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House GOP Scrambles for Votes on Immigration Bill; Interview with Representative John Faso; Lewandowski Mocks Disabled Child Separated From Mother; Trump Campaign Manager: Time to fire Sessions. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 20, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:04] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York and this morning I wish we could tell you that there's a clear path forward to fixing the humanitarian crisis at our southern border. The children are no longer being separated from their undocumented immigrant parents, that young boys and girls were able to stay with their mothers and their fathers while they try to enter the United States and let the justice system play out.

That, however, is not the case. Instead, this morning we're learning about so-called tender age shelters. You see where they're located right there on the map in southern Texas. Facilities where babies, infants, toddlers are being held away from their parents.

We're also hearing growing condemnation from American allies, even the Pope this morning calling these family separations immoral. And we're seeing Republican lawmakers turn against the president and call for an end to this practice immediately. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, typically a close ally of the president, has now sent a letter to the Justice Department calling on it to pause the separation of families, saying, quote, "We must do everything in our power to bring these children together with their parents."

Meantime, Republicans meeting right now, scrambling for a vote. More on that in a moment, though. Let's go to the White House. Abby Phillip is there.

Good morning, Abby. It appears that the president's trip to Capitol Hill yesterday just created more questions than answers.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. It was supposed to be a meeting with House Republicans aimed at clearing up some disagreements on the issue of immigration more broadly and also perhaps answering some questions from frustrated lawmakers about this issue of family separations, but instead the president took no questions. There was no back and forth but he spoke at length about a number of issues, talked a little bit about these immigration bills but left a lot of Republican senators still wondering where he stands on this issue.

One lawmaker also added that the president didn't seem to acknowledge the humanitarian and moral issue behind the controversy of the family separations. This lawmakers said the crying babies doesn't look good politically is what the president said to them and other lawmakers were questioning whether the president understood what he needed to do in order to get the ball moving on those bills.

Another said it's always nice to see the president but this didn't move the ball. And a Freedom Caucus source, this is the conservative Freedom Caucus, typically on the president's side here, said it's a total miscue from the administration. Both of these bills are designed to fail and the president is the only one who doesn't get the joke.

Now these two bills were supposed to address some broad immigration issues, border wall funding and other changes that the president have been seeking. They added the issue of family separation. But it is not clear at all whether either of the bills have enough support in order to pass. Democrats are putting their foot down on this issue and the president last week caused a lot of chaos. This week he didn't seem to clear it up.

There are also separate issues of whether Republicans will just try to deal with family separation all on its own in order to get this out of the way.

HARLOW: Right. We also know that President Trump yesterday said that he will look at cutting aid, trying to cut aid to some of these countries that he says are sending waves of immigrants to the United States and that's not how it works but this is a threat from the president.

PHILLIP: Yes. Sending their worst people, the president said. He said this before. Talked about using this as leverage to try to stop this influx of immigrants from Central America to the United States, but it's not -- first of all, he hasn't actually done it since he first rose this issue earlier in this year and he keeps -- but he keeps repeating it. It remains an open question whether or not a move like that would even help.

One of the reasons many of these immigrants come into the United States is because they're fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries.

It's also worth noting, Poppy, that Vice President Mike Pence is meeting with the leader of the Guatemala later today. So this is one of the countries that would be sending some of these immigrants and of course the president using language like this calling it an infestation of immigrants to describe the problem at the southern border -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who is the face of this has been taking those questions from reporters, was the subject of protest last night. What happened?

PHILLIP: Well, she was having a dinner, according to her office, a work dinner at the Mexican restaurant, MXDC, in downtown Washington when she was confronted by protesters from a local group here in Washington, chanting and really driving her out of the restaurant. Her spokesman issued a statement saying that she hopes that these protesters will pressure lawmakers to act on family separations but it just goes to show that tensions are really high here.

When President Trump was on the Hill yesterday, he also faced protests from Congressional Hispanic Caucus members, really pressuring him on this issue of separations.

[09:05:03] The White House is still not backing down. We saw the president just a few moments ago on Twitter tweeting again that this was the Democrats' fault and not acknowledging at all that he has the ability to stop it with perhaps just a phone call -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Abby Phillip at the White House. Thank you for all of that this morning.

Let's go to Capitol Hill because there's a scramble for support there. The first votes on either of these immigration bills could come as early tomorrow. Lauren Fox is on the Hill with more on that.

And, Lauren, you've got a lot of confusion among these lawmakers about what the president will support and what he won't support. Where do things stand?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, after that meeting on Capitol Hill last night, lawmakers came out and conservatives, those are the folks that the president really needed to woo in that meeting weren't necessarily convinced. The House Freedom Caucus still has not taken an official position on where they stand. They have concerns with this compromised piece of legislation that has $25 billion in border security money including wall funding as well as a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and it attempts to fix that problem of family separation on the border.

But this was classic Trump. During the meeting he didn't just talk about immigration. He talked about tariffs. He picked out Mark Sanford, the South Carolina congressman who lost his primary, saying he was a, quote, "nasty guy." Sanford wasn't in the room for this meeting. But that was the kind of gathering this was.

The president was just sort of shooting from the hip, talking a little bit about immigration. Now the White House has said that he does support both of the bills. He supports the conservative Goodlatte bill as well as this compromised piece of legislation but this morning House Republican leaders are having to try to scramble to get these votes.

And as you said, the votes could come as early as tomorrow on the House floor. So a lot of work to do up here on Capitol Hill.

HARLOW: All right. Lauren Fox, appreciate very much the reporting there on the Hill. We'll see what comes of it. Again the vote could be as early as tomorrow.

One of the lawmakers in that meeting with President Trump yesterday joins me now. Republican Congressman John Faso of New York.

Thank you for being here.

REP. JOHN FASO (R), NEW YORK: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: So you were in the meeting. You just heard all of our reporting out of it.

FASO: Yes.

HARLOW: Do you feel like you know exactly what the president wants, what bill he will sign and what he won't sign?

FASO: Well, he indicated support for both bills but he definitely -- I heard him say that he wanted us to support the compromise bill that he would support that. The compromise bill does a number of things. It does deal with the family separation issue satisfactorily but it also says we'll have funding for border security contemporaneous with dealing with the DACA issue. And remember, there are 800,000 people that signed up for DACA but there are perhaps a million more people who are eligible for DACA who never signed up. This legislation would deal with that DACA issue.

HARLOW: As you know, Ted Cruz, Senator Ted Cruz has proposed legislation that would limit the amount of time that families held together could be held in these detention facilities. It would expedite the process for their hearings.

Some of the concern about the compromise legislation is, of course, that even if you do reunite the families, children with their parents, they could still be held indefinitely in these centers. Are you willing to sign legislation that would de facto result in potentially holding them indefinitely?

FASO: Well, I think Senator Cruz is right. We do need to have a more expedited process for processing the immigration appeals of people but remember, the people that come and present themselves at the border asking for asylum, they are not being separated. Those that come and say they're a victim of violence, they're looking for political asylum in the United States, they are not being separated.

Now it's only the people who illegally cross the border are being separated. And there is a problem with the law and court decisions but I believe that if we can't do it in this overall bill that I'm talking about, we should do it separately. We should not have families being separated at the border despite they're having crossed illegally.

HARLOW: Let me ask you about the reporting we have from "The Associated Press" about these so-called tender age shelters and these are the three facilities in southern Texas that are holding infants, babies, toddlers, and they're reporting is that they are quote, "fine, clean and safe," but the children have no idea where their parents are and are hysterical, crying and acting out. So that's the reporting we have from what's happening inside to these youngest of the kids.

FASO: Yes.

HARLOW: And then Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote an opinion piece this morning and let me read you part of it, he wrote, "These children are well cared for. In fact, they get better care than a lot of American kids do." Is he right?

FASO: Well, I think from what I've seen and heard, those shelters are very nice -- good facilities, not -- I won't say they're nice facilities, but they're good, adequate facilities but the key is to stop separating parents from the children at the border --

HARLOW: But is he right, Congressman, that these children in these facilities away from their parents whom the AP reports are hysterical, crying for their parents, are being treated as well as American kids?

[09:10:08] FASO: No, I don't think separating children is treating them as well as American children and I don't think separating the children from their parents makes any sense. Frankly, I think it'd be easier for the government in handling this issue to have the parents with the children because they're going to care for those children the most. So I think that's the most important thing. And for us to remedy this issue quickly, whether it's in the overall bill that I support to deal with DACA and border security, that is critical for our country, but if we have to do it separately, I say we should do that as well, and I would hope the administration would realize they should deal with this on their own without having us pass a law.

HARLOW: Well, they haven't indicated that at all.

FASO: I know.

HARLOW: Neither President Trump nor Secretary Nielsen.

Quick lightning round here. Yes or no answers on all of these and then I want to get to something else.


HARLOW: Is separating families from parents, from children, at the border wrong, yes or no?

FASO: Yes.

HARLOW: OK. President Trump could stop separating children from their parents at the border right now with a phone call, yes or no?

FASO: I think that's correct, yes.

HARLOW: President Trump says this is the fault of the Democrats, is he right?

FASO: He's talking about a law that exists on the books that says if someone is arrested they have to be put in a facility and that facility can't have children, so in that sense he's correct, but in the overall context of this situation, he's not correct because right now we should act, Democrats and Republicans, to change the law and he should act to end this policy.

HARLOW: Let me ask you because you were in this meeting that we weren't in and I know you guys weren't able to ask the president questions, but some of our reporting out of it is that the president said, quote, "The crying babies doesn't look good politically," that he was very concerned with the optics.

Did he say anything or indicate to you in any way that he was empathetic toward the plight of these children?

FASO: Yes, he did in fact, and he said that's why I want to you change the law but I think many of us say, yes, we should change the law but the immediate issue I think the administration could deal with and frankly no one is going to sue them over this question if they were to temporarily house the illegal immigrants with their children together.

HARLOW: In fact, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, normally an ally of the president has written a letter to the Department of Justice calling for as much, calling for an immediate halt to this while they figure it out.

Before you go, given you represent the state of New York, Governor Cuomo of New York has indicated this morning that he is going to file a lawsuit within the matter of weeks suing the Trump administration over this zero tolerance policy, over the separation of families at the border, children away from parents, because he says it violates the constitutional rights of these children. Do you believe there's merit to that case?

FASO: I doubt it, but I haven't looked at the substance and the governor issued a press release, so it's --


HARLOW: But you're a lawyer. You're a lawyer.

FASO: Yes, yes.

HARLOW: So just on its face, do you believe that there is merit to a case arguing the constitutional rights of these undocumented immigrants, which as you know the courts have ruled that they do hold some rights once they step foot into this country, are being violated? Is there any merit to that case?

FASO: I think it would be of dubious legality, frankly, that that kind of argument because right now the law does say that if you are arrested and if someone comes into the country illegally they can be arrested on a misdemeanor charge for the first time that they've illegally entered the country, they have to be separated. Just like if someone is arrested in any of our communities at home, they can't take their children to the jail. And so you -- if someone is arrested and incarcerated pending a trial or pending disposition, they can't take their children with them.

HARLOW: I would --

FASO: We should change this for this immigration issue, though.

HARLOW: Right.

FASO: So that those immigrants who come illegally are housed temporarily with their children until their case is disposed of.

HARLOW: And as you know, someone arrested in this country, their children would likely have a family member or next of kin for them to stay with while their parent goes to jail. That's what is not at play here for many of them.

Congressman, we're out of time.

FASO: That's right. Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: But we'll have you back.

FASO: All right. Thank you very much.

HARLOW: Thank you very much, Congressman John Faso of New York.

FASO: All right.

HARLOW: Still ahead, outrage after the president's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski mocked a disabled child separated from her mother at the border. You'll hear that.

And will Cohen talk? Friends say the president's attorney is willing to spill information to investigators on the president.


HARLOW: This morning, President Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is being widely criticized for comments he made last night on Fox News.

He was reacting to a question about a story about a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who was separated from her family at the border. Listen to this exchange.


ZAC PETKANAS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I read today about a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage.


PETKANAS: Did you just say womp, womp to a 10-year-old with Down Syndrome?

LEWANDOWSKI: What I said is you can think anything you want -

PETKANAS: How dare you?

LEWANDOWSKI: - but the bottom line is -

PETKANAS: How absolutely dare you, sir?


HARLOW: CNN political analyst Alex Burns is here and political reporter Amber Phillips. Nice to have you both here.

Alex, let me just begin with you. I mean, Is this where we are now in this debate?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it certainly seems like it, Poppy, and it's hard actually to call that a debate at this point, right? But that's not even an attempt to justify or defend the policy, let alone to persuade people who are saying that they're disturbed by the images that they're seeing that this is appropriate and ultimately worthwhile.

And it's sort of out of certain version of the struggle that this administration is having to just sort of justify the basics of this policy.

If there's a plan right now in the White House among President Trump's allies to get out there and make the argument to the American people that this is something that they should accept, it's certainly nothing that we're seeing out in public.

[09:20:10] HARLOW: Amber, when you see an exchange like that - this is not just a pundit or a talking head. This is the man that ran the president's campaign for a good chunk of time and someone who still has the president's ear and we know goes in and out of the White House.

So, what does that look like for the administration in this?

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. Well, when I hear an exchange like that, I put myself in the shoes of Republican operatives who are trying to help Republicans keep control of Congress in November.

A lot of them very likely smacked their hands against their foreheads when they heard that. There's an extreme concern among Republicans that this whole border situation really magnifies the worst possible stereotype for Republicans, that they don't care or even are hostile toward minorities.

It's something they tried to run away from after losing the 2012 presidential election. Trump has pulled them back to the right on immigration.

And Lewandowski, you're absolutely right, Poppy, with his standing with President Trump and really a representative of Team Trump, saying stuff like that just brings Republicans down in the mud.

HARLOW: And Amber, just on that point, I mean, it's remarkable, is it not, sort of the rebuke we're seeing, the public rebuke we're seeing from Republicans, often those that are allies of the president like Orrin Hatch, directly to him, to try to get the Department of Justice to halt this and then try to pass legislation against the will of the president on some of this?

PHILLIPS: This is absolutely remarkable. It's the best word for it. I also used the word yesterday extraordinary. Senate Republicans, less than five months before the midterm election, are not only directly confronting the president on his policy, on the facts of whether it's his policy versus Congress, but they're going to try to pass legislation to stop what they full well know is his policy.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came out of a luncheon yesterday with Senate Republicans and said, we all want this to stop and we're going to act to do it. That's stunning.

HARLOW: So, we're going to hear from Paul Ryan, house speaker, about it likely in a little bit. They're holding their briefing at 10:00 a.m. So, we'll see what he has to say.

Alex, let me ask you about Trump's re-election campaign manager Brad Parscale. He tweeted this yesterday. "Time to fire Sessions, ends the Mueller investigation. You can't obstruct something that was phony against you. The IG report gives @realDonaldTrump the truth to end it all."

Now, the IG report doesn't delve into the Russia probe in this way or the Mueller investigation in this way.

That aside, our Dana Bash has reporting on what led to this and why he did this. And it's that they're upset that the IG report is being overshadowed by this humanitarian crisis at the border. They're trying to regain the narrative. Is it working at all?

BURNS: No, certainly not. And it's sort of striking to think that this is how you might attempt to regain the narrative. If they wanted to put this humanitarian situation at the border aside, the president is fully capable of reversing this policy, suspending it pending negotiations on Capitol Hill, and then probably getting a lot more space politically to go after - and it's amazing to even say these words, get more space politically to go after his own attorney general.

And I think it's hard to overstate how remarkable that tweet from Brad Parscale is. This is not the head of some outside interest group that doesn't like the Department of Justice.

HARLOW: Right.

BURNS: This is a sort of a strident conservative activist going rogue. This is a guy who was chosen by the president, approved by members of the president's immediate family to go run the re-election campaign.

If I'm Jeff Sessions, I'm looking at that and any sense that I might've had - and we have no reason to think he is feeling optimistic, but there's no reason for optimism about his future.

HARLOW: Amber, I noted yesterday that our CNN poll shows 58 percent of Republican voters support this practice, right, that separates families at the border.

But there's some nuance that's really important here and it's scary, it seems, for Republicans running in the midterms. Nearly 7 in 10 independents disapprove of it. More than 7 in 10 moderates disapprove of it. And three quarters of women oppose it.

So, what does that mean for Republicans? What are we, 140 days out from the midterms, something like that?

PHILLIPS: Yes. It means Republicans are terrified that they could lose the House over this. Listen, there's one camp of the Republican Party and operatives who argue, hey, there's lots of Trump controversies, people tend to forget about them with the next controversy that happens, but there's another camp that argues this border separation policy is not easily forgettable.

It is a battle where the front lines are images that absolutely sear at your heart, especially Republicans are concerned about women in suburban districts like in California, in Florida who might see a Getty image of a 2-year-old balling while her mother gets searched by a border agent and not able to have that erased by words from the Trump administration that paint these immigrants with negative intentions, as coming over here to subvert the system.

[09:25:13] Republicans are terrified that this is a controversy that will last and could cost them the House.

BURNS: And, Poppy, if I could just jump in on that, I do think that Amber's point is so important in part because Republicans really thought, especially in those senate races, that immigration could be a winning issue for them, that they could go after Democrats for favoring essentially no immigration enforcement at all, at least that's how they would frame it.

It's really, really hard to make this a campaign about drug smugglers and gang members when the American people are seeing the images they're seeing

HARLOW: Right. And it takes away from pressing the Democrats on what will you give. Will you give wall funding to get what you want? Which every Democrat needs to answer that question.

I asked them. Some of them answer on this program.

Alex Burns, Amber Phillips, thank you very, very much.

Michael Cohen is signaling to friends that he may be "willing to give" information about the president to investigators. We'll have new details on that ahead.