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First Lady Visits Child Immigrant Holder Center in Texas; Trump Reverses Stance on Family Separations as House Votes on Immigration Bills; Interview with Sen. Mazie Hirono; Trump Barely Mentions Family Separations During Duluth Rally; Will Legislation Deter Central American Immigrants Hoping to Enter U.S. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired June 21, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: -- in the White House could be on the phone with heads of these agencies saying, what is the plan for how we're going to do this in an expeditious manner? That's is not a question we've had answered from these agencies today. And when we think about the anguish these parents and kids have been in, from the moment they were separated from their kids to go through another day of saying, OK, we're going to stop this policy, but we don't have any answers for you how you're going to reunite with your child. I can't imagine how hard this is for them.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And the children have only been able to speak on the phone with their parents, as Jamie points out, twice a week.

Kate Bennett is our White House reporter. She's traveling with the first lady in Texas. She's joining us right now.

Kate, walk us through how this all unfolded and what's happening right now.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER (via telephone): Well, Wolf, it unfolded very quickly. This was a plan, according to the first lady's office, started less than two days ago when she decided she wanted to go to Texas, and in fact, used the words, I'm heading to Texas, was what she told her staff and the president. Very quickly it came together. She didn't want to make a big deal of it beforehand. However, we are here on the ground. She is visiting a child -- a children's facility here, and she is -- these are children, Wolf, where there are 10 percent of these 55 or so children housed here are, indeed, part of the, we're told, separated children that were separated from their parents. Majority of them are unaccompanied minors who have come over the border either by themselves or via other family members or many -- (AUDIO PROBLEM) -- smugglers --

BLITZER: I think we just lost Kate. We're going to try to reconnect with her.

Kate Bennett, our White House reporter, is traveling with the first lady in Texas right now. We'll get back to her and get more of an update.

Nia Malika Henderson, let me get your thought on all of this. As we said, these two women, the president's wife, the president's daughter, clearly are playing a significant role.

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: One question is, why did it take the first ladies to stir some compassion in this president, right? Ted Cruz came to this decision that this was a policy that shouldn't stand. He presumably didn't need his wife to convince him. It's almost like compassion is sort of outsourced to the women, the first lady, in this case, and Ivanka Trump.

I agree with Sara. This idea that Ivanka Trump said, we really need to focus on this. I think she works at the White House every day. And I think this policy has been going on for about six weeks and I don't know that she has been out front, certainly, not publicly, in trying to do something about it. It's a story that has been brought to us by pictures and sounds, in images, but it's not going to be one that's solved by that, right?

I do commend the first lady for going down there, but the logistics of how you get these kids, who are all over the country -- some are in Texas, some in New York, reportedly, some as young as nine months old. How do you logistically reunite these kids? This has been a controversy of this president's own making. It's a logistical and bureaucratic nightmare at this point. And it's not clear that the first lady going down there -- certainly, she'll bring back some information, but I don't know that the information we got out of here was very reassuring for a lot of the kids who are out there.

BLITZER: It's a heartbreaking situation no matter what.

Ladies, don't go too far away. We have more to assess.

The president, at the same time, amidst all of this, once again, going off script, attacking Senator John McCain, who is fighting brain cancer. You can hear what one woman in the crowd yelled back at a very interesting moment when he questioned, in his mind, why he's not considered to be one of the elites.


[13:38:01] BLITZER: More now on the breaking news, the immigration showdown here in the United States. To discuss the president's stunning reversal on family separations at the border to the immigration votes and the House of Representatives that are underway, I want to bring in Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono. She's a Democrat. She serves on the Senate Armed Services and Judiciary Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction, Senator, to the president's executive order to keep detained families together. What do you think?

HIRONO: Well, first let me say that the president's apparent hatred of immigrants causes him to make really bad decisions, such as the Muslim ban that led to chaos at the airports, lawsuits, and now his zero-tolerance policy for border crossers. So yesterday's executive order simply will keep the children together with their parents, but they will still be in detention, apparently, detention facilities which you don't have for indeterminate periods of time. Not to mention the traumatized 2300 children who have already been separated from their parents. His executive order made no reference to it. And from what I'm told, Homeland Security now treats these children as unaccompanied minors. They are now looking for foster people to take care of these kids, even if they have parents. So there's absolutely no effort to reunify these 2,400 traumatized children with their parents.

BLITZER: They have to reunify those kids with their parents as quickly as possible.

HIRONO: Well, DHS is not going to do that. In fact, they're trying to find sponsors for these kids.

BLITZER: The president did just say his goal is to "reunite separated groups," in his words. Let's see if he can do that. He is the president of the United States. He can tell HHS, and he can tell other elements of the U.S. government to do it if that's what he wants to do.

Let me get to these votes that are under way in the House of Representatives. I know you're in the Senate. The House voting today on two immigration bills.

The president cast doubt that either measure would eventually pass. Even if it passed the House, he doubts it would pass the Senate. Let met read to you what he tweeted: "What is the purpose of the House doing good immigration bills when you need nine votes by Democrats in the Senate and the Dems are only looking to destruct, which they feel is good for them in the midterms. The Republicans must get rid of the stupid filibuster rule. It is killing you."

Let me get your thoughts on that, Senator. What's your reaction?

[13:40:35] HIRONO: The president again shows he has no outstanding checks and balances. He just wants the House and Senate to do his bidding and he'll hold anybody hostage for that. As far as I know, the House bills do not go very far in protecting DACA applicants. So he continues to wait. He cannot find a good explanation for his criticisms. He just blames the Democrats, and even though the Republicans, the Trump party, now controls the House, the Senate as well as the presidency. These House bills have done hardly anything to really protect DACA or to create the kind of immigration reform that I would like to see, which is comprehensive immigration reform.

BLITZER: The president, by the way, calls you and your fellow Democrats extremists. You're only interested in one thing, he says, open borders and preventing the Republicans from achieving anything. He used very strong words --

HIRONO: You know what --

BLITZER: -- I don't know if you heard, in his cabinet meeting. HIRONO: You know what my strong reaction to that is? It's a lie.

For the president to constantly say that we are against immigration reform that makes sense, that is humane, it's a lie. In fact, he is the one creating chaos at every turn. He never makes up his mind. We had a DACA bill that he said he would sign that was bipartisan. He didn't sign it at the last minute. We never know where the president is. But one thing he can be counted on is to blame everyone else for the chaos that he creates. He loves to blame Democrats as obstructionists, even if the Democrats don't control the House, Senate or the presidency. Boy, that's how effective he is as president that the two bodies that are his party he can't get what he wants out of them.

BLITZER: Senator Hirono, thank you very much for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you. Aloha.


Just ahead, President Trump fires up the crowd and vents against his opponents. We'll have that and other highlights from the president's freewheeling speech, including what he said about cheating spouses and a lot more.


BLITZER: The first lady, Melania Trump, is in Texas. She's been meeting with border agents down there. You can see these live pictures coming in right now. There she is meeting with the officers who are in charge of keeping that border secure, dealing with all these individuals illegally who try to cross into the United States. She's been down there now for at least a couple of hours, having some meetings. I don't know how much longer she's going to stay down there. We'll find out soon enough. But it's been, we're told, raining pretty hard. It looks like she's boarding her plane to head back to Washington.

An important symbolic relationship by the first lady of the United States to show her support to solidarity and her opposition to separating young kids from their mothers and fathers.

Jamie Gangel is with us.

Jamie, we're giving her a lot of credit for at least making this symbolic journey.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Symbolism is important, but the Senator just a few minutes ago, used the word chaos. The problem is the president signed this and he says this, but the reality is we do not know today, how are those kids going to get reunited. Where are these families going to be detained? Physically, what structure is there going to be? So they're good pictures. They're important pictures, potentially. But they don't answer the real problem. I've spoken to Republicans and they use the same word that the Senator used a minute ago, chaos, chaos, chaos. They should not --


[13:45:37] BLITZER: Sara, a lot of confusion.

MURRAY: Yes, there's absolutely a lot of confusion, especially when it comes to the question of what is going to happen, how these kids who are already separated from their parents are going to be reunited. I think one of the important things about Melania's visit, she's visiting with kids who are a little bit older. We don't have answers. She's not seeing these kids who are eight or nine months old who have been separated from their parents, who can't advocate for themselves, can't tell who they're staying with what their parents' name is or try to be reunited. I think that's one of the things that's really hard and separate from the images we're seeing. It doesn't matter if there's nice pictures on the wall. It doesn't matter if there's a soccer field kids can play on. You've separated these kids from their parents after this traumatic experience of crossing the border, and some are too young to know where they are to have any understanding of what's going on.

BLITZER: That's a good point, indeed.

And the uproar of separating children from their parents at the border with Mexico has certainly dominated the news in the United States over the past several days. But President Trump only mentioned that whole issue very briefly during a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, last night. He did talk about everything from the so-called elites and marital infidelity to the Russia investigation and his recent meeting with Kim Jong-Un.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a great meeting, and Kim Jong-Un will turn down -- and I will tell you -- he will turn -- Chairman Kim will turn that country into a great successful country.

With me, nothing! No collusion, no nothing, and they just wanted to take all of us! They wanted to put us in trouble. And it's not working too well, I'll tell you.


TRUMP: -- with Peter Strzok and his lover, Lisa Page.


TRUMP: I don't think their wife and husband are too happy about that. What do you think? What do you think?

And everybody said, oh, good, we have his vote, we have everybody's vote. We were going in for a routine repeal and replace, and he went thumbs down. Not nice.

Did you ever notice they always call the other side the elite. The elite! Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. (CHEERING)

TRUMP: I'm smarter than they are. I'm richer than they are.


TRUMP: I became president and they didn't.


BLITZER: We'll get back to Jamie and Sara.

You're smiling when you hear him talk about -- he's sensitive to the fact that he's not considered the, quote, "elite."

GANGEL: What does it say when someone has to say, I have a much better apartment than they do? He was really on the attack last night. He seemed very angry. He was punching right and left. As Sara said, it's been a bad news cycle for him, and I think you saw the effect of that in his attacks against a lot of these people. There was someone -- a protester taken away. He said, is that a man or a woman? It was very personal.

MURRAY: Yes, I think we saw sort of classic campaign Trump here. He clearly had a lot he wanted to get off of his chest. And if he's going and jumping from topic to topic and just kind of lobbing fireballs at anyone he can think of, that is a way for him historically to try to change the news cycle. He does know the longer we talk about this child separation policy, the longer we're talking about these horrible stories of kids being separated from their parents, the worse this gets for him. I think he went out there and put everything out on the field other than talking about immigration. I've been to I don't know how many of these Trump rallies and usually he spends a lot of time talking about immigration. That wasn't the case last night. He focused on it only briefly because he knows that, for one, perhaps, for him, this is an issue where he's getting caught flat-footed where the country has turned against him. But he wasn't playing to the country in that. He was playing to his base at a campaign rally.

BLITZER: That's a good point.

The president often likes to point out he's been on the cover of "Time" magazine many, many times over these many years. But I suspect this new issue of "Time" coming out today, he's not going to be very happy with that. It shows the picture of a little girl next to a towering image of the president. That's the iconic picture of the terrified little girl with the caption, "Welcome to America."

How damaging has all of this, the separation of kids from their moms and dads, been to this president.

[13:50:14] GANGEL: To steal the president's favorite word, "huge." He loves to frame those magazine covers and put them up in his office. That one will not be on his wall, I'm sure. I think the Republicans I spoke to who met with him on the House said he understands, he gets it, the impact that this is having on impolitically. I think it's why we saw him come out the next day, even though it hasn't solved the issue yet and sign this order because if the House goes to the Democrats, there are three words, articles of impeachment. It's not just about their political careers. It's about his political career.

BLITZER: Three years ago, almost exactly, he announced he's running for president. You covered him throughout that whole campaign. Give me your thoughts on how his speech last night in Duluth at this rally -- and there was a huge crowd there -- compares to what he used to do when he was out campaigning?

MURRAY: I've aged so much in three years, Wolf. But, look, I think this is classic Trump. This is why people liked Donald Trump as a candidate because they felt like he was going out there and he was speaking whatever was on his mind and he didn't care if he made people angry. He didn't care if he made the establishment angry. You saw him take a shot there at Senator John McCain, who is battling cancer, and his base has never really cared about that, if he does kind of the unseemly thing. And the comment he made about that, why aren't we the elites? He's not just talking about himself. He's talking about all those people in that room or watching at home and saying politicians don't care about the things I care about and the things I'm going through day to day in my life. And somehow this guy, this really rich, who is living in Trump Tower and now living in the White House, is able to speak to Americans across the country in a way other politicians just can't. I think the Democrats are going to be in big trouble in the midterms and in the next presidential if they don't remember that is a skill that this president has.

BLITZER: The president is right, he was elected president of the United States. He makes that point, and that's an accurate point, indeed.

Guys, thank you very, very much.

Communities racked by violence, terrorized by gangs, and infiltrated by drug cartels. Caught between that and the immigration chaos in the United States, it leaves many from Central America with a rather tough choice. A live report from the Guatemala/Mexico border right after this break.


[13:57:21] BLITZER: As lawmakers here in Washington up on Capitol Hill debate how they will move forward on this sensitive issue of immigration, one question remains, will these measures deter the thousands of Central American migrants if this legislation is, in fact, passed.

Our correspondent, Leyla Santiago, is on the border of Mexico and Guatemala. She joins us now live.

Leyla, what are people there telling you?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I just visited a shelter in this area and people are actually changing their plans based on the news that they're hearing from the U.S./Mexico border. We are on the southern part of Mexico, as you mentioned, right there with the border with Guatemala. The reason it is so important to be here right now is because all the folks from Central America, typically make their way north. People from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, they typically come through here. So what we are seeing here is one of the indicators, the first indicators of what we will see for those who plan to head to the U.S./Mexico border.

I've got to tell you a few things that stuck with me when I was talking to mothers at that shelter. One mother said that she arrived here a few weeks ago. She had plans to go to the United States. Left Honduras because of gang violence. She said that there was a threat made on one of her children to kill her children. She left the very next day. And now here she's actually seeing the coverage from the U.S./Mexico border, the families being separated. And she mentioned that audio. She mentioned hearing the children crying when they were separated. And she said, because of that, she is putting her journey on hold. She plans to stay here. Eventually, hopefully, make it to the U.S. for her. But for right now, she's too afraid to head to the United States and possibly be separated from her child in her eyes. Now, I asked her why she just wouldn't go back to Honduras and, again, she mentioned if she were to go back, she believes she would be killed. I talked to --


BLITZER: Hold on. Leyla hold on for one moment.

The president is speaking, again. I want to listen in.

TRUMP: We have to have a very strong border. If we don't, you will have millions and millions of people. And it will make what's happening today look like child's play. It will be a terrible thing if we ever did that. So, we have to be very, very strong on the border. If we don't do it, you will be inundated with people. And you really won't have a country. Without borders, you don't have a country. I said it for a long time. And you would effectively not have a country.

OK, thank you very much.


TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Clearly, the president not answering reporters' questions. But, once again, insisting that the United States needs to take drastic steps to have what he calls a strong border.