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Rep. Luis Gutiérrez on Why He’s Protesting Trump’s “Racist” Policies, Like Ending DACA

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Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration plans to rescind the DACA program—the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program. DACA gives nearly 800,000 young people the legal right to live and work in the United States. President Trump and Democratic Party leaders are now attempting to strike a deal to protect DREAMers. Last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi met with President Trump at the White House for a meeting aimed at enshrining the protections of DACA into law. After the meeting, Trump said any potential deal would rely on also approving “massive border security.” On Monday morning, dozens of undocumented activists and their allies shouted down Congressmember Pelosi during her news conference, accusing her of using DREAMers as “bargaining chips” in her meeting with Trump. The protesters demanded protections not only for DREAMers, but for all 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. We speak with Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois. He is a member of the Judiciary Committee and the co-chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show by looking at the political showdown over DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA gives nearly 800,000 young people the legal right to live and work in the United States. It was implemented by President Obama in 2012 after years of grassroots protests led by undocumented students nationwide.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration plans to rescind the DACA program. But President Trump and Democratic Party leaders are now attempting to strike a deal to protect DREAMers. Last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi met with President Trump at the White House for a meeting aimed at enshrining the protections of DACA into law. After the meeting, Trump said any potential deal would rely on also approving massive border security.

Well, on Monday morning, dozens of undocumented activists and their allies shouted down Congresswoman Pelosi during her news conference, accusing her of using DREAMers as “bargaining chips” in her meeting with the president. The protesters demanded protections not only for DREAMers, but for all 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

PROTESTERS: You have the audacity to tell us you have been fighting deportation!

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes, I am! Yes, I am! Yes, I am!

PROTESTER: You are a liar!

REP. NANCY PELOSI: You do not—

PROTESTERS: You are a liar! You are a liar! You are a liar! You are a liar!

REP. NANCY PELOSI: You don’t know what you’re talking about.

PROTESTERS: You are a liar! You are a liar! You are a liar! You are a liar!

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois. He’s a member of the Judiciary Committee and is co-chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Today, as President Trump is addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Congressman Gutiérrez will be with other lawmakers protesting outside Trump Tower, demanding Trump work with Congress to pass a version of the DREAM Act that provides a path to citizenship and does not increase funding for the militarization of the border.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Congressman Gutiérrez.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Thanks, Amy, Juan.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’ve been arrested a number of times over immigration issues and other issues related to policy. Will today be another of those arrests, outside Trump Tower?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: You know, I’m going to be with my colleagues. I’m going to be with Melissa Viverito, who’s the City Council president here, and, but just as importantly, with a broad group of activists here from Make the Road New York. And I want to thank the activists and the organizational capacity of Make the Road New York, because, let’s make it clear, a few congressmen getting together in front of Trump Tower does not make an event unless there is grassroots support for it. So I’m going to join them. And we will take the necessary steps to make sure that Trump understands and the world understands, you need to continue this fight while the negotiations are going on.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, were you surprised by these talks that have gone on between the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, your minority leader in the House—

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —and Chuck Schumer, in terms of crafting some kind of an agreement with Trump?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Look, I was very—first, I was surprised when we reached an agreement so rapidly, when I know in the Democratic Caucus the majority feeling was that we should tie 800,000 visas—that is, for the DREAMers—to any continuing resolution, to raising the debt ceiling, and nothing was done. But I was even more surprised when, a week later, Juan, I hear that they sat down for dinner and that now it had changed not only from the DREAM Act—of course, they call it DACA; we call it the DREAM Act, because we want a DREAM Act enshrined in law, that will forever protect the DREAMers and allow them a pathway to citizenship. And we’re very thankful to Obama for the executive order, but let’s build on that and give something lasting and trusting to the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it’s possible that’s what Trump’s actions will lead to, rescinding an executive order that will lead to a DREAM Act?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: That’s what the Democrats have said, and we’re pretty clear about that at the leadership level and the grassroots level. But let’s just—let me give you my take on this. Ninety Republicans walked away from supporting the debt ceiling, from supporting continuing funding the government, and including Harvey disaster relief—90. That means they no longer have an operating majority when it comes to the budget. What? In two more months, when we have to—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And just to be clear, those 90 were against lifting the debt ceiling, right?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Yes, they were against lifting the debt ceiling. They were against continuing operating—financing the government. And they were against aid to the victims of Harvey—90 Republicans. Now, that means they need about 70 Democrats to pass. And, Amy and Juan, please tell me the last time in the last decade that a budget has been passed at the federal level without the cooperation of the Democrats. So, all we’re saying, “Look, there’s a line in the sand this time.” In December, I don’t want to shut down the government. I will vote to lift the debt ceiling. But if it’s a Republican budget, then, Democrats, let the Republicans put the votes up on the board. And if they don’t have the votes, then let’s make it a bipartisan budget, which includes. And it just seems to me that, you know, for the transgender community that’s been attacked, for the Muslim community that’s been, for those that have wound up to be stripped of their healthcare, for Planned Parenthood—for all of those that have been attacked, it’s not only about immigrants, I feel, come the budget. It’s like saying, “Enough is enough. We will not cooperate with you if you do not give us some kind of balanced budget that brings fairness.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And why do you think President Trump is participating in these negotiations? What’s in it for him in terms of his presidency?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: God, I haven’t the slightest idea. I haven’t the slightest clue why. You know, it’s just—it’s Donald Trump. You know, in the a.m., it’s one thing; at noon, it’s another; and the p.m. He’s such an untrustworthy person to be sitting across the table negotiating. I mean, if there is one thing Trump has become known for, it’s that he doesn’t tell the truth, that he lies, that he brags and that he’s untrustworthy. Just ask all of those that helped him get elected, much less us on the other side.

Look, he began his campaign—began his campaign by saying, “Mexicans are murderers, rapists and drug dealers, and we need to get rid of them.” You don’t—I mean, that’s how he starts his campaign. Then he attacks the Muslims. You’ve seen the constant attacks. And even when I look at this transgender community, thousands of them serving in the armed forces of the United States honorably, and what does he say? Now, this is a man that, when it was his turn and he got called for the draft, said, “I have some bone spurs”—right?—but now, as commander-in-chief of our armed services, is saying to people who do want to serve, who serve honorably in protecting our nation, “You can’t serve because of your sexual orientation.”

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaking after she was shouted down by undocumented activists and their allies at her news conference Monday morning. The activists were accusing Pelosi of using DREAMers as a bargaining chip in her meeting with President Trump. During the protest, Pelosi said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” After the news conference, Pelosi said the protesters were “completely wrong.”

REP. NANCY PELOSI: I understand their frustration. I’m excited by it, as a matter of fact. But the fact is, they’re completely wrong. The Democrats are the ones who stopped their assault on sanctuary cities, stopped the wall, stopped the increased deportations in our last bill, that was the end of April. And we are determined to get Republican votes to pass the clean DREAM Act.

AMY GOODMAN: So, they had said that she wasn’t a force in stopping deportations. And she said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Your response to your own leader?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Look, do I think the Democrats can be more forceful, more energetic and more steadfast in their claims for rights of the immigrant community? Absolutely. But here’s what I believe. I believe that Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership are going to stand tall and stand firm. And invite me back in a couple of months, right around December. We’ve got to get a budget. The debt ceiling has to be raised, or not only economic crisis in the markets in the United States, but across the world. If the United States of America says, “We’re not good on the money we’ve borrowed,” you can imagine the impact.

But I think that’s the kind of tests we have to be ready to meet as Democrats, to say we’re going to raise the immigrant community to the level. Because I do have to say one thing—and I’m proud of this: Had the negotiations gone on with Donald Trump, and Trump had said, “We’re going to close down every Planned Parenthood center in the country, every one of them, and you’ve got six months to close them down,” I doubt that we would have come out of there talking about closing them down. We have to raise—as Democrats have raised reproductive rights, gay rights, environmental rights, we have to raise immigrant rights to the same level. We’re doing a great job at other levels. We need to do a better job when it comes to immigrant rights.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about this whole issue of the wall, because whenever Trump has a rally, one of the inevitable refrains from the crowd and from him is “Build the wall! Build the wall!” And yet, in this supposed deal, there’s a—

AMY GOODMAN: And Mexico will pay for it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Mexico will pay for it, right. But now there’s a question as to whether—he’s insisting that, no, the wall is still here, but now he’s calling it massive border security as part of the deal. Your sense of what’s happening with the wall?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: So, when I—when I hear that they had dinner, I wasn’t surprised about the dinner. I was flabbergasted that we went from asking for a clean DREAM bill—”If you need our votes, you know, for your budget, for your lifting of the debt ceiling, we want a clean DREAM bill”—to now we need border security. What does that mean? I mean, if you add thousands of more border security agents, you militarize the border. And that has a direct impact on America. We just got rid of Arpaio, and now we’re going to send thousands of more Border Patrol agents? If you live in Tucson, if you live in San Diego, if you live in Phoenix, if you live in El Paso, if you live anywhere along that border in a brown neighborhood, more Border Patrol agents means more people coming to deport you. And now, if you listen carefully to Sarah Huckabee, she not only said more border, she said more interior enforcement. That means ICE agents in the city of New York, in Chicago—right?—in L.A., where we have sanctuary cities. We can’t stop them from showing up at your local day care center when an immigrant mom is dropping off, or at a healthcare center. Look, we cannot allow—and we don’t need to allow—to hurt other parts of our immigrant community in order to help another part of our immigrant community.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the issue of healthcare. On Capitol Hill, Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced legislation that would provide universal healthcare by expanding Medicare to include every American. Sanders introduced the bill—and this is what was new—well, flanked by doctors and nurses—that wasn’t new—but some of the bill’s 15 Democratic co-sponsors. In the past, he hadn’t had any.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Today, we begin the debate, vital to the future of our economy, as to why it is that in the United States we spend almost twice as much per capita on healthcare as any other nation on Earth, and yet we have 28 million people without any health insurance and even more who are underinsured, with high deductibles and copayments.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s what Senator Sanders did last week. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have launched another attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, after the party’s two previous efforts ended in humiliating defeat. This is South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham introducing the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill last week.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: There are three choices: prop up Obamacare, Berniecare or our bill. That’s where you’re at. Count me out for propping up Obamacare. Hell no to Berniecare. Count me in for an idea that gives a patient a voice they would never have under single-payer healthcare.

AMY GOODMAN: So the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the Graham-Cassidy bill would cause millions of people to lose coverage, gut Medicaid, eliminate or weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions and increase out-of-pocket healthcare costs to individuals, all while showering tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. And what’s new in this last day is that Governor Ducey of Arizona said he would support it, which means that John McCain, who was the one who killed the bill in the midst of him dealing with brain cancer himself, killed the bill, destroying the Republicans’ dreams of the repeal, now says, because Ducey has supported it, his governor, he is going to support it.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Wow! That would really be a shocker to the system, because I know the House of Representatives is ready to whack 30-40 million Americans right off of healthcare. And remember, the primary reason that they want to do this now is what’s next: tax reform. Right? And if you’re going to give billions of dollars in tax relief to the richest in this country, well, where are you going to get the money from? Right? Are you going to borrow it? No. You simply take it away from healthcare costs and then transfer that to give tax breaks.

So, here’s what I say. Hooray for Bernie Sanders. As someone—2003 in the House, Congressman Conyers led the way with Medicare for all. I am happy now that there’s a Senate version with not just—there’s always been a Senate version, but one with 15 senators. In other words, now you see Democrats on both sides of the aisle moving. We need to move. So, first thing we need to do is protect Obamacare, expand it everywhere we can. That will lead us ultimately to a single-payer system, because, as you’ve said, it’s expensive that we pay twice as much as any other industrialized nation, but it’s expensive because people die. And people don’t have healthcare under even Obamacare. So, let’s go to single payer. You know what? I want to have the same healthcare, the same understanding of the healthcare system, the same rules and regulations, the same deductible, as any worker in my district. Great, we’re all in it together. Guess what. I think it’s going to improve it for all.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about another topic that’s in the news a lot now, the hurricane season, and now the new Hurricane Maria that is barreling, a Category 5 hurricane, straight for Puerto Rico, an island that’s already reeling from—

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —the previous hurricane, as well as its financial crisis. Your sense of what’s going on right now? It’s expected to hit landfall as early as tonight.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: God, hasn’t happened in 80 years. That is a direct hit. But, you know, Juan, to me, it’s not an accident, as there have been four hurricanes, and that this might become the new normal in terms of how it is we deal, given climate change. And so, that’s from a general point of view.

From a more personal, I know for you, for me, Juan, for our family members, that’s a place that we love. It’s our home. You know, it might be our ancestral home, because we’re in Chicago or in New York, but it’s our home and our house. And I ask Americans to be generous, because I have a really sad feeling that it’s going to be quite devastating, this hurricane. Now, let’s hope you guys can run the tape and say, “Oh, Luis was wrong.” But, you know, we barely got past Irma.

And our infrastructure is so weak in Puerto Rico. And Juan and I were talking—it was like six hours before Irma even touched Puerto Rico, the lights were out. And now we have a control board whose primary mission is what? Pay the bondholders, not fix the infrastructure.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, interestingly—interestingly, Luis, the union of electrical workers in Puerto Rico has now been claiming that during Irma, that the electric company deliberately did not send out crews to repair the electrical lines, because the new privately controlled electric company was looking to build up popular support for complete privatization of the electric system.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: I would not be surprised. Remember, for your audience, the public utility is a public—in other words, owned by the people. And there was nothing better than corporate greed to go out there and take it over and now control the energy grid of the people of Puerto Rico. And look, the control board, they’re going to pay the bonds. They’re not going to invest in that grid system and water grid. And the thing is, water goes out. A tropical island without water—I mean, how could that be? Because we make absolutely no plans to set up reserves, and we build homes everywhere. And the mountainsides—the Mother Earth is saying, “You’re not giving us anything to retain the water, so when you need it, I can give it to you.” That’s what the earth in Puerto Rico is saying. So we need better planning. And we need, unfortunately, and I don’t see it in the near future—that’s why, you know, when PROMESA came up, I said no. I cannot transfer a terrible colonial system and then have seven unappointed, unaccountable—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain PROMESA.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: PROMESA is a—so, Puerto Rico is $72 billion in debt. The federal government says, “Oh, we’re going to help you. Here’s the help.” And remember, what did the congressman say time and time again? “Vote for this, because it isn’t going to cost us a penny.” Three-and-a-half million people in need, and the Congress says, “We’re going to do something, as long as it doesn’t cost us a penny.”

So they set up a control board made up of seven individuals, four of them Republican, three Democrats. The majority come from the financial service sector, the very sector that was involved in the selling of these bad bonds to the people of Puerto Rico and to the government and setting up. And they’re there. Now they make all the decisions. The governor doesn’t run Puerto Rico. The Legislature doesn’t run Puerto Rico. No, they have to run everything through, and there is a veto power of this control board of seven—of six men and one woman. Sad.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re heading off, what? At noon to this protest at Trump Tower?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you call President Trump a racist?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: I think his policies are racist. They have been racist against the Muslim community, because they’ve been filled with hate. They’ve been filled—because it’s because of their religion. Let’s be clear. The Latino community, what can I say? I think it is racist when you use your Justice Department to undermine, and you set up a special commission on voting rights and security, which we all know means we want fewer black and brown people to be able to vote. I think that—because why? Look, when I see those signs “Black Lives Matter,” if anybody understands, it’s a kid—me—that was born in 1953, when “separate but equal” was still the law of the land. I’m a member of Congress, and you’re interviewing me now, because there’s a Voting Rights Act, because there’s a Civil Rights Act, without which I would have never been given an opportunity. And to corrupt the voting process—something that so many thousands literally gave their lives for—I think, is a racist attempt against our community.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much—

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: —Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, for joining us, Democrat of Illinois, member of the Judiciary Committee, co-chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, has been arrested a number of times protesting around, well, Vieques, then immigration rights, and we’ll see what happens today. We’ll cover that protest outside Trump Tower, as President Trump himself is speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, that includes Congressman Gutiérrez and a number of congressmembers, legislators and the City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and others.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a DACA recipient suing the president. Then, President Trump’s childhood home is now an Airbnb. Oxfam rented it out last weekend so that immigrants, refugees, could sleep over and have a conversation about their dreams in this country. Stay with us.

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