CBS News July 7, 2019, 11:28 AM Transcript: Sen. Chris Coons on "Face the Nation," July 7, 2019

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, on "Face the Nation," July 7, 2019.

CBS News

The following is a transcript of the interview with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, that aired Sunday, July 7, 2019, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to Democrat Chris Coons who is part of a bipartisan group of senators who continue to work on immigration reform. He joins us from Wilmington, Delaware. Welcome, Senator. You- you just heard from [USCIS Acting Director Ken] Cuccinelli that the administration is going to try to change asylum or the ability to claim asylum because Congress isn't doing anything. Is there going to be any proposal put forward by Congress?

SEN. COONS: Well, Margaret, the challenge that those of us in Congress who want to make progress on addressing our broken immigration system have faced is the ways in which President Trump initially embraces and then abruptly reverses himself and opposes those bipartisan proposals that have been brought to him. Ken Cuccinelli just referenced correctly that Senators Graham and Durbin, a seasoned Republican and Democrat, have tried repeatedly to get a proposal moving that could win both bipartisan support in the Senate and ultimately be embraced by President Trump. Several times, many of us who have worked across the aisle on this issue have been deeply frustrated by the ways in which President Trump, after initially saying he would welcome a proposal, gets criticized for it for a day or two by the right wing and then reverses himself and campaigns against it or threatens to veto it. So frankly, I don't see how we're going to make progress unless President Trump is willing to take a fixed point and say, "I will accept these changes." And frankly, Margaret, the ways in which Ken just referred to loopholes as things that are legal protections for children and their parents in detention I think misreads the core issue. These aren't loopholes. These are core features of American law that protect children in American custody.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, specifically on the things that Cuccinelli referenced that was about being able to- the time, duration which children and their family members can be held and about trafficking. What part of that, since you've worked on trafficking, do you think was false?

SEN. COONS: Well my concern here is that we've got an administration that has intentionally used cruelty to children as a tool of immigration policy. I'll remind you that their zero tolerance policy that forcibly separated children from their parents at the border a year ago was a humanitarian disaster and faced a bipartisan outcry of both Republicans and Democrats. So they don't have a lot of moral authority to stand on in arguing that they'd like Congress to give them an unlimited ability to detain children and their parents at the border. The bipartisan bill that just made it out of Congress to provide funding increases the number of immigration judges and increases support for more humane conditions at the border. That's the right direction for us to go.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you just referenced the border conditions in that IG report- the inspector general report that came out this week. People seemed to be horrified, perhaps rightfully so, at some of the images, but these were things that the administration had been warning about going back to- as far back as March during Congressional hearings. Why hasn't there been more swift action to try to improve the conditions for people being held in U.S. detention and don't Democrats deserve some criticism on that front?

SEN. COONS: Well, Margaret, we have been trying, on a bipartisan basis, to avoid this inevitable humanitarian catastrophe at the border. But I'll remind you, it was a lawyer representing this administration who- who argued in court just two weeks ago, that safe and sanitary conditions for children doesn't include a requirement that they provide soap or toothpaste or toothbrushes or beds. There are ways in which the administration has demonstrably failed in its moral responsibility to provide minimally reasonable care for children in their custody. I think all of us, as parents, as Americans, were horrified by the picture of Oscar Ramirez Martinez and his daughter Valeria, who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande. We have to find a bipartisan solution to this, Margaret. And as a Democrat, I have voted repeatedly for bills that would dramatically increase investment in border security and make humane changes to our immigration system. The president just needs to be clear about what he's willing to embrace and it has to get a majority of his own party. His proposal last February was the only one that got 60 "no" votes even in a Republican majority Senate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: More to talk about on immigration. There always is. But I have to ask you about your friend, who you are supporting, the former Vice President Joe Biden. After more than, you know, three weeks since he first made the comments, Biden apologized yesterday for his remark on past work with segregationists. Listen.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why did it take nearly three weeks to say those words why weren't they said on the debate stage or in prior interviews?

SEN. COONS: Well Margaret one of the challenges of the debate stage that we saw in Miami last week is that everybody's got sixty seconds to address very complex issues. I know Joe Biden. I know his heart. I know his record. And I think the American people do to–

MARGARET BRENNAN: "I'm sorry" doesn't take very long.

SEN. COONS: — and they know- I'm sorry?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Saying "I'm sorry" doesn't take thirty seconds.

SEN. COONS: Well, I think it's important that he gave a speech in which he recognized that the ways in which he talked about working across the aisle, in the context of the Senate of decades ago, may have caused some concern or heartbreak. But the reality is, his actual record, his lifelong record of standing up and fighting for civil rights is what he should be judged on

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator, always good to speak with you.