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Midweek Grades with Chris Cillizza; Botswana Overturns Ban on Elephant Hunting; Graduate Honors Immigrant Parents. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired May 29, 2019 - 08:30   ET


[08:30:00] CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Remains number one, at the top of Democratic polling by 20 plus points, which is where he is right now. And, number two, constantly being attacked by the president of the United States by name is a good week for Joe Biden. His entire campaign hinges on this electability argument, which you can argue both ways on. But he -- his argument is, I'm the best Democrat to beat Donald Trump. Donald Trump is afraid of me. He's fixated on me. Donald Trump is doing a very good job of proving that. A for Biden.

JOHN BERMAN: And you have some company for the former vice president.

CILLIZZA: Yes. Like I said, John, I am -- I feel like this week was an easy grading week, but I think these people deserve it. Yes, Elizabeth Warren, an A. We have talked about this in past weeks, which is she has gone from a struggle in the first couple months of her campaign to real genuine momentum now. She's in third place in most average of national polling. She's found, I think, her niche, which is a charismatic policy wonk. If you go see her, you know, she gets a lot of attention as she's roll -- she has a policy proposal for everything. And she does by and large. But she is also a very compelling personal speaker on the stump. That matters in retail politics states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and she's clearly getting traction.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Marianne Williamson. What do you give her this week.

CILLIZZA: OK, so I try to, you know, pick a few here and there that aren't the top tier. Marianne Williamson, who's basically a spiritual guru and author, I give her a B. And the reason I do that, Alisyn, is because Marianne Williamson is going to be in the first debate. She has qualified, 65,000 donors plus. She's got 1 percent average in polling.

And, again, Marianne Williamson very unlikely to be the nominee, but she will get a huge platform in a national debate and maybe two national debates. She will get those June and July, the second one of those will be on CNN. She will get that chance to make her point and drive her message, which at the start of this, Marianne Williamson probably didn't think she would get. So I give her a B, not because I think she's going to win, but because she has clearly achieved a goal that some better known candidates haven't.

BERMAN: And she will always be able to point to this day as the date that Chris Cillizza gave her a higher grade than Beto O'Rourke.

CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean, I'm down on Beto O'Rourke and continue to be. I give him a D. I haven't given any Fs yet because I think we're too far away to give anybody an F, right? An F means you're failing. I don't think anyone's failing when we -- the first votes are February of 2020.

But this is his third D -- I counted it up -- by me since we've been doing this, John and Alisyn. And the reason why is, I just don't know what he's doing. And I don't mean that his strategy is weird, I mean literally I don't know what he's doing. I know he's going to town halls. I know he had a town hall with us. It didn't get a ton of buzz. I now feel as though Beto O'Rourke, he has to have that end of June circle, that debate in Miami. He has to have it circled because if not then when, right? It gets -- it gets late early out here. Yogi Barra, right?

At some point here, when you have this many credible, serious candidates, if your poll numbers are going like this, (INAUDIBLE), that is bad, bad news, and that's what Beto O'Rourke looks like. People, I think, have begun to smell the stench of things aren't working out for him and you have to change that or it's a self- perpetuating cycle. He's getting dangerously close to that.

BERMAN: I will say, he did have a new proposal laid out earlier in this show on immigration with us (INAUDIBLE).


BERMAN: That could be part of it.


BERMAN: Also I think one of the candidates you've given a D to before was Elizabeth Warren. So you can -- you can turn things around.

CILLIZZA: Progress happens.

BERMAN: You can turn things around.

CILLIZZA: Progress happens. It's just at some point, right, every week that goes by becomes one week closer to when voters actually vote and people's opinions start to form. It's very hard to change those opinions once they start to form.

CAMEROTA: I'm bringing him a polished apple next time just to make sure I'm in his good graces.

CILLIZZA: Always an A plus for Alisyn Camerota.

BERMAN: He can be bought. He can be bought.

CAMEROTA: Well done.

CILLIZZA: Berman, C plus.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, professor.

CILLIZZA: Bye, y'all.

CAMEROTA: Talk to you soon.

BERMAN: All right, Botswana has overturned its ban on elephant hunting, sparking international controversy. We'll explain why in a live report from Botswana. That's next.

CAMEROTA: But, first, a bodybuilder is using all of his strength to break stereotypes about transgender people. His story is today's "Turning Points."


AJAY HOLBROOK, BODYBUILDER: What I love about bodybuilding is the fact that I'm able to work on myself every day. I came from being a 97 pound person, like literally, you know, no muscle. My strength is not at the same level as a regular man.

I was born Ambrea Jena Holbrooke (ph). I was born a female. I started to realize probably about the age of five that I was no longer fitting into that body or that role of being a female. I would look in the mirror and cry. I used to pray to wake up as a boy.

When I finally discovered what transgender meant, I was like, I know what I am. I started testosterone at 17 and a half years old.

[08:35:01] This is day one on testosterone. This is my voice, my face.

I felt a lot more like myself just because I knew that the changes were coming.

My step-dad didn't know that I was trans. And then there was one day he beat the absolute crap out of me. I felt scared. I came to the conclusion that getting stronger would protect me from any of that ever again. That was enough motivation to get as serious as I did about bodybuilding.

The discrimination is very real. In the bodybuilding community, people telling me that I'll never be a real man. I feel like I have to outwork every person in there just to make a statement.

My goals are to compete in Mr. Olympia and just make, I guess, a footprint for trans people in the bodybuilding community. I look in the mirror and I'm very thankful. This is definitely the person I was born to be, without a doubt.



[08:40:22] BERMAN: This morning, there is global outrage over Botswana's decision to overturn its ban on elephant hunting. This comes five years after the country first rolled out restrictions to protect the world's largest population of elephants. Our David McKenzie, who has done so much reporting on this, is live in

Botswana with more. We do want to warn you, some of the images you are about to see are quite graphic.

And, David, we can see the elephants behind you.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. What an extraordinary experience and privilege to be here in Botswana here near Kasane.

You see that group of elephants behind me, some babies frolicking in the mud there. This is their daytime drink. They'll have several every day here by the river. Many herds behind me as far as our eyes can see. And the problem is now this debate is raging and these elephants could be under threat.


MCKENZIE (voice over): Tootie's (ph) mother was killed. Panda (ph) was caught in the fence line of a commercial farm. Melalo (ph) separated from the herd by a man-made fire. In Botswana, conservation's success is increasingly coming at a cost.

There are more elephants here than anywhere on earth. More elephants to come into conflict with humans.

MCKENZIE (on camera): So these elephants are literally just crossing the road here, heading towards the river. And this is what people have to deal with. Just on that side, there's a whole community of people living.

MCKENZIE (voice over): Botswana's decision to ban hunting in 2014 was lauded by the west. Here in the heart of (INAUDIBLE) country, there's a decidedly different view.

MCKENZIE (on camera): For your life, what would you like to happen to the elephants for you?


MCKENZIE: To kill them?


MCKENZIE (voice over): Kenneth Moyoba says the tourism dollars don't come to villages like his, but the elephants do, destroying crops. The new government says its decision to bring back commercial hunting will solve the problem. By creating what it calls buffer zones between hunting reserves and local communities, but commercial hunters will target bull elephant deep in the wilderness far away from people. The poachers are already here.

MIKE CHASE, ELEPHANTS WITHOUT BORDERS: This is the last sanctuary for elephants in Africa. It's true wilderness. What we thought was a sanctuary is no longer because poachers have discovered that this is an area where big bulls concentrate. MCKENZIE (voice over): Elephant researcher Mike Chase is taking us to

the slaughter. From the air, the attempt to conceal the carcasses is clear.

CHASE: The x marks at the bottom.

MCKENZIE: On the ground, the evidence of the ongoing massacre is sickening.

MCKENZIE (on camera): The face looks to me it's just been chopped off.

CHASE: Clearly obvious signs of a poacher cutting the skull to access the tusks. But another obvious sign, of course, is that the spinal bone has been chopped by a very sharp machete or axe to paralyze the elephant.

MCKENZIE: Why do they do that?

CHASE: Well, the elephant is still wounded and in order to paralyze the elephant, then they can safely chop out the tusks while the elephant is still alive.

MCKENZIE (voice over): Chase has documented a 500 percent rise in fresh elephant carcasses in northern Botswana, many of them poached. Botswana says its elephant populations are stable, ready to be hunted.


MCKENZIE: It's unbanned hunting, now the government wants to unban ivory sales.

MAKAILA: I would say, yes, there has been an increase in poaching. That we admit.

MCKENZIE (on camera): You do admit that there's a poaching problem. Then why are you trying to sell ivory on to the market, which has been shown to increase the levels of poaching in the zone?

MAKAILA: Well, the whole world right now is closing those markets and therefore the big question is, are we sitting on a ticking time bomb because when people say -- eventually say we are sick and tired of being zookeepers or game keepers, there is no return on investment and then they go randomly out there and massacre them and that is a real problem.

MCKENZIE (voice over): The question Botswana now asks itself, is an elephant worth more dead or alive?


MCKENZIE: Well, the answer to that question when you're standing where I am looking at these beautiful animals behind me is obvious, elephants should be alive. But, John, this is a complicated issue. It's an emotional one. Here, in this part of the country, people are afraid of elephants and they just want to feel the value and not the fear for these animals. Many people here say that a boycott would not be to answer Botswana, but they say that they want to preserve these beautiful animals for everyone to see.


[08:45:21] BERMAN: David McKenzie in Botswana, thank you so much for going there and telling this story. So important.

All right, and don't miss CNN prime time tonight. It all begins at 7:00 with Erin Burnett on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," followed by "ANDERSON COOPER 360," "CUOMO PRIME TIME" and "CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON."

CAMEROTA: All right, now to this story.

When she graduated, Erica Alfaro decided to honor her parents by posing with them in this fruit field. Why was this so important to this family and why has it gone viral. We speak with Erica and her family, next.


CAMEROTA: Graduation season is underway and for one graduate it is particularly sweet. Erica Alfaro posed with her mom and dad in these graduation photos that have gone viral. She's standing with them in her cap and gown in the middle of fruit fields where she used to work alongside her mother.

Erica and her parents, Teresa Herrera and Claudio Alfaro join us now.

Erica, it's great to see you alongside your parents. I know that they don't speak English, so you'll translate for us if need be.


[08:50:00] CAMEROTA: But just tell us the back story of why you wanted to pose in a fruit field in Carlsbad, California.

ALFARO: Yes, the reason why I wanted to pose in the fruit fields in Carlsbad, California, is because my parents have always worked in the fields. My mom is still working in the fields and I wanted to honor their sacrifices and thank them by -- and dedicate -- that's why I wanted to dedicate my master's degree to them. And that was the perfect way of honoring their sacrifices.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about your journey because it has been a long and difficult one.


CAMEROTA: You got pregnant at 15 years old. You dropped out of school at that time. And that's when you went to work in those fruit fields with your mom. You then went back to school at 17 years old. You went to --

ALFARO: Yes. CAMEROTA: And you graduated and you went to community college. You

then made it to Cal State. You got your undergraduate degree, though it took you six years. And then you got your master's degree at San Diego State.


CAMEROTA: So tell us about this 12-year journey for you and why you were so tenacious in getting these degrees.

ALFARO: Yes. I was 15 years old when I got pregnant. I moved to Fresno with my boyfriend and lived under domestic abuse for many years. One night my baby's father forced me and my baby to sleep outside the house. That night the memory of a summer when my mom took me to work with her in the fields came to my mind. And that memory was very powerful because the day that I went to work with my mom, when I told her that I was tired, she said, this is our life. The only people that have a good life are the ones that have a good education. And thanks to that memory, I knew that the only way to improve my life, change my life, it was if I got a good education.

CAMEROTA: And so now you have graduated with a master's degree in education. What do you plan to do with it?

ALFARO: My main goal is to be a school counselor. I want to encourage students to continue with their education.

CAMEROTA: So can you ask your parents for us, I mean, how are they feeling today? The fact that you've gone -- that you listened to your mother's words, that the only way to have a better life than working in those fields was to get an education.


CAMEROTA: How did they feel on your graduation day?




ALFARO: I feel very proud of my daughter. We always work in the fields and I feel very proud of her that she was able to make it all this -- this far.

CAMEROTA: You know, Erica, it's so interesting. As your mom was speaking, we have many native born Spanish speakers here on our staff and so they were translating in my ears --


CAMEROTA: Because, obviously, an education does change everyone's life, from your parents' station in life to where you'll be able to go. ALFARO: Yes.

CAMEROTA: And so why do you think that your -- that photo that you put of you with your parents in the fields, why do you think that that has gotten so much attention on social media? What are people saying to you on social media?

ALFARO: Everyone is telling me that they can relate to my story, that they have similar backgrounds. A lot of people relate to my story because they have the same struggles. They came from the same -- they came -- they also came to this country with the hopes of a better life. The story of my parents and my story is the story of other families. That's why a lot of people share this picture and I got a lot of positive comments.

CAMEROTA: And so what is your message this morning to other children of immigrants and other immigrant families?

ALFARO: I want to show them that it is possible, that you can get a good education. That as a Latino community, as immigrants, we need to show that we are good people. We're all Alfaro's. We come to this country with the hopes of a better life. We don't want to harm anyone.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's a powerful message this morning and you are a testament to what hard work can do in this country.

ALFARO: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So Erica Alfaro, along with your parents, Claudio and Teresa, thank you very much for sharing your personal story with us on NEW DAY.

ALFARO: Thank you so much. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Great to see you.

[08:54:50] More "Good Stuff," next.


BERMAN: It is time now for "The Good Stuff."

Friendship and teamwork in Arizona. Seven-year-old Leighton Nacardo (ph) was diagnosed with stage four cancer, but some of her best friends on her softball and hockey teams did not want her to fight alone. So while holding hands, look at this, they all shaved their heads.

CAMEROTA: That is remarkable.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you think you guys look?


This is my bracelet. It says you are strong. You are brave. You've got this. So, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what you're going to do.



BERMAN: You are brave and you look great.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. That is so beautiful.

BERMAN: We all need friends like that. I've got to say, the boys teams did it. The coaches did it. Everyone there did it also.

CAMEROTA: What selfless friendship and that just packs a powerful punch for all of them. That is beautiful.

[09:00:03] OK, tornadoes, meanwhile, are threatening a wide swath of the country this morning from Texas to major.