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Deadly Twisters: Assessing the Damage and Destruction; Pope Appeals for Peace; Deportation Plan Reports Set Off Firestorm. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 25, 2015 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:17] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Cars were just picked up and thrown around like little toys. That's how one police chief describes the deadly storm that ripped through the south. The death toll continues to rise, and communities are only just beginning to grasp the scope of the devastation.

And Pope Francis, he appeals for peace in his annual Christmas message. He also weighs in on the Syrian civil war and the recent attacks in Paris and Egypt.

And the Obama administration's new plan to deport hundreds of families who cross the border illegally. Why this could put Hillary Clinton in a tough spot, and why is Donald Trump claiming credit?

Hello, everyone. Merry Christmas to all. I'm Kate Bolduan. John Berman has the day off.

We begin with the aftermath of that tornado disaster that has left parts of the South in ruins. Today that region is facing new threats of severe weather. This morning, the death toll from that storm is rising still. At least 14 people are now confirmed dead. Dozens more are injured across Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

One tornado tore through Ashland, Tennessee, flattening homes, just look at that, crushing cars, just horrible. Now people are there sifting through the rubble, spending Christmas Day trying to pick up the pieces.

Nick Valencia has the very latest for us on the storm and its destruction.

The destruction is just horrific, Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is horrific, especially for those waking up and some of the states affected here on Christmas morning. Yesterday, Holly Springs, Mississippi getting hit very hard by a tornado. You mentioned, Kate, at least 14 people dead across three states, including Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

Apparently, the worst is gone, but there's still concern for flooding and, yes, even more tornadoes.


VALENCIA (voice-over): This Christmas, scenes of devastation in parts of the South and Midwest, heavy rain causing widespread flooding across North Georgia and tornadoes tearing across several states.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Started here, real loud, roared, started getting louder and louder, and I told her, we need to get in the house now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It sounded literally like a freight train. Sounding of the horn. It was coming.

VALENCIA: In Ashland, Mississippi, all that's left of Theresa McKay's (ph) home is the porch. She and her husband were inside when they saw the tornado coming. They ran and hid in this truck.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing left of my house. Not one thing. Nothing but all that debris.

VALENCIA: This building may have saved Tony Goodwin's life when a tornado hit Perry County, Tennessee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had my grandson in my arm, under my arm, and everybody got in except for my sister-in-law and I'm yelling at her, come on. You know? And she got in. As soon as she did, I shut the door.

VALENCIA: A tornado knocked his house off its foundation, but he and six others survived by taking cover in the storm shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll never know how important it is to seek shelter immediately however you can because it's a lifesaver.

VALENCIA: Two of those killed in Tennessee were husband and wife, Ann and Antonio Isaguerre (ph). According to the Storm Prediction Center, at least 14 tornadoes hit Mississippi on Wednesday, but a single twister did most of the damage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a miracle. There's no way that three individuals were in this house at this time and they were able to walk away.

VALENCIA: Communities coming together, thankful to be alive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I went and bought toys for kids because I also have a little girl, and for them not to have Christmas and toys and stuff, there's -- it's not a holiday.


VALENCIA: Wow. That's damage we're seeing there across the states looks a lot more like it would do in the springtime -- would be in the spring time. The Storm Prediction Center says the risk of violent storms has dropped dramatically, but if you are in Texas, more severe weather could be coming your way. Especially if you are in the Dallas area, Plano, and Fort Worth. We may not be out of this just yet, Kate. BOLDUAN: Absolutely not.

Nick is watching all the devastation. It's just horrific. Nick, thank you so much.

VALENCIA: You bet.

BOLDUAN: Not only -- not only talking about the devastating tornadoes, but there is a lot of wild weather going on everywhere. I mean, forget a white Christmas in many places. Take off that ugly Christmas sweater you are wearing, dig out that ugly Christmas tank top, I guess. Some East Coast cities are looking at record breaking warm weather today.

Let's get all of this from Chad Myers. He is in the weather severe center.

Chad, 60-plus degrees here in New York on Christmas morning? I don't know what -- I don't know what to make of it.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I can't picture, though, ugly Christmas tank top.

BOLDUAN: I'm going to find one for you. I'm going to find one.


MYERS: It is warm now across the Northeast. We are in the 60s in New York, 70s down across the Gulf Coast, 70s even in Virginia Beach, 78 there with sunshine everywhere.

[11:05:06] I want to take you, though, to some video that we just brought in. Haven't seen this before on TV. This is just new to us.

Surveillance video when the storm -- when the tornado was rolling through Holly Springs. This is what's called a wedge tornado. Like a giant wedge of cheese, but if you cut the bottom off, the bottom of the wedge is on the ground.

Dramatic video here. At least what we know of, 157-mile-per-hour tornado on the ground at this point. And the weather service says at least. They're still out there looking.

Now, we don't talk about wind speeds really and EF scales and all that when it comes to just blowing things down. We have to look at what it blew down. Did it blow down a brick home, or was there damage to a mobile home? Or just a small tree?

So, the weather service looking at the biggest damage to the strongest structure before they give us a final word on what this tornado was, but we know that it was in that EF-3 or possibly even EF-4 category. There you see that storm. Look how slow it looks like it's moving from this camera angle.

But we know the storm was traveling at 55 miles per hour. Almost too fast for you to get out of the way even on the highway. What a storm there. You can almost not even see the ground.

BOLDUAN: I was going, to I wouldn't even know what to make of it if that was coming -- if that was coming my way, because it doesn't almost even look like a tornado.

MYERS: No, at that point in time, when they're this big -- Kate, let's talk about this. When they're that big, all you really have a lot of debris, dust, trees, limbs inside that funnel. There are multiple vortexes. There are funnels inside that funnel creating that what looks like just a wedge on the ground.

And so, you will see these little suction spots. They're the reason why one house next to another house may be standing when the one next door is completely gone. So, you have these little tops inside this large tornado spinning, and that is going from right to left on the screen, but if you think about it, it was actually going from the southwest to the northeast as it moved across parts of Mississippi. Eventually even into Tennessee, record heat.

This is exactly -- we just broke a record in New York. Kate, you just it. That was set in 1982. Guess what, 1982 was an El Nino year. This is what you expect in a strong El Nino year.

Now, eventually this warmer above normal weather is going to get to us because if normal is 15 and above normal is 30, you're still warm, but you're still warm enough to make a lot of snow. In situations like this, we can get major snow events eventually when it does get cold enough or here because we're still warm we can get major severe weather events.

Kate, we'll keep watching for you.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Thank you, Chad, so much. That video fascinating and terrifying all in the same. Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BOLDUAN: So, this morning people around world course are celebrating Christmas. In Vatican City, thousands gathered in St. Peters square to hear Pope Francis clever his Christmas message. In Bethlehem, Christians attended Christmas service amid tight security measures after the recent wave of violence there. In China, despite new security alerts towards westerners in Beijing, Christmas was celebrated, as usual, with hundreds flocking to church. And in the U.K., the royal family attended the traditional Christmas day service, and the queen delivered her annual Christmas message. It was followed by a beautiful performance at St. James palace.


BOLDUAN: CNN senior Vatican analyst John Allen, he has details -- more details on Pope Francis's speech to the faithful around the world -- John.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Pope Francis today delivered the traditional Christmas "Urbi Et Orbi" message. That's a message directed to the city, meaning Rome, and also to the world.

Now, the pope's traditionally use this platform to issue a kind of 360 degree review of the global situation and that is very much what Pope Francis did today. The top note was a strong plea for peace in a series of global spots.

The pontiff mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war going on in Syria. He talked about Libya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine. Also called for a breakthrough in the peace talks in Colombia currently aiming to try to end the world's longest running civil war.

And these are all, of course, situations in which the pontiff has been personally involved, either out front or behind the scenes. As Europe grapples with the most significant refugee crisis it's faced since the Second World War, the pope also issued a strong note of solidarity with migrants and refugees, calling for passion for people fleeing violence and conflict, and calling on host nations to be generous in receiving and integrating them.

[11:10:08] The pope also in the context of a year in which terrorism has been one of the major themes around the world denounced what he called brutal acts of terror, including the November terrorist attacks in Paris. He tipped off a series of other social ills that kind of occupy his heart. He talked about child soldier. He talked about unemployment, trafficking in human persons.

And in the context of a special jubilee year of mercy that he's decreed for 2016, he also issued a strong plea, a special dose of mercy for prisoners. Visiting prisoners has been one of the hallmarks of his papacy.

So, essentially, what you saw today was a pontiff who very much aspires to be a peace pope, using the visibility afforded by one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar to try to raise his voice around the world in defense of peace and human dignity and that was very much the story from Rome here Christmas Day 2015.

BOLDUAN: John Allen, thank you so much.

Coming up for us, January raids. The Department of Homeland Security is planning to deport hundreds of immigrant families here illegally. We're going to get a live report. That's next.


BOLDUAN: New this morning, the Department of Homeland Security is planning raids on hundreds of families living in the U.S. illegally. "The Washington Post" is reporting the nationwide operation could begin as soon as early January. It's aimed at Central American immigrants who advocates say were fleeing violence in their home countries.

[11:15:02] The raids will target both adults and children who have already been ordered removed from the U.S. by an immigration judge.

White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is traveling with the president in Hawaii right now.

So, Michelle, what more are you hearing about this plan?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate. Well, the administration, the White House itself isn't responding directly to this. Remember this is something that is allegedly in the works, in the planning stage.

But it's not really inconsistent with what we've heard from the White House before. You almost have two sides to this because, you know, they've been saying they're going to use their prosecutorial discretion and target criminals really. But at the same time, people who've entered this country illegally and we've seen a surge over the past year and a half, that surge has now bumped up again, the majority of those people are, in fact, deported.

When you look at the numbers over the last fiscal year, it's about a quarter of a million people have been deported. But you look at years prior to that, and that's quite a low number when you compare it to something like 2012 when there were nearly half a million people deported.

But here's what the Department of Homeland Security is telling CNN at this point. "Immigration and Customs Enforcement focuses on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety, and border security. Our border is not open to illegal immigration, and if individuals come here illegally, do not qualify for asylum or other relief and have final orders of removal, they will be sent back consistent with our ideals and our values."

But, you know, the administration now hearing about his plan, others out there are criticizing them. We've heard from all three Democratic presidential contenders. Martin O'Malley calling the deportation "needless", saying the world is watching. We're hearing from Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to saying, you know, think about if these were your children, what would you do if you had to flee violence as they are in their country?

So, you know this is going to continue to be a firestorm. This has been a hot button issue that's really, you know -- the administration has taken criticism from both sides on this issue pretty consistently -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely right. No question we're already seeing it, how quickly this is going to be part of the political debate. Michelle Kosinski in Hawaii, Michelle, thank you so much.

Ahead, we are going to speak with a former top official, Department of Homeland Security about what is behind this push. What would be motivating it, the timing, and the impact. That is ahead.

Also this ahead -- while Donald Trump is the only one claiming credit, presidential candidates that we have mentioned on both sides wasted no time weighing in on what Michelle was just telling us. Reports of this new deportation plan. How this could now shake up the race just days before the Iowa caucuses. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:21:21] BOLDUAN: Welcome back.

We want to continue the discussion about the reports of this new deportation plan that the Obama administration could be putting in place. Homeland Security planning raids on hundreds of families living in the United States illegally, and these raids could begin as early as early January.

Let's get some perspective. Let's bring in CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. She's a former top official at the Department of Homeland Security.

So, Juliette, from what you have seen about this plan, about these raids that are planned, what do you think is motivating this push right now from your perspective?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, a couple of factors, and I think what we're hearing is sort of reflecting the challenges and immigration policy that the same administration could be accused of being too sympathetic and too harsh at the same time. What they mean is though is an increased flow of families from Central America. Minors who come over alone are granted a certain status by law because, of course, they're minors.

But families that come over, adults with children, have to go through a lawful asylum process to determine whether they are asylum seekers and whether they can be granted asylum. It appears at least from reports, although the department has not decided anything yet, that for those who do not qualify for asylum, that they will be deported back in the New Year.

BOLDUAN: And they're also and you're getting to it. There are some suggestions that the timing is, at least in part, link to a new spike in illegal immigrants coming into the country in just recent month. With that in mind, is this move, raids like this, is this an effective deterrent?

KAYYEM: Sometimes it can be, and I think, you know, what we have to remember is that waves of migration happen in spikes and then valleys. And so, when there tends to be a spike with increased flow, a lot of times deportations are necessary. If not only because you have people coming over unlawfully, but because you want to essentially say to those who might come to the United States, there is not automatic asylum.

And so, word tends to get out for those seeking to come here either for economic reasons or actually because of environmental reasons. We're starting to see in all this talk about climate change you're starting to see people move north, so to speak, because of significant droughts in Latin and Central America. So, I think this is the beginning of various migration patterns that might be linked to weather changes, actually.

BOLDUAN: Juliette, can you also weigh in on this? From the Department of Homeland security perspective, Donald Trump is already -- he is claiming credit for these raids saying that it's him talking about it and him drawing attention to this that is motivating kind of this push. You were a top official at DHS. Would politics play a role in this kind of a decision?

KAYYEM: Absolutely not. I think Donald Trump and others are forgetting how much enforcement has been going on under the Obama administration. Much to the criticism of various immigration rights groups who viewed that our administration is too harsh.

Immigration is now -- immigration enforcement is now down to net negative. In other words, more people are returning back in our southern border than coming up, and as you hear from a variety of people, border enforcement is incredibly strong, although not perfect. We certainly know that.

Basically immigration enforcement is tied to the flow of people. When there is an increased flow of people, detention and, of course, deportations are mechanisms and lawful tools that any administration can use and they've been used in the past.

[11:25:07] So, you know, there's -- no one can take credit for an increased migration pattern of those from Honduras or Central America. There's things going on in those countries that are leading people to leave.

BOLDUAN: All right. Juliette Kayyem, thanks so much. Always great to have you weigh in. I appreciate it.

KAYYEM: Happy holidays.

BOLDUAN: Thanks. You too.

So, I asked Juliette about it, but there's a whole lot of politics involved here. Or at least it will become political.

Here's how the candidates are responding already to this plan.

Bernie Sanders, he blasted the plan saying this, "We must take steps to protect children and families seeking refuge here. Not cast them out."

Donald Trump, very different reaction. As I mentioned, he is taking credit for the plan, tweeting this, "Wow, because of the pressure put on by me, ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE is to launch large scale deport raids. It's about time!"

Hillary Clinton tried to land somewhere in between, though, saying this, "It is critical that everyone has a full and fair hearing and that our country provides refuge to those that need it, and we should be guided by a spirit of humanity and generosity as we approach these issues.

Joining me now to discuss, the columnist for "The New York Times", Ross Douthat, CNN political commentator and former Obama administration official, Van Jones, and CNN political analyst and editorial director at "The National Journal", Ron Brownstein.

Guys, great to see you. Thanks so much for joining me.

So, Ron, let's get right into this. Even if the raids had nothing to do with Donald Trump's focus on immigration, it seems this could be smart politics to try and take credit for it.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, for him, sure. First of all, merry Christmas to you and everyone watching.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Look, I mean, for Bernie Sanders or Martin O'Malley, it is very easy to criticize this from the left. If you are the president, however, I think it is a very different calculation. As Donald Trump demonstrates, there are some very chilly winds blowing in the country, or portions in the country on attitude towards immigration and immigrants.

And those who support a humane and relatively welcoming policy have to also be clear that they are going to enforce the law because as you know, as your previous guest noted, ultimately you do not want to send a signal that there is no law enforcement. It is counter-productive even from the point of view of immigrant advocates because it encourages people to make a trip that is dangerous and shouldn't be made.

So, I think the president -- the administration has to walk a fine line. They do have to reassure Americans that the law is being enforced and the borders are not porous. So, I think it's a very different calculation, and Hillary Clinton is edging closer to that than she is to the kind of immediate condemnation that you would hear from someone running to her left.

BOLDUAN: Right. And, Van, the timing here could very much put Hillary Clinton in a tough spot. I mean, her campaign, obviously as we just read the statement, says she has concerns about the plan but don't go nearly as far as Bernie Sanders does.

Is she going to be able to get away with that? Kind of standing in the middle on this? Not going one way or the other?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, she's going to try to do that. First of all, I just -- it's very interesting to be in a situation that we are in now where you have President Obama being called the deporter in chief. A lot of people in Latino community -- two million people deported just under the first administration. Apparently nine times the rate of a Bill Clinton.

And yet, you have the right wing saying that's not enough. We want to be even tougher, even more harsh to people.

And let's not forget, the folks who are coming now, these people are fleeing violence. They're fleeing environmental stability. These are refugees. They're not come op to take your job. They're coming to save their children's lives. Somehow now refugees in America are not people fleeing violence. We

act like there are people bringing violence, which there's no evidence that this recent wave of folks from Central America are doing anything to make us less safe. We should be more open.

There will be a debate within the Democratic Party about whether we should be bowing and caving to this kind of fear-mongering or looking at actual statistics, data, and facts, and letting that guide us going forward.

So, Hillary Clinton is going to have a tough road to hoe on this because I think Latino community does not want to elect a second so- called deporter in chief.

BOLDUAN: Now, Ross, I want to get your take on something we were talking about, the calendar here. But I want to get your take on something differently relating to the political calendar.

For the very first time, as we're now looking into the New Year, for the first time in a very long time Iowa caucuses, they're late, relatively speaking. The past three were held in January, and in 2008 and '12, caucuses were held just after -- just two days after new years.

So, now, the candidates have all of this time until February 1st. For Republicans, who does that help? Who does that hurt?

ROSS DOUTHAT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean, mostly, it's just a conspiracy and something for us to talk about for an extra 30 days, right?

BOLDUAN: Or maybe people in Iowa actually enjoy their Christmas.

DOUTHAT: Well, that could be, too. But Iowans have such disproportionate political power, can't we force them to trade in some holiday cheer in exchange for exercising that power? But, no, ultimately, right now it probably helps the not Donald Trump candidates.