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Interview with Representative Peter Welch; Approval of Mueller's Handling of Russia Probe Dropping; Trump Threatens 20 Percent Tariff on European Cars; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 22, 2018 - 10:30   ET



[10:33:50] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Congressman Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont, went to the southern border in Texas to see firsthand what the children are experiencing. The children being held away from their parents. He described the troubling conditions that he saw firsthand in an op-ed this morning and he joins me now.

Thank you for being here, Congressman.


HARLOW: Can you walk me through what you were allowed to see?

WELCH: Well, quite a bit. This is led by Senator Merkley and he'd been turned away two weeks earlier. So this time we were allowed in to several locations. And basically where people were being held is in warehouses, they're clean. But there is no windows. And when you go inside, there are chain link fences that in effect are cages.

So -- and the kids, all the people there are segregated by age, by gender, and what we saw was a lot of kids in cages. We weren't allowed to talk to them, but, you know, the real issue here is these kids are removed from their parents. So they're bewildered and they're scared. And one incident really stood out in my mind, it was three boys, and I assume they were brothers, and they're on these thin mats that are provided.

[10:35:03] And like spoon style, they're holding on to each other for dear life with no idea where their parents were. So that's a pretty searing sight. And this is something where it's not a Republican- Democrat thing. Any parent is all about saving and keeping safe their son or daughter. So, everyone, I think, in America identifies with what it would be like to have your child taken away and then you don't know where he or she is.

HARLOW: And we're looking at some of these images just provided by the government. Of course you weren't allowed to take pictures, we're not allowed in to take pictures. All we have is what the government has provided us from some of these facilities.

The president, this morning, Congressman, I'm not sure if you saw it or not, but the president this morning writes, "We cannot allow our country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief."

He is asserting, sir, that the stories you are sharing about these conditions, about what these kids are going through, are phony, they're fake, and you're doing it for political expediency. What do you say to that?

WELCH: Well, that's just flat-out bizarre. I mean, we also met with 10 women, mothers, who had made this incredible decision to leave Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, because they were terrified. They are not gang members. They're fleeing gang violence. And they were so concerned about getting killed or their son or daughter getting killed that they made this trip and presented themselves to a country where they still -- in their minds see as a hope for a better future.

And where the president may be right, we can't take everybody, every asylum request, we can't. So it's a hard issue to deal with. But the remedy cannot include putting kids in cages, taking them from their parents. They're totally innocent. So the president knows that. It's a tough problem. But to use words like invade, infest, vermin, rapists, all of that, where it's these desperate mothers by and large with a son or daughter, just makes it much more difficult to solve what is a very challenging problem.

HARLOW: What the Trump administration is now asking a federal judge to do is to decide that children can be held with their parents in these facilities, these detention centers, until the case is heard, right? Until the criminal prosecution goes through. And that could be indefinitely. That could be months, that could be years.

It is also something that the Obama administration in 2015 asked the same judge to grant. And that judge said no, because of the Flores settlement, these kids have to be released within 20 days. So Republicans point to Democrats in this, and they say look, where were Democrats like you crying out when these -- when the Obama administration was asking for these families to be held indefinitely if necessary. What is your response to that criticism?

WELCH: Well, I mean, there's two things. First of all, the Flores settlement won't solve the problem. The kids weren't held, so you didn't have the situation where by administration policy, by President Trump's policy the explicit decision was to take kids from parents. So we didn't have that. The second thing is that -- as I mentioned earlier, there is innocent kids here. And what the president by his own words said he was doing is this family separation policy was going to give him leverage to try to get Congress to pass his version of border security.

And I think these border security issues, what kind of immigration system we have, he's entitled to his position. We can have a fair and square debate about that. But what he doesn't have a right to do and we don't have a right to do is implicate innocent children, the Dreamers and these kids, in that equation.

HARLOW: What are you willing to give on this? Because both Democrats and Republicans say we have to compromise, we have to reach a solution. But -- (CROSSTALK)

WELCH: Well, there's -- go ahead.

HARLOW: What will you give? Right? Will you -- will you agree to border funding for a wall? Will you agree to the $25 billion that the president wants for this wall if you get what you want on family separation ending, for example, and a path to citizenship for Dreamers in this country?

WELCH: Well, first of all, I'm definitely in favor of funding for border security. The wall is a metaphor because there are some places where it just doesn't make sense. There is some places where physical barrier makes an awful lot of sense. So the Senate bill that was passed a few years ago they have border security funding, including for physical barriers.

HARLOW: It was different, though. I mean, but you're saying you won't allocate, you won't vote for something that allocates $25 billion to a wall, correct?

WELCH: No. I wouldn't. That is correct. But here's the thing that really is making this issue already difficult, almost impossible. You see the president's language talking about infesting, invading, and demeaning to Hispanics.

[10:40:07] Number two, we should not be using children, the Dreamers or these kids, as a bargaining chip. They're innocent. And this is where in Congress we go off the rails. We have contentious issues and then as leverage, you bring in extraneous, in this case, kids, who are innocent and you say, I'll give you the freedom for these kids if you give me my wall. We shouldn't be doing that. That's unfair -- that's really dangerous.

HARLOW: Congressman Peter Welch, thank you for joining me this morning.

WELCH: Thank you.

HARLOW: It is nearly impossible to forget the cries of immigrant children heard across the country this week on that audio recording, taken inside by ProPublica at one of these shelters holding children separated from their parents. For one mother, it is painstakingly difficult because one of the voices on that audio is her 6-year-old daughter.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to go with my aunt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to get there. Look, she will explain it and help you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dad. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to take you to speak to the person from

your consulate, OK?



HARLOW: The girl you hear crying is 6-year-old Alisson Madrid. She was separated from her mother Cindy nearly two weeks ago at the border. Listen to her mother now. She spoke to CNN and begged to be reunited with her daughter.


HARLOW: They came to the United States from El Salvador looking to escape the violence and the poverty there. Here is more of what her mother said.


HARLOW: She tells CNN she has received little information about how she will be reunited with her daughter or when. And that her calls to the shelter go unanswered.

All right. We have new numbers out, more Americans not happy with the man leading the Russia probe, who the president has criticized so much. Is that strategy working? Ahead.


[10:47:22] HARLOW: All right, welcome back. We have new CNN polling on the Russia probe and the numbers show that Americans on both sides of the aisle are growing a little more frustrated with the Special Counsel Bob Mueller. Some fascinating findings here.

With me now, CNN political commentators Robby Mook and Alice Stewart. Robby, of course, Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager. Alice was the former communications director for Ted Cruz.

Nice to have you both here on this Friday. And I should note that still in this poll it shows that most Americans think that the Russia probe is important, should continue, and that's a majority. But when you break down the numbers of how they think Mueller is handling it, here is what it shows us. That across all sectors, Republicans, independents, Democrats, they're all seeming to be growing tired with this, et cetera, fewer approve now of how Mueller is handling the investigation than did so in March.

What do you make of that, Alice?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First and foremost, Poppy, the most important aspect of that is what you just said, that most Americans do take this very seriously and say it should continue. But when we have the daily and many times daily repeated drumbeat from the president and the administration about how this is a witch hunt and continuing to try and undermine the investigation, it certainly takes its toll.

The president is making this a way to undermine the credibility of the investigation because he views that as something that undermines his presidential victory whereas on the other side, Robert Mueller is keeping his nose to the grind stone, he's doing the work that he is there to do and investigating Russian interference in our election and there is no pushback.

So understandably when you have the constant drumbeat of beating down Mueller, that's going to take its toll, just like we did in the Clinton investigation and Democrats made Ken Starr the boogie man and that's what they did then and we're seeing a similar thing here. But the important thing is the investigation, finding a conclusion about Russian interference in our election and whether or not there was any coordination or collusion with the Trump campaign.

HARLOW: Robby, do you agree with Alice?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I agree with a lot of what Alice said. I think it's important not to over interpret the numbers. So for example, I was just looking when you look at those independents' favorability numbers, I think that number alone is within the margin of error. So I could argue there was no movement there. So I think these are minor. And I also think that Republicans may be disapproving for a different reason than Democrats. Right?

Some Democrats might be frustrated because they wish Mueller had come out two months ago with, you know, everything that he knows and want to get it out there. And Mueller is obviously in the unfortunate position, although to use Alice's term, he's keeping his nose to the grindstone, he can't speak for himself. You know, he can only -- he can indict people, which he is doing. They can issue statements in a very narrow limited way.

[10:50:03] And I will say if there is anything we learned from the last election, when someone like Bob Mueller goes out and says too much, and is too -- is editorializing, that hurts the process.

HARLOW: Well --

MOOK: And Mueller is not doing that. And so until he speaks the full story and puts out the report, people are going to be in suspense.


MOOK: And they're going to be frustrated for different reasons.

HARLOW: Something tells me you're talking about James Comey, who had pretty low favorability in this polling, it shows, you know, 28 percent favorable, 50 percent unfavorable for Comey.

But just because we have limited time, Robby, I want to get you on this tweet from the president. I mean, he just in so many words said that the stories, the sad stories out of the border crisis, the separation of parents from their children, are fake. He said we can't allow our country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief. They are not phony stories. He says this is the Democrats for political expediency making things up. What do you say?

MOOK: This is classic Trump. He doesn't want to address the actual issue of immigration. I would argue he doesn't want to address any actual issues at all. He wants to keep us debating his tweets, not debating the substance here.

HARLOW: I mean, he actually said this morning that Republicans should stop on immigration.

MOOK: Exactly.

HARLOW: Until November.

MOOK: He goes in there and rallies them and tells them to get a bill passed. They're confused about what he means by that and then he comes out and tells them to stop. This is classic, and he wants us to react to these tweets every day, so rather than reacting to his tweet, I'm just going to say these members of Congress are paid to legislate.


MOOK: They agree on 90 percent of this, do your damn job.

HARLOW: But they need the president, Alice, to sign their legislation unless they have the veto power on something like this, so --

STEWART: Sure, but what they need --

HARLOW: I mean, unless they can override a veto on something like this. If you're Paul Ryan right now, and you hear the president this morning saying, never mind, do this until after November, what are you thinking?

STEWART: This is another attempt for the president to try and light a fire under Republicans to get together and get something done. Look, the president got a lot of good grace and good coverage for changing his view on families --

HARLOW: I should just note, I'm so sorry to interrupt, but I've just heard that the majority whip Steve Scalise just told Manu Raju that they are not giving up on the immigration legislation, so you think a vote will be next week as of now and he thinks this is the president, Alice, just expressing his frustration.

STEWART: Sure. And that's the power of tweet -- the Twitter is that he can stream of consciousness when he's frustrated about something, all of the world knows about it. But this is in my view just another attempt for him to light a fire under Republicans to get things done. I think he did a good thing by ending the family separation policy and certainly showing compassion. But he's made it quite clear, his priorities are strong on immigration, let's secure the border, let's end the visa lottery, let's end chain migration, move toward more merit-based system. And in return he will provide protections for Dreamers. So he wants a

more comprehensive package, but in the short-term, it was right for him to end the family separations and it is important now --

HARLOW: Yes, but --

STEWART: -- for Republicans and Democrats to get together to try and solve this problem.

HARLOW: Except now he's saying don't do anything on legislation, potentially could hit those pillars that he wants, although it would face quite a battle in the Senate and he knows that.

Thank you, both, very, very much. Robby and Alice, nice to have you here.

We do have breaking news on trade. Trade tension escalating once again. The president just threatening more tariffs, this time on European cars coming into this country. We'll explain next.


[10:57:58] HARLOW: Welcome back. The president punching back after the European Union slapped new tariffs on the United States, of course after the U.S. hit the EU with big tariffs. So just now the president has threatened to slap a 20 percent tariff on cars imported to this country from Europe.

Michelle Kosinski joins me now from Washington.

And Michelle, I swear you were in New York this morning, my friend.


HARLOW: In New York, anchoring. And now here. So what does this mean? What are the consequences here?

KOSINSKI: This is another big one. And based on our reporting from our European sources, they have seen this coming for at least the last several days. They have been bracing for this and worried about it. They knew that this was pretty much ready to go on the part of the White House. That they would impose this tariff in the lead up to the midterm elections and Europeans were trying to figure out how to handle this.

Now since then, since they've caught wind of this, we know that the Germans have proposed to the U.S., well, why don't we just eliminate all tariffs between the U.S. and the EU on cars. And, according to these European sources, the U.S. is willing to consider that. So this tariff of 20 percent on automobiles, which would affect the Germans greatly, may not go into effect if the U.S. agrees to this plan.

But we know this is something that Trump has been fired up about for a long time. And if you remember, when German chancellor Angela Merkel was in town visiting with him in April, they met together and he was just hammering her on the tariffs that Germany, the EU charges the U.S. for autos going in there. That he was accusing her of being protectionist, trying to get her to lift that tariff and according to sources, she was saying, well, you know, we're in the EU, we can't just unilaterally do this.

But Trump didn't want to hear it. So this is the plan. We will see if this German proposal to lift the tariffs actually works out, Poppy.

HARLOW: Michelle Kosinski in Washington for us, thank you for that. Keep us posted.

And thank you all for being with me today. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Have a great weekend. I will hand it over to my colleague Kate Bolduan who takes over now.