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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Source: President Trump Told GOP Lawmakers That "The Crying Babies Don't Look Good Politically"; Interview with Senator Jeff Merkley; Many Religious Leaders Attacking Trump Administration Policy At Southern Border; Tearful Audio Tape Still Echoing Across Social Media. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired June 19, 2018 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[20:00:15] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

President Trump went to Capitol Hill late today to meet with a Republican Party divided over immigration but increasingly opposed to President Trump specific policy of separating families in the border. Dana Bash joins us shortly with the breaking news on that meeting.

We begin though keeping them honest, with some of the president's harshest language yet on the subject, including his use of a word "infest" which is normally not associated with human beings. There's that and new reporting on the administration's effort to gaslight the public on the issue despite what our eyes, our ears and the facts themselves are saying.

According to the government, more than 2,300 children have now been separated from their parents. Yet as you know, according to the president and others, this is all consequence of existing laws and not the recent decision by his administration to enforce that law in a new zero-tolerance way.

That much we knew and know. The question has been was whether this new policy which remember DHS Secretary Nielsen has refused to say even is a policy was actually designed to use the cruelty of tearing kids even toddlers and infants from their moms and dads as a deterrent.

Now keeping them honest, the administration can't seem to keep its own story straight on this one. Secretary Nielsen yesterday appeared offended that someone would even ask that question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Are you intending for this to play out as it is playing out? Are you intending for parents to be separated from their children? Are you intending to send a message?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I find that offensive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Which is interesting and also kind of weird because just a few hours after Nielsen was so offended, the attorney general said -- and wait for it -- that's the policies being used to send a message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Are you considering it as a deterrence?

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I see that the fact that no one was being prosecuted for this as a factor in a five-fold increase in four years in this kind of illegal immigration. So, yes, hopefully, people will get the message and come through the border, at the port of entry, and not break across the border unlawfully.

INGRAHAM: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, this is something he has also said publicly before the policy went into effect and that Secretary Nielsen's predecessor, John Kelly, said more than a year ago.

Mixed messaging aside, new CNN reporting reveals first that the zero tolerance policy was discussed in the early months of the administration as for the consequences we're seeing play out now.

According to a source familiar with early Department of Homeland Security deliberations, the notion of a deterrent effect was, in fact, discussed, but was first seen as too risky. Quoting the source: people foresaw that using that was going to result in a blowback of humanitarian concerns about using mothers and children for those policies.

So, keeping them honest, none of this was a surprise. It was discussed, the consequences were considered, versus something to fear then later, that view changed. This was not in other words some random effect of a law that had been on the books for a decade.

The president knowing this might happen, chose to set in motion the policy that made it happen today though, he doubled down. First came a string of tweets, including this one -- Democrats are the problem. They don't care about crime and want illegal immigrants no matter how bad they may be to pour into and infest our country like MS-13. They can't win on their terrible policies so they view them as potential voters.

Now, the verb "infest" is defined by Webster's as to spread or swarm in or over in a troublesome manner, or to live in or on as a parasite.

Then later today, he spoke out, making a series of nonfactual statements.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do you know if a person comes in and puts one foot on our ground, it's essentially welcome to America, welcome to our country -- you never get them out, because they take their name, they bring the name down, they file it, and then they let the person go. They say, show back up to court in one year from now. One year.

But here's the thing, that in itself is ridiculous like 3 percent come back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Actually, according to Justice Department figures for 2016, the most recent year available, that percentage is more like 75 percent.

The president also said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And it got so crazy that all of these thousands -- we now have thousands of judges, border judges, thousands and thousands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: He says there are thousands and thousands. In reality, there are 335. But, look, who's counting, whatever.

Finally to the central point, the policy, his policy, the president again refused to take any responsibility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: But we have to get the Democrats to go ahead and work with us because as a result of Democrats-supported loopholes in our federal laws, most illegal immigrant families and minors from Central America who arrived unlawfully at the border cannot be detained together or removed together, only released.

[20:05:12] These are crippling loopholes that cause family separation, which we don't want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We don't want it, he said, this thing that he caused and this thing that he travelled to the capital, he said, to actually try and fix.

CNN's Dana Bash, as we said, has the breaking news on that the president's meeting with House Republicans this evening.

So, what more are you learning about what took place from -- in that meeting?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president came and met with House Republicans and the Republicans were hoping that he would come and change things for them, that they -- that he would make clear that he is very much behind one of the immigration bills that the leadership has on the table. And he effectively said that he supports both of these bills.

So, what does that mean? It means that according to multiple members, Anderson, coming out of this meeting with the president, that they didn't think he moved the ball very much. In fact, one member said it was uneventful.

Well, if the president is coming to rally members to support legislation, uneventful is not the term you want used to describe it. Having said that, there is some hope among the Republicans who are pushing for -- with this broad immigration bill that at least his presence here could help, although the other side to that is, I talked to one member who remembered the president saying that he was behind a big spending bill. This member voted for it, only for the president to in the words of this member throw them under the bus.

And one other the thing, Anderson, on this issue of children and separating children from their families, what I'm told that the president did behind closed doors is really talk about it in the political context, talking about the images and the optics about how bad it is politically, much more so than about the policy in general. And that rubs some Republicans the wrong way who I talked to, who are saying, wait a minute, it's not just about the optics, which are not good, it's about what we are doing to these children.

COOPER: How much momentum is there in Congress right now to actually do something about the zero tolerance, this child separation policy, in particular?

BASH: It's a really hard question to answer to a person Republicans and Democrats say obviously that they want this to stop. But when you're just speaking about Republicans who run Congress, they -- it's not really clear how they're going to get this done. For example, these two bills that they're talking about in the House of Representatives possibly bringing up as soon as this week, they don't even know if they have the votes for them.

Both of them do have language to deal with of this child separation issue, even if one of them passed which is a big if, it also includes broader illegal immigration language like, for example, the president's border wall, funding that, and other issues that some Democrats don't support.

So, even if one of those paths, it's really doubtful, very doubtful that the Senate would bring it up. On the flip side, the Senate majority leader said today that the Republicans in the Senate are united about legislating a fix to this horrible problem of the children being separated from their families and you have the Democrats who at least some of them, the Republicans would need to support it, saying, no, we're not going to do this because we think that the president can do this with the stroke of a pen. So, that is really in it in a nutshell where this is.

And I also think just if I may, the president didn't take any questions tonight from House Republicans. And all -- so that means despite all of this outrage about this policy, he didn't hear it personally from any of the Republicans so he was in the room with here in the Capitol tonight.

COOPER: Dana Bash, thanks very much. Fascinating. We have new reporting as well from the White House tonight. Our

Kaitlan Collins is there for us now.

So, what's the White House said about the meeting?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Anderson, we saw that what Dana just said, the president should go up there and essentially give a pep talk to these members to get behind one of these bills. He clearly didn't do that. Instead, it was more like one of his greatest hits rallies where he talked about trade, North Korea, essentially everything under the sun while touching on immigration here, and there was confusion when they got out of that meeting whether or not the president had supported the compromise bill and thrown his weight behind that or whether he had simply alluded to it.

Anderson, that led to the White House issuing a statement from a readout essentially of that meeting, saying that in the remarks, the president endorsed both House immigration bills, saying that they want the ones that build the wall, close legal loopholes, cancel the visa lottery, curb chain migration and solved the border crisis. He told the members, quote: I'm with you 100 percent.

But the bottom line is the point of this meeting before all of this drama over the family separation issue was to get presidential momentum behind one of these bills. That didn't happen and people in the White House do not feel to the prospects for either of those bills passing looks good right now.

[20:10:03] COOPER: What are you hearing about how the president reacted to Secretary Nielsen's performance yesterday defending the policy?

COLLINS: Well, the president in that meeting praised her. He gave her a shout-out. That is unusual because her and the president have not been on good terms during her relationship as the Department of Homeland Security secretary. They've often butted heads and he often credits John Kelly with bringing her on and having the president select her, someone the president never originally wanted.

And now, I'm being told it's not just the president praising her, people inside the West Wing are praising that very testing briefing performance yesterday, a briefing performance that has been widespread criticized by people in the Hill, not just Democrats, but also a few conservative members as well. But in the West Wing, they think she did a good job sparring with reporters during that briefing and defending the administration.

And clearly, that is something that has made the president proud here, Anderson.

And one more thing I'd like to note, during that meeting, the president said he had heard from his daughter Ivanka Trump on this whole issue of separating the families at the borders and that she had criticized it, shown him the pictures, told him it needed to end. The president telling House members that criticism tonight. But, Anderson, we should note, that's not something that Ivanka Trump

has said publicly.

COOPER: Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much, from the White House.

Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and recently toured immigration detention centers on the South Texas border. He joins us now.

Senator, thanks for being with us.

So, according to House members in this meeting with the president tonight, the president thinks that the images of these children in detention centers are bad, but the fact is, I mean, he does have the power to change this policy. Why do you think he refuses to at least acknowledge that he has that power?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Well, former presidents when they established a policy, they feel like they have to take responsibility for it, the buck stops here, good or bad, they're going to explain their decision. If they feel they've made a mistake, maybe they will change it.

In this case, we have a president who is just psychologically incapable of taking responsibility for what he's done.

COOPER: Do you have a sense tonight if we're any closer to a resolution if there's problem? Because another day that goes by obviously without a solution is another day that these kids continue to be separated from their parents and potentially more kids are.

MERKLEY: Yes, I'm very concerned that we're going to end up in the quicksand of the legislative process and just be stuck. Maybe tar sands is a better way to put it. And that's why we want to keep the president in the middle of this.

He caused this with a stroke of his pen. He can end it with a stroke of his pen. And things are not getting better.

I mean, when we heard the homeland security secretary essentially be offended that people would say, well, this was about deterrence or a legislative leverage, then what does the president do? He comes to the Capitol Hill just a couple hours ago and basically frames us his legislative leverage for his wish list of poorly thought through, egregious immigration, and I can't even call them reforms, changes. And so, he's doing exactly what we hurting children to create legislative leverage, that's just come -- it's evil.

COOPER: So, when the president says this is about Democratic structure obstructionism, what do you say?

MERKLEY: Well, I would say no Democrat held the pen that created this policy and no Democrat can hold the pen that can end it. That is a presidential pen.

COOPER: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said today that there's unanimity within the Republican conference that they want to fix this. Do you take -- do you take him at his word or are you and your fellow Democrats willing to work with them to try to do that? And in a comprehensive way that goes beyond just this particular issue? Or do you want to just focus on this particular issue, the separation?

MERKLEY: Well, when he would had his stake out today, he said specifically this shouldn't be a broader bill. It should just be this issue, which I was heartened by.

And then I heard he was leaning towards the Ted Cruz bill and the Ted Cruz bill is basically about, A, walking the children up along with the parents so instead of handcuffs for the parents, it's handcuffs for all. And then second of all, having just two weeks for an asylum hearing which means that it's a kangaroo court because there's no way an immigrant can get the documentation from their home country and prepare to consult with an attorney and present a case for asylum in that short period of time.

So, I'm very concerned that Mitch McConnell's strategy of a narrow bill is a strategy that actually does further harm.

COOPER: What do you say to the president and his supporters and other Republicans who say look in past, the policy that the U.S. has had hasn't work, that many people are -- that they're basically released with their kids, they disappeared into the United States and, you know, 75 percent may come back and appear in court like they're supposed tom but that means 25 percent don't?

MERKLEY: Well, so, there was a case management program enacted or put together to improve on this.

[20:15:03] The only reporter I've seen on it so far says they had a 99 percent response rate. That is people showing up for their hearings. It costs far much less money than in imprisoning people. And a 99 percent rate is a pretty good rate.

Now, I haven't seen an independent assessment that's accurate, but the idea of having a case manager who tracks where people are make sure they turn out and keeps the families together so that essentially we're not inflicting harm on them makes a lot of sense. Let's learn -- that's a program that the president ended a year ago June.

Let's -- why did he end it? It sounds like it was working.

COOPER: And just lastly, I want to play something that the president said about Democratic support for immigration reform today, and I just want to play this now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They don't want to give it because Democrats love open borders, let the whole world come in, let the whole world, MS-13 gang members from all over the place, come on in, we have open borders. And they view that, possibly intelligently, except that it's destroying our country. They view that as potential voters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I just want to give you a chance to respond to that. Do you view MS-13 members coming in the country as potential voters?

MERKLEY: You know, it's so disheartening here the president casts this type of aspersions. In 2013, we had a bipartisan bill, a lot of security at the border. There's a tremendous amount of security. It was added during the Obama years, people working together not just for the border but to address the issue of people overstaying visas.

And so, the president because he can't take responsibility for his policy and he can't argue the logic of it because he argued deterrence and that's -- hurting kids for deterrence is wrong, even his secretary of homeland security said that that doesn't fly and yet that was the heart of this decision. So, he just decides to cast insults against people.

So, it's -- I guess the word that comes to my mind is it's pathetic, that the president is incapable of -- as an adult taking responsibility, having an honest conversation about the things that worked in the past that he eliminated and about the impact of this policy on children, and for that matter on children and parents.

I know he wants to cast this as closed borders versus open borders. That is completely a thousand percent fallacious. This is about people showing up, but show up being treated well for their asylum here and recognizing that four out of five aren't going to be granted asylum and they're going to be deported based on past statistics. But you don't do harm to people fleeing persecution from overseas and seeking a hearing in the United States of America.

COOPER: Senator Merkley, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

MERKLEY: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up next, a pair of Republicans very different takes on the president's plan join us to talk about the president, the problem he says he came to Congress to try to fix today.

Also later, the women behind the audiotape of migrant children that has become one of the touchstones of the president's controversial policy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:21:43] COOPER: President Trump says he hates what's happening on the border. He'll not say he's responsible for it happening. He spent the evening on Capitol Hill meeting with House Republicans as we've been talking about, which is Dana Bash just reported, do not go especially well in the minds of some of the Republicans, she talked to.

One member telling her the president mainly spoke about how popular he is. Here to talk about it is former Trump campaign official Jason Miller,

and Republican strategist Rick Wilson, author of the upcoming book, "Everything Trump Touches Dies".

So, Jason, at least 11 Republican senators are calling for the attorney general to halt the separation of parents and kids at the border while Congress works on a fix. The president didn't meet with those Republicans tonight. Instead he went to it to an arguably friendlier crowd in the House and reportedly only talked about the border crisis in terms of political optics.

How do you explain that well?

JASON MILLER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TRUMP TRANSITION: Well, I was just talking to a member on the Republican side on the House who had a little more optimistic impression from the president's visit this afternoon and thought that the president did help move things along. I still think the votes can be very tough in the House.

And -- but the bigger picture here is I think what the president's going for is a much bigger comprehensive reform that usually the Washington way of doing things as folks want to come in, they want to put a patch on things or maybe come up with kind of a short-term fix, but it's really clear that what President Trump is going for is he wants to build the wall, he wants to go through his set of principles, come up with a humane solution for DACA, come up with a solution for close these catch and release loopholes, and it's clear that he doesn't want to go for one of these short-term answers, he wants to go for the big fix.

And this is kind that going back to what President Trump ran on in 2016, I think this is really the difference between him and a lot of their politicians in Washington. Look, it might work, it might not work. But this is what he ran on and this is what he's trying to deliver.

COOPER: Rick, is that what the president is trying to do, just holding up her big fix?

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Of course not. You know, Jason, practically -- every word Jason just said was a lie, including articles A, N, and D.

This is the truth. Donald Trump wants to have a theater of cruelty to display his toughness to his base, to display his racial animus to his base, and he doesn't want to take the one word, one line fix that could easily be passed right now that just basically says it is the policy of the United States government to no longer engage in separating families regardless of status, and that they will be held in with intact families.

It could be a one-line, one-paragraph fix. The Senate and the House could pass it, or the president who thinks he's got this vast executive power and exercises it for every damn thing in the world, he could easily have an executive order to say to the Department of Homeland Security and ICE and border patrol, you will not separate these families, or he could send down command guidance through Kirstjen Nielsen and say, let's find a way inside the law to not separate these families.

There are plenty of options here. The president's lie of saying, oh, I want to do a comprehensive immigration reform package, he rejected the package that was previously brought to him where there was almost a compromise back in January, and then Stephen Miller blew it up.

This is a guy who doesn't want a conference. That he wants this to be a spectacle. He wants to show these children in agony and in fear because he loves it and his people love it, and they're eating it up and guys like Stephen Miller who were around the president are delighted by this.

COOPER: Jason, I mean, if the president really did want to -- is so concerned about this separation, I mean, to Rick's point, he could at least pause it while Congress works on a more comprehensive solution, if the president really is so eager on a comprehensive solution, no?

[20:25:10] MILLER: Well, and Congress may go ahead and take that action to go and send something up to the president.

COOPER: But the president could do it right now, couldn't he?

MILLER: Well and again that's that goes to a matter of legal interpretation. The folks in the administration clearly believe that it does take a congressional fix on that point. And so --

COOPER: But didn't the president start this policy? I mea, wasn't it the president's Department of Justice which started the zero-tolerance policy which is just an interpretation of existing law, it's not anything in the law itself, it says the families have to be separated?

MILLER: But, Anderson, you just said the exact point, that their interpretation of the policy is with regard to this is that if they're going to go and enforce it, that this is how they have to go and process families that are coming across. And so, it would take a congressional fix to do it. And Rick even said in his comments --

COOPER: Right, but he could just not enforce -- he could just not -- you know, he can do what prior administration's has done temporarily while if you're saying he's so intent on a comprehensive fix, he could just temporarily suspend the zero tolerance policy --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: -- go back to the policy he had months ago.

MILLER: I think that's getting a little bit into the silly we're going to just not enforce certain laws that are on the books and say, OK, until Congress it can come up with something, we're just not going to go and enforce our border laws or our national sovereignty. I think that doesn't seem to be the right solution.

I think Congress can move quick. I mean, these are some smart people on the Hill. They can get their acts together. They can come up the plan and put it forward. And I think that's what the president was on the Hill today rallying them to do.

And again, going back to my original point --

COOPER: But you can see, he can do that. I mean, you can't, you -- I know you say it's not enforcing laws, other people would argue with you, it's actually just enforcing them in a different way, it's asking people to come back to court later on. But you concede he could do that if you wanted to, yes?

MILLER: I would say I'm not an immigration lawyer, and I'm not going to pretend to be one now. But I'm saying that this administration firmly believes that it takes a congressional action --

COOPER: Really?

MILLER: -- to go and get it to the point, yes.

COOPER: That's what they say they believe, but it's not really clear --

(CROSSTALK)

WILSON: That's amazing -- that's amazing to me, though, Jason, because this is a -- this is a president who defines his entire administration by executive orders, because there's a basically a desert of legislative accomplishments, everything's down to executive orders and policy changes. And this is a guy who has governed by using those two tools almost exclusively so far, and we've even got an example from the very beginning of the administration when you were still, or still around, where they did the Muslim ban, it was such a sweeping claim of executive powers on an immigration-related matter and now there's suddenly -- oh, they're just taken up with it they've got to respect constitutional prerogatives now and congressional prerogative now? I don't think so.

This is a deliberate delay going down there. This has been a blackmail play from the beginning. There's been a spectacle of cruelty from the beginning. They wanted these horrible scenes of these kids because they want to whip up the mouth-breathers that are there the Breitbart comment section morons who comprise a large percentage of the base, they want those people angry and furious about brown people, and it's the delay and the claim you have to have a congressional action only?

(CROSSTALK)

WILSON: That's racist (ph) could be to expect to do this in a hot minute.

MILLER: Rick, where I respectfully disagree, we can put the rhetoric and the insults aside for a moment, this is the reason why nothing gets done in Washington, because folks come on and they pop off and they go with it all the personal insults and they never kind of runs back to the corner --

(CROSSTALK) WILSON: Oh wait I'm sorry, I'm sorry --

MILLER: But Donald Trump was actually going up to the Hill today to say he wants to get a comprehensive bill done. And so, he talked about a humane solution for DACA, something that the last couple of presidents have not been able to do. He wants to end chain migration, wants to end the visa lottery system.

He's actually talking about specific policies that he wants to go and get done. He wants to close this catch-and-release loophole.

It's -- look, I get that you like the insults and you have a couple of cool one-liners, but what specific policies are you putting forward? All I hear from you is it sounds like you want open borders, you think it's OK if people are in the country illegally, and so I guess that means that whether it's MS-13 or drug dealers or human traffickers.

WILSON: Let's the categories like that, Jason.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: No, that's what it sounds like to me because you haven't put forward any idea. I've listed specifically, what I stand for --

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: And you haven't put forward a single idea --

(CROSSTALK)

WILSON: I know it roused you to be told the truth about Donald Trump, that this is a guy who is surrounded by some of the weirdest edge case people on this issue.

MILLER: You're making my point for me, Rick.

WILSON: You guys are surrounded by people who are -- who are talking about -- you guys are surrounded by people who contextualize this as this browning of America, this imaginary race war that's going on, and a lot of the folks around him like Stephen Miller and the folks that have departed now like Steven Bannon who --

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: So, tell us your ideas. You've attacked Stephen.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: You have no ideas.

WILSON: You have spoken out in ways that are aggressively and assertively racially charged and this is a complete -- this is a complete spectacle designed by this administration to show children in pain and to show children in fear so that you can achieve a legislative end.

[20:30:00]

I don't know -- you know, it's hard to imagine some -- your administration and your master there going any lower but they strike bottom and keep digging every single day. And the fact that you want to defend it and the fact that you want to go ahead and continue to play this game where this -- where you think Donald Trump is some of wise policy maker, this is a guy who has been a wrecking ball in this society. This is a guy -- and speaking of insults by the way, Jason, your boss there, is the king of insulting people mostly like handicap reporters and war veterans but that's OK.

But this is an administration --

(CROSSTALK)

JASON MILLER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR DONALD TRUMP: All you have to do -- just one idea, Rick, just humor me because I put forward several policy matters. You know, the president -- this administration trying to do --

WILSON: Well, Jason, the fact of the matter is you put forward several --

MILLER: You have attacked Stephen Miller

(CROSSTALK)

WILSON: Jason you want to -- you want a policy. Here's a policy. The policy of this administration is to not separate families with children. We will do an executive order until such time as the one paragraph, one subject piece of legislation that says the same thing comes forward.

Now, the fact that you're saying you have to have a comprehensive answer, you know, you said earlier in the discussion, oh, Washington wants to patch things, they just want to do one choosy things. You know that's false. Washington does comprehensive broad spectrum bills all the time. That's basically all they do. I'd rather do script fix up sometimes.

But in this case, the policy -- you want a policy, OK, we don't separate kids from their mothers, we don't take little girls who there hiding the pictures of the little girls, we don't take those people and isolate them and we don't take those people away from their parents. There's a Down syndrome child separated from his mother. What do you think about that? Are you cool with that, Jason? If you're cool with that, let me know, buddy, because that speaks a lot to your moral landscape.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: I mean, because it sounds to me that you want to have a --

WILSON: Open borders, oh my god. You know what? Open borders, that's a code for brown people. I get it.

MILLER: Can we at least agree?

WILSON: I get it.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: That was excellent insult. Good job. So you got your quick sound bite --

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: All right, let's leave it there.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: All right, we're going to have to leave it there. Jason Miller, thanks, Rick Wilson as well, appreciate it.

Religious leaders across the range of dominations are lining up to criticize the Trump administration's policy, separating kids from their parents at the southern border. A Catholic priest calls the practice "pure evil." We'll talk with him next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:35:00] COOPER: Hundreds of members of Jeff Sessions' church tonight are issuing a formal complaint against him because of his zero tolerance policy that's led to around 2,000 children being separated from their parents at the southern border so far. The complaint by 640 members of the United Methodist Church says the policy violates church rules and may constitute child abuse.

Meantime, prominent Catholics are adding to the course of religious criticism as well. One of them, Father James Martin who tweeted, "Like many, I've resisted using this word but it's time, the deliberate and unnecessary separation of innocent children from their parents is pure evil. It does not come from God or from any genuinely moral impulse. It is wantonly cruel and targets the most vulnerable." Father Martin joins me now.

Thanks for being with us, Father. I wonder what goes through your mind when you hear members of the administration using scripture and difficult teachings to promote the zero tolerance policy.

REV. JAMES MARTIN, CATHOLIC PRIEST: Well, I saw that and I thought it was pretty obscene to use Romans 13 as Attorney General Sessions did is completely out of context. You know, God's law supersedes man's law even in St. Paul. And for Sarah Huckabee Sanders to say that it was biblical to follow laws, I mean basically, again, makes the law into an idol and sort of removes the place of conscience and really God's law on all of this. So I thought it was pretty obscene.

COOPER: To say that the policy is pure evil as you did, I mean it's -- you know, would supporters of the policy say whether it's true or not is that long-term, that this will be a deterrent and basically prevent families from bringing their children along a very dangerous journey that endangers those children along the way.

MARTIN: Sure, I've heard that and that's the old moral argument, the end justifies the means. And so, you know, that can be use to justify torture as well, you know, because we'll get a good result from that. You know, Amnesty International, as a matter of fact, declared that this was in fact torture.

So, you know, from my mind and from my heart, it seems to satisfy every category of evil that you could imagine. And I would just ask people who see those pictures, you know, to sort of ponder why it is our hearts are move like that. And that's really God speaking through your conscience and God is speaking to us here through these pictures and these sounds and these images.

COOPER: You know, the president tweeted using the word infest talking about illegal immigrants infesting the United States. You know, I worked in Rwanda briefly during the genocide. That was, you know, calling your enemy cockroaches or calling an opponent cockroaches or making them less than human is something we've heard from regimes throughout the decades and throughout history. Is it -- do you think it's intentional on the president's part?

MARTIN: I can't say if it's intentional, but I agree with you, Anderson, that this is exactly what regimes like Nazi Germany, you know, as you said, the Rwandis being called cockroaches, the Jews were vermin in Nazi Germany. And this is what regimes do where they're consciously or unconsciously to dehumanize people and so therefore it makes them easier to put them in cages because if they're animals, then, you know, we shouldn't care about them.

And I think it's really we have to call it out, it's sinful, it's an assault on human dignity, it's unchristian. And I really wonder how people can sleep at night, as Christians especially, spouting this kind of hate language which is what it is and it's really disturbing to me.

COOPER: You mentioned Nazi Germany, I just want to play something that Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Fox last night. I'll play that now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Nazi Germany, concentration camps, human rights violations, Laura Bush has weighed in. Michelle Obama, Rosalynn Carter, you've got all the first ladies, going back to EleanorRoosevelt, she's apparently weighed in as well. General Sessions, what's going on here?

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, it's a real exaggeration, of course. In Nazi Germany, they were keeping the Jews from leaving the country. But this is a serious matter. We need to think it through, be rational and thoughtful about it. We want to allow asylum for people who qualify for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I'm wondering what do you make of the Attorney General's response. It just strikes me as odd that the only difference he would come up with between this policy and Nazi Germany -- that Nazi Germany is trying to keep Jews in the country, not for them coming into country?

MARTIN: Yes, most likely because the comparisons were so at. I mean the Nazis has also created unjust laws and then accused the Jews of breaking them and then, you know, jailed them and of course shipped them to concentration camp. So, you know, I found that fairly nonsensical. But this is what happen in Nazi Germany, you know, to an extent in terms of dehumanization of people. The creation of laws that were then broken and that gave them permission to put people in concentration camps or in this case, you know, in these cages. And the fact that it's children, I think is even more reprehensible. So I found that statement just bizarre.

COOPER: Father Martin, I appreciate you being with us, thank you very much.

MARTIN: My pleasure.

COOPER: The audio recording of kids at the border after they've been separated from their parents still echoing tonight across social media. Here's a brief portion courtesy of ProPublica.

Well, coming up, I'll talk to a civil rights lawyer who receive the audio from a client and with the ProPublica journalist who posted this story in the latest update we have about that little girl asking about her aunt.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: As we reported the top of the broadcast, the president spoke tonight to House Republicans about immigration. He did not, according to several lawmakers, move the ball much saying he favored both GOP bills on the table. Also according to one lawmaker, he spent much of the time talking about other things namely what he sees as his accomplishments. Meantime, over on the Senate side, members who heard a portion of that audio recording of children clearly in distress at the border after being separated from their parents, New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez played it from his cellphone which he held up to his lapel microphone. Here's part of that tape courtesy of ProPublica.

So Attorney Jennifer Harbury says she received that tape from a client and ProPublica reporter Ginger Thompson posted the story initially. Both of them join me now.

Jennifer, as the first person to have received, to have listened to this tape, I'm wondering what went through your mind when you first heard it?

JENNIFER HARDBURY, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well of course my first reaction was one of horror. I just wanted to burst into tears. I mean I think any human being hears children as upset and terrified as that, what you want to do is go run to that child and pick up that child off and hold them and comfort them. And then I started to get mad and realized this is really important. Everybody has to hear this tape. We can't go on with no one being allowed into these customs and border processing centers, we can't see the kids, we can't hear the kids, we're not allowed to really know what's going on. The transparency has no sincerity now.

[20:45:01] COOPER: Ginger, I know you've been in touch with the aunt of the 6-year-old girl on the tape who you can hear asking the officers to call her aunt. You can even hear her recite her aunt's phone number at one point. Do you know has her aunt been able to speak with her?

GINGER THOMPSON, REPORTER, PROPUBLICA: Yes, her aunt spoke with her the day that this recording was made and has spoken to her every other day since. She says the child has been moved out of that border patrol facility and is now in a shelter that is run by HHS. And the girl remarked to her that where she's staying now is much better, she has a bed now and she has -- her meals are better. But she's worried about being left behind that her mother could be deported before they're reunited.

COOPER: Do you know -- has her mother been able to get in touch directly with her daughter?

THOMPSON: So the mother has not been able to speak to the little girl. They're sort of having three-way conversations in which the aunt will pass a message from the mother to the little girl and vice versa.

COOPER: Jennifer, the administration makes the point that this didn't start with them, that other administrations, the Obama administration, the Bush administration, they say also separated children from their families. As someone who spent the past four decades along the border working on civil rights cases, I'm wondering what you say to that?

HARDBURY: We have never ever seen that happen down here. It may be in the case of smuggler or someone who had entered illegally maybe four or five times that a child was sent to child protective services if the parent was going to be in prison for a while. But we have never seen a mass separation of parents from their children based on a misdemeanor for entering without inspection, especially when they are running for their lives. They're trying to save their children's lives. The punishment is the few days they may spend in jail. We don't get to add to that, the punishment of losing their children. It's unthinkable.

COOPER: Is it clear to you that there is a policy for reuniting these children with their parents? I mean if the parents have been deported, are the children -- what happens to the kids?

HARDBURY: That's a very good question. We're not getting clear or consistent answers right now. And we need them.

COOPER: So, Ginger, you know, sometimes, you know, when the world is faced with the crisis, there's an image or an account emerges that shifts the dialogue or certainly grabs people's attention, do you think this recording has been that sort of catalyst?

THOMPSON: Well, I don't know, you know, exactly how powerful this is. I will say that the outpouring of interest that we've gotten at ProPublica, the sort of flood of people who have e-mailed me and asked about this little girl and how she is doing, and how, you know, and asking questions about what can be done to help, and what can be done to stop this kind of separation has been sort of overwhelming for us.

And so I think that it has crystallized for a lot of people what this policy does. I think it's crystallized for a lot of people what impact this policy is having on children.

COOPER: Jennifer Hardbury and Ginger Thompson, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

COOPER: You may have seen polls of support among Republicans. Up next, we wanted to find out how supporters of President Trump feel about the separation of families at the border. Are they still siding with the president? Some insight when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:53:01] COOPER: Our breaking news tonight, President Trump tonight with Republican lawmakers, including several who do not support his policy of separating families at the border while criticism for the policy on Capitol Hill seems to be growing, many Republican voter support the tough stance by the president. This is what CNN's Martin Savidge found out in one border state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Nana Dees Diner in Mesa, Arizona, you can find plenty of good food. What you won't find, especially among Trump fans, is sympathy for immigrant families separated at the border.

CARL BIER, TRUMP VOTER: These people we have coming across the border illegally are breaking the rules. I have no feeling for them at all.

SAVIDGE: Despite the images of children torn from their parents, with the sounds of kids crying at a detention center, folks here back the president completely.

SONYA COPPA, TRUMP VOTER: It's not about the Mexicans. That's what everybody is so angry about. It's not. I don't care if you're from China, i don't care if you're from anywhere. You can't just come into this state and reap. You know what I'm saying? I don't know. I don't know how to explain.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Do you think that people are living off of the state and not doing it legally?

COPPA: Absolutely. And I think it's [ bleep ].

SAVIDGE (voice-over): You hear a lot of anger and a lot of the president's own arguments, especially that many of the immigrants are actually criminals posing as parents.

BIER: Now, when you have a bad guy coming across kidnapping a kid and trying to come across, I don't buy that.

SAVIDGE (on camera): How many of these do you think could be bad guys?

BIER: I don't really know, but there's a lot of people being hurt by bad guys coming in this country. A lot of people.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Actually, that isn't true. But it is what these Trump voters believe. Madeline Carroll doesn't like CNN and she doesn't like the way the media, she say, is trying to make her feel guilty.

MADELINE CARROLL, TRUMP VOTER: Trying to make us feel teary-eyed for the children, yes, I love children a great deal. But to me it's up to the parents to do things rightfully and legally.

[20:55:09] SAVIDGE (on camera): You support the president 100%.

CARROLL: Correct.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Not all Trump supporters feel that way. In a trendy watering hole in Scottsdale, I meet up with four conservative friends. Despite the stereotypical image of Trump supporters, they're not old, angry or altogether white. They're young, highly educated professionals with immigrant histories in their families.

PASCAL KROPF, BANKER: At the end of the day, the zero tolerance is about enforcing the law.

SAVIDGE: They all like Trump's tougher stand on border protection. But all feel it's going too far.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I'm definitely not for separating families.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't well thought out the kind of the human aspect of how this plays out for the families and for everyone involved.

JESSICA LYCOS, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Politics aside, there are real families involved here. And, you know, the Statue of Liberty says give us your huddled masses. And so I want to remain a country that that's our motto.

SAVIDGE: They all don't believe Trump likes taking kids from their parents. Instead they see what's happening as an unintended consequence of a stricter policy.

(on camera): Shouldn't we somehow end it in the media?

KROPF: I think that's what they need to do, but it's politics. That's a sad part. Common sense has now taken out of the equation.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): They hope Congress and the White House can make a deal this week ending family separations. In their minds, unlike some other Trump voters, zero tolerance should not mean zero compassion.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And Martin joins me now from Phoenix. How many of the supporters you talked to had kids themselves?

SAVIDGE: Yes, that was a major question we asked of everyone, and the interesting thing is that all the older Trump supporters there, many of them have children, grandchildren, some even have great- grandchildren. Yet, as you know, most of them didn't have a whole lot of sympathy for the children down on the border separated from their parents. Then the younger Trump supporters we've talked to, none of them have children, and yet every one of them was deeply moved and very upset by the treatment of children down on the border. It was completely different from what I expected, Anderson.

COOPER: Martin Savidge, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Up next, the GOP lawmakers says the meeting with the president on immigration tonight "didn't move the ball." We'll have more on that and what the president is saying about his visit to Capitol Hill when we continue.