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Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Discusses President Trump's National Guard Border Deployment

Chip Somodevilla, Pool / AP Photo

In this file photo, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hold a news conference at the end of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Defense Ministers Meetings, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

Chip Somodevilla, Pool / AP Photo

California Gov. Jerry Brown has the legal right to reject President Donald Trump’s request to deploy California National Guard troops to the Mexican border. But there are reasons for Brown to consider approving it, despite Trump’s deep unpopularity in the state.

“I wouldn’t just reject it out of hand,” says Leon Panetta, who served as President Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff and President Barack Obama’s CIA director and defense secretary.

Panetta spoke with Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler about previous National Guard deployments to the border, Trump's request and the political consequences of Brown's possible actions. Here are a few excerpts from that conversation:

It’s pretty clear that Jerry Brown has the legal right to reject President Trump’s request to deploy National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. What are the political factors you think he ought to consider?

Well, I think it’s important to recognize that there is a problem. And we can’t avoid the fact that there is a problem, in terms of security along the border. And as I said, it is important to remember — and I think the governor has addressed this — that there are other comprehensive approaches that need to be taken when it comes to immigration. But nevertheless, security is one of those issues. And I think if the governor just out of hand rejects that, I just think it sends the wrong signal — particularly at a time when obviously, President Trump is picking on California for all kinds of things. We don’t have to add more to that friction. I think the governor can do this in a way that meets the needs of California and can do it pursuant to the needs of California. And if he does it in the right way, I think obviously, this could help be a supplement in terms of dealing with the security problems along our border.

Is it naïve to think that if Gov. Brown accepts this deployment request, that it could reduce some of the tension between California and the Trump administration? Would that just be fleeting?

Look, I think from several points of view that it would be important for the governor to do this. First of all, because as I said, there is a need to be able to bolster and supplement the security needs along our borders. Secondly, it would look like, in rejecting this request, that it’s just another political punch aimed at the president. And while I understand that kind of reaction, I think in this case, the governor should rise above it and do what is important for California, regardless of what the president says or doesn’t say.

It’s almost like the president is in a win-win situation — either he gets his National Guard troops, or he gets to continue the storyline that California is, in his mind, unreasonably impeding his work.

Well, sometimes in politics, the smartest thing to do is not to focus on punching your political opponent, but ask yourself the question, what is in the best interest of the people of California? And I think if the governor asks that question, he’ll make the right decision.

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