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Travel Ban's Toll on Syrian Families; Democrats Fight Travel Ban; Supreme Court Announcement; Actor Raises Money for Refugees. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired January 30, 2017 - 08:30   ET


[08:30:00] BRANDON FRIEDMAN, WORKED WITH HAMEED DARWEESH AS LT. IN U.S. ARMY: Hameed Darweesh in 2003 when I was in Iraq. I was in the 101st Airborne Division. And he was one of the first Iraqis to sign up to help us. This was when we were doing patrols all the time. It was very dangerous. And this is a guy who is absolutely fearless. He would have done anything for us.

And so to see him finally get the opportunity to come over here with his family, after everything he had done for us, and to see him almost get turned away, it's just -- it's astonishing that we could treat someone like that who had done so much for this country and for our service members who serve overseas.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Was he detained for 19 hours? What happened while he was at the airport?

FRIEDMAN: Yes, I don't know everything that happened. I think it was about 17 hours. Might have been 19. I'm not sure. But they -- when he got into the airport, they allowed his family to leave after a short time and they kept him. And for a long time we didn't even know what was happening. But, you know, a lot of groups got spun up and tried to get him out of there, which is what he was entitled to. He really deserved to come out.

CAMEROTA: And so what did he tell you after this experience? What were his thoughts?

FRIEDMAN: Well, he's pretty upbeat about it. I mean, you know, he's been through a lot. His family's been through a lot. But he's keeping a -- you know, he's keeping a good attitude about it. He's very glad to be here. He's appreciative. And he's handled it with a lot more grace than probably I would have.

CAMEROTA: Kate and Melina, I want to bring you guys in. The last time we saw you, we had visited with a Syrian refugee family in New Jersey. We went with you all to visit with Miriam and Fidel. Here they are. They made us a delicious lunch, of course, as we all remember. They are here after suffering the horrors of Syrian war. They have their four young sons who were traumatized in Syria. What has their response been to hearing that now Syrian refugees are banned?

KATE MCCAFFREY, PROFESSOR, MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, I think that one of the things that the family draws our attention to is the fact that this is a refugee -- this is a situation that affects refugee families. And the family has four young children. They were displaced. They fled bombings, sniper fire. They were in Jordan for a number of years. And this is -- when we talk about banning Syrian refugees, really we're talking about kids. There's about 50 percent of the global refugee population are children. And in the United States it's proportionally more because our refugee policy emphasizes families. So -- and our experience on the ground in Elizabeth, we see probably about 75 percent of the refugees there are children.

CAMEROTA: And, look, you both have so much experience with this because you have dedicated much of your -- all of your free time to taking care of these folks and helping them get situated here in the U.S. So, Melina, when you hear people say, but I'm worried about the vetting, there isn't enough vetting, we don't know who's coming in, what's the response?

MELINA MACALL, PROFESSOR, WILLIAM PATTERSON UNIVERSITY: The vetting that the refugees undergo is some of the most stringent vetting of anybody who enters this country. It can take up to two years of vetting, not only by the United States, should they be coming here, but also the United Nations high commission. They have to provide paperwork, if possible. And to get through all of that and then come here it is quite a feat in and of itself.

CAMEROTA: So what do these families think now that the U.S. has changed its policy towards them?

MCCAFFREY: These are families that have been through an awful lot already. And I think what's really hurtful is the feeling unwelcome here and, secondly, that this is a policy that is dividing families. Because everybody we know has family, has relatives back in Syria, Jordan, and they are devastating because this will undermine efforts to reunite families.

CAMEROTA: What has -- have you talked to Miriam and Fidel, who we came to know so well? Have -- how are they doing?

MACALL: Well, we saw Miriam over the weekend. She was helping provide food for a celebration at our local synagogue. And --

CAMEROTA: Because you have a whole interfaith community. I mean it's Muslim, it's Jewish, it's Christian, it's everybody there together all eating dinner -- you know, you all break bread together and it's a beautiful experience.

MACALL: It is. And, you know, the faith that we're looking for is the faith in humanity. You don't need to subscribe to any particular religion to join and participate in our events. We're looking for people to connect.

CAMEROTA: Lieutenant, what do you think the answer is here?

FRIEDMAN: Well, the president needs to rescind the executive order. Right now this is a moral failing on our part. It's not what America is all about. And, in fact, it's making us less safe. So I would like to see -- CAMEROTA: How so? But when you say -- I mean we hear -- we keep hearing that, that it's making us less safe. Obviously the terrorists don't care about executive orders. Why do you think that this is actually heightening the jeopardy (ph)?

[08:35:00] FRIEDMAN: Well, they -- well, they do, because they can use it. It's a propaganda tool for them. They can use it now to go back into their communities in Syria and Iraq and tell people in those communities that Americans don't like Muslims and that we're waging a war on their religion. And that's not what we're doing at all. But that's the message this sends.

Also, this hamstrings American troop's ability to work with people on the ground there because when they don't feel like we're going to have their back, which this executive order implies that we don't, when they don't feel like we have their back, they have no incentive to work for us or to help us. And that makes our troops less safe. And if our troops are not safe overseas, we're not safe here.

CAMEROTA: What message do you think this sends to the Syrian families that you work with?

MCCAFFREY: That they're not welcome. That we're not a land of liberty. I mean they live -- they live within miles of the Statue of Liberty. That's our national identity. And yet they're being told that they don't belong.

CAMEROTA: Kate and Melina, thank you very much for all the work you do. Thank you for sharing the stories with us. Lieutenant, thank you very much. Obviously we will be following all of the developments over the course of this week.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Alisyn.

A lot of people say they don't like this executive order just placed by the president. But what can be done about it? Democrats say there is something they can do. They believe they can draft a bill to reverse the ban, but can they pass anything like that? We'll get "The Bottom Line" with David Gregory, next.


[08:40:26] CUOMO: Democrats in Congress proposing legislation to overturn President Trump's travel ban. Senator Chuck Schumer announcing he's planning to ask for a vote to repeal the executive order tonight. Will that work?

Let's get "The Bottom Line" with CNN political analyst David Gregory.

The president of the United States just tweeting, "if the ban were announced with a one-week notice" -- this goes to criticism that this was done rashly and you wouldn't have gotten people caught in the air if you'd taken some time to vet this policy -- "the bad, in quotes, would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad dudes out there."

His choice of words aside, David Gregory, that is not how the immigration vetting works right now. You don't get to get in here in a free pass if you act quickly, right?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, exactly. And the notion that there aren't vetting procedures in place for people who pose any kind of threat is, of course, fiction. We know this, that there's not blanket racial profiling, but there are measures that are taken if you have hits in the system based on a composite that would be a threat. That has been the case since 9/11. So the idea that you can come from a country that potentially poses a terrorist threat and just waltz into the country is, of course, not accurate. He's putting a blanket ban for now on Syrian refugees, which is, as you've talked about all morning long, doesn't speak to any particular nature of --

CUOMO: And then he said that Christians from Syria would be given preference and he questioned some statistics that cloud the reality about Christian immigration into the country.


CUOMO: But then says it's not a Muslim ban, even though he says he would give priority to Christians.


GREGORY: Yes, and there's another point, too, which is, look how rashly this was put into effect.

CUOMO: Right.

GREGORY: And it's not about warning potential bad actors who want to come into the country. It's your own government. It's your own advisers. It's border patrol. It's everyone who has to actually execute on this policy. It's not just Democrats. It is Republicans who say that this is a vetting system that wasn't properly vetted. So part of this was a rush to fill a campaign promise. Tom Friedman said earlier on the program, to create a buzz among his supporters. That's not good policy and that's not consistent with American values.

CAMEROTA: So, David, let's talk about the Democrat's plan now in response. We've heard from Senators Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein. They're both going to be introducing legislation. But, again, I mean we know the numbers and the math. Can Democrats do anything?

GREGORY: Well, they're going to make an argument here. I mean let's remember, as a legal matter, that the president has wide discretion here in terms of determining what is a national security threat. I can tell you that the legal community in Washington and around the country is mobilized to protect refugees, protect those who are caught up in this and to make legal challenges. So the courts may pick apart part of this ruling. And I think then the role of Congress is to start to make an argument. I think Democrats feel they'll get some Republicans on their side to

reverse all or part of this, or to take a stand on what exactly we're trying to counter here. What is the threat that you're trying to counter? And it seems to me that this was a rash decision and order that doesn't speak to the nature of the terrorist threat that the country actually faces.

CUOMO: This is about fear, not facts, that is clear.

David Gregory, what do you think's going to happen with this SCOTUS nominee this week?

GREGORY: Well, we've seen from the Trump team going back to the campaign, they like to do a lot. They don't work off of a script. If they want to change the subject, they know how to do that. We can certainly see that coming to play this week with a Supreme Court pick. They're ready to do it this week. They like the flurry of activity. There's no question. President Trump said, I'm going to come in, I'm going to get stuff done. He's been doing that. And he's -- you know, every time he ticks off the media or the Democrats or even the international community, I think he likes that. And those around him like that.

So I think we get a conservative pick this week. As I've talked to people in the judiciary and people who know Supreme Court justices, you know, there's a view that he's got a strong stable of picks here and he's even apparently getting advice not to pick too much of a fight with Democrats here and to go with a good, strong conservative choice who can be confirmed.

CAMEROTA: David, this just in. President Trump has just tweeted that he will be announcing his pick tomorrow at 8:00 p.m.

GREGORY: There you go.

CAMEROTA: So want to put any wagers on who he will be announcing, naming?

GREGORY: You know, I -- I wouldn't because I don't know enough to pin it down other than some of the reporting out there that's indicated that Pryor might be seen as too conservative. Note, too, the timing, the fact that he wants to make this in prime time. So this will be a -- this is, look, a major presidential decision. This affects the future of the court for a generation at least. This is a big decision and I think this is also something he can do to really court the conservative base. That part of his base that got him here.

[08:45:31] CUOMO: It's a big deal. It will be a nice distraction from this --

GREGORY: That's right.

CUOMO: Because the media will certainly cover that. And this was a good distraction from his voter fraud executive order that he was going to do last Friday --


CAMEROTA: I love -- what we're distracting ourselves from.

CUOMO: When we had the man on who supposedly is the basis for his opinion, who did not hold up very well under scrutiny.

GREGORY: Real quick. Also, look to see what Democrats do on this choice, right? I mean they're still stinging from the defeat of Garland because he never even got a hearing. Do they really want to try to mount an opposition? My view is that Democrats want to fight everything right now, and it may force McConnell's hand to try to get rid of the filibuster, make it a simple majority.

CAMEROTA: OK, David Gregory, thank you very much.

GREGORY: You're welcome.

CAMEROTA: All right, so an actor who put his career on hold to work in the Obama White House is taking a stand. Up next, Kal Penn tells us how he turned a racist message into a fundraiser for refugees.


CAMEROTA: So the actor and producer Kal Penn is just one of many voices speaking out against the Trump travel ban. Over the weekend, Penn -- he also worked in the Obama White House, by the way -- well, he received this message on Instagram telling him basically that he did not belong here in America, but I'm phrasing it in a much more delicate way than that person did.

[08:50:16] CUOMO: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Penn responded by raising more than $500,000 for Syrian refugees. Kal Penn joins us now.

Hi, Kal.

KAL PENN, ACTOR/FILM PRODUCER: Hey, How are you? Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: Doing well.

So somebody tweeted you a disgusting -- or whatever, put on Instagram, a disgusting message. And then how quickly did you decide, I can work with this?

PENN: Well, to -- I mean people tweet ridiculous things all the time, right, or comment on Instagram posts. And I kind of saw this and I thought, we're all feeling really, I think, inspired to do the right thing. And the women's march was a great example of coming together and standing up against the sort of tyranny that we're experiencing right now.

And, look, I'm a pretty privileged guy, right? But I was reading that comment thinking, what about the 14-year-old me or the kids who look like me out there who don't have the luxury of this kind of platform. I'm like, maybe we can raise $2,500 and show guys like that that we're better than this because I know we're better than this. And so I just set up a (INAUDIBLE) page and the next thing you know it's over $25,000 and it goes to $5,000 and then it goes to $25,000 and it's -- I -- I mean all I did was put up a page, right? It just speaks to the tens of thousands of people who felt the same way I did and said let's help some refugees out.

CAMEROTA: At last count, as of this moment, $516,000.

PENN: Man.

CUOMO: And the money -- look, and the money is necessary.

PENN: Oh, wow.

CUOMO: So feel good about that. The need is still very great. Let's take off your actor hat and put on your policy wonk hat for a second because you worked in this area and you did work in the Obama administration. The president of the United States just put out a tweet that, one, calls this executive order a ban. We've been getting a lot of pushback this morning from Trump supporters saying don't call it a ban.

CAMEROTA: Well he says it's a travel ban.

CUOMO: He just called it a ban. He said if the ban were announced.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Travel ban.

CUOMO: But I'm saying, it's a ban. It's not a moratorium. It's not just a delay. It's a ban. That's what it is. Call it what it is. That the bad would rush into the country if he had given any notice. That bad dudes, as he calls them, would have rushed in. That's not how our vetting works. How do you think the misinformation should be dealt with in terms of helping people deal with the real fear about Muslim extremism?

PENN: Well, you just had service members on who I think articulated this really well. I think what the president is saying and doing is completely ridiculous. Who are the bad dudes who are miraculously coming in, you know, with ten hours' notice? Is it the Army interpreters we detained yesterday, over the weekend? I mean these are folks who saved American soldiers' lives. Are those the people who are the bad dudes? I mean I find that insulting, frankly, just as an American citizen that you would infer that anybody who helped our soldiers stay alive are somehow bad dudes.

We have a vetting process in place. America has been a place that welcomes people from around the world. We do it safely. We do it well. None of the countries that he targets in this ban are countries that were involved in 9/11. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are not included. It just so happens that the president has property investments in both of these countries. I mean you don't even have to read between the lines on how ridiculous this is. It makes us less safe, which I know you guys have talked about earlier today. And, thankfully, you have tens of thousands of people who are rallying around saying, this is not who we are as Americans. We're not standing up for this. And I'm hoping what, you know, what the senators are doing today on The Hill will help get rid of this executive order.

CAMEROTA: So last night it was the SAG Awards and this came up. And there were lots of various celebrities who used their platform to talk about this. Maybe we have a clip that we can show you. I hope so. Watch this.


ASHTON KUTCHER, ACTOR: Good evening fellow SAG Aftra (ph) members and everyone at home and everyone in airports that belong in my America.

JULIA LOUIS DREYFUS, ACTRESS: This immigrant ban is a blemish and it is un-American.

TARAJI P. HENSON, ACTRESS: This story is about what happens when we put our differences aside and we come together as a human race.

KERRY WASHINGTON, ACTRESS: A lot of people are saying right now that actors shouldn't express their opinions when it comes to politics. But the truth is, actors are activists no matter what because we embody the work and humanity of all people.


CAMEROTA: Kal, what do you think about that? Does it help or hurt when privileged celebrities take a stand on these awards shows?

PENN: I don't know. I mean a reality TV celebrity just tweeted about a Supreme Court pick. So I feel like that conversation has shifted significantly now that we have one as a president. But I think everybody should speak out. I mean, look, I think if -- if you just go back to just, as an actor, right, setting up this Crowd Rise page for Syrian refugees. We've had people from all 50 states who have donated, from 44 countries. I think everybody has a voice right now. Everybody is speaking out. You've had, you know, people participating in the women's march, people who are congregated at airports to support the folks who were being detained over the weekend. It's kind of a beautiful thing and it's an opportunity for everybody, whether you're a celebrity or not, frankly, to raise your voice and make sure that we don't stand for what's happening in our names right now.

[08:55:08] CUOMO: Hey, Kal, what's your message out there to, as you said eloquently earlier, people who look like me who say, wow, they hate me in this country. They really do believe that I'm a terrorist and that's it, just a function of my faith. That's it. I don't care how they word it, that's what's going on. What do you say to them?

PENN: Well, it's not true. I mean that's not the America that I grew up in and it's not the America that we have. And if you just look at -- you know I've -- mentioning kind of this donor page alone, most of the donations were small dollar donations. They're from, like I said, all 50 states. I mean these are Americans who are really coming out and saying, I want to show with ten bucks that this is not who we are. I want to show with a $25 donation this is not who we are. And if you're in one of those small towns, I think, you know, you're finding a lot of comfort online in a place where, you know, we're used to seeing negatives like bullying and things like that. Now you're looking -- you're turning on the TV and seeing millions of people rallying around and supporting, knowing that we are not that negative country. That we're -- we're so much better and greater than that. It's pretty inspiring for me. I don't know.

CAMEROTA: I don't suppose you've heard from that guy -- yes, it is inspiring. I don't suppose you've heard back from that guy who said you didn't belong in this country.

PENN: No. No. I think I'm instead focusing on the 12,000 amazing people who brought the pot up to $500,000. I mean that's the -- you know, I like to focus on the positive. I like to -- you know, look, I think this is one of the lessons we learned from Barack and Michelle Obama, when they go low, we go high, and there's so much power and beauty in turning something hateful into love.


PENN: And that's sort of what I feel we're surrounded by right now, which is an amazing thing.

CAMEROTA: Kal Penn, thanks so much for joining us.

PENN: Thank you. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: Good to talk to you.

CUOMO: All right, "Newsroom" with Carol Costello is going to begin right after a short break. Have a good morning.

CAMEROTA: See you tomorrow.