Shortly before President Trump signed an executive order ending the separation of migrant children from their parents Wednesday afternoon, reporters peppered Defense Secretary James Mattis with questions about whether the children would be lodged at U.S. military bases.
The following is a partial transcript of Mattis’ remarks to reporters before his meeting with German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, edited for length and clarity.
Q: Could we ask a few questions about the border …
A: The borders?
A: I think you need to talk to another department about that. I handle the stuff beyond the border.
Q: HHS [Department of Health & Human Services] is looking at four U.S. military bases in terms of housing the migrants …
A: We’ll see what they come in with. We support DHS [Department of Homeland Security] and right now this is their lead and we’ll respond if requested.
Q: But would you allow the U.S. military to house families or children in U.S. military bases?
A: We have housed refugees. We have housed people thrown out of their homes by earthquakes and hurricanes. We do whatever is in the best interest of the country.
Q: There are a lot of questions about children being separated from their parents…
A: You’re going to have to ask about the border and the situation [inaudible] the people responsible for it. I’m not going to chime in from the outside. There’s people responsible for it. Secretary Nielson, obviously, maintains close collaboration with us. You saw that when we deployed certain National Guard units there, so she’s in charge …
Q: With all due respect, sir, they have identified four U.S. military bases that they say…
A: I’ve been working on other things today.
Q: This has been going on for several weeks. So they have identified four bases…
A: We support whatever they need.
Q: Governors are withdrawing troops from the national border due to the zero-tolerance policy. Is that something that is impacting the border security mission?
A: Not right now, no.