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White House In Damage Control Over Porter Scandal; Will Congress Protect Dreamers Before March 5th Deadline?; Will Trump's Border Wall Stop Illegal Immigration?; Obamas Make History With Presidential Portraits. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] MARK MCKINNON, CO-HOST, SHOWTIME, "THE CIRCUS", FORMER ADVISER TO GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER ADVISER TO JOHN MCCAIN: I think it's a process problem and staffing problem.

They're having high turnover, high rates, so they found somebody, as Anita said, who could shuffle the paper and they said well, let's just look at that and let's not look at the deeper issues about who is qualified to be working in this White House and who should have clearance. And that has been a problem from the very beginning.

I mean, the White House, more than any operation in the country, obviously, needs to have a really buttoned-up process. Process is important in a White House, as Anita can testify, and if you screw up the process it leads to bigger problems like this.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And so, I mean, I understand that you're saying that's it's process. And so many people though, Anita, see it as deeper than that. That there is generally -- when the president has to come out on a side he, as we've seen in the past and in this, takes the side of the accused, not the side of the women who are making the allegations.

ANITA DUNN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO OBAMA CAMPAIGN, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: This is a president who had the press brought into his event last Friday so he could talk about how victimized Rob Porter was.

This is a president who has been tweeting on all kinds of issues since the end of last week, including his thoughts on due process and the #MeToo movement and raising issues around that. This is a president who as recently as this morning has tweeted about infrastructure and DACA.

So, we know he hasn't lost his phone. We know he still has his ability to communicate but he hasn't said one word supporting directly the women who suffered domestic abuse and that tells you all you need to know about this White House and this president.

CAMEROTA: Mark, the first wife of Rob Porter has felt compelled to go public and write an op-ed in "The Washington Post." I think that we need to just talk about how striking that is for victims of domestic violence -- even if you want to call them alleged victims of domestic violence -- because of the stigma attached to that. But she was so disheartened by what the women in the White House had

said. Kellyanne Conway saying that she doesn't worry about Hope Hicks because Hope Hicks is a strong woman.

Here is what Colbie Holderness, the first wife -- part of what she's saying in this op-ed.

"Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders again declined to say whether the president believes Jennifer Willoughby (the second wife) and me. While I cannot say I am surprised, I expected a woman to do better."

Behind the scenes, Mark, in the White House, what should the president's advisers, like Sarah Sanders and Kellyanne, be saying to him?

MCKINNON: Well, the first piece of advice they should have said is the very first statement out of this White House should be support and sympathy for the victims. That should have been the very first thing.

And the fact that we have the victims still talking about how this White House has failed to come to their support in any fashion, any kind of statement of support still, seven days later, just testifies to a much greater problem in the White House, which is a tendency and a reflex to defend the perpetrators and not the victims.

CAMEROTA: OK. Anita Dunn, Mark McKinnon, thank you very much for sharing your expertise from inside the White House with us.

DUNN: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Chris --

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Now, beneath this major cloud over the White House, there's some significant policy matters. The Senate taking up the debate on immigration.

Can lawmakers strike a bipartisan deal or will time run out in this Trump-imposed deadline of March 5th? We ask Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, next.


[07:37:25] CUOMO: The president is up and tweeting. He has not cleaned up the disgrace of his position on domestic abuse, but he will.

But for now, he's talking about immigration, saying "Negotiations on DACA have begun. Republicans want to make a deal. Democrats say they want to make a deal.

Wouldn't it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle? This will be our last chance. There will never be another opportunity."

Tell the federal courts that, who have made his March 5 deadline inoperative, but politically, is he right?

The Senate begins debate today on immigration. Can Congress beat this self-imposed deadline and -- in just three weeks?

All right, joining us now, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Good to see you, Senator.

Do you believe you can make a deal before the March 5 deadline?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Not only do I believe that we can reach an agreement, I believe we must reach an agreement.

I've looked into the eyes of these Dreamers, I've talked to them.

Young people brought to this country through no choice of their own. This country is the only one they know. English is the only language they speak.

Eight hundred thousand of them came forward because the United States made a promise to them that it would protect them from mass draconian deportation and now, we have to seize this moment -- absolutely.

CUOMO: All right, but to stand on that principle what are you willing to give? It seems the Democrats are willing to give Trump billions and billions -- maybe 25 or more. Who knows, the ways you guys count down there -- for a wall. Chain migration, as they call it, which is known as reunification -- family reunification by the system itself, and lottery visas.

Are you willing to give on all three to get DACA?

BLUMENTHAL: We cannot make the Dreamers a blank check for a nativist, far-right fringe agenda, so we are willing to compromise.

Absolutely, border security is a must. We recognize --

CUOMO: But he wants all three -- the four pillars.

BLUMENTHAL: That's what he says but the only way to do a deal is, narrowly and simply, to provide permanent status for the Dreamers and a path to citizenship combined with border security. We're talking about surveillance and sensors, better training for the border agents, more of them, and strengthening the fences and the physical barriers where it will do some good. Not a wall from sea to shining sea.

[07:40:05] The limits of compromise are there because basically, we're talking about fundamental core American values.

And let me just add a personal point here, Chris, if I may.

My father came to this country in 1935. He was 17 years old. He had not much more than the shirt on his back.

He spoke no English. He knew virtually no one. He was escaping persecution in Germany. He borrowed $10,000 -- at that point, a fortune for a penniless German

refugee -- and brought over his parents and his three siblings.

This idea of family reunification is part of the American ideal. It's the immigrants' story and we all know it. It's part of our lives. And betraying that fundamental American value is something that we cannot tolerate.

CUOMO: Look, I hear you and there's no question it has been grossly exaggerated as chain migration and this idea that it goes on forever is demonstrably false. The backlog of spousal and child documentation cases proves that.

But this is about politics and what I don't understand is if it's such an impassioned principle, why are you adding anything to it? Why don't the Democrats just stand on doing DACA and fixing the situation, and adding nothing?

Not adding billions for a wall that isn't necessary. You can put all that money for security into the budget bill and, in fact, you are. The president's proposal right now has border security spending in it.

Why add anything to it if it matters as much as you say?

BLUMENTHAL: You took the words right out of my mouth, Chris. That would be, indeed, my solution. Let's limit the deal to the Dreamers and DACA if politically, it is workable in the Senate and we can muster sufficient majority here to provide momentum going into the House of Representatives where, of course, as you know, Speaker Ryan has made no commitment even to allow --

CUOMO: Right.

BLUMENTHAL: -- the bill for a --

CUOMO: But if you know it's not going to go that way, right, and that seems pretty politically obvious. Ryan, as silent as he is about all the things that the president says that deserve his voice, he has spoken about this. He's not going to do immigration the same way that McConnell said he would for you guys.

OK, but then why not stand on principle? You have the filibuster in the Senate and if the president wants to blame you, have that fight. Why isn't this a bedrock principle for the Democrats that they're willing to stand on and maybe die on?

BLUMENTHAL: We have made that fight. It's the reason that I voted against the continuing resolution last -- the time before this one -- and we're willing to make that fight again. But we also need to be realistic because there are human lives here in the balance.

So, if it takes some compromise on border security, a few more dollars for sensors and surveillance and fences, not --

CUOMO: A few more dollars. You're talking about $25 billion. But I hear you. We'll see where it goes on that. I want to ask you about another point of compromise while I have you, Senator because your perspective matters.

Explain to me why the Democrats want to rekindle the Nunes memo by releasing the Democrat memo. I don't get the political strategy in it.

The Nunes memo did not resonate the way Nunes and his cabal and the president hoped that it would. Your memo -- the Democrat memo -- in all likelihood will not change any of the minds that want to believe what is in the Nunes memo.

Why breathe air back onto smoldering flames?

BLUMENTHAL: The record deserves a refutation of the Nunes memo. You're absolutely right, Chris. It fell flat because the Nunes memo, in a sense, contradicted itself.

It showed that the investigation did not begin as a result of the so- called Steele dossier. George Papadopoulos began it. Nunes, himself, admitted that the warrant was not fatally infected by any political impact. And, of course, that warrant was renewed several times so it had to be productive that surveillance was, in fact, producing results.

But the point is there are elements of the Nunes memo that deserve to be refuted on the record and the Democratic minority of the House Intelligence Committee is being very responsible to work with the FBI and the Department of Justice to eliminate any parts of it that may compromise security.

And this White House has been contemptible about security. I'm going to be calling, later today, for the 30 to 40 names of the interim security clearances because I believe they are a threat to national security. They owe us those names and CNN has revealed there are 30 to 40 of them and that's profoundly significant, and security matters. That's why the refutation of the Nunes also matters.

CUOMO: Well, good luck with that, Senator. We look forward to reporting on any progress you have. And thank you for being on the show, as always.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn --

[07:45:00] CAMEROTA: All right. So, on that topic of the border wall beyond the politics, would it actually make America safer? CNN goes to the border to get to the bottom of human smuggling, next.


CAMEROTA: The immigration debate begins today on the Senate floor. The president demands, as you know, a wall be built on the border with Mexico, but will a wall stop illegal immigration and human smuggling?

CNN's Leyla Santiago is live in Mexico City with all of her reporting from the border. So, Leyla, tell us what you've learned.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, to get to the bottom of that very question, Alisyn, we headed to the border -- Mexico's southern border -- because often, what happens there is an indicator of what will happen on the U.S.-Mexico border. And what we found -- well, we found a lot of people telling us they don't believe this wall will actually be built, and if it is built they say it's not enough to stop them.


SANTIAGO (voice-over): Mexico's southern border with Guatemala. You will not find a wall here. For many, this is the gateway to the U.S.- Mexico border thousands of miles away.

Some use this river to transport goods. Others use it to migrate north. Just 20 minutes here, we find Ronny Cardona's family crossing.


SANTIAGO (on camera): So, he made it to the U.S. and then was deported back to Honduras. And now, he's trying again.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Ronny is headed north to escape violence and poverty in Honduras. They once feared President Trump's tough talk on immigration -- not anymore.

CARDONA: (Foreign language).

SANTIAGO (on camera): He says he's going to get there with or without a wall.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Every day, people cross the Suchiate River. This is not part of the challenge for those fleeing violence in Central America. It only costs about $1.50 to go from Guatemala into Mexico, but once you get to that side the risks can be deadly forcing many to hire a smuggler.

COYOTE, HUMAN SMUGGLER: (Foreign language).

SANTIAGO: This is a coyote, a human smuggler. He would only speak to us if we concealed his identity.

COYOTE: (Foreign language).

SANTIAGO (on camera): He says he has brought in three to four thousand people to the United States.

[07:50:03] SANTIAGO (voice-over): He charges about $6,000 per person and works with a network of smugglers.

COYOTE: (Foreign language).

SANTIAGO (on camera): He's saying it's easy to get from Guatemala to Mexico, but what about Mexico to the U.S.?

COYOTE: (Foreign language).

SANTIAGO: He says that one is a little more difficult.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): He noticed the flow of immigrants slowed down when President Trump took office, but numbers on the U.S.-Mexico border have shown an uptick since May. Mexico's southern border has seen a similar trend. Business for smugglers has picked up again.

COYOTE: (Foreign language)

SANTIAGO (on camera): Immigration, he says, is unstoppable. It doesn't matter what President Trump says. Some people are just determined to get to the United States.

So, when you get to the U.S.-Mexico border will you be using a smuggler there?

DARBY, HONDURAN IMMIGRANT: Yes, that's correct.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): We found Darby -- we aren't using his last name for his safety -- outside one of Mexico's immigration offices where so many are waiting for permission to be in Mexico as they travel north.

DARBY: It just a whole awful feeling of loneliness.

SANTIAGO: Darby tells us he was deported from the U.S. in May. He's worried about the dangerous trek back where he has no defense against cartels that export vulnerable immigrants. May are robbed, kidnapped, killed, and still, he says it's worth the risk.

Staying in Honduras could mean gangs will carry out threats to kill him and his family.

DARBY: So, the only other choice that I have at this time is to go back to the U.S. and try to make an entry -- an illegal entry again.

SANTIAGO (on camera): So, you know this is illegal?

DARBY: I know it is illegal but I --

SANTIAGO: Why not do it the legal way?

DARBY: It's very, very difficult.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): He doesn't have enough time or money to get back to the U.S. legally, he says. He's desperate.

DARBY: I still have a dream.

SANTIAGO: No matter what the U.S. president may say or build --

COYOTE: (Foreign language).

SANTIAGO (on camera): He said Trump can't build a wall in the ocean.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): -- they all agree they will find a way north.


SANTIAGO: And it's important to note while we are seeing that uptick month-to-month, the numbers are actually down in terms of year-to- year. In April, we actually saw a 17-year low. The change though, again, is that month-to-month we are seeing those numbers rise yet again.

As far as who is coming, immigration officials on the southern border of Mexico tell me that they are seeing an increase in Hondurans that are coming given the political unrest in that country right now -- Chris.

CUOMO: Leyla, that was really important for you to give us that perspective. It's different than usual. We're used to the Mexican northern border, not the southern border, but that's where it begins. So much of the matriculation now from Central America.

Important perspective. Thank you for doing it. Thank the team, as well.

All right.

So, the Obamas turned into art. The portraits of the former president and first lady has social media buzzing. Everybody has an opinion. What do you think?


[07:57:15] CUOMO: The Obamas making history. Their portraits are now done for the National Portrait Gallery. Not the White House portraits. That's something different.

CAMEROTA: Right, which would have been more traditional.

CUOMO: Right.

CAMEROTA: These are the less traditional --

CUOMO: Right, although --

CAMEROTA: -- pictures.

CUOMO: -- we just looked at that gallery and those tend to be pretty traditional, also. These are not, all right? That's what this story's about.

There are some creative comparisons going on on social media and you know who we had to bring in for that, CNN's Jeanne Moos. Here's her take.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There they were in the flesh, holding hands, waiting for their National Gallery portraits to be unveiled. First, hers and then, his.

Not your average National Gallery presidential portrait.


MOOS: But what's with all the greenery?

"In the weeds, as usual, I see," tweeted one critic. "Coming out of Wrigley's left field," commented someone else.

Both President Obama and the former first lady chose African-American artists.

Kehinde Wiley explained the plants include flowers from Chicago, Hawaii, and Kenya, but all some could see was Sean Spicer hiding in the bushes. Someone else noticed a similarity to Beyonce's pregnancy announcement.

The artist, Wiley, is known for painting African-Americans, like Michael Jackson, in royal settings mimicking old masters. He choked up thanking his mom.

KEHINDE WILEY, ARTIST: We didn't have much but she found a way to get paint.

MOOS: Amy Sherald painted Michelle's portrait using gray tones to downplay skin color so her subject's personality would come to the fore.

President Obama thanked her for capturing the intelligence.

OBAMA: And the hotness of the woman that I love.

MOOS: The first lady reacted to her own image.


MOOS: But who instead of wow is what half of the people we asked said.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is she an actress? I have no idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little like Michelle Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A little like her but I don't think it is her.


MOOS (on camera): Who is this woman?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is a very good question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's a gorgeous picture of Michelle Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no idea.

MOOS (voice-over): Some who recognized Michelle Obama --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God only knows -- Michelle Obama.

MOOS: -- did it the roundabout way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know those arms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great guns, as they say.

MOOS: And you know what they say about Obama's portrait -- he has very big hands.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


CAMEROTA: Jeanne always has an interesting take.

CUOMO: It used to be you can't please everyone. Now, it's you can't please anyone --


CUOMO: -- ever.

CAMEROTA: Exactly. But those are really, really creative, interesting takes.


CAMEROTA: Not what anybody was expecting. You could hear the (gasp) when it was unveiled, you know?

CUOMO: And if the former president and the former first lady like them that's good enough for us, right?

All right. So, we're following a lot of news. What do you say? Let's get after it.