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Obama Meets With Texas Governor, Won't Visit Border; East Coast Cleans Up After Storms; President Under Fire From Own Party; Iraqi Militias Create New Line of Defense; Escalation in the Middle East; New Developments in Toddler Hot Car Death

Aired July 9, 2014 - 11:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Crisis along the border, President Obama meeting with the Texas governor today after the White House request nearly $4 billion to address the immigration issue, the fate of thousands of children on the line, is the president doing enough?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Sick of politics, Mr. President, well, how about some pot? One of the most unusual questions to a president you will ever see, so how did he respond?

PEREIRA: Then he rarely comments on tabloids, that's not stopping George Clooney from writing a scathing op-ed against a report made by a British newspaper. We'll tell you what got him all riled up.

Always handsome.

BERMAN: Always handsome, that George Clooney.

PEREIRA: I'm Michaela Pereira.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It's 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 a.m. out West, those stories and more, right now, @THISHOUR.

And @THISHOUR, we're talking politics, policy, and the law. They're all at the center of a raging debate over the crisis at the border.

President Obama heading to Texas this afternoon where he will meet with the governor of Texas, Republican Rick Perry, one of his fiercest critics on the immigration issue.

PEREIRA: He has not scheduled a visit to the boarder to see the crisis firsthand for himself. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, have been flooding to Texas through Mexico.

We are covering this issue from all angles. We want to begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

So, Jim, maybe you can give us -- you're probably the closest to the information there. Any update as the president changed his mind? Will he head to the border?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not at this point, it doesn't look that way, Michaela, and I think it would be incredible after White House officials, top White House officials, for several days have said the president is not going to the border on this trip for the president to suddenly go to the border.

What he is doing instead is he's going to sit down with Texas Governor Rick Perry, as you said, at an event in Dallas later on this afternoon. It's going to be a roundtable discussion featuring faith leaders and other local, elected officials in Dallas who are going to be talking about converting schools into temporary housing facilities for all of those undocumented children flooding into the United States across the southwestern border.

I did talk to a senior White House official earlier this week who is not ruling out a presidential trip to the border, but perhaps at a later time, not during this trip.

But I have to say, one of the issues that I think you're going to hear about up on Capitol Hill today is the president's trip that he's on right now. He's in Denver. He's going to be giving some comments on the economy in about an hour from now.

But, Michaela and John, if you look at the pictures from the president's trip so far, he was playing pool with the governor of Colorado last night, drinking beer. He was shaking hand with a guy with a horse's head on his head. You know, there was one person at a bar asking the president if he wanted to smoke some pot.

And so the president is out there in Denver having a good time, mixing it up. The bear is loose as they call it out here at the White House, but yet he's not making this trip to the border, and I think the optics at some point are going to become a major problem for this president in the same way that they were a problem for President Bush during Hurricane Katrina when he have flying over the Gulf Coast instead of getting down there, getting on the Gulf Coast beaches and getting his hands dirty.

The president never really recovered from that from an image standpoint, and so I think the White House has to be very careful here as these optics of the president going loose, you know. His critics may wonder why isn't he loose enough to go down to the border?

BERMAN: The question is, how will this affect the policy he's after here? Of course the president asking now for $3.7 billion to help fight this crisis at the border.

And, you know, Jim, I was speaking to a Democratic congressman this morning, a Democrat who was not falling all over himself to support the president and this $3.7 billion request.

Any sense how the White House thinks it's going so far?

ACOSTA: I think the White House can see what's happening on Capitol Hill. Almost immediately Republican lawmakers, top Republican lawmakers, were saying no. They're not going to rubber stamp this request, and they see this request for nearly $4 billion as a blank check. But -- and after hearing that from Republican lawmakers, John, as you said, there've been Democrats who have said, hang on, wait a minute. Henry Cuellar, who has called this President Obama's Katrina, was on CNN earlier saying they can't just trust whatever the president sends over. They have to look at this appropriations request.

And so this puts this president and the White House in a very difficult situation, because if they can't get the money appropriated right away, how in the world are they going to deal with this flood of children coming across the border?

They have to be kept somewhere, and according to administration officials, they don't even know how long they need to be housed in this country while they go through this immigration process.

Very difficult situation for this White House.

BERMAN: How indeed to deal with this crisis? Jim Acosta at the White House for us, thanks so much.

PEREIRA: As politicians bicker over policy, the lives of tens of thousands of children are in limbo. Waves of under-aged immigrants, mostly from Central America, are swarming across the southwest border. Federal officials are running out of places to house them.

BERMAN: It is a huge and growing problem. This year, some 60,000 to 80,000 children are expected to cross.

Our Ed Lavandera right now is in Dallas. Ed, there have been a lot of explanations here. What is the big reason behind the explosion in numbers?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that's such a difficult question to answer, John, because I think the biggest miss take you can make in these types of situations is try to just pinpoint one reason for why this happened.

Of course there are many critics of the Obama administration who say that the administration in the way its talked about immigration is kind of opened the door for all of this, but you have to take into account the ability of cartels and human smugglers to take advantage of these situations and creating misinformation and dispensing misinformation to get all that.

Think about the profit side for these drug traffickers. We've been told by various sources that for Central American migrants coming from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador that it can cost as much as $8,000 per person.

If you just crunch the numbers on the situation for a money, you can see the profits that are made. Some 50,000 people, the U.S. government says, in this recent crisis in this surge have moved in the United States. Fifty thousand at $8,000 a head is $400 million that human smugglers have profited from this.

So these are ruthless people who would take advantage of any kind of situation, so I think it's very hard to pinpoint it on just one reason. I think you have understand that it's more complex than that, especially when you consider the desperation that many of these people feel.

BERMAN: No one reason makes it so hard to fix.

Ed Lavandera for us in Texas, thanks so much for that.

PEREIRA: Giving us some context into the complexity of this. It's not -- like he said, it's not easy stay or go, right?

BERMAN: Can't wave a magic wand here.


BERMAN: Other stories we're following @THISHOUR, rockets and missiles flying back and forth between Israel and Gaza today. Israel's president, Shimon Peres, said an Israeli ground offensive on Gaza, quote, "may happen quite soon."

Palestinian officials report at least 37 people have been killed since Monday in Israeli strikes.

We'll have our experts weigh in on this situation on this crisis, later @THISHOUR.

PEREIRA: Donald Sterling set to be back on the witness stand in a few hours time in this ongoing trial challenging his wife's efforts to sell the L.A. Clippers.

Sterling gave contentious, often testy testimony yesterday saying this about his wife Shelley. Quote, "My wife can't run anything. She is beautiful, she is intelligent, but she can't run these things. You think it's my ego?"

Sterling teared up at times, becoming combative at other points, especially over the issue of his mental state, accusing one of his neurologists who examined him of being drunk.

BERMAN: Thousands of people on the East Coast dealing with the aftermath of fast-moving and severe storms that killed at least five people. At least four were killed up near Syracuse, New York, when the storm destroyed several hopes there.

A boy in Manchester, Maryland, was killed when the storm struck a church camp. The kids got caught away from their shelter.

Some 300,000 people in New York state and Pennsylvania still without power.

PEREIRA: Look at that tree.

A fellow got quite a shock while recording a storm in his Colorado neighborhood.

BERMAN: Nuts! Nuts! PEREIRA: His cell phone caught it all. Check it out.



PEREIRA: Ah, yeah, you hear his yelp in the background. A lightning strike nearly hit him. Doctors say it must have been just a few feet away.

Standing in his garage, thought he was safe, the strike left him paralyzed for a few minutes. He says he still has ringing in his ear, and he's feeling body aches, but doctors say he is going to be just fine.

BERMAN: Good for him.


BERMAN: That was me yelping, by the way, in addition to him. I think we were all yelping.

PEREIRA: A double yelp.

BERMAN: Ahead for us @THISHOUR, one congressman says the immigration crisis could become a Katrina moment for the president, but is that really fair? Our experts will weigh in.

PEREIRA: George Clooney slamming reports by a British tabloid, we'll tell you about his new op-ed.

BERMAN: Plus, it is a British invasion here in-studio, singer, songwriter, legend, Graham Nash joins us. That's ahead.



REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D), TEXAS (via telephone): I'm sure that President Bush thought the same thing, that he could look at everything from up in the sky and that -- he owned it for a long time.

So I hope this doesn't become the Katrina moment for President Obama saying that he doesn't need to come to the border. He should come down.


PEREIRA: That was Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar. The president is under fire from members of his own party as well as Republicans for his handling of the border crisis.

BERMAN: Here's what former Arkansas governor, Republican Mike Huckabee, says about the president's decision to skip the border during his Texas visit. He says, quote, "It's like flying into New Orleans in the highest waters of Katrina to see Creole cooking but never getting near the Ninth Ward, the Superdome or the convention center where thousands languished in squalor."

PEREIRA: Want to dig a little deeper. We are joined by CNN political commentators Sally Kohn and Ross Douthat.

Ross, let me ask you off the bat. Is it even fair to compare this so to Katrina? You think about the fact that hundreds of people lost their lives, their homes, their livelihoods. Is this a fair assessment?

ROSS DOUTHAT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is the nature of American politics. We always compare whatever is happening right now to something that everyone agrees was a disaster in the last presidency.

So, obviously there are big differences. Katrina was a specific natural disaster that happened in a very short time as hurricanes tend to do, whereas this has been much of a slow-building crisis, you know. The child migrations have been increasing over the last three years. They're spiking now. But I don't think it has the same -- I don't think it has the same resonance probably for the American people.

That being said, I think it's just bizarre that the president isn't going to the border. I think when you're taking fire from Democratic congressmen over the issue, there's no reason to even risk the kind of perceptions that were associated with Bush just flying over the disaster area after Katrina.

And I think it's sort of strange feature of this president's entire second term, a weird sort of disconnection from some of the basic optics of being president. But, yes, that's all.

BERMAN: You know, Sally, Ross brings up optics, and we've got to talk about optics, because last night the president was out in Denver, shooting pool with Governor John Hickenlooper, having some beers there.

Everyone deserves to have their fun, but that's -- is that a picture the White House should be concerned about with this crisis, with this discussion hanging over his head?

SALLY KOHN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, on the one hand we could have a conversation about every little optical moment and choice that this White House has made, not all of which I would necessarily agree with.

But I do think it's fascinating they seem to be held to this sort of ridiculously higher standard of, oh, well, he's only supposed to do one thing at one time when there's -- there's always crises. There's always problems and he has to juggle a lot of balls at the same time.

Look, this notion of he should be going to the border. Look, if I were this president, I would be going to, certainly visit, these camps where the kids are being housed and the humanitarian conditions, but the reason to not visit the border is very obvious to me. This is not a border crisis. These kids are coming to the border, they are getting stopped, the border is working, Republicans are trying to turn this into a narrative of, oh the border isn't working, we have a crisis. The immigration policies aren't working. These kids, this uptick in kids coming from all over the place, to all kinds of countries from Central America has been happening since long before the president started giving immigration access to younger kids.


PEREIRA: But one could argue, Sally, that it isn't working, if you have numbers that we are seeing, 60, 70, 80,000 children arriving and then being stuck in this, sort of, purgatory where conditions are poor.

KOHN: I'm not disagreeing that there's not a crisis. But what Republicans are saying is, it's a sign the president has failed to secure the border. They're not slipping through holes in the border, it's just not happening. That is a misnomer.

DOUTHAT: But I think that everybody, don't you think that everybody understands when people talk about securing the border, they're including the system for holding deportation hearings, the system for housing refugees and so on.

I mean, I think, yes, obvious it's not, technically a problem with the border patrol, although it is in the sense that there's a since that the agents, who are essentially stopping the migrants and taking responsibility for them, are being forced to neglect other duties, like drug interdiction has dropped off during this crisis. There are specific problems that are happening on the border, and then talking about a border crisis, I think reasonably encompasses a lot of the other difficulties we're having right now.

BERMAN: Where you place the crisis right now, I think it is clear there is one, and it does need to be discussed. Hopefully the President and Governor Rick Perry will make some headway when they talk later today.

PEREIRA: Let's hope they do.

BERMAN: Ross Douthat, Sally Kohn, thank you guys.

PEREIRA: Before we go though, we have a lighter moment in presidential politics and you mentioned a little bit earlier on a fund raising trip to Colorado yesterday. President Obama happened to stop by a bar in Denver on a boy's night out with the state's governor.

BERMAN: He was asked some rather unusual questions. Of course remember, marijuana, legal in the state of Colorado. So listen to the offer the president got here.


UNIDENITFIED MALE: Here we go Barack! UNIDENITFIED MALE: Do you want to hit this?


BERMAN: Do you want to hit this? Now, Ross, I am told the vernacular --

DOUTHAT: You will know that we're really in the post-presidency when he says yes. But for now, I think there at least, he still understands the optics of the office.

BERMAN: Did he owe America an answer to the question, Sally?

KOHN: You know, look, I don't even know where to begin here with this, right, like. I think Ross is right, at least the White House optically got this one correct. It's is at least not as drugged addled as all the attacks on the president. Those are the people who are smoking up.

PEREIRA: He took it in good humor, chuckled, kept it pushing. Probably a smart reaction.

BERMAN: Probably a smart reaction. There is no right answer to that question. Great president of the United States.

KOHN: I wish I could, but --

BERMAN: Sally, Ross, great to have you, appreciate it guys.

DOUTHAT: Thanks guys.

BERMAN: Ahead for us @THISHOUR, armed and ready to take on terrorists. We're talking about women training with AK-47s, trying to protect their city, that's next.


BERMAN: With every passing day the violence in Iraq is just getting worse. Today, more then 50 unidentified bodies, two of them children, found in the predominantly Shiite town of Alexandria.

PEREIRA: Meanwhile, Iraqi militias are creating a new line of defense against the al Qaeda splinter group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Baghdad. Women in Baghdad, wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, they are taking a five day course to learning how to use an AK-47 while the men in their families are on the frontlines. I want to bring in our CNN military analyst Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. It's interesting to see that, a little different from them taking up arms and joining them on the frontlines. They're the ones that are staying at home and the idea is that they'll be able to protect, should Isis infiltrate Baghdad, what do you make of this?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think this is an assessment, kind of a backhanded assessment, of the Shiite dominated Iraqi army, where is it? They're out in the field, but evidently these people in Baghdad feel they can't rely on that army. And it is Shiite army. These are Shiite militias doing this. This is the Badr Brigade, a long time Iranian sponsored group, they've been there since the '80s and now they're training the woman in the city to protect themselves. I think they have decided the Iraqi army is probably not capable of stopping these guys from getting into Baghdad. And you talked about that, that, those 50 bodies. Those were found south of Baghdad. So it looks like we're seeing them go around the city. They're trying to surround the city.

BERMAN: And what you worry about is the type of street fighting we saw back in '06, '07. Civil war basically broke out. That's what I think this all lends itself to.

The region in turmoil right now, obviously we are seeing fighting in Israel between the Israeli forces and Hamas in Gaza. I want you to look at some video right now. It is a wedding disrupted due to an air strike, watch this.


BERMAN: That's in Israel right now. More than 100 rockets fired out of Gaza. The Israeli forces responded with air strikes of their own in Gaza. Now the Israeli president, as well as many other leaders there, saying a ground offensive on Gaza could happen really any minute now.

FRANCONA: We have seen a big escalation in the capabilities of Hamas. Used to be they were firing rockets. You and I were talking about Sderot, that town near Gaza, where they would just fire these things five or six miles. Now they're reaching all the way up 70 miles into Israel. And these rockets are provided by the Syrians, by the Iranians, this is a different capability, and the Israelis feel that they've got no choice, they're going to have to go in and root these out because 100 missiles, even with the iron dome, they cannot knock them all down.

PEREIRA: What needs to be done here? In terms of international conversations, international pressure, support, what needs to be done from leaders outside of the region to de-escalate this?

FRANCONA: They've tried for years. The problem is you can't get these two to talk to each other. Hamas won't talk to Israel because they won't recognize Israel's right to exist, Israel won't talk to anybody that talks to Hamas. They're threatening to break off relations with the Palestinian authorities, because they said you can talk to us, or you can talk to Hamas, but you can't talk to both.

BERMAN: Two years ago it was Egypt that stepped in. But now Egypt is in no position to do that. There's a tragic choreography that goes on here. Hamas shoots up missiles, Israel goes in with air strikes, they talk about ground troops, and it seems like they just have to go through it and get it out of the system, you know --

PEREIRA: How many lives have to be lost?

BERMAN: That's the problem. Ultimately what you end up with is people losing their lives. FRANCONA: And the people who's lives who lost are not the ones making


PEREIRA: Exactly.

FRANCONA: Unfortunately, in Gaza, and I know the Israelis try to do a good job with their targets, I've seen their target --

BERMAN: They call. They call the house first and say, hey, we are about to bomb you, get out.

FRANCONA: They have a reverse 911 system where they call the whole area and say we're going to be conducting operations here. But it's, it's just this cycle of violence that continues. And we see this every two years or so. I was there in '09, in '12, now we are doing it in '14. And it just doesn't seem to be any solution on the horizon. And it's almost like both sides have given up for a solution. They keep rearming themselves.

PEREIRA: Old issue too.

BERMAN: Colonel Rick Francona, great to have you here with us. Appreciate it.

PEREIRA: Thank you Colonel. Ahead @THISHOUR, take a look at these pictures. They were posted on an online dating site. Sure look like Justin Ross Harris, the father of the toddler who died after being left for hours in a hot vehicle. One of the things the user posted, quote, I'm harmless. More on this new information ahead.


PEREIRA: Couple of new developments in the case against the father accused of leaving his toddler son in a hot Georgia car to die. New social media pictures are emerging of Justin Ross Harris. A profile page for the dating site Skout. A user, simply called R.J., posted three pictures which appear to be Harris. Take a look for yourself. R.J. describes himself as a married man from Smyrna, Georgia, and wrote, quote just looking to talk. Message me, I'm harmless.

BERMAN: Let's bring in Dan Schorr, he's a formal criminal prosecutor here in New York. Obviously you see something like this, you know, we saw the text that he was sending to six women, including one teenager. We saw those last week. They were released last week. You see this today on the dating site. You know, it's unseemly, very unseemly, when does it go from unseemly and making this guy look bad, to being, making him more copable for this kind of murder?

DAN SCHORR, FORMER CRIMINAL PRO It makes a tragic, disturbing case even more upsetting is that this father, besides leaving his kid in the car, that he is sexting with woman, he is on his Internet dating site. It shows that he was unhappy with his life, it's more evidence that he wanted a change in his life. We know he looked online about having a child-free life. So it's more evident showing that. Is this the make or break evidence for the murder charge? No, but it's something the prosecutors will use. PEREIRA: Interesting that his wife, Leanne Harris, finally visiting

him today in jail. I think there's even some video of it. Obviously you want to be a fly on the wall of that conversation.