Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Calls Undocumented Gang Members Animals; Hawaiian Authorities Warn Explosive Eruptions Could Happen Anytime; Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Tries to Fast Track Sexual Harassment Bill. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 17, 2018 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I think you could extend that and say that's not how we win elections, right, in her view. Can Democrats -- is she right and can Democrats resist the rabbit holes?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, this is an important issue. The independence of the Department of Justice, the fact that the Mueller investigation must go to its logical conclusion, that information needs to be made available, and accountability to anyone who's violated our laws. We need to speak out about that because it's fundamental to our country.

But I would agree with Senator Klobuchar, this election, the midterm elections, Democrats are going to be running on what Americans want to hear about their pocketbook issues, protecting our health care system, and access to affordable quality health care, making college education affordable, dealing with just those type of key issues, workforce issues, jobs, that's going to be our message going into the midterm elections.

HARLOW: Senator Ben Cardin, appreciate you being here today, thank you.

CARDIN: Thank you.

HARLOW: President Trump vowing to fix the, quote, "dumbest immigration laws in the world." The president's words. He talked about MS-13 gang members in a way that has a lot of people debating this morning -- calling them animals in the process. We're going to dive into that immigration debate ahead.



[10:35:18] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have people coming into the country, trying to come in, we're stopping a lot of them. But we're taking people out of the country, you wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: "These are animals." And those comments received a lot of attention. That comment followed a discussion about MS-13 gang members. The White House says that is what the president was referring to there, undocumented MS-13 gang members that the White House says it is working to get out of this country. This was part of a meeting where the president was talking about fixing the immigration laws here.

Joining us now to discuss, Jamal Simmons, Democratic strategist, host of the "Beat D.C." podcast and Steve Cortes, a CNN political commentator, former Trump campaign adviser.

Jamal, saying that, you know, getting animals out of the country, if you are talking about MS-13 members, is there a problem with that?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Listen, there is a problem with the entire approach that the president has taken. What he's doing is he is using immigration and his attack on Latinos as a way to stoke the anger and fear among many white Americans who are the base of his support. And he's using that to divide the rest of the country to keep Republicans in charge and continue to give money away to his wealthy friends.

I think we've got to be focused an what's really going on here and the reality is the Republicans are going to be in jeopardy, not just in this election, but elections to come as the country becomes more diverse, but Donald Trump has decided stoking white anger and getting that turnout is his most important thing, not what's doing what's best for the country.

HARLOW: Steve?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Jamal, I would say as a Latino, you couldn't be more wrong on all of those points. This is not about white anger. I'll tell you this, too. Allowing dangerous known illegal immigrants to remain in the United States after they have committed crimes, at times violent crimes, allowing them to stay here is not just dangerous to white Americans, it's probably most dangerous to Hispanics because very often Hispanics are the very victims of these dangerous people who are hiding in plain sight in places like California.

And I would say regarding the president's comments, I was really disappointed yesterday, the news media, and the way that they improperly reported his comment.

John, you just did it correctly. You gave the context of he was asked specifically about MS-13, but there were headlines and tweets from mainstream news all over the place yesterday that he called immigrants animals and that wasn't at all the case. He called MS-13 --

BERMAN: Let me --


SIMMONS: Steve, you know -- you know that Donald Trump is not playing, you know that Donald Trump is not playing that minutely. Donald Trump is using these words very specifically. CORTES: I do know that.

SIMMONS: The day he announced for president, the day he announced he said, that Mexicans are rapists and murderers. The day he announced. He's never moved away from that.

CORTES: No. He said some.


CORTES: Jamal, he said some. We have to be honest here.

SIMMONS: Well, you know politics is all about nuance.

CORTES: That's fake news to say that he called Mexicans -- no, no, no, it's about precision and it's about precise language.

HARLOW: He actually -- so let's be precise, and the quote from the president when he said that was when Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best, they're not sending you, they're sending people that have lots of problems, they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and I assume some are good people, Steve.

CORTES: Right. And listen. First of all, I don't think he phrased that correctly. And I wish he had. I don't like the phrasing he used in his announcement speech. At that time, I wasn't a supporter of his. He won me over over time during the primaries. But I will say this --

SIMMONS: Win you over when he went after Judge Curiel? Win you over when he went after Judge Curiel, who's not a Mexican and he couldn't judge because he was a Mexican?

CORTES: You know when he won me over? Was when he gave a growth message to the country that the workers of America, of whatever color, of whatever ethnicity, who have been abused and forgotten by a crony system in Washington, D.C. that --


BERMAN: Let me bring up another area in immigration that's happening right now on the floor of the U.S. House which is that a number of Republicans have signed a discharge position. What they have done, 20 Republicans so far, they signed this petition, for people who don't know what that means, is they're trying to get a floor vote on DACA, on extending protections to these people --

HARLOW: Forced.

BERMAN: Force the vote without going through committee. The speaker of the House doesn't want it. And he's told Republicans not to do it behind closed doors.

Very quickly, Steve, and then Jamal, what do you make of this effort, Steve? CORTES: I'm totally opposed. While I do want DACA to be preserved

because I do think that's a different category, legal immigrant, they didn't choose to break our immigration laws, it has to be part of a comprehensive package that includes more border security and end to chain migration and an end to the visa lottery. The president put a very reasonable compromise on the table. The Democrats have shown, they don't want to compromise, they want a controversy heading into November.

HARLOW: Jamal, what do you make of this? This is Republicans going against their leadership in the House and they need five more to sign on to make this thing happen.

[10:40:01] SIMMONS: They are. Because the politics around this are tough. I mean, some of these Republicans are in districts that Hillary Clinton won by 16 points. You look at a state like Nevada. In Nevada, you know, Republicans have been beaten time and time again because of a surge of Latino votes that have come out.

Arizona has a Senate race that's going to be tough. And just this morning, I'm just hearing that perhaps even the Koch brothers are doing ads that support some Democrats on immigration. This is going to divide the Republican Party but Donald Trump is not up to that game. Donald Trump is dividing the country so that he can maintain power for his crony friends and give them more tax cuts and cut more regulations that are going to hurt working people. That's what this is about.

CORTES: Hispanic unemployment is at an all time low. Six of the seven best months ever for Hispanic employment have been in the last year under the leadership of President Trump. Hispanics are benefiting from his policy and I believe they're going to come to him politically.

HARLOW: I mean, does that erase --


HARLOW: Hold on, hold on. Steve, I get the unemployment numbers. And that's great to see, African-American unemployment is down as well. But does that erase the language that the president has used?

CORTES: Which language? Are you talking about animals? I don't want that phrase, by the way. MS-13 people --

HARLOW: No, I'm talking about the history of the comments that he has made about immigrants and about Latinos, all the way on down from what I just read you, to his comments about Judge Curiel not being able to do his job. It's good that unemployment is down. But does that do away with the rhetoric in any way?

CORTES: Look, yes, I think people are more -- whatever color, whatever ethnicity. I think they're more concerned about their lives, are they more prosperous, are they more secure, than the president at times, perhaps speaking in a manner that he shouldn't. Also part of the appeal of this president, part of the reason he won is his incredible authenticity. He doesn't speak in a careful, lawyerly fashion. He never did.

SIMMONS: Yes. He --


BERMAN: Hang on, hang on. Steve. Steve --

HARLOW: Insults are OK?

BERMAN: We should believe him when he says -- we should believe him then, according to you, he's being authentic when he's calling Mexicans coming over the border rapists, right?

CORTES: Look, what he's saying is, if you allow illegality, if you allow a lawless border--


BERMAN: No, no, no. I mean --

CORTES: That is a dangerous situation.

BERMAN: You were talking about he's -- I'm saying, do we take him at -- if he's authentic as you say, do we take him at his word, yes or no?

CORTES: Hold on now. I'm saying -- are there rapists and murderers who come across illegally, yes.

HARLOW: That's not what -- hold on, Steve.

CORTES: That is correct.

HARLOW: Steve, we're glad you came on the show, but then you --

CORTES: And the more --


HARLOW: Hold on, Steve. You can't dance around the question. You said the president is being authentic here. John's question to you is, OK, so we take him at his word when he says they are drug dealers, they are rapists that are coming into this country? Yes or no?

CORTES: Do drug dealers and rapists cross the border? Yes, absolutely they do.

HARLOW: That's not my question. That's not my question and you know it.

CORTES: I think all of us know that. I think -- no, I don't know it. When you have a lawless border, when you encourage and tolerate illegality, you're going to have terrible things. You're going to have human trafficking, drugs, rapists, murderers, yes, we've tolerated far too much. That tide is turning now thankfully in America because of our economic and national security dictate a secure border.

The president knows that. The people know that. They elected him for this. This if anything was his fundamental issue in 2016. He was --


SIMMONS: John and Poppy --

BERMAN: Very quickly, Jamal.

SIMMONS: One last thing, if you're somebody who has been in this country for 10 or 20 years, you've been working as a housekeeper or even working in an office and all of a sudden you're going to be kicked out of the country and deported, the president's good economy does not help you if you're going to be kicked out of this country. And I think there are millions of families in this country that are scared to death that they're going to lose family members because of this president's stark policies and even people at the border who are having children separated from their parents, babies separated from their parents.

BERMAN: All right.

SIMMONS: This is not the America that we all signed up for.

BERMAN: To be continued. This discussion. Guys, guys, we're going to go --

CORTES: If you don't want to get separated from your children, don't cross the border illegally.

BERMAN: Steve. Steve, we got to go. Jamal, we got to go. Thanks for the discussion. We will pick it up again in the near future.

SIMMONS: Thank you. Take care.

BERMAN: Next on the long list of worries for residents of Hawaii, explosive eruptions without warning and volcanic smog. The latest from the big island next.


[10:48:24] HARLOW: A nightmare continuing for residents of Hawaii's big island. Officials now warn people and airplanes to stay away from parts of the island after this Kilauea Volcano shot a plume of ash 12,000 feet into the air.

HARLOW: Officials are also concerned a bigger eruption could happen anytime without warning. One that would send large rocks of boulders for miles.

Joining us now from the scene, CNN's Scott McLean.

Scott, give us the latest.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Poppy, you guys didn't even mention the sulfur dioxide that is floating around parts of this island in really dangerous concentrations, thanks largely to the 20 plus fissures that have opened up like the one that we're looking at right now.

This is the most active one. You can see it continues to spew lava. Geologists say that it is dying down. But, listen, you can hear it there, we have been watching it now for the past four nights. And at least to our untrained eyes and ears, some of the loudest and most intense explosions that we have noticed have happened just in the past couple of hours.

There are also the earthquakes to contend with. The U.S. Geological Service, they've actually mapped them over the past two weeks and the volume, the frequency of them is absolutely stunning to see. Some are small, you don't even hardly notice them. Others, like the 4.2 that we felt yesterday, well, they are impossible to miss. People who live near that main crater of Kilauea in a town called Volcano, ironically, they're used to earthquakes but they're not used to them in this frequency. They have actually had things, at least the people that I have spoken to, falling off of shelves.

[10:50:02] Obviously they're worried about safety, so they're trying to secure those things right now.

Those earthquakes, they are expected to continue and they might even get more frequent. And here is the most scary thing, again, you can hear those explosions behind me, John and Poppy. But here's the most -- here is the scariest part is that yesterday geologists found big rocks, some of them two feet across, in the parking lot of that main crater, several hundred yards away. Obviously those rocks from an explosion, that main crater, they could do a heck of a lot of damage and the thought of an even bigger explosion is not only very possible, but of course it is in the back of everyone's minds here.

HARLOW: Indeed. Or at the front of their minds.

Scott McLean, thank you.

BERMAN: Well, the lava is literally right behind them.

HARLOW: Literally --

BERMAN: The back of its mind, it's behind them, about a hundred yards.

HARLOW: Remarkable.

BERMAN: Stay safe, Scott. Appreciate it.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Just moments ago on the Senate floor, we saw something very, very interesting. New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand urging her colleagues to take a fast track on sexual harassment legislation.

HARLOW: Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill with more on Gillibrand's efforts.

The day, she chose today because it's been 100 days since this legislation passed the House but has gone nowhere in the Senate.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. In the three months since the House passed their version of the sexual harassment legislation, it really has gone nowhere fast up here in the Senate. There has been a series of stalled momentum, roadblocks for this bill. And Senator Gillibrand from New York really trying to mark this moment, the 100 days since the House has passed their version of the legislation.

And doing something of a symbolic move on this Senate floor this morning, using a procedural maneuver where we'll likely see -- put some pressure on the Senate leadership up here to advance something forward.

Now Senator Gillibrand is pushing for her bill to go forward. But behind the scenes, we know that there is a very small bipartisan group of senators, Senator Blunt, Senator Klobuchar, working with Senator Schumer and McConnell, to advance compromise text of this legislation that would overhaul how sexual harassment claims are made and handled up here on Capitol Hill.

So likely this move by Gillibrand will not do much by way of advancing her specific bill, but it most certainly will put a lot of pressure on leadership to get agreement on the compromise legislation.

You know this has been something that Capitol Hill, John and Poppy, have been working on since last fall in the wake of the Me Too Movement and so it is significant that the House has passed their investigation and so far the Senate just has not.

BERMAN: We'll see what happens there. All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thank you, Sunlen.

BERMAN: The Rockets respond. Houston dominates game two of the NBA Western Conference Finals. "Bleacher Report" is next.


[10:57:20] BERMAN: Houston, we have a series. The Rockets respond with a dominating game two performance to even the Western Conference at 2-2.

HARLOW: Lindsay Czarniak has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report." Good morning.

LINDSAY CZARNIAK, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, guys. They really had no other choice. I mean, that's the bottom line. The Rockets knew if they lost this second game in Houston, it was going to be extremely difficult to fight off the Warriors when this series shifts to their home court.

This "Bleacher Report" brought to you by Ford, going further so you can.

So the Rockets responded to their game by essentially giving the Warriors a taste of their own medicine. Right? They changed the tempo from the start, striking early and fast. And you can see it paid off. They were simply the more aggressive team. The Rockets' Chris Paul, look at that move. Unbelievable. Just trying to get Steph Curry, then, here we go, and these guys, P.J. Tucker came up huge, scored 22 points, had five three-pointers.

The rockets had five players who finished in double figures, three who had at least 22. The Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni had confidence in his team's style of play all along.


MIKE D'ANTONI, HOUSTON ROCKETS HEAD COACH: We're very comfortable about who we are. And we can beat anybody, anywhere, at anytime, playing the way we play.

JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON ROCKETS: We focus on what we're supposed to do. We don't worry about who we're playing against. It's not about just match or what they're doing. It's about us.


CZARNIAK: To the NHL we go, if you haven't seen the Vegas Golden Knights pregame festivities, it is almost worth it to get in itself. Last night's show, it was sort of the "Game of Thrones" type drama that you saw here and then the pyrotechnic display symbolizing the opponents they've eliminated. You can see the arrows shooting off the teams that they've knocked out.

Now as for the actual game, Vegas made a statement early, the Golden Knights scoring in first minute. Marc-Andre Fleury had a remarkable night, 33 saves. Vegas, two wins away from advancing now to the Stanley Cup Final.

And lastly, a love of sport prevailing through unbelievable circumstances.

BERMAN: Oh, my.

CZARNIAK: Right? Hawaii, you know, we've been talking about it, under red alert with the volcanic activities. But this is an image telling the story of resilience really. A photographer capturing this image of golfers, mid-round on Hawaii's big island as the result of that volcanic eruption. A humongous ash plume rising there behind. 12,000 feet is the height that that was reaching but these golfer showing that clearly they're not scared by what they see, they're going to carry on. So amazing.

BERMAN: You know, sometimes it's OK to just play nine. Right?


BERMAN: I mean, you don't have to go out there and finish if the volcano is erupting.


BERMAN: Just saying.

CZARNIAK: Right. I know a lot of people that listen to music while they golf, can you imagine what that would be like if you're seeing those types of things going on behind you?

BERMAN: Lindsay Czarniak, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thank you.


HARLOW: And thank you all for being with us today. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. The Russia investigation turns one year old today. I guess a happy birthday is in order but well-wishes, you're probably not.