Return to Transcripts main page


EPA's Scott Pruitt Used Aide to Help Wife Get Hired; Puerto Rico Releases Death Records from Hurricane Maria; Interview with Representative Jeff Denham; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 13, 2018 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: But yet even Republican Senator Joni Ernst said this is as swampy as swampy gets. So for these sort of anti, drain the swamp president, why is he willing to stick with Scott Pruitt?

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: The president really like Scott Pruitt as you said, and Scott Pruitt has -- you know, conducted a lot of his regulatory agenda. A lot of high-profile Trump donors and supporters really like Harold Ham really likes Scott Pruitt, and he hears consistently from conservatives around the country that Scott Pruitt is one of the most effective members of his Cabinet.

What's interesting to us is that support for Pruitt inside the West Wing has eroded. Basically the president is the only person left in the building who supports Scott Pruitt. But the president really supports Scott Pruitt. He also has talked to Scott Pruitt about his frustrations with Jeff Sessions as "The New York Times" first reported this weekend and that's certainly true, and he has, you know, talked to Scott Pruitt about a number of political issues outside of the EPA.

He's one of the president's favorite Cabinet members and so far the drip, drip, drip of ethical issues has not changed that dynamic for the president.

HARLOW: Yes. Important reporting as always. Josh Dawsey, nice to have you. Thanks again.

DAWSEY: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: All right. So next, there was a rebellion over immigration among some House Republicans. Some late-night wrangling, though, managed to quash the revolt. What's next, though, in this battle over immigration reform among House Republicans as we head to the midterms.


[10:36:24] HARLOW: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York, and right now a lot of questions about just how deadly Hurricane Maria was to the people of Puerto Rico. The official death toll still stands at 64, but of course, you know that Harvard study that came out a few weeks ago. It shows that nearly 5,000 people may have died as a result. That number was an estimate based on surveys. Now, though, we could be closer to learning the actual death toll. This after CNN sued the government there to release the death records

and won that suit.

Joining me now our correspondent Leyla Santiago has been following this story and hammering on it every day since the hurricane hit. Tell me about this legal motion and what it will now allow us and allow the public to actually learn.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Poppy. We are expecting to over the next few days get a total of 24,000 death certificates. Yesterday we received a database that has about 12,000 of them and so we're going to be looking at that to try to get a better understanding of what happened after Hurricane Maria in terms of deaths.

I want to be clear, that doesn't mean there are 24,000 deaths related to Hurricane Maria. Some on this database do say cataclysmic storm as a cause, but now we want to look into the other one. Get to the bottom of who died, when, where, how? What were the conditions that led to those deaths?

I've heard from doctors who say that a lack of medical care or access to medical care, lack of power led to a lot of those deaths. That's what we're going to be investigating.

Now as you mentioned we had to sue for that. We joined in a lawsuit with the Center for Investigative Journalism here on the island. They -- yesterday or, excuse me, two days ago the government of Puerto Rico asked for an extension. They said they needed more time to be able to redact some of the Social Securities on the death certificates, but the judge said no, sided with us, and that's when the release of those records began.

Now how is this different from what you mentioned? The Harvard study? Well, the Harvard study was an estimate. They surveyed different areas around the island, talked to 10,000 people, and based on the trends they found there, researchers said a conservative estimate would be 4600 deaths related to Hurricane Maria, but again, that is an estimate. We have done investigations in the past that show we believe that last year the death toll could have been at least nine times and that was based on interviews with funeral homes and families.

This is now concrete evidence that will give us a better understanding of the actual death toll -- Poppy.

HARLOW: You know, as you know, Leyla, the governor, Ricardo Rossello, told our Anderson Cooper a few -- you know, a bit over a week ago there will be hell to pay if anything was withheld, talking about how much he wanted to see transparency. Now we'll get it because of this lawsuit.

What about the families that you've been talking to? The people on the ground, as they learn this news? What are they saying to you?

SANTIAGO: Well, Poppy, let me first address what you've mentioned with the governor. I reached out to La Fortaleza, that's the governor's mansion. They didn't have any comments on this but I wanted to ask specifically about that.

In terms of the family, I talked to one family last night, the family of Pepe Sanchez. He was the first we featured in our investigation. And his wife said that she got goosebumps hearing that this information was being released because she believes there will be more Pepes out there, more cases, more than 64 deaths related to Hurricane Maria and that is so important.

[10:40:02] I think any researcher or expert in this field will tell you because if we don't have a good understanding of this death toll there is no way to possibly prevent that from happening again in the future.

HARLOW: Right.

SANTIAGO: That's why those numbers are so important.

HARLOW: Leyla, thank you for staying on all of this for us. We appreciate it. Let us know what you find as you guys go through that data.

Ahead for us, House Republicans reached a deal to stop a rebellion against House leadership on immigration reform. Speaker Paul Ryan just addressed it. You'll hear that next.


HARLOW: All right. Moments ago House Speaker Paul Ryan taking questions, addressing questions about the ability the House leadership had at the last moment to stave off this rebellion that would have forced the vote on four immigration bills dealing with DACA on the floor, something that Ryan did not want to see. Here's what he said this morning.


[10:45:10] REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: This is an effort to bring our caucus together, our conference together on immigration. I am very -- I am very pleased with our members. What happened was our members got together, spoke with one another, and compromised with each other so that we could find a way forward without exercising a discharge petition which would mean we would never make law.

And so now what we have is a natural chance at making law and solving this problem, and members wanted to have votes on their issues. There are members who want to have a vote on the bill (INAUDIBLE), they're going to get that. And then we now have a bill that represents a compromise that is going to be brought to the floor so members can actually vote on legislation, tackling this issue and this has a chance of going into law, because like I said before, the last thing I want to do is bring a bill out of here that I know the president won't support.

Well, we've been working hand in glove with the administration on this to make sure that we're bringing a bill that represents the president's -- (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. So there you have it. House Speaker Paul Ryan this morning saying he's very pleased with how this all played out.

Let's talk with Congressman Jeff Denham, Republican of California, about this.

And sir, you're so relevant right now on this point because you were one of those Republicans who've signed on to this discharge petition, pushed it, trying to force a vote on all four of these bills on the floor against the will of your House leadership. They said it was not a good idea. It would divide the party. You wanted to see it happen. So let me ask you now where we are, this compromise that Paul Ryan just spoke about.

Two bills will be brought up for a vote next week, one of them is not expected to have the support to pass. The other one isn't written yet. Is this a compromise you're happy with?

REP. JEFF DENHAM (R) CALIFORNIA: You know, this isn't certainly how I would have written a bill, but it is a compromise. It does protect Dreamers on day one. As soon as this law is enacted, it will not only protect those that signed up for DACA, but also those Dreamers that were eligible and never did and those that have aged in.

Our goal is to make sure that not only do we have a permanent fix for Dreamers, but ultimately that we secure our border for the entire country as well. This bill does both of those.

HARLOW: I should note, obviously, representing California, the state with the most DACA recipients of any state, almost 200 according to "The L.A. Times." Why do you think it is that, you know, Republican leadership is vehemently opposed what you wanted to see, so vehemently opposed having these four different immigration bills come to the floor and force a vote. Are they afraid of the impact, the potential impact to the Republicans ahead of the midterms?

DENHAM: I certainly think that immigration is a difficult topic, not only for our country, it's an emotional topic for either party. Both parties have failed to get this done over the last 30 years. We thought we were going to get it done with the March 5th deadline but absent that we had to create our own deadline to force this together.

I thought that we would have had a great bipartisan bill with the USA Act, but our current compromise does protect Dreamers.

HARLOW: So your Democratic opponent heading into November, as you know, Josh Harder, he makes the argument, sir, that you pay lip service to comprehensive immigration reform, that you want to -- you say you want to help Dreamers, but that you don't act on it. So let me read you part of what he posted on his Web site, quote, talking about you, "He's remained silent while his administration has broken up families and deported law-abiding immigrants who own businesses and create jobs." You said on NBC a few days ago, look, my kids go to school with

Dreamers. I know them, they have graduated, succeeded, and gone to college and moved on to jobs. So what do you say to your Democratic opponent who says you pay lip service for this and then you don't do anything?

DENHAM: Well, he's a big supporter of Nancy Pelosi who had a much larger majority than this, had a huge majority of both Houses, and the presidency. They did not make this a priority or bring it up, so I have. I not only introduced the Enlist Act seven years ago but I have continuously pressed and pressed to force a vote to the point of even standing up to my own party. This is not about party. This is about finding a solution for Dreamers and --


DENHAM: I'm the one to test the waters on it.

HARLOW: So his argument is that you are silent while the Trump administration makes big overhauls to immigration policy on the asylum front --

DENHAM: Look, this is a guy --

HARLOW: Hold on. Hold on, as you know -- hold on one second. As you know, Jeff Sessions, Department of Justice, radically changed the way the immigration course worked this week and made it much harder for people to seek asylum in this country, and also the criminal prosecution of those crossing the border means much more separation of parents from children at the border. Are these two moves that you're supportive of the administration on?

DENHAM: Look, the previous administration deported more people than any other administration. Again --

HARLOW: Congressman, that would be relevant --

DENHAM: Both, both parties --

HARLOW: Hold on, Congressman. That would be relevant if my question were about the previous administration. But I asked you specifically, this administration, the moves on asylum seekers this week and the separation at the border because of the criminal prosecution, are you supportive of both of those moves?

[10:50:02] DENHAM: I didn't think the law worked under the previous president. It's the same law, and I'm going to continue to work to find a solution. We have a solution here.

HARLOW: So I'm asking you, are you supportive of the changes?

DENHAM: We have a compromised bill --

HARLOW: Congressman, are you supportive of the changes? Are you supportive that the Department of Justice has changed the asylum seekers law, the way the immigration course operates? Let's tackle that first. Do you support that move to make it much more difficult --

DENHAM: We are tackling it --

HARLOW: -- for people to seek asylum in this country? Was that the right move?

DENHAM: We are tackling it through a bill. A compromise bill. Look, if you're going to seek asylum, if you're in jeopardy in your country, then wouldn't you seek asylum in the next safest country that you pass through? I mean, it's a question that the American public needs to answer.

HARLOW: So you're saying --

DENHAM: Is how much immigration policy is too much?

HARLOW: You're saying those asylum seekers from Central American should seek asylum in Mexico and not the United States. Is that what you're arguing?

DENHAM: I think that we ought to be concerned about their safety and wherever they can find safety I think is important. I think that we can't solve the problems of the entire globe but we've got to work together in doing so, which is why we've come up with a bill that makes sense for the United States of America.

HARLOW: Just yes or no, do you support the administration's changes this week for asylum seekers?

DENHAM: I am focused on getting a piece of legislation done that addresses this very issue.

HARLOW: I don't understand why you don't think that's a relevant question to answer.

DENHAM: I think that there are many different asylum seekers and pathway to seek asylum which is why we're going to address it legislatively.

HARLOW: Congressman, I'd love to have you back and see if we can get an answer on that one. Appreciate your time. Thank you.

DENHAM: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. Still to come, huge news for soccer fans. The World Cup is coming to the States. Coy Wire has the "Bleacher Report" next.


[10:56:17] HARLOW: The United States, Mexico, Canada, winning the right to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the big tournament in soccer, of course.

Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." This is kind of cool. COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: So cool, Poppy.

HARLOW: These is three different countries doing it at the same time.

WIRE: Absolutely. Co-hosting, if you will. The crown jewel of the world's most popular sport coming to America along with co-hosting nations Canada and Mexico, as you mentioned, Poppy.

This "Bleacher Report" presented by Ford going further so you can.

Now we want to show you the scene when the winning bid was announced early this morning in Moscow at FIFA's annual meeting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The member associations of Canada, Mexico and USA have been selected by the FIFA Congress to hold the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Thank you.


WIRE: This voting marked the first time in more than half a century that all of FIFA's member associations, more than 200 nations, were the decision-makers. Before this, it was the FIFA executives which would decide which nation would host but after that controversial awarding of this year's tournament to Russia and Qatar in 2022, FIFA promised a more open and transparent vote.

The 2026 World Cup be would the biggest ever with 48 teams playing across 34 days. Also of note, the U.S. may get an automatic bid to play in 2026 as has been customary for host nations. But FIFA says that may not be the case this time being that there are three nations co-hosting. Remember the U.S. failed to qualify for this year's tournament which starts tomorrow in Russia.

Our nation's capital, boy, do they know how to party for their hometown team. A recorded 100,000 people turning out there to help the Capitals to celebrate their first-ever Stanley Cup victory and the city's first championship, period, in 26 years. Caps star Alex Ovechkin, he's like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps going and going in what has been seemingly a non-stop party ever since victory over Vegas last week.


ALEX OVECHKIN, WASHINGTON CAPITALS WINGER: We're not going to be (EXPLETIVE DELETED) so this year. We are the Stanley Cup champions. Yes.


WIRE: And the West Coast knows how to party, too. Bottles popping in Oakland. Warriors fans parading like pros at this point. Celebrating their third championship in the last four years yet somehow Kevin Durant, the Warriors star, still doesn't quite know how to open a champagne bottle. He needs some help, someone timed him and it took him nearly a minute to figure out how to eventually get it open.

Poppy, an estimated half a million dollars spent on alcohol for this celebration.


WIRE: I find it's a fascinating juxtaposition compared to the hockey players who they're just cracking some beers open, drinking them out of the Stanley Cup.

HARLOW: Right.

WIRE: But hey, to each their own, right?

HARLOW: Exactly. So happy for both of them. That is great to see. I can never get the champagne bottle open, either.

Thank you, Coy. Good to see you.

WIRE: You're welcome.

HARLOW: Finally this hour, my favorite story, the tale of a brave raccoon who captivated the Internet by embarking on a death-defying climbing of a 25-story skyscraper in the great state of Minnesota, St. Paul, to be exact. For hours yesterday the Internet went wild watching the animal grip the sides of this building like Spider-man. No balconies, no open windows to clasp to. Office workers inside were left watching anxiously as the critter continued its climb with Minnesota Public Radio starting the #mprraccoon, and then last night, something remarkable happened.

Look at that spotlight on the raccoon, made it to the roof. We are happy to report this morning just a short time ago, that raccoon was safely caught, lured to a cage by some delicious, soft cat food. And there's your moment of zen.


HARLOW: Thank you all for being with us today. I'm Poppy Harlow. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.