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Flynn Offers Testimony; Trump Comments on Freedom Caucus; Biden on 2016 Campaign; Refugees Filling Gaps; Two Dems Back Gorsuch. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 31, 2017 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In our elections, would that, in your view, be tantamount to treason?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think you would have to gauge exactly the circumstances. You know, there's one thing to have a conversation. It's another thing to plot together. But I think it would be -- it would be something that that individual would have to be held accountable.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I should note, I mean, you ran a campaign against John McCain.

AXELROD: I did. I did. But you know something, one of the things that's happened to our politics I think is very, very concerning is that we've lost the ability to disagree with each other and still respect each other. And one of the things I try and do in my podcasts, what I'd like to do in these broadcasts, is establish the idea that we can come from different places politically and still admire each other, respect each other as people who are in the arenas, people who love this country. And that was why I wanted to sit down with John McCain.

But what he said there, Poppy, is very, very important because I think that's the hinge of this whole thing. We know that the Russians did what they did. The question is, did anybody coordinate with them?

HARLOW: Right.

AXELROD: Did the campaign or did they not know what was going to happen? We know Roger Stone kind of tipped his mitt as to some of the -- some of the WikiLeaks stuff on Podesta that was going to be released.

HARLOW: Although he says, as you know, he says that he did not. And in his conversations with Guccifer 2.0 there's nothing there.

AXELROD: I understand what he says now and you understand why he would say that. And maybe that turns out to be true. But if that is true, then we have a significant crisis. And it seems like the president is trying to create a lot of brush fires elsewhere to deflect attention from the main question. HARLOW: What about the fighting, on another note, on health care? This

was the first deal the president needed to make. He and Paul Ryan didn't get it done. What about the attacks that are increasing by the day on his own party? I mean look at what the president tweeted about the Freedom Caucus, that they "will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team and fast. We must fight them and the Dems in 2018." Clearly saying he wants to primary those that don't get on board. Is that a winning strategy to fight your own party?

AXELROD: They seem -- they seem unfazed by it. I think the bigger concern is that there's this improvisational quality to the president's strategy. One week he's catering to the Freedom Caucus, the next week he's threatening the Freedom Caucus, and then he hints that he might be working with Democrats who have no reason to work with him and to whom he made no outreach during the whole process. So it seems as if he's making it up as he goes along. That worked for him in the campaign.


AXELROD: It doesn't work for you in government.

HARLOW: And that's -- that's the big difference.

I want you to weigh in on Vice President Joe Biden making a lot of headlines yesterday. First of all, when he was asked by this moderator at an event his number one piece of advice for President Trump, it was to, quote, "grow up." But then he said this about Hillary Clinton and her failure in the campaign. Listen.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: This is the first campaign that I can recall where my party did not talk about what it always stood for, and that is how to maintain a burgeoning middle class. You didn't hear a single solitary sentence in the last campaign about that guy working on the assembly line making $60,000 a year and the wife making $32,000 as a hostess in a restaurant and they're making $90,000 and they've got two kids and they can't make it and they're scared.


HARLOW: All right, so he didn't use her name, but it was pretty clear who he was talking about. Is he right?

AXELROD: Look, I think he was half right. There's -- she did speak a lot about those issues, but there was an undertone to the campaign that was sort of a coded message to these voters. It was, we've got women, we've got minorities, we've got young people, we don't really need you. You're not really part of this.

HARLOW: She didn't have women.

AXELROD: And at the end of the day that was -- it was not only a bad strategy, but it was a -- it was the wrong message from a leadership standpoint to impart. The Democratic Party should have reached out much more aggressively to these voters. And just as a practical matter, she probably should have spent more time in places like Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

HARLOW: You think?

AXELROD: Than Arizona.

HARLOW: Yes. Well, yes. She didn't go to Michigan once in the general.

Look, you're really close to President Obama. What's he doing right now? What he thinking right now?

AXELROD: Look, he's writing. He's reflecting. You know, I'm sure he has concerns about what he sees. But I'll tell you this, I've known the man for 25 years. We're good friends. It was palpable the day he got elected. I walked into the room and it was like this burden had been placed on his shoulders. You could feel it. You could feel the gravity of that moment.


AXELROD: And the reverse is true as well. He now seems to me more like the guy that I knew before he got elected president.

HARLOW: Back then.

AXELROD: You could feel the weight of the office --

[09:35:01] HARLOW: A little less gray hair?

AXELROD: No, I don't think it -- I don't think that -- if that process is reverse, it's coming through a bottle and not through anything natural. But I'm happy for him because I know how seriously he took this job.


AXELROD: And I'm happy that he has that lightness that comes with being relieved of that burden. I will say, I think it's important for the president to understand -- any president to understand the gravity of the job.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

By the way, I mistake. She didn't go to Wisconsin, not Michigan, in the general.


HARLOW: So, thank you.

AXELROD: Yes. Yes. I didn't correct you.

HARLOW: Nice to have you on. Yes, you're very nice.

AXELROD: Thanks for having me. HARLOW: Thank you. Nice to have you on. David Axelrod.

Of course you're going to want to watch "The Axe Files" special tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN with John McCain and David Axelrod.

Still to come for us, a growing epidemic forcing U.S. companies to hire refugees over Americans. We're talking about these companies led by Trump supporters along the rust belt hiring Syrian refugees instead. Why? Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that refugees need an opportunity when they come here, and employers give them the opportunity. But people like us that live here also need an opportunity.



[09:40:17] HARLOW: So President Trump's rallying cry has been hire American. But here's the thing. Business owners along the rust belt say a growing drug epidemic is making it a lot harder for them to fill those jobs with American workers. As our Dan Lieberman reports, they are now hiring refugees to fill the gap.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want it right here? Where'd Adam go? This is Ali. Ali, he's from Syria.


Sterling Technologies in Erie, Pennsylvania, is an American company that needs workers, but has had trouble filling the jobs because local residents are failing drug tests.

CARY QUIGLEY, STERLING TECHNOLOGIES INC.: I would say we've probably had 20 percent every time we run a random test, 20 percent of the people are failing.

LIEBERMAN: That's pretty high.

QUIGLEY: Yes, it's pretty high. We're seeing positive tests anywhere from marijuana to amphetamines, right all the way through crystal meth and heroin.

LIEBERMAN (voice-over): And it's not just here. The percent of employees in the U.S. testing positive for drugs has increased steadily over the last three years, reaching the highest level in a decade.

LIEBERMAN (on camera): So how many -- how many people here are refugees?

QUIGLEY: Almost everybody that you're seeing here.

LIEBERMAN (voice-over): At Sterling, refugees have become a hiring solution to the drug problem.

QUIGLEY: The immigrant workforce that's here has filled a void that we had, that we were unable to fill with our local labor pool that we were drawing from.

LIEBERMAN: It's a dynamic that can be seen in many parts of the country, from upstate New York, to Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. But some companies that work with refugees in these places don't want to talk about it.

LIEBERMAN (on camera): They don't want to admit that there is a problem when it comes to drug testing and refugees are filling that void.

LIEBERMAN (voice-over): With President Trump's executive order putting a temporary ban on refugees and so much talk about the lack of jobs in the rust belt, businesses are in a tough spot, especially when they're in need of drug-free workers like Talib Asimel (ph), a refugee from Syria, who arrived in Erie, Pennsylvania, last summer. Within three months, he got a job at the factory.

TALIB ASIMEL (through translator): In our lives, we don't have drugs. We don't even know what they look like or how to use them. Alcohol is the same. We don't drink it. I'm 45 years old, and I haven't drunk alcohol my entire life, not even once.

LIEBERMAN (on camera): In terms of business, how important are refugees to a city like Erie?

DYLANNA JACKSON, USCRI: I think they're extremely important. I mean they're the one growing group in this city. You know, it's a city that's been on decline with their population. So it's the only growing group.

LIEBERMAN (voice-over): The refugees in Erie have arrived to a city struggling economically and dealing with a drug epidemic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you like to be a teacher again in America?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The reality is when business owners are telling you that they can't find native residents who will do these jobs or they can't find enough people in the community to pass a drug test, what are they to do? They need to seek out employees somewhere. And for now immigrants are a really good source of that labor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's from Cuba. And that man's from Syria. United States. Indonesia. Vietnam, five countries in this one room right here, yes.

LIEBERMAN: In Louisville, Kentucky, nearly 6,000 refugees have arrived in the last five years, helping companies fill jobs.

RICHARDSON (ph): When we work with, for instance, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, we haven't had any troubles at all with drug testing.

LIEBERMAN (on camera): So refugees really are filling that gap for you?

JAMIE RICHARDSON, WHITE CASTLE: Yes. In this instance there were refugees who were available, who were ready to contribute, and we were thrilled to be able to give them that opportunity.

ANTIGONA MEHANI, KENTUCKY REFUGEE MINISTRIES: What size? Can you check what size you have? We are going to get you some shoes, OK?


MEHANI: OK. Good luck tomorrow.

Send us as many as you can. I hear this every single day, whether it's a small local restaurant, coffee shop, to Amazon. You know, we get flyers. We get e-mails, phone calls, we need people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. What do you remember about work shift?

MEHANI: We usually get someone employed within three days. We've had someone start within one day. That's how fast refugees are able to get employed. So the refugees are not taking the jobs. The refugees are filling the gaps.

LIEBERMAN (voice-over): We spoke with locals about the struggle to find jobs because of drugs.

SMITH (ph): Right now heroin and meth is one of the biggest problems.

LIEBERMAN: Recently in Louisville, there were 151 overdose calls in just four days and methamphetamine use is so high here, the number of people testing positive for job drug tests is 47 percent higher than the national average.

SMITH: I did crack cocaine and heroin. After trying to get jobs and lose jobs, getting a job and lose a job, I said, might as well not try because I'm pretty sure people want to keep their jobs, it's just not knowing how to stop.

LIEBERMAN: In Erie, Pennsylvania, we hear similar stories.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm 36, and my drug of choice was heroin.

[09:45:04] LIEBERMAN (on camera): What kind of jobs were you looking for in Erie that you couldn't get?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like retail. Either like small corner stores, any stores like that, they don't give -- someone like me, they wouldn't give me the opportunity. You know, they just see my background and that's all they see. They don't see me as a person.

LIEBERMAN: I mean what do you think of the fact that for these employers they've had to go to new workers because of the drug problem? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand completely. I mean those refugees,

they come here with the American dream in their mind. You know, they come to work. Come to build their life. You know, they obviously work hard compared to a drug addicted individual that just scrapes by, does the bare minimum to get by every day. So I completely understand the business owners.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that refugees need an opportunity when they come here and employers give them the opportunity. But people like us that live here also need an opportunity. And I'm not saying they don't deserve it. But we deserve it as well.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.

LIEBERMAN: When you hear that our president wants to ban refugees, what goes through your mind, especially from a business perspective?

QUIGLEY: OK, great question. I knew eventually you were going to get to that question. Twenty-five percent of our workforce are either refugees or immigrants. Without them, once again, there are probably costs that we would have incurred that would have made us non- profitable. So there certainly is an impact to that.

LIEBERMAN (voice-over): Sterling Technologies' senior management voted for President Trump and hoped to grow their business under his administration.

QUIGLEY: Do I want to see all of my people deported? Absolutely not. They're a part of this company. They have helped build this company. We can't grow without people that want to do the work.

LIEBERMAN (on camera): What can be done about it?

QUIGLEY: People need to get off drugs. It's something that in our area of the country it's really bad. Drugs are a serious problem. We're going to continue to test. But, if anything, we're going to make it more stringent. A workforce that's not doing drugs is the workforce that we want.


HARLOW: What a fascinating piece. Dan Lieberman is with me now.

You know, that last man, a Trump supporters, runs Sterling Technologies, 25 percent of his business Syrian refugees, but a lot of business leaders and refugees didn't want to talk to you.

LIEBERMAN: No. I mean that was the thing. This is a sensitive issue. On one hand, even people who voted for President Trump from a business perspective, refugees are filling this void. And so they want President Trump to help from a business standpoint with tax cuts, but when it comes to their workers, they say they can't do it without refugees. Many from Muslim majority countries.

HARLOW: They don't want to alienate the president.

LIEBERMAN: They don't. And they don't want to open their doors. I mean luckily enough in Erie and Louisville we found businesses like White Castle and Sterling to let us in --


LIEBERMAN: And show us what was really going on. But this is a difficult issue.

HARLOW: Yes, it is. Great reporting. Dan Lieberman, thank you so much for bringing it to us, you and your entire team.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

HARLOW: We appreciate it.

LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Also, before we go to break, a quick reminder about our new "Boss Files" podcast. We have some pretty candid conversations with CEOs, leaders from around the world, Melina Gates, Warren Buffett, actress Patricia Arquette. What is life like under the new Trump administration running these businesses? Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher (ph) on Android or on Amazon Echo.

We'll be right back.


[09:52:44] HARLOW: The Senate battle over President Trump's Supreme Court pick heating up. The first Democrats are breaking with their party, planning to vote yes for Justice Neil Gorsuch. This as more than half of their Democratic colleagues plan to apparently filibuster Gorsuch's nomination. Republicans not ruling out the nuclear option if that is the case. Actually, they're pretty clear that they'll use it. Our Ariane de Vogue has more and joins us now.

You've got now Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota saying they're going to vote yes. Where does that put the count?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, look, you know, the Senate is getting close to a historical brink when it comes to the Supreme Court. Those two Dems are under pressure, and it's all about the math now. It takes, as things stand, 60 votes to confirm. And right now, as of this morning, 33 Democrats are suggesting a filibuster. Manchin and Heitkamp, they were the first to break ranks with Schumer. And basically they've said, we're furious about Garland. He should have gotten a hearing. But Gorsuch is qualified. It was sort of a message, elections matter here.

The Republicans, as you said, they've made clear, they're going to change the rules if the Dems try to filibuster to make it easier to get through.

HARLOW: Right.

DE VOGUE: That would be a big change.

HARLOW: So, is -- I mean how -- you're an expert on the court. Is there any chance that a showdown over the rules, over this use of what would be a first, using the nuclear option when it comes to a Supreme Court pick, is there any chance that might be averted at this point?

DE VOGUE: Well, Senator Coons, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, early on, he said, come on, let's come up with something so that we don't have to do this. And then yesterday, McCain, he floated a deal, but even he admitted, look, I don't even know if I've got the votes for this. So the committee vote right now is on Monday. And so far we don't see any deals in the near future, Poppy.

HARLOW: You've got the committee vote Monday. Friday you've got the full vote. We'll be watching it. Ariane, thank you so much for the reporting. Have a great weekend.

DE VOGUE: Thanks. You too.

[09:54:49] HARLOW: President Trump picking a fight with his own party on health care, but is that any way to win him over? Maybe not according to the congressman joining us next hour. He says, "it's a swamp, President Trump, not a hot tub, and we both came here to drain it."


HARLOW: All right, top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow. So glad you're with us.

Michael Flynn ready to talk, if he's granted immunity. The former national security adviser makes an offer to the FBI and the two congressional investigation committees that are looking at potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Flynn, of course, was fired after misleading White House officials about his own dealings with Moscow's ambassador to the United States. His attorney this morning saying, quote, "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit."

And President Trump weighing in on Twitter this morning, saying, "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in this witch hunt excuse for a big election loss by the media and Democrats of historic proportion."

[09:59:58] Also making headlines this morning, the Kremlin citing history, saying, well, U.S./Russia relations are nearing a new low. Listen.