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House Speaker Paul Ryan Takes Questions Amid Border Fight; Trump Rallies in Minnesota Amid Zero Tolerance Policy Debate; Interview with Representative Filemon Vela; Trump Jabs GOP Representative Mark Sanford During Immigration Meeting; Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired June 20, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:03] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

This morning we start on Capitol Hill where at any moment we do expect to hear from Republican leadership as they scramble to find votes on an immigration compromise. And just moments ago President Trump weighed in once again on Twitter blaming Democrats for the lack of progress on a border bill. He also writes that he's working on something.

No specifics on that yet, but there is still no clear path forward to fixing the humanitarian crisis on our southern border, one that the president decries, but can also stop with a single phone call. Right now children still being separated from their undocumented immigrant parents as they try to enter the United States.

Sunlen Serfaty joins me on Capitol Hill.

And Sunlen, we know there are these two bills under consideration. We know a vote could come as early as tomorrow morning, but do we have any clear answers after the meeting the president had with Republican lawmakers yesterday?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As of now, Poppy, no. Quick simply up here on Capitol Hill, there are many competing, legislative proposals and many lawmakers wanting to do something on this, but as of this hour there's nothing that has the votes that can pass up here on Capitol Hill to have a legislative fix for this problem that we've heard from many lawmakers, speaking out very vocally, critical of this policy of the Trump administration.

We will hear from speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, any moment now. Of course, that comes on the heels of President Trump speaking to the House Republican conference last night. Going into that meeting, many lawmakers wanting to hear a very explicit endorsement by President Trump of one of the house bills that of course is a broader immigration package that also includes an addressing of the separation issue at the border.

Now coming out of that meeting, many lawmakers were a little confused, not clear exactly what President Trump supports and the White House says he will indeed support this compromise measure but the feeling certainly was that he wasn't explicit enough to get one of those bills essentially over the finish line.

Lawmakers up here, House Republicans huddled again this morning and coming out of that meeting, many are saying look, we just don't have the votes for this compromised measure that they may be voting on as soon as tomorrow.

So this all boils down to, Poppy, that you have a lot of movement up here on Capitol Hill, a flurry of activity, we're talking about whip counts, but essentially there is not a proposal that will pass that addresses this problem.

HARLOW: So what will the House Speaker Paul Ryan say? Because this is going to be the first question to him, right? So we'll bring that to people live as soon as it begins.

Sunlen, thank you very, very much.

As for President Trump he's taking his immigration fight on the road tonight. He's got a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, this evening. He ramps up his midterm travel. This is all part of that.

Abby Phillip is outside the White House with more.

Good morning, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Poppy. President Trump today is doubling down on this issue of the family separations, not backing down and continuing to blame Democrats, but over on the Hill as Republicans are looking for a solution to the problem, many of them found that President Trump wasn't particularly helpful and wasn't clear as Sunlen just mentioned about what exactly he wanted.

Now the -- some of these quotes from lawmakers are really striking. One of them saying that the president didn't really seem to understand the morality of the issue. He described -- saying that the crying babies doesn't look good politically. Another red state lawmaker also said that it's nice to see the president, but it doesn't move the ball forward.

On the two bills that they're discussing on the Hill, a Freedom Caucus member said it's a total miscue from the administration. Both of these bills are designed to fail and it is only the president who doesn't get the joke.

This is not exactly the best sign for a White House who either needs to get what they're looking for on broader immigration issues or resolve what has been a terrible week of press for this White House on the issue of family separations, and given that the president doesn't seem to be backing down and putting the ball in lawmakers' court, they haven't seen him doing a whole lot to help with the process of whipping votes for passage this week.

It remains to be seen, Poppy, whether or not the president would be willing to sign a standalone measure now that a lot of Republicans have proposed that they might do something very narrow just to deal with that issue of family separation, and also the White House is now being asked to put a moratorium on these separations while Congress seeks to do their work.

He's going to be in Minnesota tonight. The president at a rally usually more unplugged than usual and we'll see what more he has to say about that then -- Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you for that.

Let's go to the border now and this morning we're learning about so- called tender age shelters. These are the facilities where infants and toddlers are being held away from their parents. There are three of them in southern Texas.

Nick Valencia is in Brownsville, Texas, right now with more.

Nick, what are you seeing, what are you hearing?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, we are out in front of one of those tender age facilities.

[10:05:03] It's called Casa Presidente and it's run by the nonprofit Southwest Key which maintains about 26 shelters here in the United States. This shelter has children 10 years and younger and it's a mixture between boys and girls and among them in this facility which used to be a former hospital are babies.

I'm joined now by Congressman Filemon Vela.

Thank you so much for taking the time, Congressman.

REP. FILEMON VELA (D), TEXAS: Good morning.

VALENCIA: You got a tour of this facility on Monday and you saw with your own eyes the children that were there, the babies that were inside.

VELA: Right.

VALENCIA: Tell us what it's like in there.

VELA: Well, there are 80 children in this facility. It's a former hospital and these children are being well taken care of. It's not an ideal situation because they are not with their parents but in this facility are children under the age of 10 with a few exceptions. Some mothers who are teenagers who have born children. But in one room there are four infants under the age of 1, two with their teenage parents, and two who were alone. One who was separated from her sister, their mother had died at some point in the process, and the other whom we were told was separated from her mother.

VALENCIA: So these infants, these babies, because when the audience hears tender age, they think of something like a NICU, which is where babies are being held. But what do you understand tender age to be? VELA: Well, according to the people here at Southwest Keys, under

their definition tender age means children that are 10 and under. And that's why at this facility most of the children in here which are about 80 children, 40 of whom have been separated from their parents are under the age of 10. There are a couple of exceptions with respect to teenage girls.

VALENCIA: And as you understand it, the 40, are they zero tolerance? They just came here because of the zero tolerance policy?

VELA: Our understanding as of our visit on Monday is that the 40 children who were separated from their parents are here directly as a result of the zero tolerance policy.

VALENCIA: Let's get back to those infants, those babies that you saw in there, four in all. Who is taking care of them? You know, babies need 24-hour care. Who's giving them the attention that they need?

VELA: Well, you know, like I said, it's not ideal because these children are not with their mother, but under the circumstances the children that I saw in there, the two with the parents or with their mothers. The other two were being attended to by Southwest Keys employees. They were both being fed at the point that I saw them so there is constant attention and the people that were working in there are doing what they can under the circumstances.

VALENCIA: We've seen images released by Customs and Border Protection facilities that they hold people equating into -- being in cages. Of course they don't like that definition, they don't like that verbiage. They're saying they're not cages. What are the -- what are they being held here? What's the condition like inside?

VELA: I think it's true that at the initial Border Patrol processing stations and at the facility like in Tornillo, Texas --

VALENCIA: With tents. Right.

VELA: With the tents up in El Paso, for sure that would have all the appearance of the cages. This facility here is an old hospital. And if you can imagine going into an old hospital, these are air- conditioned rooms and the structure of the building itself does not appear to change very much since it was -- I've been in this hospital visiting, you know, friends and family in the past. So I did not see any -- any difference in the way this building looked before than it was when it was a hospital. So --

VALENCIA: What's it like, though, going inside? I mean, we've talked before, you have nieces, nephews, you're an uncle, I should say. Going in there and seeing children without their parents, children that had been separated because of this zero tolerance immigration policy, babies in there that are without their mothers.

VELA: When you walk into a room and there are two children, one the age of 8 months, another the age of almost 1 who is without their parent, and you begin to think and realize that these children that are toddlers are being held hostage by the president of the United States, it's abhorrent, and the fact that in the United States of America, in 2018, that we're allowing this to happen is just really shameful and what we need is for the president to rescind zero tolerance right now.

VALENCIA: Congressman Filemon Vela, Democratic representative here in this district. Thank you so much for taking the time with CNN. We really appreciate it.

Poppy, just heartbreaking when you describe and you think about those babies, just infants, toddlers who in many cases, you know, they need constant attention and here they are in this facility behind me, Casa Presidente run by Southwest Keys. They also run a secondary facility in Combes. Also we understand tender age shelters, children as they described or defined, I should say, under the age of 10 years old. It is just absolutely heartbreaking -- Poppy.

HARLOW: I mean, Nick, you know, you just heard him say an 8-month-old and another baby that's under 1. I mean, these are children that could very well have been breastfeeding from their mother and that being much of their sustenance, and if their mother is not there then they can no longer be fed and nourished in that way.

I am so glad you're there. I am so glad you're reporting this out for us, Nick. Thank you very, very much.

Let's discuss this with CNN political commentator Steve Cortes and Doug Heye.

[10:10:04] It's nice to have you both here.

Steve Cortes, you just heard that. Are you comfortable with the situation for that 8-month-old and that 1-year-old?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Gosh, no. Of course, I'm not comfortable. You know, as a father, an American, a human being this is a tragedy. It's always a tragedy, by the way, when parents misbehave, commit crimes, and are separated by their children so it's a tragedy, but I totally disagree with the congressman that the fault of the tragedy lies with the president of the United States. That's not true. He didn't smuggle his children across a southern border. Their parents did and their parents are really mistreating these poor kids.


HARLOW: So, Steve --

CORTES: And I'm glad that it seems like under these terrible conditions --

HARLOW: Steve, the president of the United States --

CORTES: -- we're at least doing the best we can to care for them.

HARLOW: So you would assert and agree that it is the president of the United States who can reverse this, who can end it immediately, who can reunite that 8-month-old and 1-year-old with their mothers, right?

CORTES: Right -- yes, correct. He could but that's what we used to do --

HARLOW: Should he -- hold on.

CORTES: -- which is catch and release.

HARLOW: Hold on one second.

CORTES: No, he should not.

HARLOW: Hold on one second, they're not mutually exclusive. You can reunite and you can pass broad immigration reform. You can reunite now. You can halt the separation as Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican, an ally of the president, is calling on the Justice Department to do. Should they do that?

CORTES: Should we stop arresting their parents who illegally cross the border? No, they should not.

HARLOW: That's not what I asked. That's not what I asked. Should they -- should we halt the separation right now --


CORTES: Well, it is what you're asking because once we arrest them --

HARLOW: -- as a solution is figured out.

CORTES: Once we arrest them children cannot go with their parents to jail whether it's in the United States --

HARLOW: That's not true. They could be held, as you know -- Senator Ted Cruz's proposal is that they're held together once again and that the process is expedited.

CORTES: Right. That can be changed, but under current law they cannot. Children cannot go to jail with their parents, whether you're arrested in the United States as a U.S. citizen --

HARLOW: They can be --

CORTES: -- or whether it's a foreign national who is illegally crossing our border.

HARLOW: Doug --

CORTES: And again, I have so much empathy for these children, but the parents are the ones who are culpable here, who are choosing to illegally cross the border --

HARLOW: But -- right.

CORTES: -- to sneak into our country and bring in their children along in tow. HARLOW: Doug Heye, the counterargument to that?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'd say there's not a lot of empathy if you're not willing to do anything about it. And ultimately if Donald Trump, as we know, alone can fix things then he can solve this problem today. If he needs to work with Congress to do so, we know that Congress has been unable to pass any kind of immigration legislation for years then the president needs to be clear and consistent with Congress which he certainly wasn't last night.

He went to the meeting with attitude instead of knowledge which is why I got an e-mail from a conservative Republican who said Trump did what he does and it doesn't help. They need clarity, they need his support if they're going to move legislation. We can do this with legislation. The Cruz bill is a good bill. The president can pick up the phone and do it on his own as well.

We have two ways to solve this problem right now and you can be concerned about open borders and catch and release, and still want to help these kids who are in such an awful situation. They're not mutually exclusive.

HARLOW: Steve, I want to ask you about something that I heard you say on this network last night. You were speaking with my colleague, Erin Burnett, here's what you said.


CORTES: They're not immigrants. They're invaders. They're not immigrants.


CORTES: They're not immigrants. They are invaders.


CARDONA: They are immigrants.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: You said they are invaders?

CARDONA: They are immigrant. OK, Steve?


CORTES: When you come here without permission, you are an invader.

CARDONA: I am an immigrant.


HARLOW: Do you regret, Steve, calling them invaders?

CORTES: You know, I do. I tweeted that out this morning, I said I'd like to take that word back. It was a bit over the top. I am very tough on border control, but calling them invaders I think is too strong a word and what I don't want to do also is do what the critics of the president are doing which is always reach for the most hyperbolic, the most exaggerated language possible.

HARLOW: Let me go to Paul Ryan.

CORTES: For example --

HARLOW: Hold on. Sorry to interrupt, guys. Let's listen to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Tomorrow the House will vote on legislation to keep families together. Under this bill when people are being prosecuted for illegally crossing the border, families will remain together under DHS custody throughout the length of their legal proceedings. Additional funding is also going to be made available so that DHS has sufficient resources to house and care for families during this entire process.

This is obviously something we discussed last night with the president at our conference and I hope that we'll be able to pass this tomorrow. Bottom line is this, we are going to take action to keep families together while we enforce our immigration laws.

Second, I want to provide an update on the steps that we've taken to grow our economy for working families. Six months ago this week, six months ago this week historic tax reform was passed and signed into law. In just this short time, we have started to see real results. Tax reform has already helped improve the lives of so many Americans which is exactly what we set out to do when we passed this in the first place.

Since it took effect, $1 million jobs have already been created. Unemployment is at its lowest level in a half century. Wages are rising. Utility bills are going down. Tax reform has been every bit the game changer that we were hoping that we envisioned it would be.

[10:15:05] It has helped to replace uncertainty with growing optimism. People are feeling more confident and in more control of their futures and that is what this is all about. Not just these six months, but six months after that, and six --

HARLOW: All right. The significant headlines from House Speaker Paul Ryan there saying that tomorrow the House will vote on legislation that would keep these families together. It would effectively, if passed, end -- and signed by the president, end the separation of children from their parents at the border. He said we're going to take action to keep families together while we enforce immigration laws.

He also said DHS will get additional support, monetary support to provide what's needed for these families at the border.

Steve Cortes, back to you.

CORTES: That sounds like great news, by the way. I'm anxious to hear the details, but that would be wonderful. Again, under current law we can't do that. We can't enforce our border rules and keep the families together but under new legislation we could. But I just want to finish on my previous point --

HARLOW: But yes, you -- yes, you can because that's what the Bush administration --

CORTES: Well, you can't. No, you can't, Poppy, because if you arrest the parents --

HARLOW: -- and the Obama administration did. That's exactly what they did.

CORTES: No, they didn't. That was catch and release.

HARLOW: The same laws were on the -- right, but you can. You disagree with it.

CORTES: It's not true.

HARLOW: Doug Heye, is that not true?

HEYE: No, I think it is true.

CORTES: If you arrest the parent the child can't go with the parent to jail under current laws.

HARLOW: Let's let Doug get a -- let's let Doug get a word in here.

HEYE: I think it is true. And look --

HARLOW: Because it's what's been happening for more than a decade.

HEYE: If we're going to take Donald Trump at his word, I, alone, can fix this then Donald Trump alone can fix this. You shouldn't need Congress to act. I think it's good that Congress is going to act and my goodness, if Congress can move anything on immigration after years of being stuck on anything with that bill that is a good and constructive step, but if Donald alone -- if Donald Trump alone can fix this, then Donald Trump alone should fix this.

HARLOW: But, Doug Heye, you said earlier this week the majority of the Republican conference just like the majority of Republican primary voters have no urgency on moving anything other than border security. Do you think that is no longer the case given what we just heard from Speaker Ryan?

HEYE: Think the urgency comes from President Trump. Republican members of Congress are very fearful of where their base is on this, but Donald Trump has an ability to move his base. They will follow him because they are Trump supporters first, Trump agenda supporters second. And if Donald Trump says to them with credibility that I don't support amnesty and this is not amnesty, his base will come along with them.

The other problem is, there are a lot of Republican members who frankly will vote no but hope yes, and that's been one of the things that's really stalled immigration legislation for years and years. It's why we haven't been able to move anything on immigration. Members will vote no but hope something passes. That's not a recipe for success.

HARLOW: Thank you both for being here. I'm going to get a quick break in because we're keeping a close eye on this GOP leadership press conference. As soon as Speaker Ryan starts taking questions we'll bring it to you live. Stay with us.


[10:21:49] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America and that's the Republican Party.

HARLOW: Your weekly press conference under way. We are waiting for Speaker Paul Ryan to come back to the lectern and take questions. Obviously key questions will be on what he just announced on immigration and the legislation that the House will vote on tomorrow. We'll bring that to you when it begins.

In the meantime, it was supposed to be a meeting about immigration, but it took an odd turn when the president decided to attack a fellow Republican lawmaker, Congressman Mark Sanford, who lost his primary bid in South Carolina last week. Sanford wasn't in the room at the time, but according to sources the president called him a, quote, "nasty guy". Of course Sanford has been critical of the president. He didn't back off that criticism at all during the primary.

With me now CNN political analyst, White House reporter for "The Washington Post," Josh Dawsey.

Josh, you spoke with Congressman Sanford last night. What did he make of the president's remark?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So what happened last night the president comes over to talk immigration and at one point during the meeting he said, is Congressman Sanford here? Congressman Sanford wasn't there. The president goes, "I wanted to congratulate him on his race." Obviously Sanford lost after the president attacked him. The room went totally silent and the president said nasty guy. He's a really nasty guy, and then some folks booed.

It really took the Republican conference by surprise because it's rare for a Republican president to come over to the Hill in front of Republicans and attack a Republican, particularly one that just lost. But the president has disdain for Mark Sanford as he's made clear.

I talked to Mark Sanford last night while he was at the Charleston Airport. He had only learned about this from his chief of staff. He wasn't -- he was obviously hours away and said he was in airplane hell on the tarmac for about five hours when I talked to him and he said that -- he seemed more amazed than anything. It was a sense of I've already lost. This guy beat me, you know?

HARLOW: Right. DAWSEY: He's had his fun. Doesn't he have anything better to talk

about? In fact that's what he said. He said you have all these important issues, you're dealing with immigration, (INAUDIBLE) 35 members, you're trying to wrangle votes, why do you need to personally attack me? And Mark Stanford also pointed out that, you know, he had agreed with a lot of the president's policies.


DAWSEY: But that is -- in his word, his caustic and counterproductive style is why he can't fully support the president. He said those comments were the epitome of that.

HARLOW: Did he feel encouraged? Because we know the reporting that you have out of this meeting is that when the president attacked him some of the Republican lawmakers in the room booed at that? I mean, did Sanford feel encouraged by that? What did he say to you?

DAWSEY: Sure. He told me last night that he felt heartened by that. But let's be clear, Poppy, I mean, Mark Sanford who was governor of South Carolina overcame an affair.

HARLOW: Right.

DAWSEY: A famous affair, the Appalachian trail episode as we remember, came back, you know, won several terms in Congress and the thing that brought him down essentially was his conflict with President Trump and his unwillingness to get onboard. So I think he was probably heartened last night a little by the boos, but at the same time he lost and he's going to be out of Congress soon enough.


DAWSEY: So I don't think he can be too terribly heartened by, you know, the current situation.

HARLOW: Good point. Josh Dawsey, appreciate the reporting. Thank you very, very much.

DAWSEY: Thank you.

HARLOW: And we are waiting for House Speaker Paul Ryan to take questions on Capitol Hill at this weekly GOP press conference. Of course, those questions will be on this immigration compromise. He says the House is going to vote on a bill tomorrow that would end the separation of families at the border.

[10:25:05] Much more on that ahead.


HARLOW: Welcome back. We're keeping an eye on the weekly GOP press conference. We're going to take -- hear questions from -- to Speaker Paul Ryan in just a moment. Right now you hear House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy there. So we'll bring this to you live, of course, and hear what he says about this immigration fight in just a moment. This morning, though, we're learning more about these so-called tender

age shelters at the southern border. Shelters holding infants and toddlers, kids under the age of 10 as their parents are detained in Texas for crossing the border illegally.

Polo Sandoval is outside one of those shelters in Combes, Texas.

Polo, what are you hearing?