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Obama, Congress, Billionaires Argue Immigration; Long, Dangerous Journey To U.S. Begins For $1.30; Pastor: Churches Banned From Immigration Centers; Ross Harris' Social Media Use Scrutinized; GOP Suing Obama For Doing What They Want?

Aired July 11, 2014 - 10:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Martin Savidge, thank you so much. And the next hour of "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow begins right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Happy Friday. I'm Poppy Harlow in today for Carol Costello. Thanks so much for joining me. Well, we begin with this. Congress and the White House locked in a war of words, very tough words. One of the battle lines -- the U.S./Mexico border.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will visit an immigration facility today in New Mexico. House Speaker John Boehner is slamming what he calls the president's failure on the border crisis. President Obama is firing back saying Republicans have blocked White House reform efforts.

Sounding off this morning on the gridlock, three billionaires, Sheldon Adelson, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet heading an op-ed in the "New York Times." Let's read you part of it. It reads in part, quote, "A Congress that does nothing about these problems is extending an irrational policy by default the current stalemate in which greater pride is attached to thwarting the opposition than to advancing the nation's interests. It is depressing to most Americans."

It goes on to say, "The impasse certainly depresses the three of us." They said in the op-ed that even though they're in different political parties they could come up together with some sort of solution. Republicans are also suing President Obama for what they call executive overreach regarding Obamacare.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, joins me now with more. Jim, what's the latest? What can you tell us?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. The White House reaction to House Speaker John Boehner's lawsuit announcement was swift and harsh with Press Secretary Josh Ernest calling a, quote, "political stunt." You know, it's a new day in Washington for political theater here when it's headed to the court house.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It's constitutional collision between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: This isn't about me suing the president. What we're talking about here are places where the president is basically rewriting law to make it fit his own needs.

ACOSTA: House Speaker John Boehner made official what he's threatened for weeks, that he's filing a lawsuit against the president saying, Mr. Obama's executive actions to change the health care law and other federal programs are evidence of a White House that's out of control.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Really? Really? For what? You're going to sue me to do -- for doing my job?

ACOSTA: Just hours before House Republicans revealed their lawsuit, the president was sharpening up his defense in Texas.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I have got a better idea. Do something. If you're mad at me for helping people on my own, let's team up. Let's pass some bills.

ACOSTA: The brewing courtroom battle comes as the president and Boehner are already sparring over the White House plan for the border crisis. A problem Mr. Obama said could be solved with immigration reform.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Ronald Reagan passed immigration reform and you love Ronald Reagan. Let's go ahead and do it.

BOEHNER: This is a problem of the president's own making. He's been president for 5-1/2 years. When's he going to take responsibility for something?

ACOSTA: Even the first lady jumped into the fray speaking to a Latino group in New York.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Make no mistake about it. We have to keep on fighting as hard as we can on immigration.

ACOSTA: It was a rare entry in the partisan politics for Michelle Obama as a growing number of fellow Democrats complained the president has mismanaged the migrant crisis.

REPRESENTATIVE RON BARBER (D), ARIZONA: This problem has been going on for a long time and now it's been exaggerated by this humanitarian crisis that we have with thousands of children coming in to Texas and into my state in Arizona.

ACOSTA: As for Boehner's lawsuit, details are coming in the days ahead. But much of the case will center around the employer mandate and the administration's decision to delay that employer mandate in Obamacare. Boehner spokesman says this gives the lawsuit the best chance of succeeding in court because they say it is a perfect example of the president overstepping his constitutional bounds.

Of course, over here at the White House, they are firing right back. I had a senior administration official tell me earlier this morning, Poppy, that just look at what happened in the House last year. The House Republicans voted to delay the employer mandate on Obamacare themselves. Their attitude is that the House has had their constitutional chance to take a swing at it. They didn't succeed -- Poppy.

HARLOW: And that makes this debate all the more interesting and all the more fiery. We're going to talk about more of the politics behind it all, of course, with Dana Bash in just a few moments. Jim, appreciate the report from the White House this morning. Thank you.

After a string of fiery protests in Murrieta, California, border officials are now saying they will no longer send busloads of undocumented immigrants to San Diego or to El Centro. Those protests back in early June were so intense that buses coming into Murrieta had to be redirected elsewhere, some to San Diego.

A border patrol spokesman said that a processing backlog that sent some of those immigrants from Texas into California had somewhat been resolved at least for now. But they won't rule out, however, more undocumented immigrants could be sent to California in the near future.

Meantime, the immigration crisis extends far beyond the U.S./Mexico border all the way through Mexico actually down through Central America. Our border may be the final hurdle for some undocumented immigrants, but it frequently is not the first.

Our Gary Tuchman traveled to the Mexico/Guatemala border for a look at the lengths that people go on their perilous journey.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Many people legally cross between Guatemala and Mexico. This is the Guatemalan side. The other side of this bridge is the Mexican state of Chiapas. Most don't have documentation to go from one country to the other including the people who eventually want to end up in the United States.

So what they do is something you will not see between the United States and Mexico or the United States and Canada for that matter. Not miles away, not hours away, right next to the legal border crossing, here are people who are walking across this river to get from Guatemala to Mexico. They walk, they swim, they also take rafts to illegally cross and what's amazing no one at this border station, even Mexican or the Guatemalan officials seem to mind. It happens all day.

So we're going to go give you a look. We're going to under this bridge and show you what happens. Right under where you can legally cross this is where you illegally cross. Right under this border station. This is the raft. And the inner tube, the wood. We paid our ten, the equivalent of $1.30. Hello. Can I go with you?

What you should know, these people, they tell us they are not planning to go to the United States. They want to go to Mexico. You ready? OK. Everyone here is quiet. You have to duck your head so you don't get decapitated by the rope. Now we have crossed the international boundary. And we're in the nation of Mexico. What happens when people get here who eventually want to get to the United States, this is standard.

They climb on these rocks and there are trails and paths up there. There are shelters there. So many people who want to begin their voyage to the United States begin their shelter. This is the easy part. People are friendly. It costs almost nothing. But to get to the United States border could take weeks. If they're successful.

In many cases they're not successful. But this for many people is the beginning of the journey. This is the trail that Guatemalans, Hondurans first see from the river. It is rocky, jungle-like. Steep in spots. The people who were in our boat, it's not clear where they were going. No one wanted to tell us if they were going to the United States. Some swore they were staying here in Mexico. But you never know.

Once you get into Mexico that's when the serious business begins. You have to look for shelter and look for help to get into the United States. You have young people, old people navigating this, trying to make their way into the town here. And by the way, they used to over the river have zip lines. Zip lines like in recreational places.

The zip lines were taken down by the Mexican government not base it's illegal to cross, but because it wasn't safe. People were getting hurt or killed when they collapsed. Once people get up this trail and get into the little town, they figure out how to get to the shelters to continue their journey towards the U.S. border.

So these vans go directly to the town where they can get advice and food and health care. People on the bus here -- hello. They're all going to the town. He says he's going to the United States. Anyone else? OK. The bus is leaving. If they're going to the United States, they might not want to tell us. Close the door. But the door is reopened. More people journeying north. Gary Tuchman, CNN, Mexico.


HARLOW: Really fantastic reporting by Gary, giving us the human side of all of this and what is going on right now.

Well, meantime, the most vulnerable of those traveling to the United States -- children. If they make it, many will be detained by customs and border patrol leading to the overcrowded facilities that we are seeing. You see those images and now some churches are saying that the government has rebuffed their efforts to ease the children's plight or to try to come in to work with them.

These are some images inside the Nogales Placement Center in California. That's where Pastor Kyle Coffin of Tucson's Crossroads Church says he and some of his fellow pastors were not allowed to visit. Pastor Kauffman, thank you for joining me. We appreciate it.

REVEREND KYLE COFFIN, PASTOR, CROSSROADS CHURCH: Good morning, Poppy. Thanks for having me. HARLOW: Of course. So tell me what happened. I know that you've tried. You made multiple calls to the government, to customs and border patrol asking to be able to come in and see these children. What happened?

COFFIN: Yes, we made several calls to several different people. We're very well connected Christian community here in Tucson. A lot of pastors of past denominations are meeting and praying together throughout the year. When this crisis came up, we began talking between us, individually, not necessarily as a big group.

A lot of us individually about what we can do. So a lot of us started to make some phone calls and we were met with an immediate no. Even on donations or visiting or just playing games with them. Even bringing down things like toiletries, you know, toothpaste. Just the basics that the kids might need, hearing about these things. We have been told, we cannot donate. We cannot visit.

HARLOW: Were you told why?

COFFIN: One of the reasons that they gave us was that they have all the needs that they have. That they're being fulfilled by the government already and I just questioned them on the spirituality side of that. And they didn't have an answer for that.

HARLOW: Well, just moments ago, we heard back from customs and border patrol. They told us and I'll quote here, "Due to the unique operational and security challenges of the Nogales Placement Center, religious services provided by faith advance leaders are not possible at this time. How, CBP's chaplaincy program is supporting the spiritual needs of the minors for the limited time they're at the center. What do you make of that? I mean, they're basically saying, look, we have a chaplaincy program here. We're doing what we can with the children. Does that give you some comfort?

COFFIN: It gives some comfort, sure. What we are really concerned about though is we're not at all -- the folks that I work with and the pastors that I work with and the church itself, we're not anti- government at all. We just -- we don't believe that the government does the church's job were well. We don't the government's job well. We don't want to do that. We would ask just the government, allow us to come down and do what we do well, which is meet with kids, hang out and play with them.

These kids have been coming across as you just showed in your segment before I didn't get to see it obviously, but I'm hearing -- I'm looking at the camera. But as you just showed in your segment, we have seen these videos of these kids coming across the border. This is something they'll never going to forget.

We want to go down there and let them know that God loves them and therefore, because God loves them, we want to minister to them in ways and that Jesus has their back. We want to very much help them in ways that we can.

HARLOW: Pastor, finally, before we wrap up. Where do you go from here? I mean, are you continuing to call daily? Have you sort of given up at this point? Do you hope by coming on and speaking that they're going to change this policy?

COFFIN: That's our hope, is that the answer would be turned from no to yes. As I said, we're very mobilized. We're very ready. We have wonderful faith-based organizations down there that work with pastors over dozens of denominational lines. I know, I can tell you, if I was to say, bring toilet paper, toys for the kids, we're not trying to fix the problem. We just want to minister to these kids.

If we were to do something like that, I can guarantee you we'd have two semis full inside a week. We can drive them down there. I told the customs agents this. And the border patrol agents this as well. We could have truckloads of things down there and they still said don't come down here. Don't waste your gas. We will turn you away.

HARLOW: We'll continue to follow it. We appreciate your time this morning. Thank you, Pastor Kyle Coffin.

Still to come here in the NEWSROOM, there are new developments in the Georgia hot car death affecting both parents of little Cooper Harris. Our Victor Blackwell has been on the story from the beginning digging into the troubling details. Good morning, Victor.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Posts on a social media web site about killing and not cooperating with police believed to have written by Justin Ross Harris. What do they tell us about this father charged with his son's murder? We'll tell you in just a moment.


HARLOW: We know how deadly a closed car can be in hot temperatures. To give us a dramatic reminder, a Louisiana policeman got inside his squad car in brutal heat, doors closed, ignition off. Watch.


OFFICER DAVID MELANCON, THIBODAUX, LOUISIANA POLICE: I can only imagine what a little kid goes through sitting in the car without any air or a pet. I feel like I can bake cookies on the dash board. My undershirt is soaking wet. My socks, soaking wet.


HARLOW: Of course, police made the point that this is not something you or anyone should try at home. But emphasizing just how deadly it can be.

Now to significant new developments in that Georgia hot car death of little Cooper Harris, who died last month when his father left him inside a car all day in the searing heat. Yesterday, Ross Harris who has been charged with his son's murder was fired from his job at Home Depot and the boy's mother, Leanna Harris, hired a high profile defense attorney to represent her. Important to note though, she has not been charged with a crime.

Our Victor Blackwell joins me now. Good morning to you, Victor. You have been on this from the start. Investigators are really digging in to this so-called second life or alleged second life of Ross Harris, aren't they?

BLACKWELL: Alleged is an important word to emphasize. Police say that they believe that there's a second persona here online, on several web sites and we have been digging to find out who is Ross Harris or as police call him this other Ross Harris.


BLACKWELL (voice-over): What are believed to be the words of Justin Ross Harris written one year ago online are now taking on new relevance as Harris is charged with killing his son. Killing a person in the sense of abortion is selfish and malicious with the intent of only satisfying your own personal agenda. They are on the social media site, Reddit, where Cobb County detectives say Harris read suspicious topic pages also known as "Sub Reddits."

DETECTIVE PHIL STODDARD, COBB COUNTY, GEORGIA POLICE: He visited several sites and the Sub Reddits. It was called child free, and he did a search on how to survive prison.

BLACKWELL: Hundreds of comments spanning three years under the screen name of "Roscoe UA." The most recent posted just hours before Harris' arrest. Roscoe UA authored a Reddit user advice on how to avoid an arrest in the context of DUI. The post marked three months ago reads, "Refuse to answer any questions and ask if you're being detained. If not, leave."

He goes on, "Everything a police officer does during a possible DUI traffic stop means he's trying to build evidence against you. You should do everything in your power to prevent this." There are posts about gratitude. One year ago, about a new life in Georgia. I am now in my dream job, have a beautiful 6-month-old son and love going to work every day. I couldn't be happier.

Also, posts about difficulties. Like the surprising challenge suggested during his probable cause hearing and defense attorney, Maddox Kilgore will almost certainly revisit it during any trial.

MADDOX KILGORE, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Would you be surprised to know that Ross is completely deaf in his right ear? Did you know that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do not know that.

BLACKWELL: Roscoe UA explains, I had a bottle rocket explode in my ear that was shot by a friend. It caused me to have vertigo, terrible balance and facial paralysis for a long time. Thankfully, after two surgeries, I have no outward issues. I'm just deaf in my right ear. Potential evidence investigators are scouring to better understand this father, charged with killing his only child.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLACKWELL: Now, there might be some who ask, how do we connect this screen name with Ross Harris? Well, first the name itself, Roscoe, likely a nickname for Ross Harris and then U.A., he's a graduate of the University of Alabama and many of the comments are about Alabama football. But also this screen name is connected to a Pinterest account, Photo Bucket, Flicker, Instagram as well. All of those accounts include photographs of Ross Harris -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Appreciate the digging and the reporting as we continue to follow this for what will be a long, long time. Appreciate it. Victor Blackwell, thanks so much.

Still to come here in the NEWSROOM, House GOP leadership ready to sue the president for delaying parts of his signature healthcare law. But the White House says this is nothing but a political stunt. We'll take a look at the chances, what kind of chances this have in the courtroom next.


HARLOW: As if the border crisis isn't hard enough already on the president, politically some hecklers gave him an earful during a speech in Austin, Texas. Listen.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: And then they're mad at me for trying to do some things to make the immigration system work better. So it doesn't -- it doesn't make sense. So I'm sorry, what are you yelling about now? Sit down, guys, I'm almost done. Sit down, I'll talk to you afterward, I promise.


HARLOW: And more headaches for the president. House Speaker John Boehner vowing to follow through with his threat to sue the president. Boehner said President Obama overstepped his authority when he delayed the employer mandate portion of the Obamacare without first seeking congressional approval.

Our Dana Bash is live in Washington for us this morning. So Dana, let's talk about the politics behind all of this because there is always politics behind it. Until yesterday, White House Republicans hadn't chosen which specific issue to sue the president on because they think he's overreached on a number of different issues. Not just Obamacare.

But the fact they settled on health care is interesting. Do you think or do you know from your reporting this is what gives them the best shot in the courtroom or is going to resonate most with their base?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it has the happy coincidence from their point of view of being both. Let's start with the legal. I was talking to some sources this morning who said that, yes, the original memo that the speaker put out listed several areas where they would potentially sue, foreign policy. Health care was one. The environment. Education. All issues where they believe that the president by executive order has overstepped his constitutional bounds.

They settle on just this one issue, on the -- on Obamacare, for one main reason legally and that is because they were told by a number of legal experts that their best shot at having legal standing in the courts and even success once they get acceptance in the courts is to keep it very focused.

And this was the best thing legally and then when they talk about politics of course there's no issue that Republicans believe that they have the best chance at riling up their base on because it's happened in the past two elections than Obamacare.

HARLOW: Yes. But you have to think they think they have a very good legal shot here. Obviously, because they're following through on this. In terms of looking at this, step back and look at this. Republicans pushed time and time again to delay, derail Obamacare. Now they're suing the president for delaying one aspect of it. I wonder are some folks there on the hill giving them some flak for that? I mean, that has become a topic of conversation in the last 24 hours.

BASH: Yes, Byron York was a conservative columnist, he tweeted, he said I know the arguments, but it's kind of weird that the House GOP has worked so hard to repeal Obamacare is suing Obama for not enforcing it. So there is a bit of irony here. We should explain what it is what they're suing on is the fact that the president unilaterally without going to Congress first delayed not once but twice enforcing the employer mandate.

Making it mandatory for employers to give their employees health care and, you know, the reasons are multiple, that the White House did it. But regardless of that, what the house Republicans are saying is that it was unconstitutional for them to take something that was, you know, a law that Congress passed and make such a drastic change without going back to Congress first.

So when they argue, they try to argue that -- and the speaker did it yesterday, this is not about the House speaker or Republicans or about the president. But it's the legislative branch versus the executive branch. This is constitutional, yes, but it does have a little bit of irony when you look at the specifics.

HARLOW: And John Boehner was really fired up yesterday, saying that the president has been in office for 5-1/2 years, when is he going to do something so this battle gets more and more intense as we still have the immigration crisis that both sides are fighting on. Dana Bash, appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

Still to come here in the NEWSROOM, a top U.S. official is headed to an immigrant facility in New Mexico as its residents ask in anger what about the kids here next?