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Iraqi Forces Storm Mosul Airport & Military Base; Eight Candidates Vying To Be Democratic Party Chair; U.S. Secretaries to Meet with Mexican President Today. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired February 23, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:31:12] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We do have some breaking news for you right now.

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces storming Mosul's international airport and a nearby military base as they launch a large scale offensive to retake the western part of the city held by ISIS.

CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman is live in Irbil, Iraq, with all of the breaking details -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, this attack on the airport began early in the morning. And we understand from an Iraqi official who we can't mention his name because he hasn't been authorized to speak to the media, that the airport is now 100 percent under the control of Iraqi federal police.

In addition to that action on the airport, in the adjacent Harslani (ph) military base, the Iraqi forces have entered that area and are currently fighting with ISIS. In addition to several other neighborhoods to the southwest of the western part of the city.

In addition to that, we are learning from sources inside Mosul, that this morning, there was a coalition airstrike on the building that houses many ISIS fighters and their families. That was hit, apparently, there were more than 100 people inside the building. We understand that ISIS is now going from house-to-house in the area, looking for cell phones because they fear that local residents have been providing information to the Iraqi military, and the coalition -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Please stay safe where you are. Appreciate the reporting.

So, Democrats out there, who is the best person to lead your party as chair? Republicans out there is the enemy reorganizing the way you have to worry about. We have the answers from the big Democratic DNC debate last night, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [06:36:39] CUOMO: Eight candidates vying to lead the Democratic Party laying out their vision for its future in a CNN debate I moderated with the one and only Dana Bash.

There was a lively exchange about the uphill battle that's facing Democrats and the Trump administration. One candidate even saying he believes that there are already grounds to impeach President Trump. Is that the way forward for the party?

Here are the highlights.


REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Donald Trump has already done a number of things, which legitimately raise impeachment.

TOM PEREZ, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: The Democratic Party needs to take the fight to Donald Trump.

ELLISON: Donald Trump, as deceptive as he was, did say he was for jobs, trade, infrastructure and protecting Social Security. That's our message. That's what we do. That's why he beat all those other Republicans because he stole a Democratic message.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: One thing you can do to better engage millennials would be to put a 35-year-old in as chair of the DNC.

SALLY BOYNTON BROWN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IDAHO DEMOCRATIC PARTY: This is what the people in our country are demanding our systems go towards, something that's' collaborative, something that's truly inclusive and something that's transparent.

SAM RONAN, U.S. AIR FORCE VETERAN: The DNC has never allowed outsiders or brand-new people to rise through the rank. It has always been an insider game.

BUTTIGIEG: This idea that this is going to be a factional struggle between the Bernie wing and the establishment ring is missing the point. We've got to take it to the real opposition.

JAIME HARRISON, CHAIRMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: All of the people that we are fighting for each and every day don't have time for these purity tests.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You went out to dinner, did you cut a deal?

ELLISON: We -- no, we cut no deal. But what we did say is unity for this party is so essential.

PEREZ: A unified Democratic Party is not only our best hope, it's Donald Trump's worst nightmare.

CUOMO: The metaphor at the dinner was that, well, who had a seat at that table? Is it important that the Democratic Party in rebuilding with whoever their new chair is recognizes that, that there is a sense there that it hasn't been equal playing field for everybody in the party?

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, I'm glad you said that, because we have got to resume the mantle of being the party of fairness.


CUOMO: Excellent question. Let's pick up on that point and bring back our panel. David Gregory, Abby Phillip and David Drucker.

David Gregory, a very interesting aspect last night was these fundamental questions, who are you? What are you about? And how are you going to win back your base and expand? Easy to say, hard to answer. That's why there was a lot of default to what we heard during the campaign of going to Trump and talking about unity.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And I think at the heart of that question is this business of whether Trump is a legitimate president in the eyes of a lot of Americans, particularly those who oppose him.

And so again, this is not just an ideological fight, although it's partly that if you look at the unity that Trump has among Republicans is legitimacy, it's the social fabric of the country. It's rights of citizens. It's who are we as Americans.

I think one of the primary challenges to the Democratic left is over- interpreting the election. Was it some kind of fundamental realignment? All of the things that were true that President Obama achieved, getting out younger voters, minority voters, women, that's still true. The demographics of the country are still trending towards the Democratic Party.

Will they hurt themselves or help themselves by this kind of soul searching?

[06:40:02] I don't know the answer to that, but I think that's very much in play.

CAMEROTA: And, Abby, how important is the DNC chair to lead the party? I mean, there are all these other voices between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama, who knows what role he'll play, who know what is if any role Hillary Clinton will play?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I would argue that this DNC chairmanship is not as important as Democrats are making it out to be. They've devoted an enormous amount of time to this process, partly because it needed to seem a lot more open than the perception that the Democratic primary was, quote/unquote, "rigged" or they set things up, so that it was easier for certain candidates to rise, et cetera.

But at the end of the day, political parties are waning in their influence. The Democratic Party is no exception to that. And fundamentally, what the 2016 election exposed was that top-down organizing, that party-based structures are not sufficient to win an election. What is needed, rather, is more grassroots motivation. And what the DNC party chair can do is encourage that.

But they can't create that. I think that's one of the sort of elephants in the room last night was that nobody can really say, how do you get the sort of genuine feeling to bubble up from the bottom up? It's hard to explain that, it's hard to manufacture that.

What they can offer is leadership. But they can't promise that any one of these people can create that.

GREGORY: But can I just interject? I do think that grassroots organization is so key and the DNC chair is in a position to build that scaffolding. And that's what's been missing from the left.

CUOMO: Well, look, and you know who would agree with you, David Gregory? Reince Priebus. You know, we heard from him all along, when Trump started to move the numbers, he said, hey, hey, don't write us off on this, by the way. We have been out there for years field organizing, and creating situations on the ground the GOP didn't have before and the states that matter, even if we're not sure we're going to win there. And sure enough, it paid off.

David Drucker, last night they were going strong until midnight because they feel so strongly that this person, while traditionally, a logician, you know, logistics and planning and managing, I mean, is going to be a real voice of opposition to the president of United States. And they were framing the discussion of who is that right voice in that context.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and I think that's actually a big mistake. I think what they need is somebody who is going to focus on party building an organizing and fundraising, so that policy-makers in Washington, candidates who are on the ballot in 2018 have the apparatus they need so that they can take advantage of any opportunity that comes their way because of the political atmospherics of the election cycle.

So, if Trump's approval ratings are low, you can get good Democrats to run for office, they need a party supporting them.

When I talked to Democrats in Washington, one of the things they tell me is that they feel like the Democratic National Committee has become irrelevant, because it doesn't do a good job of electioneering. And so, two things -- the party needs to get better at that. And then they also have to figure out how to appeal to voters who have historically voted Democrat but felt pushed out by cultural issues. None of the candidates last night were answering that.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for walking us through all of this.

CUOMO: All right. Two Trump officials getting a chilly (AUDIO GAP). That's not a shocker. This is a tough deal for Tillerson and Kelly to mend fences, no pun intended, in Mexico with Trump's new immigration actions in the offering. We're going to look at how this dynamic needs to go, next.


[06:47:47] CAMEROTA: So, if you go outside today, you may think that Punxsutawney Phil is not the most reliable predictor. Because warm temperatures have invaded the Northeast, making it feel much more like spring and winter.

Chad Myers -- I mean, did Punxsutawney Phil get this wrong?



MYERS: Completely blew it.

Seventy-four in D.C. this afternoon, temperatures are going to be nice all across the country. Two dozen places will break record highs today, all the way from Ohio down to the Gulf Coast. Now, there is warm air on one side, a snowstorm on the other. So, Punxsutawney Phil did get it right from Minneapolis, there will be a dozen inches of snow just to the south of the city for tomorrow, but warm air across the northeast stays here for the next few days.

There's a snow storm in the Mideast, all the way up toward Duluth, potential for severe weather tomorrow in Indiana and Ohio. But the temperatures remain nice all way through the week. Finally cooling down for you, Chris, up in New York on Sunday.

But I am going fly fishing in the Chattahoochee today, and I'm opening an invitation to you, Chris. I know you're in town. I'll take you.

CUOMO: Well, Chad Everett, I appreciate that very much. I happen to be very close to you. As you know, I'm in Atlanta.

This is a massive place. For all I know, you could be right next to me, you could four miles away.

Next time, brother, I've got to take a rain check because I have to take back up on North. But I'd love to fish there an time, you know that.

March Madness is in the air. Syracuse and Duke playing a thriller last night.

Andy Scholes, another amazing assignment monitoring another awesome event.


You know, going into last night's game, you know, Syracuse on the bubble in terms of making it to the NCAA tournament. You know, they needed to beat Duke to keep hope alive.

I tell you what? This game, it came down to the final seconds. We're tied at 75, Blue Devils had a chance to take the lead right here, but they missed the shot. The Orange are going to get the rebound and then this happens next. John Gillon, the buzzer beater, not sure he called glass, but nonetheless, Syracuse gets the big win 78-75 and, of course, all of the students would rush the court.

All right. Tom Brady, Super Bowl jersey, it's still missing. Yesterday, Brady posted this hilarious suspect board t Instagram. On it, you see suspects like Lady Gaga, Gollum from Lord of the Rings, his own teammate Julian Edelman.

[06:50:04] Brady even put the creepy picture of himself from that courtroom sketch during deflate-gate, Alisyn. So, Brady pretty rattled when the jersey originally went missing. But now, it looks like he is at least having some fun with it.

CAMEROTA: There you go, I think that's the best policy of how to approach that.

All right. Andy, thank you very much.

So, Mexico is slamming President Trump's immigration guidelines as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pays a visit. Will he be able to smooth things over?

Tony Blinken is here next on how this is going to go.



SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would argue that we have a very healthy and robust relationship with the Mexican government and Mexican officials. 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 is an unbelievable and robust dialogue between our two nations.


CAMEROTA: All right. That was White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer calling U.S.-Mexico, the relationship phenomenal.

This as two cabinet secretaries are in Mexico on what is described as a fence-mending mission.

[06:55:01] Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Chief John Kelly will meet with the Mexican president today. Their visit complicated by President Trump's new immigration enforcement actions.

Joining us now to help us walk through all of this is CNN global affairs analyst Tony Blinken. He served as deputy secretary of state under President Obama.

Good morning, Tony.

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Good morning, Alisyn. CAMEROTA: So, what is Rex Tillerson and Secretary Kelly, what are

they walking into today?

BLINKEN: Well, this is tough. I mean, if the relationship with Mexico is robust and phenomenal, I'd hate to see what it looks like when Mr. Spicer calls it bad because this is about as tense as it has been in recent memory.

And, Alisyn, we're not going to mend fences by trying to build a wall and sticking the Mexicans with the bill. And we're certainly not going to mend fences by continuing to demonize them over sending criminals to the United States, over trade, and certainly not with this new immigration order, which potentially could send millions of people back towards Mexico or at least try to do that.

CAMEROTA: And, by the way, it can send people to Mexico who are not necessarily Mexicans. Any Central American country -- I mean, according to this new immigration order, if you are Guatemalan and you made it across the U.S. border, if you're El Salvadoran, you are going back to Mexico.

Here is how the Mexicans responded to that notion. The Mexican foreign minister said, "I want to know in the most emphatic way that the Mexican government and the people of Mexico do not have to accept measures unilaterally impose on the government by another government."

So, are you sensing that Mexico is starting to speak out against some of the things that they have been hearing -- the rhetoric that they have been hearing from the Trump administration?

BLINKEN: Very much so. And this is stuck in their crow for a long time, going back to the campaign. But, Alisyn, you make a very important point. You know, net migration between the United States and Mexico has been negative. That is more people are going back to Mexico than are coming from Mexico to the United States over the last eight or nine years.

And to the extent there is a migration issue coming north, it is actually from Central America and there, ironically, Mexico already is the wall, because it is preventing a number of Central Americans from trying to come to the United States. We need that kind of cooperation with Mexico. We need to do it in a humane way, and, of course, we need to help Central America so that it builds robust economies and people stay at home and crime goes down.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, explain how this works. You have been, obviously, in and around the State Department for years, what happens when Secretary of State Tillerson starts having conversations with the president of Mexico today? What message does he bring to the president of Mexico?

BLINKEN: Well, I think and expect the secretary of state will bring a more positive message, a desire to work cooperatively with Mexico. Hopefully, he is saying to the Mexicans, nothing about you without you. That is we have to tackle these issues that we have together together. And in particular, look, our countries are so intertwined. So many people working together, so many Mexican-Americans close links of family, of culture. We have to work closely together.

Now the challenge is for Secretary Tillerson is, even if he says the right things to the Mexicans, what are the Mexicans hearing? Do they think they are hearing what is actually the policy of the United States? Is the secretary speaking for the president? That's the challenge that he faces, because there is a sense that he may say one thing and the next day the president is tweeting something entirely different.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Tony, I want to ask you what you think is going on at the State Department, because Rex Tillerson has been on the job now for more than three weeks, yet, there has not been a State Department briefing. We haven't we heard much from Rex Tillerson. I think the last briefing was January 19th, in other words, during the last waning hours of the Obama administration.


CAMEROTA: Why -- is this just a different style or why do you think there has been virtual silence?

BLINKEN: Well, you know, Alisyn, Secretary Tillerson made a good first impression. His first day at the department, he spoke to all the employees. He said exactly the right things. He said it in the right way. So, there was a lot of hope I think coming out of that first day.

But since then, it has been radio silence. As you said, there hasn't been a State Department briefing in this administration. That's a terrible loss for U.S. diplomacy. This one of the most important vehicles we have for explaining our policies, for holding ourselves accountable to the media and to the world. We need to get back to that.

The secretary hasn't been in key meetings, whether it's at the White House or even abroad.

CAMEROTA: And why not? I mean, why not? What's your thinking on this?

BLINKEN: So I think this really goes to the dysfunction we seen so far at the National Security Council. It hasn't been operating effectively. It hasn't brought people together around the same table to debate the policy, to decide the policy and then have everyone go out and speak with one voice about the policy.

That means if are you the State Department, you're not quite sure what to say, because you don't know what the policy is. My hope is that the new security advisory, General McMaster, will get his arms around it. And part of that means having a regular order, having a regular process, but it also means making sure that all of these parallel structures that have sort of filled the vacuum in the absence of the NSC, including this initiative led by Mr. Bannon going around the NSC to work on foreign policy, that has to stop.

CAMEROTA: Yes. BLINKEN: The NSC has to be at the heart of things.

CAMEROTA: I want to touch on what you just brought up, and that is that there is reporting to CNN -- Elise Labott, our global affairs correspondent, has reporting that Steve Bannon did an end run basically --