thanks for having us.

del Guidice: Let’s just dive right in.

The House and Senate will be voting later this week on competing funding packages to give humanitarian aid at the border. Democrats have been opposing this. Why is this so controversial to them?

Johnson: That’s a very good question. It shouldn’t be controversial.

We have gone from a humanitarian and national security crisis to what I like to refer to now as an outright catastrophe. That’s what we have. If you look at the data, it’s irrefutable.

Everybody sees the heart-wrenching situations with families and unaccompanied minors who come across the border.

The apprehensions at the border through customs and border control is almost twice what it was last year. The first six months of this year, we’ve apprehended as many as we did in all of last year combined.

We have to address it. Congress needs to take this action. Unfortunately, there’s some in this town who want to use it as a political football and it’s very unfortunate.

Crenshaw: They want to keep this issue alive. They’re going to continue to want to keep it alive, and they keep it alive by being against any kind of enforcement or security measures.

Unfortunately, the reality is, we don’t have the same goals anymore.

You can compromise on something when you have the same end goal, but you have very different ways to get there. There’s plenty of issues that you can point to like that, but immigration is, unfortunately, like that because they want less enforcement.

Unfortunately, I think we’re seeing the potential of poison pills being put into these spending bills that do just that: “OK, we’ll give more humanitarian aid at the border, but you have to give us something.”

We’re going to say, “Why would we need to give you anything?” That’s insane.

Why don’t we all just agree at least on that? At least on improving the conditions at the holding facilities, but they don’t actually want people there in the first place because they don’t want enforcement.

Johnson: That’s exactly right. So, we’ve reach an impasse.

The president’s tried to exert his word and his will in this thing, but every time he requests additional funding, there’s a further backlash from the Democrats’ side, so we find ourselves in this very unfortunate and really immoral situation and we’ve got to address it.

del Guidice: Congressman Johnson, you just introduced legislation that would address fraud and abuse in our asylum laws. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Johnson: That’s one of the root problems of our immigration crisis that we have is the abuse of our asylum program.

We’re a very benevolent country. We’re the most benevolent country in the world and we serve as a place of refuge for people who are legitimately being persecuted in their hometown. They have a credible fear of their own life or their family’s life.

For example, if they’re on the run from a drug cartel in their Central American nation or what have you.

But what’s happened is, over the last several years, the standard … to qualify for asylum in our country has been watered down.

We have a bill that will fix that. It will increase the standard of credible fear to make sure that those who claim it are actually the persons who should be availing themselves of that protection and it’s not being abused by people who just want to come here for a better opportunity.

That is illegal immigration. That’s an abuse of our asylum program and it really hurts the most the people who actually need it.

del Guidice: Congressman Crenshaw, you come from a border state. … In this immigration crisis we’re seeing, how do you see the people in your state impacted?

Crenshaw: It’s a massive impact. That’s why we’re having a hearing this week in the Budget Committee and the name of the hearing is “The Benefits of Immigration,” not the costs of immigration, but the benefits.

We’re talking past each other because Democrats tend to conflate illegal immigration with legal immigration.

There are benefits with legal immigration. We like legal immigration. There’s actually quite a few economic benefits to that and they’re generally good people. They’re very likely to start a new business. That’s all great.

But they lump all that into the same category. They’re not the same category.

There’s actual costs when you have massive inflows of illegal immigrants. The vast majority of which do not come with skills. The vast majority of which are costing more to our economy and our society than the taxes they might pay, which are usually in the form of sales tax. That’s about it.

I’ll give you one example.

In my district, there’s a hospital that is designated for low-income Americans. It uses special funding. It is for people without insurance. Twenty-five percent of the money they use goes to illegal immigrants.

And this is one of those places where they can actually measure this because it’s a low-income hospital. Meaning, you have to prove you’re low income, therefore, we’re looking at your documentation when you show up.

That’s a lot of money. That should be going to our low-income citizens and it’s not.

The costs are great. Our Border Patrol agents are overwhelmed. It’s amazing they even get up in the morning and go to work. They’re not there to secure the border anymore. They’re there to process massive amounts of people who are abusing the asylum system. …

That is the most important aspect of fixing this is fixing the asylum loopholes. That is the draw that brings people in and you fix some very simple things on that.

If you create a system where once you arrive, you are held and your case is adjudicated, even by the laws we have now for the standards of asylum, if we just did that instead of catch and release, I think we would have a massive reversal of this problem. It would happen very quickly because the word would get out.

Johnson: There’s no doubt about that and it’s true that when those cases are adjudicated in the current system, it takes two years sometimes to get a hearing.

When the people are released out into the country, wherever they go, many of them never return for that hearing.

Crenshaw: There’s no incentive to come back.

Johnson: There’s no incentive to come back.

Crenshaw: The other day, the secretary said 90% are not showing up from those three countries—Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala—90% aren’t showing up.

Johnson: So, the word’s gotten out amongst other people in those nations: “Go to America. As long as you get over the border, you’re home free because they won’t deport you. They won’t find you.”

That has had a very perverse incentive for people to come here.

I saw, I think, one of the polling organizations—maybe it was Gallup—they did a poll or some estimate and they figured out there were tens of millions of people in Central America alone who want to make that journey and come here because why wouldn’t you, right?

We’re the most benevolent people in the world, but we cannot take care of everyone. We’ve got to have some limits and we have to have the rule of law or else we’ll lose our own sovereignty and what makes us the great nation that we are.

Crenshaw: That’s right.

del Guidice: Texas’ governor, Greg Abbott, just announced that Texas is going to be dedicating about a billion dollars to help secure the border. Why is Texas having to do Congress’ job essentially right now?

Crenshaw: Because we’re one of the last states that has governed well and I know that we’re using common sense and basic rule of law, I suppose.

We also spend our money very carefully, which means we often have extra for emergencies like this. But no, it is not correct.

There’s not that many things I like the federal government doing, but international border security is definitely one of them. That’s a very clear federal government role and responsibility.

It is sad that Texas taxpayers have to pay for that. It frustrates us, but it is something that we have to do, for all the reasons we’ve just stated.

del Guidice: Immigration’s a hot topic. We’re going to come back to it in a little bit before we end this show.

But another hot topic right now on the hearts and minds of our viewers: I know your constituents of socialism. We’ve seen a rise in interest among it and among members of Congress and elsewhere.

Human Progress, which is a project of the Cato Institute, recently released a survey that found that 42% of millennials would rather live in a socialist country.

Why are statistics like these so concerning and how can we respond?

Crenshaw: Do you want to go?

Johnson: It’s a lack of information.

The people that are responding to those polls don’t understand what they’re responding to is a question that is presented something like, “Would you like the government to provide you with free health care and a place to live and a car and a phone?

Most people say, “Sure, that sounds great.” They don’t talk to them about the ultimate extreme costs that is associated with that. Not just in terms of dollars, but in terms of the sacrifice of your individual liberties and your freedoms.

If you turn everything over to state ownership, that’s ultimately what happens, it is the antithesis of everything that we are in America and everything we have been.

The reason we are the exceptional greatest nation in the world is because our system and our principles are the opposite of everything that those people are promising right now.

We just have to say that and articulate it in a way that millennials and all Americans understand it. That it resonates. That they understand what it is that is being suggested here and the terrible price that would have to be paid for those kinds of regimes.

Crenshaw: Yeah, and it’s really hard to nail them down when you’re trying to discuss socialism with somebody because they’ll jump from definition to definition.

I think the well-meaning millennials who like socialism are probably referring to Nordic countries and so it’s up to us to say, “That’s not socialism.”

By many markers they have a more free market economy. They have a flatter tax system than we do. Like a far flatter tax system than we do. They just have very, very big government welfare programs.

How do they pay for those programs? They tax the middle class. They tax the middle class exponentially higher than we do.

That would be a more honest question to ask them. Not do you like socialism, but do you want to raise your own taxes by 10 or 20 basis points, but you also get these things for it. Do you want that?

Most will say, “That’s actually quite a big cost. I’m not so sure about that.” It changes the form of the discussion rather greatly. It is education.

There’s other polls, too, that the same people that say they prefer socialism also answer that they want less government intervention in their lives. That gives us a good connection with them, actually.

As long as we can redefine socialism to them, and embrace them with open arms, and a teaching moment as opposed to saying how stupid they are for liking socialism, I think we can bridge that gap.

I think the younger generation is highly libertarian at heart. If you really start to delve down into issues with them, they tend to be more libertarian. I think we’ve got to take advantage of that as Republicans.

Johnson: We have great success when you’re with a crowd like that who’s … that’s sort of their philosophy.

You explain why those two pursuits are mutually exclusive. You cannot be for individual freedom and liberty and be for socialism. You can’t have both. And once you break that down, it’s easy to make them see the light on it.

Crenshaw: We have to explain to them why that is. If we want to give you something, we have to infringe on the rights of others to give you that and you have to be OK with that. You have to be OK with taking.

We have to explain to them, too, socialism totally misreads human nature. An individual freedom and basically, I would say, capitalism does not. A free market does not.

What socialism forgets is you need a series of incentives to make the economy work properly. You need those incentives. You need the forces of the market to tell you how much something costs. How much is needed, how much isn’t needed.

It relies on two things that can’t be true. The fact that you don’t need human incentive and the fact that you can actually plan an economy from a centralized location, that you can plan very complex institutions from a centralized place, which is just fundamentally not true.

Johnson: Also, that human nature is essentially good. Remember all this is rooted in Marxism and the original philosophers who proposed all this, they thought of socialism as a means to the end of the communist utopia. This was just one step in the whole progression.

Obviously, we know that that’s an impossible thing and it just takes a while to break this down. A town hall format is helpful for that, but we need other ways to be able to explain these things so that people understand what it is we’re actually having a discussion and a debate about.

del Guidice: Exactly. And going off of that, as a millennial, Congressman Crenshaw, with a connection to millennials, what are some ways that you’ve seen, viable ways to go in and reach young people who aren’t attracted by this shiny object of socialism, but a way to reach them where we can draw them in and not let them be led astray?

Crenshaw: The question everybody’s going to be asking, it’s platforms on social media. It’s going to the college campuses.

I work with Turning Point USA a lot on that because they can create that infrastructure that I need to get into the college campus and then have a lot of people there and answer the hard questions. Reach out to the groups that call themselves socialist groups. Have them come answer questions, ask questions, and let’s just hammer it out and get that message across.

I think it’s important not to demonize them right away because often times, they don’t mean actual socialism. That’s important to know as we engage in that debate.

Johnson: These opportunities are so important because if you look at the data, you realize the reason that, for example, the Republican Party is attracting less and less and less more highly educated voters is because they spent so much time in the academy.

The universities are run at the administration level, usually by liberals, almost entirely, and sometimes by radical liberals, right? A socialist and others. The students are being indoctrinated instead of educated.

These voices and these opportunities are so critically important just so they’re exposed to the other side.

If we abandon those forums, we effectively yield that whole marketplace of ideas to one side. That does not serve the interest of the country in the short term or long term. These are initiatives that we have to dig in and do much more of.

del Guidice: Congressman Johnson, on the last episode of “Elephants in the Room,” we talked a lot about the Green New Deal, why it’s such concerning policy.

For listeners who aren’t as familiar with it, socialism, we were talking about that.

How is this bill and this legislation being pushed by so many Democrats in congress? Why is it so dangerous to our way of American life?

Johnson: Because it would be the full implementation of this radical leftist dream for the country and it’s completely impossible to implement.

… We’ve all heard the punchlines about how they were proposing about how we get rid of planes and trains and automobiles and cows, for that matter.

But we had a lunch discussion today and one of my colleagues said in the Republican Conference, “We did the math. It would actually take nearly the GDP of the entire planet to implement the Green New Deal in America.”

It’s staggering numbers and it’s completely unworkable and we talked about on the episode just one example.

They want to get rid of fossil-based fuels, oil and gas entirely, in a 10-year window to be replaced by wind and solar, which is highly unreliable, which would drive the cost of every household up on average $600, I think it was, a month to do it.

To have the amount of wind that you would need to replace our fossil fuel reliance, you would need a land mass the size of the state of California.

Ironically, one of the highest contributors to carbon emissions is the concrete. The production of concrete.

To produce the amount of concrete it would take to put all those windmills in would dramatically increase the exact problem they say they’re trying to correct. It just goes on and on and on.

Crenshaw: They’re going to use the sun to build the wind.

Johnson: Oh, that’s right.

Crenshaw: Yeah, so we got to figure that out.

Johnson: Oh, and all the birds that they’re going to kill with the windmills, too. I mean the whole thing, it would be a joke, and we would laugh about it and we have, except that they have over 90 co-sponsors on that legislation, that resolution in the House.

It’s a very serious thing, and I think even … some of our colleagues, well intended as they may be, they don’t even understand what it is they’re advocating with this thing.

Our job is to educate people and to put the details out there. Our podcast was a great way to do that.

We’re looking for more and more avenues to do it and we have a counter resolution that we’re introducing in the House to draw more attention to this.

We want Americans to understand what it is they’re advocating for. It’s impossible, and it would be a great hardship for every American, every single person in this country.

del Guidice: In terms of shiny objects of socialism in legislation, another thing we’re seeing pushed by Democrats is “Medicare for All.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders and others are wanting to push that through. And The Washington Post, interestingly enough, did a piece published over the weekend with the headline, “Voters have big health-care worries, but not the ones Democrats are talking about.”

There’s actually a Democrat being quoted in this piece, a voter, who said, “I’m really not interested in Medicare for All. That’s not the answer.”

Why is that not the answer?

Johnson: There’s a lot of reasons it’s not the answer. Americans are concerned because their health care costs are sky rocketing. Our choices are dwindling.

You have more professionals leaving that profession, health care providers, because of all the complexity of the regulatory environment and everything else. That is a ballooning crisis still.

The American people want us to go in to the members of Congress and fix this problem.

They want to make sure that preexisting conditions are covered. They want to make sure that they can have choices. That they can have savings accounts. They can have mobility so that everybody gets coverage they can actually afford that is reliable.

Medicare for All goes in the opposite direction on all those things because you put the government in charge of everything.

They want to get rid of your private insurance. The ability to have an employee-provided plan. Americans love those plans. They favor those over government-run health care.

There’s so many problems with it.

I think that some of these presidential candidates on the Democrat side who say they’re for that, I’m not even sure that they, some of them, believe it themselves. They just feel like it’s a talking point for the election cycle. It would be almost impossible to implement.

Crenshaw: They like these aspirational ideas, whether it’s Green New Deal or Medicare for All. I think they couldn’t pass a polygraph when it comes to stating it’s actually workable, but they don’t care.

This is the problem with even moderate Democrats. Their rhetoric gives way to the far left.

I don’t think it’s even right for us to give them that space and distinguish between the moderate left and the far left. They’ve become the same thing because they’re saying the same things.

I think the modern Democrats just rationalize it and they tell themselves it’s aspirational. They’ll get us moving in that direction. It’s irresponsible. It’s irresponsible talk.

When you’re thinking about Medicare for All, you have to cut prices to doctors and hospitals. You have to cut supply, meaning you have to cut quality of care.

There’s this notion that it all becomes simpler and easier, which is a really nonsensical notion. Just because you remove the private insurer from the equation doesn’t mean there’s now not a government bureaucrat there to then triage the case and decide what form of care is proper to use for that patient.

If you increase prices, then you’ve increased the price tag for Medicare for All drastically, and you have to be honest with the American people about what that will cost them.

Again, this always goes back to if you want more government services, you also have to tell people what they’re going to cost. Democrats like to gleefully leave that part out.

Johnson: This one has a price tag of $32 trillion.

Crenshaw: That’s the lowest end.

Johnson: That’s the low end.

del Guidice: Pocket change.

Johnson: Yeah, pocket change. What it means to the average American, we have to be able to say, “Look, this means much higher taxes, for less quality of care, less access to care, long waiting lines, and all the problems they have in these other countries.”

By way of comparison, we have the best system. We just have to enhance it and make sure it works better and that we keep the cost under control.

del Guidice: Thank you both for insights on those issues.

Congressman Crenshaw, your first bill just recently passed the House. This bill delays inefficiencies in the Department of Homeland Security.

Can you tell us a little bit more about it and what it was like to have your first bill pass?

Crenshaw: Sure. It feels great. It’s good to get some bipartisan support for a little, even small wins.

What this bill does is it’s an acquisition review board bill that puts that into law at DHS so that … they have to make much better use of taxpayer money as they put out these contracts and big acquisitions for DHS.

It’s a small win, but it’s a win nonetheless for taxpayers and what we do with taxpayer money.

del Guidice: Congressman Johnson, you’re working in bipartisan, too, in the Honor and Civility Caucus.

Can you tell us a little bit about what that caucus is about and how you’re trying to forward conservative policy issues even with unlikely allies?

Johnson: Yeah. You know Dan’s been a great example of this with the whole “Saturday Night Live” thing that brought him to national prominence.

We love how he handled that and I called him shortly thereafter and said, “That’s exactly what we’ve been trying to accomplish.”

The Honor and Civility Caucus came about because my class, which was the one before Dan’s, we came in January 2017. We had 55 members in our class. And our first freshmen retreat, we sat around at the end of that three-day event and Democrat and Republican, everybody gave their parting comments.

It struck me that everybody said, “Gosh, I hate the tone of our politics and I wish we could do it differently.” I was just inspired enough to go back to the office and draft this one-page document called a “Commitment to Civility.”

It’s a simple statement of principles that says our opposition on the floor is not our enemy. Our enemies are rogue nations or terrorists trying to take us down.

That’s our fellow American. We’ve got to treat one another with some basic level of dignity and respect. We can disagree in an agreeable manner. We need to be able to work things out. Work toward consensus on these important issues that face the country.

… I think all but two members of our 55-member class signed on. Republican, Democrat. We then brought it Congress wide after [House Republican Whip] Steve Scalise’s tragic shooting that next June.

Today we have over 150 members of Congress signed on to this “Commitment of Civility.” It’s leaders and luminaries from Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican, all the way over to John Lewis, legendary civil rights leader on the Democrats’ side.

Some influencers and people that have that influence that we can stick by our convictions and never compromise our core principles, but still treat each other with dignity and respect.

By the way, we’re supposed to be setting an example for the next generation and our own children.

… [Rep.] Charlie Crist and I started it in a bipartisan fashion, the Honor and Civility Caucus in December 2017.

And we’ve been building toward that idea of … we can have impassioned arguments and debates on a policy, on the issues, but that at the end of the day, we can slap each other on the back and say, “Hey man, no hard feelings.”

That’s the way it used to work in this Congress. We need to get back to that.

del Guidice: Thank you so much for sharing that perspective.

Congressman Crenshaw and Congressman Johnson, we have been talking about socialism, the Green New Deal, immigration.

What are other policies that we have not hit on that you guys are working toward that you would like to highlight?

Crenshaw: Some of the things we’re working on actually have to do with health care and environmental response to the Green New Deal, especially if you’re my age.

If you’re under 40, if you’re a millennial, you really care about the environment.

We do have to have a response to that and I think the Republican response is going to look a lot like this: it’s going to be implementing carbon capture technology; it’s going to be talking about how to export more natural gas to some dirty coal-burning countries; it’s going to be talking about new forms of nuclear, miniaturized nuclear, making that easier to permit.

These things would actually reduce emissions.

Our talking point is this, you can implement the Green New Deal at great costs and you can tackle 15% of the global emission’s problem—15% because that’s what America actually produces—or you can do like 100% of the problem.

When looking at 100% of the problem, then you get to look at the technology that is exportable and creates reliable clean energy. Natural gas would do that. That’s one thing.

On the health care side, I’m looking at direct primary care. This is a very cool system that only about 3% of primary care physicians use right now.

It’s free market-based. It is in direct relationship between the doctor and the patient. They basically have a prescription service. You pay 85 bucks a month and that’s your doctor.

We can look at ways to actually universalize that. That should be our answer to health care and I think that will be especially promising because the costs will be vastly lower.

It will have the trickle down effects that improve the entire health care market. Gives you the preventive care and gives people back that relationship between the patient and the doctor.

I think this is a very cool thing that we’re working on.

Johnson: Those are big issues and in the Republican Study Committee, we have task forces working in a number of different areas among those issues, including the American Worker Task Force, which is looking at all aspects of work force development and how we provide for that need going forward in the next 10 or 20 or 50 years in this country.

We have to plan those things now to work on it then. We’ve got ideas on infrastructure and all these big issues that the American people, it’s top of mind for them.

It’s important for us, as Dan’s articulating here, to say conservatives, Republicans are for these things.

Environmental policy, one of our core principles is stewardship, being a good steward of the earth that God’s given us to take care of. We have ideas on that and we need to not be boxed into a corner.

We need to be thinking ahead and going out and projecting these ideas, presenting them. Putting them on the table for debate and discussion.

We’re grateful that we have smart members working on all this and we’re doing it individually and collectively.

The weeks and months ahead you’ll be hearing about all that.

del Guidice: Circling back on immigration before we wrap up, you’ve been to the border. You’ve seen the situation in the middle of Texas [as a] border state.

What are the top three things you would say Border Patrol agents would need to help them to do their job better, given all the influx of all the numbers we’re seeing?

Crenshaw: They need many barriers, if that makes sense.

If you’re not going to put a 2,000-mile wall, that was actually never the plan, but Democrats love to repeat that as the plan. And what that allows Border Patrol to do is say, “OK, we’ve got the barrier over there. We can focus our efforts right here.”

They need more agents because they’re being asked to do more over time. They’re being exhausted. They need, obviously, more resources at the processing centers, which are being run by them and they need more, I think, civilian personnel to outfit those processing centers.

Right now, Border Patrol agents are there doing laundry, getting food, things like that. That’s not a Border Patrol agent’s job.

A Border Patrol agent should be looking around with their binoculars around the border. Looking for people trying to get away. Not there processing people who are not trying to get away.

What they really need, and the third thing, this is the most important thing by far, we’ve already hit it, which is asylum reform.

They want to feel like, when they process people, they’re not going to be released.

If you’re a Border Patrol agent, I honestly don’t know how you get up and do this every day. You know that all the work that they’re doing doesn’t matter at all. These people are just getting released and probably not coming back to their court hearing, which is vastly unfair.

Johnson: In addition to all those things, what they need more than all of that is the support of the U.S. Congress.

We have got to get beyond the partisan bickering, using this as a political football issue going into the election cycle.

These are real people’s lives. This is a serious catastrophe that we’re facing now. It’s beyond a humanitarian crisis. It is a catastrophe and we have to address it and it takes political will to do that. That’s what they need more than anything.

del Guidice: Congressman Crenshaw, Congressman Johnson, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you all for tuning in online. We’ll see you next time.