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Secretary of State Visits Mexico; Interview With Congressman Scott Taylor. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 22, 2017 - 15:00   ET



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BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hour two. Here we go. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you for being here.

I can tell you that right this very moment, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, and other Republicans are at the U.S.- Mexican border to take a look at what can and cannot be built when it comes to the wall.

And while they're on the border, President Trump's secretary of state will be crossing it for the first official U.S. trip to Mexico since the diplomatic dustup in January. Remember that? A meeting between President Trump and Mexico's president was canceled due to a disagreement over who will pay for the wall.

Secretary Rex Tillerson is set to join Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly this evening in Mexico City. And Mexicans are noting the Americans' arrival as coming just a day after U.S. memos had outlined a crackdown on immigration enforcement.

Moments ago, the White House painted a much rosier picture for this visit to Mexico.


QUESTION: Is this a cleanup job for the secretary? SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, I think that President

Pena Nieto and President Trump spoke. Again, the foreign minister has had several contacts with our staff.

I would argue that we have a very healthy and robust relationship with the Mexican government and Mexican officials. And I think they would echo that same sentiment. President Pena Nieto has echoed that as well. But I think the relationship with Mexico is phenomenal right now. And I think there's an unbelievable and robust dialogue between our two nations.


BALDWIN: Let's go straight to Polo Sandoval, who is at the border coverage Speaker Ryan's trip.

What have you learned about what they have seen, what they have done, what questions are they asking?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brooke, they often have referred to this as this fact-finding mission.

We haven't had the opportunity to speak directly to the speaker while he was here or has been here in South Texas. That is because authorities have kept both the press and the public at a very good distance away.

From our vantage point earlier today, we watched these two helicopters land at this park that essentially overlooks Mexico and the Rio Grande that divides two countries. It appeared to be Paul Ryan. It looked like Paul Ryan, but we still don't know if it was in fact Paul Ryan. And that is because the speaker's office has released little to no information about his first visit here to the border as speaker.

But what I can tell you is that several law enforcement sources on the ground tell us after he took a close look at some of the federal law enforcement assets here on the ground, he then was part of a boat tour essentially taken down the Rio Grande to see firsthand the dynamics of this debate really playing out here, because the reason why he came here to begin with is because this is after all the busiest stretch of border between Texas and California, especially since 2013.

This place here now leading the number in apprehensions of undocumented people that are making their way north over the Rio Grande. We understand right now he's meeting with several local officials here at a Border Patrol station before he is wheels up and continues with his trip.

But I can tell you these kind of trips, Brooke, they aren't rare here. I grew up here. I worked as a reporter here for years. We saw our share of dignitaries come and go. What is quite different here though is the extraordinary amount of work that's gone into keeping much of this trip quiet, including the agenda.

All we know is he landed in McAllen, Texas, and that by all accounts traveled here to this border park to take part in that tour. And we understand he will be heading out later today, so it will be interesting to see what the speaker and members of his staff are able to say in the hours or perhaps days ahead about what he saw during his time here in South Texas.

BALDWIN: Quickly, Polo, before I let you go, obviously immigration is a very serious issue and this wall, but I'm told to ask you was the speaker of the House riding a horse?

SANDOVAL: By all accounts, it seems that that was the case.

From our vantage point, we could only see where he landed, which is where those vehicles are way off in the distance. We understand that the Border Patrol's mounted unit essentially came here so he could get to meet them.

And from our vantage point with the technology we have and some of our colleagues and at least two of my law enforcement sources here, it all seems to suggest that, yes, he did take some time to jump on one of those Border Patrol horses before he then jumped on a heavily armored boat and then made his way down the Rio Grande.


BALDWIN: Planes, helicopters and horses. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much. Appreciate you on the border.

SANDOVAL: You bet.

BALDWIN: Meantime, President Trump's aggressive plan to immigration laws and Speaker Ryan's border trip today certainly have emotions running high in immigrant communities across the U.S. because for now much of what is to come is just uncertain.

CNN Washington correspondent Tom Foreman joins me from the magic wall in Washington.

Talk to me just about how many people, Tom, could be impacted here.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's the thing, Brooke. We don't really know.

Listen, this is what Donald Trump has talked about. He started off talking about all the people who were in the country illegally and then he rapidly shifted to what has been his essential claim, that he wants to get rid of all the people who are here illegally who have committed serious crimes or what he calls the bad ones.

This is on the face of it the same as the Obama administration, which also wanted to get serious criminals who are living here illegally out of the country. But there is a problem here. The problem here is perhaps in definition and perhaps in number.

Here are some points of reference. There are about 11 million, a little more than 11 million people in this country right now who came here on some undocumented status, according to most estimates out there. When Donald Trump talked about the people who are here who represent a threat, the number he is throwing around is two to three million people. Here's the problem. Homeland Security says it's a little bit below that, actually only about 1.9 million people.

So what do you do about this part in here, this million or so difference? Advocates for immigrants fear that either means that his numbers are completely wrong or what he is doing is fundamentally reassigning a value to who represents a significant threat.

And all sorts of people who might not be considered so serious or so violent suddenly are considered that way and crimes that were previously not considered serious crimes are suddenly serious. And that means millions of people who otherwise would not be fearful about deportation seriously really are -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: To the point of we don't know how many people are being impacted, do we even know when any of this is actually happening?

FOREMAN: We don't.

A lot of this is moving -- we are getting anecdotal evidence. We're hearing different reports, but we don't have any comprehensive

big data to tell us what is happening out there.

We do know the framework, though, and this is also important. Look what happened with illegal immigration in the country. It really was climbing quite some time. But then right around here, we hit the great recession. And when that happened, groups like Pew Research out there found basically it leveled off, some people kept coming, other people started leaving.

And this community in this country has been pretty stable for a number of years now. And that means whatever kind of enforcement he's putting forward out there, whatever form it takes is going to be dealing with much more stable families, communities and workplaces, because look at this.

The number of people in this country who have been here for 10 years or more who are undocumented used to be way down here. Now 66 percent of the people who are undocumented in this country have been here for around a decade or more. And only 14 percent have been here less than five years.

All of that's going to play into the concerns out there, Brooke, and the reaction once we figure out what he's actually doing.

BALDWIN: Yes. Tom Foreman, appreciate it. Thank you.

Town hall fury plaguing Republican lawmakers across the country? Just a short time ago, the White House yet again questioned the validity of those who are showing up.


SPICER: I think some people are clearly upset, but there's a bit of professional protester manufactured base in there.

But obviously there are people that are upset. But I also think that when you look at some of these districts and some of these things that it is not a representation of a member's district or an incident. It is a loud group, small group of people disrupting something in many cases for media attention, no offense. That necessarily just because there are loud doesn't necessarily mean that there are many.


BALDWIN: We heard from Sean. This is after the president tweeted this -- quote -- "The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually in numerous cases planned out by liberal activists. Sad."

Angry crowds? I want to show you and you can judge for yourself. This is a town hall in Virginia Beach hosted by Congressman Scott Taylor.


AUDIENCE: Do your job!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our current president questions objective reality.

REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: You guys want me to finish or not?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please allow the congressman to answer the question.

TAYLOR: I will come see you guys at your breakfast, no problem.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe the president should release his tax returns separate


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And separate himself from his business dealing that are a conflict of interest?

TAYLOR: I think it's an excellent question. It's a legitimate concern. I believe that...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the answer?

TAYLOR: You want to come up here?


BALDWIN: Congressman Scott Taylor, Virginia Beach Republican, with me now.

Congressman, nice to see you today. Welcome, sir.

TAYLOR: Good to see you. Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: My goodness. Listen, you showed up not once, but twice this week. And I know some of your Republican counterparts, they are saying thanks but no thanks, I know, to some of these town halls. So I just wanted to give you some credit for that.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

BALDWIN: You there you were Monday night, yes, Monday night, and last night. You got a third one tonight.

You tell me, has there been any particular person or question or anything to really make you stop and think on any particular issue?

TAYLOR: That's an excellent question.

We have a third one tonight, like you said. And you showed some video there where I actually mentioned the V.B. Virginia Beach Democrats and actual particular name, because I live here. I know folks here. And they were certainly some organization with them and some inciting shouts and everything.

And that's fine, no problem. There have been -- there are some folks who have come organically who have never been engaged before. And that's a good thing. It's a good thing that they're engaged. I think everybody should have a seat at the table.

I think shouting stops people from having that seat at the table, your neighbors. There have been some stories, I think, with the ACA that helped orient me to make sure that I'm looking out for certain things, for sure. There's also a lot of emotion and a lot -- like when they're questioning the mental fitness of the president, I mean, that's not a good question. You know what I mean?

I'm more than willing to engage in reasonable things. I'm not intimidated by shouting. It doesn't move me whatsoever. I have been through way worse than this. I think that's the wrong approach.

BALDWIN: Let me ask you on the ACA or on Obamacare, which keeps coming up, right, whether you're in Virginia or elsewhere.


BALDWIN: And just even back -- if you go back to mid-January and "The Washington Post" interviewed the president and he said at the time he was nearing completion of a plan. I'm getting different stories from Republicans on the Hill and when this actually happens.

Congressman, have you seen the plan?

TAYLOR: It's not that simple.

BALDWIN: It's not.

TAYLOR: There's a nuanced answer here, of course. And people don't want to hear that. And I will say, repeal and replace sounds like one thing, right? It sounds very quick. It sounds easy. It's not.

BALDWIN: But the president did say he had a plan. I'm just going by the president's words.

TAYLOR: Let me finish.


TAYLOR: It doesn't matter what -- I'm not in the executive branch. I'm in the legislative branch.

So, what I will tell you is, there's reconciliation. There's executive actions and then there's legislation. And it is imperative an important that my party, who overwhelmingly was sent across the nation into power, right? So, people have confidence in us. And I think we have the high ground here to deal with this.

But we should deal with it in a methodical, deliberate way that's responsible, that helps people, and doesn't hurt folks, like passing a bill 2,000 pages in the middle of tonight, which is irresponsible.

Listen, I understand that there's not a plan in place and there's discussion within our conference. That's a good thing. And people should care about that because it's so important. We need to get it right.

BALDWIN: I was talking to a woman last hour. I know she was Kentucky. You're in Virginia, but concerns -- she just kept saying over and over, I feel like I'm being lied to, they're lying. And I said who is the they?

And she said the politicians. There just seems to me -- there seems to be such a trust issue, Congressman Taylor.


BALDWIN: And just what would you say to people out there who feel like they can't trust you?

TAYLOR: That's an excellent question, because you have political rhetoric on both sides, quite frankly.

And, listen, I'm someone who is able, because of my background, my training, I think it's a duty for all leaders to see clarity in chaos and to be able to explain things and let people know.

Look, I put something on my Facebook and asked a question about the ACA, how did it help you, how did it hurt you? Nothing political, just the responses.

Overwhelmingly, the people who support it are concerned about preexisting conditions, which I support, and so does the Republican Party of keeping that in place obviously to help people. There's not a family out there that doesn't have somebody without preexisting conditions.

On the opposite side, the overwhelming majority and way more than the other side, quite frankly, was crushing premiums that are hurting families all across -- millions of them across this nation.

So, we have to deal with that as well, too. So I think it should be done slowly, methodically, deliberately. I think that's a good thing. I think Republicans should own that. They should own that saying, hey, look, we're not passing something super quickly. This is extremely important and we have to get it right.

BALDWIN: Let me just ask you more broadly on the folks who are showing up. Again, you have town hall number three tonight. And you have the White House and with the president's tweet and even Sean Spicer saying half of these people have valid issues, but half of them, he said, are some professional manufactured protesters.


How dangerous is that sort of language? Or do you agree with the president, with the White House on their criticism of these people?

TAYLOR: Well, I don't know where they're getting their data from. I'm not sure. I haven't spoken to them.

BALDWIN: But you have been there.

TAYLOR: I can only speak for my district.


TAYLOR: That's what I'm saying. I can speak for my district.

I tell you, sure, there's the local opposition party, faithful opposition has organized, has shouted, stuff like that. There are a couple of people who I can point them out to you who are trying to incite the crowd and make them shout.

That being said, there are also plenty of people who are organically concerned. They're concerned. They're coming out to these town halls to express these opinions. And I think that's great that they're concerned. And I want to hear them. I want them to have a seat at the table. And I want to listen to them. So, I want to hear them and listen to them, but not be shouted...


BALDWIN: I'm listening to you. And I hear your stand there. There are people there.

How dangerous is it to have the president lump all these people together as organized by liberal activists, which is precisely what he did in that tweet?

TAYLOR: Look, I don't agree with that statement, his statement. I don't agree with that. I don't agree with folks in the other party organizing things to

specifically shout people down. I think both of those things are dangerous. And it puts the safety of people who are just simply trying to express their concerns at risk.

So, I think both of those things, just like I have said with -- quite frankly, no offense -- but with the media and the White House as well too and sort of the warring things. I think those things are irresponsible.

I think that we need to tone down the rhetoric. Calm is contagious and so is the opposite. So, let's get calm.

BALDWIN: Well said, sir. I'm sure we will be there tonight. Thank you so much, Congressman Scott Taylor in Virginia.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up, is President Trump's political adviser undermining U.S. policy behind the scenes on the global stage? We have brand-new reporting from the State Department.

And who will lead the Democratic Party in the era of Trump? President Trump himself weighing in on that. Did he endorse a DNC candidate?

And, remember, don't miss tonight Dana Bash and Chris Cuomo moderating the big Democratic leadership debate here on CNN. Watch it, 10:00 Eastern here on CNN.



BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We have been talking a lot about these town halls happening across the country and among those "so-called angry crowds." I point you to Republican Congressman Dave Brat's town hall. This is from Blackstone, Virginia. He faced some pretty tough questions on health care, immigration, and climate change.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you deny climate change?

REP. DAVE BRAT (R), VIRGINIA: Do I deny climate change? No. The climate changes all the time.



BALDWIN: Why some of the boos? Might have something to do with what Congressman Brat said about his female constituents weeks ago. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BRAT: Since Obamacare and these issues have come up, the women are in my grill wherever I go. And they come up. When is your next town hall? And, believe me, it's not to give positive input.


BALDWIN: Well, here is a woman who responded with a sign that reads, "This grandmother drove 160 miles to be in your grill, Mr. Brat, and no one paid me to be here. We pay you to be here. You do your job."

One town hall participant, Julia Sweeney, was among the first to kick off the string of these town halls. She attended an hour-long town hall where California Republican Tom McClintock was barraged with questions on topics like health care and immigration.

So, Julia is with me now.

Julia, nice to have you on.

And just to set up, you went to this town hall. You were with your mom. You were with your grandmom. You all waited three hours just to make sure you could get in. Why was it so important for you all to show up?

JULIA SWEENEY, TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: I think it was really important, because there is a lot going on right now. And we all care so much about our communities.

So, we had heard it was going to be a big town hall. We wanted to make sure we could have our voices here. So, we got there bright and early so we could participate.

BALDWIN: I don't know if you heard what Sean Spicer just said. He was asked about how the president characterized some of these folks who have attended these town halls this week, the president suggesting that they've been organized by liberal activists.

Sean Spicer saying that these are -- some are upset. He says there's a hybrid. Some are upset, but there's some professional manufactured protesters in there.

I just have to ask you, just on balance, why did you ask the question you asked?

SWEENEY: Well, so I actually -- I was a teacher. I work in education technology.

So I originally intended on asking a question about education. But I ended up asking a question about the Muslim ban because it had not come up yet in the town hall and it needed to be addressed. We had a hate crime in Roseville just that week during the town hall.

There had been no statement by the congressman. And there are legitimate concerns that the impacts of these policies are not just what's happening on paper, but it's the ramifications throughout our communities, such as vandalism and various hate crimes.

BALDWIN: I got it.

But again just back to the president's point. I just -- I need to cross my T's, dot my I's. Were you told to show because a certain liberal organization wanted you to show up? Were you paid?

SWEENEY: No, I was not paid. And everyone that I have talked to, I have spoken with, none of them were paid.


And, you know, while I'm so flattered they think our questions and commentary are just so professional, I really am sick of this constant attack and attempt to delegitimize our concerns.

It's a complete distraction from the conversation we are trying to have with our members of Congress.

BALDWIN: You know, some of the members of Congress are showing up.

We just talked to one member of Congress in Virginia. He has his third town hall tonight, but some of these Republicans just aren't even showing up, including Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey. Constituents, though, they actually ended up hold interesting the town hall anyway, addressing an empty suit.

We got a picture up on the screen of an empty suit, just to prove a point here.

In Florida, a progressive group is planning -- quote -- "empty chair" town hall while Senator Marco Rubio travels to Europe on Senate business.

At least, Julia, your congressman showed up.

SWEENEY: You know, and I'm sure that my boss would say the same if I just showed up to my job.

But we all have a bit higher expectations for those that are supposed to be working for us. So while I recognize that Congressman McClintock is great to show up to engage with his constituents, I have a higher expectation.

And I would like to see him better engage with these town halls and start to take a leadership position within our communities, because our communities are not as polarized as it seems. And these are great opportunities to get people in line, to get out there, shake hands, find out the stories and get people talking to each other, because our members of Congress are certainly -- well, they're certainly in a position that we have to be working with and resisting and giving feedback.

But our fellow constituents, we need to be having these conversations. And I would like to see Congressman McClintock actually be a leader in having some of those. (CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Julia Sweeney, listen, at least people are having conversations in a lot of these town halls. We're talking to people like you. We're talking to these members of Congress.

I really appreciate your voice, Julia. Thank you so, so much.

SWEENEY: Thank you so much.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Just a short time from now, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to land in Mexico for meetings with high-level officials there, but his State Department is operating essentially in a cone of silence. Officials say that is indeed risky. Hear why next.