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@THISHOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Housing Low for Children Illegally Crossing Border; Speaker Boehner Gives Briefing on Eric Cantor; Condolence Letters to Jackie Kennedy.

Aired June 12, 2014 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to show you some pictures from Texas. They were provided by a Congressman's office. It kind of looks a bit like prison cells stuffed to capacity. But those people that are sitting there, yeah, they're not criminals. They're kids.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: They're kids who have crossed the border into the U.S. illegally without their parents. Some of them are as young as 5 or 6 years old. Every day, hundreds and hundreds arrive. They cross through Mexico, originally from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala. Now officials are running out of space to house them. This is a serious, serious crisis.

Polo Sandoval joins us from Texas.

Polo, let me ask, why are so many children doing this? Why are they crossing over? How big of a problem is this?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you, Michaela and John, it is a major problem. And before we dig a little deeper into the actual issue here, I want to show you how hundreds more are expected to cross. Really it's a large portion of the border, but this is just one way that so many people cross. Not only men and women but also children by themselves.

We're standing here next to one of the portions of the border wall here along the border, the river about a mile south of where we are. Many of these people eventually walk down one of about six gaps along this segment of the road. And before you know it, you have access to this open road. You see cars drive by on a regular basis here. This is where a lot of these families, unaccompanied kids are flagging down people, trying to get a ride. And lately, really, it's law enforcement. All these people that potentially cross illegally want to get caught. And this is the major change here for this portion of south Texas. It's now perhaps one of the busiest regions along the border.

Yesterday, we were out driving the border with several law enforcement officials. And we encountered two specific families. It was our first real face-to-face interaction that we had. One of them was a Honduran woman. The other, a Guatemalan. Both of them had their families. The woman from Guatemala, she brought her 15-year-old son and also her 2.5-year-old little girl. Both of them completely sweaty. This is late at night. But nonetheless, covered in grass and dirt. And a lot of them really struggling with their emotions to be able to share their story with us. They told us a little bit about what they were fleeing. And that really goes back to the question is why so many people right now.

Basically our takeaway is there seems to be an opportunity that they are trying to take advantage of, or at least they're trying to use to their advantage to potentially stay in the country. A lot of these people in Central American countries hope that eventually they'll get a free pass if they make it onto U.S. soil right now -- Guys?

PEREIRA: Polo Sandoval telling an excellent story and a very important story. Putting the politics aside, there's concern about the well-being and safety of these kids kind of between two countries now. We'll ask you to update us on further developments.

Thanks so much, Polo.

BERMAN: We want to go now to Washington because House Speaker John Boehner is set to speak. Really, his first public comments since this political earthquake when House majority leader, Eric Cantor, lost in a primary. This is something that has never ever happened before.

We want to bring in our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash; and senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, who is at the White House.

Dana, I want to start with you here.

The House speaker I'm sure was up late Tuesday night. Then, yesterday, he was holding these closed-door meetings with House Republicans. And today, we do expect to hear from him. What kind of message do you expect to hear from the speaker?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, before I answer that, I should tell you that he's expected any second. And I'm right in front of the podium. So if I move while I'm talking, you'll know why.

The answer to that question is, look, he made it clear, we know behind closed doors, in the meeting that House Republicans had, he was trying to be very complimentary of Eric Cantor, talking about the fact that he personally knows what it's like to get ousted from a job that you want, because it happened to him maybe about 15 years ago. But he also is making clear that it's time to move on.

I think the key that we need to focus on is when he set these leadership elections. It's very fast. It's just going to be next week. That is a very strong signal that he wants this to be over and done with. He wants this leadership and this party in the House to unite fast so that they can focus on what they need to, which is November.

And I'm actually going to sit down while I talk because I see John Boehner's aides coming, which means that he's very, very close. Maybe you want to go to Jim while we wait. PEREIRA: So, Jim, we'll interrupt. Dana --

(CROSSTALK)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dana's in charge.

PEREIRA: Dana's in charge, absolutely.

And Dana just interrupt when you know that the speaker is about to speak.

Jim, she makes a good point about the fact that they want to make this quickly, but the effects are going to be felt for some time. It's going to have this trickle-down effect within the party.

ACOSTA: It absolutely is. And we're going to have to see how the leadership elections shake out up on the Hill to really gauge what the reaction will be over here at the White House. My sense is that they would probably like to see a Kevin McCarthy rise to majority leader as opposed to perhaps a harder edge to conservative Tea Party-backed contender for that position. And so we'll have to see how that shakes out.

One thing that we can point out over here at the White House, Michaela and John, is that almost immediately, the reaction --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Here he is.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Jim, I think we just saw the House speaker right there, John Boehner. Let's listen to what he has to say.

ACOSTA: All right. Sounds good.

(BEGIN LIVE FEED)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: -- and thank them for their service for our country as well. And there's no one around here that works harder or puts more thought into advancing our principles and the solutions that we want to enact for the American people. I look forward to him continuing to lead our floor efforts here over the summer.

As for the future, let me share a little bit with you, what I told the members yesterday. This is a time for unity. This is a time to focus on what we all know is true. That the president's policies have failed the American people. His administration can't get our economy back to real growth, and he continues to endanger our troops and citizens with his failed foreign policies. And on this point, the administration can't even provide basic services to our veterans. We need to elect a Congress that not only has the will to stop the president but the power to do so as well. Every day, we're showing the American people that we've got better

solutions. Today, we'll act on two more jobs bills that will help small businesses invest and grow. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats continue to sit on their hands and failing to act on the dozens of jobs bills that are sitting over in the Senate. But guess what? So long as the American people continue to ask the question, where are the jobs, we're going to continue to be focused on this one issue.

I said on Tuesday that transfer of five hardened terrorists has made Americans less safe. And I mean that, and I'll stand by it. When asked last week whether the freed terrorists could return to plotting attacks on Americans, President Obama recently said "absolutely." Well, I don't think that's about half of it. This exchange has encouraged our enemies and increased the risk to our military and civilian personnel serving around the globe. Those who would argue the opposite, I think, are incredibly naive. One of our citizens' greatest protections was knowing that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists. And that issue now -- that principle has been compromised. America is willing to make deals with terrorists. That's the new Obama doctrine.

Back in January, I urged the president to get engaged with what's going on in Iraq. And this week, we've seen big cities in Iraq overrun with terrorists. The Obama administration's failure to reach a status of forces agreement continues to have serious consequences for Iraq and American interests in the region. And the administration's failed policies in Syria, Libya and Egypt and his failure to implement a broader strategy for the Middle East is having a direct impact on the situation in Iraq. The United States has and will continue to have vital national interests in Iraq. But the progress made there is clearly in jeopardy. The president has celebrated our exit from Iraq as a hallmark of his foreign policy agenda but our focus should be instead on completing our mission successfully. And I would urge the president once again to get engaged before it's too late.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). Your side benefited greatly from the Tea Party in 2010, part of that volatility, but what do you attribute to this where it seems the wind blows --

(CROSSTALK)

BOEHNER: I'll let the political pundits describe and figure out what happened in that election. Every election is different. I went through a primary process myself. And you have to understand, the American people are being squeezed by Obama's policies. The economy is not growing. Incomes aren't growing. We're not creating enough jobs. And two-thirds of America see no increase in wages. But their food prices are going up. Their gas prices are going up. And their health insurance costs are going up. And so there's a lot of frustration that's out there. And they look to Washington and wonder why we can't -- we can't resolve these issues. They're hard to resolve when you've got a president who won't engage. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). Obviously, you've got a three-

way or four-way process, are there certain things that you felt you had to do?

BOEHNER: I ran my race in a way that I thought I should run my race. But I'm not going to analyze that race down there.

BASH: You want Kevin McCarthy to be House majority leader. And also how important is it, do you think, for unity in your conference to have a red-state Republican at the leadership table?

BOEHNER: Well, I do think that the members are going to make this decision. We're going to do it next week. You know, I'm sure some will argue it's too soon. Some will argue it was too long. But it's important we resolve this issue in a fair amount of time so that we can do the work that we were elected to do. And so the members will make the decision about who the next majority leader is. You know.

BASH: Well, for you, I mean, you talked about how important it was to have Eric Cantor at your side. Do you want Kevin McCarthy at your side?

BOEHNER: Listen, I've worked with all 434 other members of Congress before. I can work with whoever gets elected.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Speaker Boehner, the issue at hand, Mr. Cantor's race, was that immigration? A lot of people are saying immigration reform is dead because your conference will not move for fear of what happened to Mr. Cantor --

(CROSSTALK)

BOEHNER: Let me first debunk the first thing. I don't believe the first premise of your question. Secondly, the issue with immigration reform has not changed. The president continues to ignore laws that he signed into law, violating his oath of office. He did it again with the release of these Taliban Five. And I reminded the president again yesterday that every time he does this, it makes it harder to gain the trust of our members to do the big things that need to be done around here.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you worried about immigration as an issue in 2016, then, if it's not going to happen this year?

BOEHNER: The president's going to have to demonstrate that he can be trusted to implement a law the way it was passed.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) -- said that the people who think -- (INAUDIBLE). The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff signed off on this deal on national security. Do you think the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is naive -- (INAUDIBLE).

BOEHNER: They are dead wrong on this issue. Releasing these five people, negotiating with terrorists is a principle that we have not violated. And now we've violated, and we've put Americans at risk as a result of it. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Speaker, what message do you believe that

voters were trying to send Washington in this election? Was it a message at all?

BOEHNER: No. I'm not -- again, I'm not going to -- I'm not going to analyze what happened in this election. They're all different. So I'm sure at some point people are going to handle around what really happened.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Surely you must have a takeaway -- (INAUDIBLE). Eric Cantor can be branded that he is for amnesty. How can your party ever --

(CROSSTALK)

BOEHNER: We don't know that that is -- we don't know that that is the issue or was the issue in the election.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On Iraq, do you think the U.S. should be launching airstrikes? And if not, what should the U.S. do?

BOEHNER: Well, I think what we should do is to provide the equipment and technical assistance that the Iraqis have been asking for. I don't know enough of the details about the airstrikes to comment whether we should or we shouldn't. But it's not like we haven't seen this problem coming for over a year. And it hasn't -- it's not like we haven't seen, over the last five or six months, these terrorists moving in, taking control of western Iraq. Now they've taken control of Mosul. They're 100 miles from Baghdad. And what's the president doing? Taking a nap.

(END LIVE FEED)

BERMAN: Wow! That was House Speaker John Boehner there. A lot just happened including something at the end.

Let's deal with the issues first, dealing with Eric Cantor who just lost his primary race, the first House majority leader ever to lose.

What House Speaker Boehner has essentially said is pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Don't look at Republican issues right now, infighting. It's all the president's fault. He tried to turn the focus back on the president's policies, saying that's the issue here that the American people want change. For how that relates directly to Eric Cantor's loss, that remains to be seen.

But there was something very interesting that just happened at the end there. There were reporters asking Speaker Boehner about the crisis in Iraq. And the speaker was very critical of the president, essentially saying, what's the president been doing while this is happening? He said, "He's taking a nap," and then he stormed off.

PEREIRA: Let's bring in our Jim Acosta.

Some really sharp words. Obviously, all of us are watching the situation unfolding in Iraq, and it's getting quite dire. There's increased violence. It sounds like ISIS is make says its way towards Baghdad. They're claiming they're going to overtake Baghdad. And the question is, what is the U.S. going to do? Boehner has made it clear that he thinks the president needs to be engaged.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. And you know, John just took the words out of my mouth. That struck me as being really, really heated, what the speaker there said just before he left the room when he said, "The president's been taking a nap," when it comes to Iraq.

I can tell you from talking to administration officials all morning long that, at this point, the White House is not looking at airstrikes. They are looking at a range of options. They always say they're looking at a range of options, but at this point, they're really focusing on providing military assistance to the Iraqis. And so, you know, there is a real reluctance on the part of this White House -- remember, this is a president who campaigned on getting the country out of Iraq. He's going to be reluctant about getting the country back into Iraq in any kind of capacity that involves troops flying over the country, dropping airstrikes on positions in Iraq and so forth. And so, yes, the president has been briefed on this crisis that it's undergoing right now, taking place right now. But at this point, they're just not really at that juncture where I think that they're going to say yes, let's do airstrikes.

Now, all of that could change depending on how dire this becomes. But as you heard the speaker say just a few moments ago, there's a real sense up on Capitol Hill, among Republicans, at least, that they are just not satisfied with what's happening in Iraq. Lindsey Graham and John McCain were on the Senate floor just a little while ago. John McCain called on the president to get rid of his entire national security team and bring in a new national security team. So I think this is definitely a preview of coming attractions for the day ahead, guys.

BERMAN: Let's go to Dana Bash, who was at that news conference with Speaker Boehner just moments ago.

Dana, very clear the speaker trying to shift the focus from whatever Republican turmoil there might be on Capitol Hill to other issues, specifically the very, very strong language about White House policy in Iraq right now.

BASH: Oh, no question about it. Look, this is something that nobody can ignore. And when it comes to Iraq, this is not a new situation that Republicans have had a lot of opposition to the president's policy, primarily the fact that he pulled all combat troops out of Iraq, from the minute and before that happened, Republicans almost across the board said that that was a mistake. That if you leave the country, that this kind of thing is going to happen. Violence will erupt. Al Qaeda will take key cities. He didn't say "I told you so," but he might as well have said that. And as you heard from Jim, other Senators who have been incredibly vocal, Senator McCain, Senator Graham, those Republicans have been out there as well. As you said, this is a huge issue. It is not going away.

But there's another reason that the speaker talked about that, is because he wanted to move on from the internal turmoil in his own party. That's going to happen for the next week here in the House.

PEREIRA: He certainly did, and pointedly, with strong language. He was very on forceful in the way he did it.

Dana Bash, Jim Acosta, thanks for sticking around with us to watch the comments from John Boehner.

Again, it's almost like, pay no attention, as you said, to the man behind the mirror.

We're going to talk about this. We're going to take a short break here, @THISHOUR. More coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Millions of Americans are unemployed, too many. One American is trying to change that, "Dirty Jobs" host and creator, Mike Rowe. This is how he's impacting your world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During his eight seasons as host of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs," Mike Rowe learned all about the hard working men and women keeping America running. He found there was a disconnect between unemployment and available jobs.

MIKE ROWE, CREATOR & HOST, DIRTY JOBS: Everywhere I went, I saw "help wanted" signs and everybody I talked to said how hard it was to find people to retool and retrain and learn a truly useful skill and apply it. And Microworks evolved to shine a light for jobs going for whatever reason unloved, and then we set up a foundation and began to award work ethic scholarships.

It's really, really great to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rowe travels the country to get his message out.

ROWE: This is the biggest STEM event in the country. People love acronyms. And science, technology, engineering and math are in fact the careers that will keep the country competitive.

It ought to be STEMs. Add an "S" at the end. Because if you take the skill out of any of those disciplines, what do you have? You can't promote careers in STEM at the expense of skill. You shouldn't promote higher education at the expense of trade schools.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREIRA: If you'd like to help, you can check out CNN.com/impact.

Don't forget, to catch his new show, "Somebody Has Got to Do It," right here on CNN this fall.

Can't wait. That will be great. I want to take you back in time to the fall of 1963, to the home of

Jacqueline Kennedy. Letters started arriving from cities and small towns on embossed stationary. More than a million and a half condolence letters addressed to a young Jackie Kennedy.

BERMAN: She was 34 years old, just 34, and already a grieving widow with two young children. Letters, so many of them offered sympathy and prayers. Now, 50 years later, they provide a rare glimpse to what President Kennedy meant to the nation in those days and weeks after the assassination.

PEREIRA: Joining us is Ellen Fitzpatrick, a history professor from the university of New Hampshire, and author of the book "Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation."

Ellen, what a joy to have you here with us today.

I'm so curious about these letters. Who are they from and where did they come from? What part of the country? And what was her response like getting those letters?

ELLEN FITZPATRICK, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE & AUTHOR: They're an incredible collection of letters, Michaela. They came from every state in the union, from little towns, from big cities, from people who were living in abject poverty, to very wealthy people who had been friends of the Kennedys. The nation really poured out its heart to this young widow in the aftermath of her husband's death.

And I think we know, from an appearance she made shortly after her husband's death, her first public appearance some six or seven weeks later, when she thanked the public for what had, at that point, been 800,000 letters that she had received, that she was deeply moved by them and wanted the letters to be kept in the president's library so that future generations of Americans would know how much her husband had meant to citizens in the United States and really around the world.

BERMAN: The number of letters and the scope of this really says so much about the country itself and the impact that President Kennedy had while he was in office and, of course, the impact of the assassination had on immediate days and weeks right after.

FITZPATRICK: It was absolutely overwhelming. John F. Kennedy was really our first television president. He was young and perfectly suited to the medium. He was handsome, had a beautiful wife, two adorable children. They were covered in a very gentle way compared to modern media coverage. The norms at that time were really quite different. People felt they knew the Kennedy family in a very personal way. They felt very connected to them, in part, because they were our first televised presidential family in this way. And Kennedy, of course, made masterful use of mass media in his press conferences. People often mentioned those in the letters. They enjoyed his wit and sense of humor. They felt an affection. Many people said they felt as if a member of their own family had died when President Kennedy was murdered in Dallas. PEREIRA: Ellen, I want to get another thought from you quickly. This

is the public side you've been talking about the president and his wife. But then there's deeply personal stuff coming to the news lately, these letters Jackie apparently wrote to an Irish priest, suddenly yanked from an auction block where they were originally going to be put up for auction. First of all, where do those letters belong? And who should have access to them? Should anybody?

FITZPATRICK: Those letters I think belong in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library with Mrs. Kennedy's other papers. The presidential libraries, as you know, are part of the national archive system. In due course of time, her daughter has been opening Mrs. Kennedy's papers for researchers and scholars and for individuals who are curious and want to read these materials, to come to the libraries and to be able to contextualize these letters in the context of the rest of her life and activities. That's where they properly belong. They belong -- in fact, the copyright to those letters belongs to her daughter for 70 years after the death of Mrs. Kennedy. It's her call.

BERMAN: Ellen Fitzpatrick, thank you so much for being with us to talk about these letters and history. So fascinating.

Join us tonight for our special series, "The Sixties." That's on CNN tonight. Tonight's show focuses on the assassination of President Kennedy. It airs 9:00 eastern and pacific. Do not miss it. It's fantastic.

PEREIRA: Thanks for not missing us @THISHOUR. I'm Michaela Pereira.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.

And we want to leave you with this, a special birthday shout-out to 90-year-old George H.W. Bush. That's the former president just moments ago, jumping out of an airplane. Happy birthday, sir. Our hat's off to you.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts now.