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Interview with Haitian Ambassador to U.S. Paul Altidor; Republican Senators Claim President Trump Didn't Use Derogatory Word as Reported in Immigration Meeting; Perdue And Cotton: Trump Did Not Use Vulgar Term; Firestorm Overshadows DACA And Government Funding Showdown. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 15, 2018 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We're following a lot of news. What do you say? It's MLK Day. Let's get after it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said these hateful things and he said them repeatedly.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't hear that word, and I certainly didn't hear what Senator Durbin has said repeatedly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't have an immigration compromise if everybody is out there calling the president a racist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a bipartisan solution. I believe there is a deal to be had.

TRUMP: I don't know if they'll be a shutdown. There shouldn't be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I for one will not vote for government funding until we get a deal on DACA.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shaking, it was just -- it was scary, very scary.

TRUMP: Part of it is the people are on edge but maybe eventually we'll solve the problem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It cannot happen again. I've been calling on president Trump to directly negotiate with North Korea to remove this threat.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: Good morning, Welcome to your NEW DAY. It's Monday, January 15th, 8:00 in the east. Alisyn is off. Vikings fans Poppy Harlow extraordinaire is sitting in this morning.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It was a good night.

CUOMO: It's good to have you here.

President Trump declaring he is not a racist once again. This time it's in context of his denying that he referred to Haitian and some African nations using an ugly s-word. But his real problem is that he clearly expressed a preference for people from a place like Norway to the black and brown people from impoverished countries. Now lawmakers who were in the Oval Office are in this bizarre and, frankly, stupid he said/he said about what the president actually said and why. Credibility for so many, Poppy, on the line.

HARLOW: It sure is, Chris. Are the president's comments, his own words further jeopardizing a deal for DREAMers? It certainly seems like it this morning. The president is pointing his finger, though, at Democrats. He says they're the ones holding up the deal. All of this as the government shutdown looms in just a few days, this Friday. Democrats threatening to vote, some of them, against any funding legislation if it does not include protection for DREAMers. A lot to get to, Chris.

CUOMO: Joining us now is Haiti's ambassador to the United States Paul Altidor. It's good to have you, ambassador.


CUOMO: It's in this context. Do you care in your diplomatic role what the actual word was or are you focused on the sentiment of this comparison of people from Haiti versus people from Norway and who the president wants in the United States?

ALTIDOR: First, we care as a people. We feel that the narrative of Haiti in the United States has been misunderstood. Haiti, too often we make the headlines for the wrong reason. A lot of time people think of us only when it comes to natural disasters, only when it comes to instability. People not realizing the country of Haiti and the country of the United States have a long history together.

Haitians, Haitians fought in the Independence War of the American here. We fought for your freedom. More importantly, today, the immigrants we talking about here, the Haitian immigrants, their sons, their daughters serving the U.S. armed forces today. Their sons, their daughters are serving in universities around this country. So in many ways we feel that, yes, the words, they did hurt the community, they did hurt the country of Haiti. It hurt because, one, it's an insult to our dignity, but more importantly it's because too much of Haiti is misunderstood in the American consciousness, and we hope to engage in a dialogue not just with the presidency, because it's important that the president given the prestige of this office that such words shouldn't be coming out of anybody's mouth let alone the president of the United States.

CUOMO: He says he didn't say it, and now he has a couple of Republican senators who are saying they didn't hear them say it. Is that good enough for you?

ALTIDOR: Regardless of what was said by whom, ultimately the words that were being described about Haitians and Haiti in that context from what we understand, they were not good. And more importantly they were misplaced and ill-informed. We're hoping moving forward, and this is one of the things I'm hoping to do here with the president, today is MLK day. We're actually celebrating the legacy of Dr. King and the principle, the idea of that is twofold.

This is our way of saying, yes, unfortunately those things did happen. It's regrettable those words were being talked about Haiti and other groups. We don't want that to happen to anybody, especially a country like Haiti where we've actually been in so much harmony with the people of the United States over the years. In that sense, we're extending a hand to the president. I'm personally asking the president, come to our community. The president has attended -- he went to Haiti. He told the community that he was going to be their championing. This is their opportunity.

We hope there's an excuse and apology for what was said, but at the same time let me make it clear, Chris. A lot of the American people, we are being flooded with e-mails and phone calls from average American expressing their solidarity with us, expressing their anger at what was said.

[08:05:00] So in some ways the apology came from the American people already. So now we are looking forward to -- we're looking forward to moving forward. And on a special day like this, on MLK Day, we hope this is an opportunity to take this conversation to new heights.

CUOMO: You have a policy concern on top of whatever the rhetoric was, the language. The president has ended TPS, temporary protected status for a big bunch of El Salvadorans and also about 59,000 Haitians that came after the 2010 earthquake.

ALTIDOR: Exactly.

CUOMO: I was there. I cover it had. Here's the policy point. It is temporary.


CUOMO: If Haiti is in a stable shape as suggest, why should Haitians continue to have temporary protected status here in the United States? Why shouldn't they go back home?

ALTIDOR: As a government we're not asking the United States to take our citizens for us. That's not the point we're making. There were specific conditions as to why TPS was provided for Haitians, was earthquake. There's a process in place in Haiti right now to make sure the country is stable in terms of its economic recovery and development process.

It just so happened that a number of issues, natural disasters, the hurricanes, the cholera outbreak. We are working with U.S. government to ensure that TPS is extended at least another 18 months as the country of Haiti continues its process of recovery. So from that standpoint, our argument has never been about please take those 59,000 Haitians and just do whatever you need with them. As a government, as a people, we have a responsibility and we're taking care of those responsibilities. We are addressing those challenges on the ground. It was a matter of time that we are addressing with the U.S. --

CUOMO: It's supposed to be 18 months. It's been seven years now. Do you believe that those 59,000 Haitians could go back to Haiti today and be safe and find a stable life?

ALTIDOR: What we saying here, the process of rebuilding Haiti has actually hit a number of obstacles.

CUOMO: Right.

ALTIDOR: Mainly natural disaster. From that point of view we're saying an extension would have actually been in the mutual interest not just of Haiti but the United States. So the idea that Haiti as a neighbor, given our long history, there would have been actually -- it would have been a good thing for the people of Haiti but also for the people of the United States to extend TPS a bit longer as we continue.

Keep in mind, those who are benefiting from TPS, they are model residents here of the United States. These are people who are working, who are contributing to the American economy, who are great contributors in their local communities at the same time helping Haiti on its path to recovery. So there's a double bottom line here that everybody benefit from. This is not a zero sum game. And that's why we feel the decision of the administration was actually ill-informed, and we made that clear to them.

CUOMO: Ambassador Altidor, thank you for being with us. Appreciate your perspective.

ALTIDOR: Thank you for having us.

CUOMO: Absolutely. Poppy?

HARLOW: Important conversation, thank you both.

So let's bring in our political analyst, Margaret Talev and Jonathan Martin. It is nice to have you both here. Margaret, let me begin with you. Good morning and thank you for being here on a holiday, Martin Luther King Day, such an important day for this country. And pretty ironic that this is what we're talking about on this day. So Margaret, you just heard the ambassador, Haiti's ambassador to the United States say, look, we're hoping that somehow out of all of this mess and these horrifying words comes an elevation of the conversation. Is that what's going to happen, really, or is this just going to further get in the way of a deal for DACA for DREAMers?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there is still the matter of the shutdown and there is still a deadline that at this point it certainly looks like there's a possibility it will get extended, but that all goes to the question of keeping the U.S. government funded. The immigration policy is really a different question, and the

president's comments, obviously inflammatory, incredibly insulting to everyone in those countries that were affected by it, but even if he hadn't used those words, his concerns about immigration and his interest in some countries versus other countries I think remains intact, and I haven't seen the White House really come in and modify its positions over the course of this long weekend to say, never mind. His posture on immigration is completely understood and actually we want to be attracting a lot -- we're changing our policy on Salvadorans or Haitians. So I don't see that changing at all at this point.

CUOMO: J. Mart, how much does this hamstring the negotiation on DACA because up until this point the president seemed to be kind of steamrolling the Democrats? You've got national recognition of the need to help the DREAMers and yet the Democrats were going down the road of, well, we're going to give him the wall. We'll call it something else but let's get this done. How about now?

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think this makes it a lot tougher, Chris, and I think given the timing here where the government shuts down this Friday, I think you're going to see probably some effort to decouple DACA from keeping the government open, and of course that will just kick the can further down the road on DACA.

[08:10:03] I think we shouldn't miss the kind of moment here politically that's happening. You've got two U.S. senators, I've got to say, David Perdue and Tom Cotton, who are making an important choice on national TV yesterday to come out and say something was not said that others in the room are saying was, in fact, said. And most importantly, guys, the White House itself did not deny in the hours afterwards, and they are now suddenly changing their stories to get in tune with this president.

It's such a revealing moment for where members of this party are going with the president and choices they are making that, by the way, regardless of this issue and DACA and keeping the government open, those two senators by doing that have made a choice now, and I think a lot of people who cover politics watch that and are just really, really struck by them doing that and, you know, you have to be careful what you say in politics. And I speak for a lot of my colleagues when we say we were very, very struck by that choice.

HARLOW: To go from a joint statement on Friday, Margaret, to Jonathan's point, of quote, we do not recall, right, the president making those remarks using the s-hole comment, to then going on separate Sunday shows and saying Tom Cotton, Senator Tom Cotton, saying I didn't hear it. Senator David Purdue not only said he didn't use that word, it's a gross misrepresentation. A complete flip.

What could the political calculation be to be willing to go that far to back up this president on this when it's not just Democrats like Durbin who say he said it, it's Republicans like Tim Scott saying Lindsey Graham who was in the meeting said to me, yes, that's basically accurate reporting. TALEV: On the face of it just doesn't make any sense, and what

happens with the normal White House is that if something like that, a comment like that were reported and the staff knew that it weren't true, they would immediately come out and say that is absolutely untrue, that is not what happened, which tells you one of a few things is happening. Either the White House knew that it was true, knew that he had said almost exactly that word but maybe slightly modified, but that's hardly a reason to come out and deny it, that doesn't make any sense, or three, weren't sure what happened and it's the kind of thing that the president could be heard as saying.

And so any of those three options are bad, and the reaction from the two senators is very -- it's really confusing and troubling because they're questioning their own colleagues who have spoken on the record because their own position has shifted, and it certainly gives the impression they've had a lot of conversations with the White House between point a and point b.

CUOMO: And the larger issue --

MARTIN: Go ahead. If I could just jump in here, it just helps fuel the cynicism about news coverage of politics, and the president who, you know, obviously has spent a lot of time trying to raise questions about the coverage because the more doubts to raise about the coverage then the more inclined his supporters are not to believe anything that's reported. I get that political effort. But these two senators by be contributing to that, it just makes it harder to report on news and facts when you take these kinds of steps, and it just does not help where we are politically in this country to sort of play these games.

CUOMO: It's just so obvious. The White House had its chances to back off. It didn't. On one level this distraction, and that's at best what it is, does help get off the basic truth, Margaret, which is nobody denied the comparison the president drew. We're really just arguing over whole versus house, which is a totally nonissue. The issue is you said -- why do we have to take all these brown people. Why can't we take some nice white people like Norwegians? That's what he said and nobody denies that, and isn't that the political sin in the first place.

TALEV: The president's issue seems to be what countries people are coming from rather than what skill sets they're bringing or the U.S. or what the merit or needs basis of immigration should be. And in a global economy and in 2018 the way we talk about this is different than it was 100 years ago, and the way we think about these issues are different. And throughout the Republican Party as well as the Democratic Party there's a lot of discomfort not just about the shock value of what he said but about what appears to be the underpinnings of the thinking behind it.

CUOMO: We got to jump. Margaret, thank you very much. J Mart, as always, I hope you both enjoy this day. It's an important one for use especially in the context of what we're dealing with politically right now. So who do fellow lawmakers believe about what President Trump said behind closed doors? Remember, credibility counts. If I think that you're going to lie about something silly, can I believe you on the tough stuff? Let's ask Republican Congressman Charlie Dent. Where's his head, next.



KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, DHS SECRETARY: I don't recall him saying that exact phrase.

SEN. DAVID PERDUE, R-GEORGIA: I'm telling you he did not the use that word, George. And I'm telling you it's a gross misrepresentation.

SEN. TOM COTTON, R-ARKANSAS: I didn't hear that word either. I certainly didn't hear what Senator Durbin has said repeatedly.


CUOMO: Two Republican senators and a cabinet secretary now deny that President Trump used the vulgar word when with talking about immigrants from Haiti and some African countries. Really, they're disagreeing about what kind of vulgar word it was.

But that's not what two with other senators, a Republican and a Democrat say happened and that's not what the White House said right after this. They didn't deny it. They had two chances and both times they either didn't clarify or said they're OK with this.

Joining us now Republican Congressman Charlie Dent. Charlie, what am I missing in this? They didn't deny it. They never denied and even having Cotton and Perdue put themselves out there like this.

They're not saying he didn't draw this comparison between brown people from Haiti and Africa and preferring to have white people like from Norway come here and isn't that the real political sin that was committed?

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Look, Chris, I wasn't in the meeting so I don't know exactly what was said, but if it's true as was reported by Senator Durbin, then confirmed by Senator Graham, the comments obviously have to be denounced.

And I said if it had not been for the fact that the president had previously made statements about Mexicans and Muslims and his failure to denounce David Duke in a timely manner and then, of course, the Charlottesville situation.

[08:20:12] I think those previous incidents I think also are cause for concern that have made this situation even more alarming. Truthfully, I'm most concerned right now that we can still find some type of agreement on the DREAMers DACA with a border security component.

I hope that is not blown up because of this and on a broader scale too. I've had the opportunity to visit sub-Saharan Africa with Senator Coons, who was just on your program, and one thing I've noticed is the people of sub-Saharan Africa have a high regard for the United States of America because of the things we've done there.

Whether it's on the president's emergency program for aids relief or any number of other issues. We're well regarded and this incident I think is going to have some consequences for us at least in the short- term.

CUOMO: How bad is this that the president is now enlisting Republicans like Perdue and Cotton to back up something that really doesn't deserve any support?

DENT: Well, I can't speak for those two senators. I wasn't in the meeting. I don't know what they heard.

CUOMO: Would you do that, Charlie? Let's say -- right after the meeting, you're going to remember a president using a word like this or anything like it, right? And you can hear it in their language. He didn't use that word and they say it's a misrepresentation of the meeting overall.

We know what's going on here, Charlie, but right after a meeting, if you wanted to back up the president that would be the time, right. You just exited the meeting. You know damn well what he said and didn't say, that's the time to come forward.

If you say you don't recall and all of a sudden your recollection a couple of days gets better and the only thing that's changed is how much pressure is being put on you by the president?

How is the media supposed to see that as being a fair broker of truth? How are the Democrats supposed to see you guys as a group that they can do business with if you can't even get something like this straight?

DENT: Well, like I said, Chris, I'm accepting what Senator Durbin and Senator Graham confirmed. That's my understanding. I wasn't in the meeting so I'm just making these comments based on what's being reported in the media.

CUOMO: I hear you. So, let's talk about the deal. When I'm talking to Democrats about this I've been chasing after them because there's such widespread approval in both parties for helping the DREAers and I keep asking them why are you in such a hurry to give the president whatever he wants to make a deal here when you finally have some leverage and maybe you can undo some of the things that they complain about so much. What are you picking up in terms of the readiness of Democrats to get something done on this and what the big pillars are?

DENT: Truthfully, Chris, I believe members of both parties are ready to deal on this issue. There's the Graham/Durbin proposal, which I think is pretty good. It deals with border security. It deals with the DREAMers, family reunification. It deals with a number of issues that many of my Republican colleagues have expressed concerns over. It's a very good start. Congressman Will Hurd and Pete Aguilar have also as well. We've also heard about the Goodlatte proposal. We are ready to go. I believe that this DREAMer proposal should be tied to the budget agreement. That should be forthcoming any time soon --


DENT: Not for the continuing resolution --

CUOMO: So, not to the one this Friday, not this Friday's deadline.


CUOMO: OK, make that point please.

DENT: Yes. We need a budget agreement and the budget agreement does not shut the government down, but we absolutely need one to set the top line spending levels for the government, so we can then complete the appropriations bills.

CUOMO: Why do you want to tie these two things together? Because you have the DREAMers who are going to be an increasingly dire state especially if the White House doesn't continue to comply with this California federal judge's order to keep the applications being approved for extension. Why tie them together and increase the risk?

DENT: I'd be happy to do them as standalone measures. I'd be happy to do it either way. You pointed out that the Democrats have a fair amount of leverage, truth is they do because there are not 218 Republican votes in the House to pass a budget agreement, omnibus bill or certainly on the DREAMers.

So, there's leverage there and the Democrats know that. They have leverage certainly in the Senate because we need at least eight votes there and we'll need their votes in the House. So, that's why I think it might make some sense to tie them together.

If we could pass a standalone bill, border security and DREAMers, I'm all for it. Let's do it. But I suspect these issues are going to become conflated.

CUOMO: Do you think the president should take the time restriction off the DACA deal? Do you think it's important enough where you shouldn't be doing it to a countdown clock? I get the idea of pushing you guys to act. I get it.

But this isn't about dollars or even a temporary shutdown of services that can be made up afterwards like with a shutdown, not that that's a good thing, but these are real lives and real anxieties and real displacement. Do you think the president should back off the timeline?

DENT: We may need the president to back off the timeline if we cannot get an agreement, but there's simply no reason why we cannot get --

CUOMO: Do you think he would? [08:25:10] DENT: I believe there are 300 votes in the House for some kind of a DACA border security agreement, very easily. So, I don't think the issue right now -- it's not can we find the right policy. We think we know what the policy is. This is a political matter right now. So, let's just get it done. I mean, the president's March deadline may not be helpful. We can accomplish this task well within that timeline.

CUOMO: Charlie, let me ask you about one other thing. Were you spooked that it took so long to get this Hawaii false alarm rectified?

DENT: Yes, I was. As a guy who used to serve in the Homeland Security Committee, I was a bit --

CUOMO: Can you imagine in Philadelphia? You had 30 minutes of people running around thinking that this is it? This is Armageddon. This is about to happen. Missiles are coming in and nothing from the White House or from the -- how do you explain that?

DENT: Again, that's a little bit mystifying. Again, the Department of Homeland Security should be all over a situation like this reassuring the American public that there is, in fact, no issue here, that this is a false alarm and a mistake, and I can't really speak to that.

I was surprised that it took as long as it did. We saw the television on Saturday is when this occurred, and, by the way, Saturday was the day the Eagles were playing and tell Poppy that many of us in our region are very much for the Eagles next week. Just want her to know that.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We look forward to it.

CUOMO: It will be big game. There's no question about that and these are big issues. You know what, Charlie dent, I appreciate you coming on the show. It is not easy to get Republicans to come on and talk about what's happening in the White House right now. Thank you for doing it. You're always welcome to discuss issues that matter to the American people.

DENT: Thank you.

CUOMO: Be well -- Poppy.

HARLOW: So top House Democrats unveiled this resolution to try to censure the president, why? For those words that he used in that meeting, the attack on immigrants. Can they actually get bipartisan support behind this effort to do it? Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler is leading the effort. He'll join us next.