Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Immigration Battle; Tensions in Ferguson; Air Bag Recall; Interview with Elizabeth Warren
Aired November 20, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, action on immigration. After months of protest and gridlock, President Obama is about to announce his plan to make changes on his own.
We're getting new details on his address to the nation tonight.
Plus, new Ferguson arrests. With a bombshell grand jury decision possibly only hours away, police across the nation are now on alert for violence.
And explosive testimony. The makers of defective air bags are grilled about a series of deaths and why they're resisting a recall.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news tonight, new information about what President Obama will say in his address to the nation just two hours from now. Stand by for details of his controversial plan to change immigration rules without approval from Congress.
Millions of undocumented immigrants who might be allowed to stay in the country are anxiously awaiting details. So are the president's Republican critics. They say he's overstepping his authority and they're coming up with ways to hit him where it hurts.
We have our correspondents, analysts and newsmakers standing by to cover all the stories that are breaking right now.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's getting new information -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, senior administration officials say President Obama made his decision on this immigration plan after returning from his trip to Asia. The White House stresses this is not amnesty. There is no path to citizenship in the executive action.
Instead, the policy rests on the idea of prosecutorial discretion and delaying deportations for five million undocumented immigrants. Here's the plan the president will lay out tonight. According to senior administration officials, undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents who have been in the country for five years get what's called deferred action, meaning they won't be deported.
Also covered under the plan, an expanded number of children who were brought to the country illegally, the so-called dreamers. And now here's where it gets interesting. And the Department of Homeland Security is launching a new enforcement program that targets undocumented felons and what the administration called "recent border crossers" as in people who crossed since January 2014.
All other undocumented immigrants take lower priority status for deportations. That means essentially, immigration authorities will not be coming for them. The White House says the president's executive action is legal and based on humanitarian grounds, something Mr. Obama began to talk about earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We welcome people from all around the world who have that same striving spirit. We're not defined by tribe or bloodlines. We're defined by a creed, an idea. And we want that tradition to continue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, one disappointment for immigration reform advocates, the parents of dreamers are not covered under the president's plan. But as one senior administration official put it, they're essentially off the priority list.
One other interesting tidbit, the president will not be signing an executive order. Instead, this policy will rest on presidential memos to his administration -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What about the threats, Jim, coming from several Republicans that they will try to defund the president's executive action? They won't allow Congress, in other words, to pay for it.
ACOSTA: That's right. Aides to the president says the White House is confident the GOP does not have many options on that front. Wolf, officials believe they can try to defund the processing of these applications for deferred action, but as for defunding immigration enforcement, one White House official quipped earlier today, let the Republicans sell that to the American people.
BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta over at the White House, thanks very much.
Top Republicans say the president will regret the moves he's announcing tonight.
Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who is monitoring what the reaction is.
What are they most angry about, the Republicans?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're equally angry about the fact that the president is going it alone with using his executive power to do something that the Republicans and even some Democrats in Congress believe should be done legislatively, but also the substance of what he's doing.
You know, the reason that the White House and the president is doing this is because he has not been able to get it through legislatively. That's what he's arguing and he's right. So there are a lot of Republicans who are really furious about the fact that it's unfair, they believe, to prioritize the people who came to the United States legally.
One Republican said, OK, you're talking about fairness and treating people humanely. What about the fairness of the people who have been following the rules, playing the rules and are not yet here because of that?
BLITZER: House Speaker John Boehner, as you know, he just literally released a YouTube video in advance of the president's address to the American people tonight. Let me play a little bit of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he's acting on his own.
That's just not how a democracy works. The president has said before he's not king and he's not an emperor, but he's sure acting like one, and he's doing it at a time when the American people want nothing more than for us to work together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Pretty strong words from the speaker. It looks like this relationship is clearly being poisoned right now.
BASH: Right. Let's get real. They didn't have the greatest relationship to begin with in the first place. I'm told the speaker said pretty much that, maybe not with the words king and emperor, but the gist of that to the president himself when they had lunch last week with the broader bipartisan members.
The president said, I hear you, I understand, maybe it is going to be harder for you to do anything legislatively. But I have been waiting too long.
And I have to say that even Republicans who agree with the concept of doing a broad bipartisan immigration reform bill will admit there is no way -- even if the House speaker wants to do it legislatively, it's very, very hard to do the scope of what the president is doing with this executive action.
BLITZER: Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, as you know, he worked closely with the president when they were both senators, when the president was a senator from Illinois. He's actually warning of, what, anarchy if this goes forward. BASH: Anarchy, violence. He gave an interview to the "USA Today"
saying that and he's not alone, Wolf. I have talked to other members privately, Republican members, who they are worried about it.
Certainly there is going to be joy in a lot of communities because of the uncertainty, at least for the next two years. It is now gone and the fear is now gone in immigrant communities. But the flip side, you have communities like what you saw in Murrieta, California, over the summer with the border crisis. And the concern among some Republicans, Tom Coburn was voicing this, is that there could be some protests.
BLITZER: We will see what happens. Dana, thanks very much.
President Obama also getting some pushback from a community that's been at the center of this battle over immigration.
Our national correspondent, Kyung Lah, is joining us. She went to Murrieta, California, the scene of those angry protests over the summer.
KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chanting, holding signs, screaming go home. Buses with 140 undocumented immigrants, many of them children, tried to enter the Border Patrol station in Murrieta, California. It was this summer's immigration flash point, as the federal government flew and bused a massive influx of illegal migrants out of crammed facilities along the Texas border to towns like Murrieta for processing.
This did not go as the feds planned. Murrieta said, not in my backyard.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was our line in the sand and we were going to be there every day for that line to maintain it.
LAH: Patrice Lyons (ph) was there in the crowd as she and other protesters built a human barrier between the buses and the Border Patrol station. So was William Satmary (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Much to my surprise, the buses started backing up. That was a huge victory for us. Our intent was to send a message to the federal government that we are not going to take this.
LAH: Days of confrontation followed. Pro-immigration forces faced off with the Murrieta residents, mirroring the national debate. Both sides dug in, often becoming hate-filled and ugly.
(on camera): After a week of those heated protests, the federal government announced it would no longer transfer busloads of undocumented immigrants here to the Murrieta Border Patrol station. The protesters essentially got what they wanted, everything but immigration reform.
(voice-over): As President Obama now tackles immigration reform, the leaders of the Murrieta protests say any executive order that creates a path to citizenship is not what they want. They want Washington to draw a tough barrier to illegal immigration, like they did outside the Border Patrol station last summer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We elect these people to be in office to represent us. They need to listen to us.
LAH: But listening isn't exactly what Washington seems to be doing these days.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe the Republicans have said they're going to fight it. Now you have the contest between the president and the Congress, mostly Republicans in Congress. It's just showmanship.
LAH: You could argue that this was also just a show, with no lasting solution. But Murrieta says, unlike Washington, at least their show got their town somewhere.
Kyung Lah, CNN, Murrieta, California.
BLITZER: We're joined now by a leading conservative voice here in Washington, the former Republican Senator from South Carolina Jim DeMint. He's now the president of the Heritage Foundation here in Washington.
Senator, thanks very much for joining us.
JIM DEMINT (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Wolf, good to be back.
BLITZER: Realistically, what can the Republicans do to counter what the president is about to announce?
DEMINT: It's important to understand what the president is doing first, because this is not about deportation.
Once they get past the border, there's very little risk of deportation. The president is going to issue work permits to four or five million Americans. You can balance that with four million waiting now to come the legal way.
They have been waiting and paying their money. I don't think Americans are going to respond well, because it's unfair to those who have come here the legal way. And it will cost our country a lot of money.
BLITZER: What can you do about that? When I say you, I mean you and your fellow Republicans. And you're very influential up on Capitol Hill.
DEMINT: The president is going to continue to bully Republicans until they take a stand. That's basically what he's doing.
Whether it's this or more EPA regulations, more FCC regulations on the Internet, he's going to keep putting. So Republicans have a hard decision to make and their only tool really is whether they fund this action that they consider illegal. So I know there will be a lot of debate about that. They have to understand first what the president is doing. But I'm sure he's going to make us think it's about these people who live in fear of deportation. That's not it. It's actually work permits, Social Security numbers for people who came here illegally.
BLITZER: But you know that the Senate already passed legislation that goes even further than what the president is going to do unilaterally tonight. It's languished in House of Representatives, but it did pass in the Senate bipartisan.
DEMINT: And what the House has said is, we want immigration reform, which is not what the president is doing.
It does need to be step by step, Wolf, but we need to secure the borders. If we can't control the borders, the rest doesn't matter. But then we need to work through a process of a work force identification system. We need to right now just empower our Border Patrol, our border enforcement to do what the laws say. I think that's what Americans want, enforce the laws first. Then we can deal with those...
BLITZER: Is shutting down the government an option right now? Should the Republicans go that far?
DEMINT: If it's shut down, it will be the president, because I know the Congress is not going to shut it down. They may send the president a bill that funds all government operations except for his amnesty. In that case, he would have to decide, does he want to shut the government down or accept the framework?
BLITZER: Do you recommend that they do that?
DEMINT: I'm not making any recommendations, except that I do -- I think if the Congress considers this unlawful, which I think they will...
BLITZER: Unlawful is a strong word, because it raises the specter -- and some of your Republicans have actually raised the specter of impeachment.
DEMINT: I don't think that's something we should talk about at this point.
BLITZER: You're ruling out that?
DEMINT: We should keep the focus on the fact that the president is doing something that is against his oath of office to faithfully execute the laws.
He's not done that. His talk of amnesty, Wolf, has created a wave of illegal immigrants at the border. What he's doing now and what he's going to do tonight is not going to fix immigration. It's going to make it much, much worse.
BLITZER: But you know that -- and he will point out that every president since Eisenhower has gone ahead and signed executive orders changing the immigration rules, including Ronald Reagan, including George H.W. Bush.
DEMINT: And that will be very misleading.
Congress passed an amnesty bill which Reagan accepted because of the promise of border security. He regretted that. We know because Ed Meese works with us and he was his attorney general.
BLITZER: But then after that became the law of the land, that amnesty bill, he then went further and he made further changes.
DEMINT: He did to keep families together.
BLITZER: And so did George H.W. Bush.
DEMINT: But he was helping -- he was executing a law passed by Congress. The president is not doing that.
BLITZER: He says he has got the legal opinion from the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and he will announce it tonight that what he is doing is fully legal. He has the legal authority to go ahead and implement that kind of action.
DEMINT: Normally, a president would share those legal documents.
BLITZER: They presumably will share those legal opinions from the Department of Justice.
If in fact he does make that credible legal argument, are you...
DEMINT: Wolf, he said two years ago on air that this would be illegal for him to do, that he had done as much as he could do legally, he had to wait on Congress.
I know his opinions evolve a lot, but this is a big evolution from something he said was illegal to something he...
BLITZER: What they're now saying -- and you're right. He did say, I'm the president of the United States, I'm not the emperor of the United States. Certain things, I can do, certain things, I can't do.
Their explanation now is what he was suggesting, and he said it several times, it's all on videotape, you correctly point that out, was he was saying he couldn't unilaterally implement what the Senate passed, but he could implement nuances of what the Senate passed. That's what they're saying now.
DEMINT: When Americans figure out that in a time of really an economic downtime, that he's giving work permits to four million Americans, while those who came here legally, naturalized American citizens and those who have legal work permits are going to have a harder time finding jobs, this is not fair to people who do it the legal way.
BLITZER: Here's the question that I have been asking all day, in fact for several days.
It passed the United States Senate, went to the House of Representatives, and you were a lawmaker for a long time. Why didn't the House come up with its own legislation, then send it to a joint House-Senate conference committee, work on it together, come up with some compromise, if you will, and then send it to the president to sign into law or veto it if he wanted to veto it? Why wasn't that kind of cooperation? The House speaker didn't even let it come up for a vote.
DEMINT: Well, the House speaker talked about what needed to be done and so did a number of people in the House, that we need a step-by- step approach. We don't need an amnesty-first approach to immigration.
The Senate was not willing to consider that. The president was not willing to consider that.
BLITZER: But he didn't even allow it to come up and be debated, to come up with your own version, and then have a joint House-Senate conference committee to come up with a compromise.
DEMINT: Wolf, they could not trust the president to do what he said.
BLITZER: Why not challenge the president, come up with something that passes the Senate, something that passes House, come up with a bipartisan compromise and send it to the president and see what he does?
DEMINT: We have got a proposal at Heritage, a 10-point plan that the president can do on his own to just enforce our system and control our borders, so that we can move towards a system that we can reform. You can't reform it if he's not willing to enforce the border right now.
BLITZER: Here's a question a lot of people are asking today.
Let's say the president does go ahead, as he says he will, signs five million people here in the United States, they come out of the shadows and they register. They get some sort of legal status to work. If there's a Republican president in two years, would you recommend to that Republican president that on day one or two that president signs an executive order reversing all of this and forcing those five million people who are now working and paying taxes, doing what they're supposed to do, assuming they're al doing it legally, to then go back into the shadows?
DEMINT: Wolf, the people who just took the majority in the House and the Senate ran their campaigns against an executive amnesty.
We need to deal with it now. Hopefully, Republicans who were just elected in January and February will get a chance to deal with this. I don't think the lame-duck Congress should. They certainly should not fund it before they leave town.
BLITZER: What happens if that results in a government shutdown? The Republicans, as you know, will be blamed for that. They paid a price, even though it wasn't reflected necessarily in the midterm elections.
DEMINT: It wasn't because Americans want the Congress to stand up for what they said they would do. This Congress can fund it until the new Congress comes in. Then they can handle it. But they certainly shouldn't do a funding fill that takes us through the end of the year.
BLITZER: Would you, as head of the Heritage Foundation, which is a very influential think tank here in Washington, would you recommend that Republican presidential candidates campaign between now and 2016 with a pledge to repeal whatever the president is going to do tonight?
DEMINT: If it takes hold for that long, I'm not sure what would happen.
I think this Congress needs to deal with it.
BLITZER: Which Congress, the lame-duck Congress?
DEMINT: No, the Congress that will be sworn in, in late January needs to deal with this.
BLITZER: Let's just explain it. How can they deal with this? If the president takes all this executive action, what can the new Congress do?
DEMINT: They need to figure that out, because the president is going around Congress, not just on this, Wolf, on EPA regulations.
They're threatening the regulate the Internet without congressional approval. They're forcing Common Core standards on the states. It's not just immigration. The president is out of control on almost every area. And he's going to continue to do it until Republican leadership says no more. We're not going to provide you the funding.
That is really the only tool that they have, other than stopping nominations or other things that have been talked about.
BLITZER: One quick final question. Are you worried that Hispanic voters will be upset at Republicans if you guys do what you're threatening to do now?
DEMINT: I'm not going to speak for Republicans, but I know if I'm speaking for naturalized American citizens who are Hispanic or of any race that they do not believe it's fair to allow others to circumvent the law that they spent a long time and ultimately paid a lot of money to come here the legal way.
What we're fighting for is opportunity for every American, and it's not fair to put others in front of the line who have not followed the law.
BLITZER: Jim DeMint, the president of the Heritage Foundation, thanks very much for joining us.
DEMINT: Thank you, Wolf.
Still ahead, we're digging deeper into President Obama's immigration decision, whether it potentially could backfire.
Plus, a new warning that China could launch a crippling attack on America's power grid.
And a new message about violence in Ferguson, Missouri, from the father of Michael Brown. You will hear again what he's saying about his son's death and the explosive grand jury decision that could come very soon.
BLITZER: We got breaking news.
A disturbing new warning from the head of the U.S. Cyber Command, and he's now telling Congress hackers in China could take down the U.S. power grid in a cyber-attack.
Our chief national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working this story for us.
It's very, very alarming that they're saying this publicly. What are you finding out?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. Alarming testimony just before the House Intelligence Committee by the NSA chief, Admiral Mike Rogers.
Admiral Rogers, who is also ahead of the U.S. Cyber Command, says not only China, but in his words probably one or two other countries which he did not identify have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
He said in his testimony, we see them attempting to steal information on how our systems are configured. The very schematics of most of our control systems down to the engineering level. They can look where there are vulnerabilities, he said, and also how they can get in and defeat them. He said it's not only multiple nation states looking to do this, but also surrogate criminal actors acting on behalf of those nations. We know this is a tactic Russia has used, for instance, criminal gangs that do the hacking on behalf or under the direction of Moscow. This comes as a new report predicts there's a catastrophic cyber-attack likely causing significant losses of life and money by the year 2025.
Interesting, Wolf, in his testimony and under questioning, Rogers said he did not disagree with the assessment. As we talk about this, as I talk to U.S. intelligence officials, this is really at the top of their list. While we spend most of our attention looking at the threat of terror attacks which arguably bloodier, more visual, these cyber-attacks have the potential to be much more expansive in the damage they can cause.
BLITZER: Am I right, Jim, that in effect the head of the NSA, the National Security Agency, is acknowledging the U.S. does not have the defensive measures to protect the power grid from such hackers?
SCIUTTO: He said there are defensive measures but they're not certain frankly they can head off this kind of an attack.
They say with that knowledge, you have multiple nation states looking for the vulnerabilities to find a way in.
BLITZER: That would be cyber-warfare, as they say, it would be an act of war, and I'm sure the U.S. would retaliate if that were to happen. Let's hope it never does happen, but it is very, very alarming, as we say. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
Let's get back to our top story right now. New details about the president's decision to take executive action to delay the deportation of about five million undocumented immigrants here in the United States. He's going to address that issue about an hour-and-a-half or so from now.
Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, and in Los Angeles, our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
Explain, Gloria, why the president has decided to do this now.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, because he can or he thinks he can, Wolf.
In talking to senior administration officials, they say, look, we have about 26 months left. We handed the House of Representatives, as you have been pointing out, a bill just over a year ago. They did absolutely nothing with it, even though it was a bill that passed the United States Senate.
And they decided this is a legacy item for this president. It goes beyond this president, though, Wolf. It's also about the future of the Democratic Party. You cannot put together a presidential coalition with a lukewarm support of Latinos. They believe that if they can get Latinos supporting Democrats, that they can take that into becoming another presidential majority again in 2016.
BLITZER: Ron, the exit polls, you have been studying those exit polls from the elections two weeks ago. Voters were asked, should most illegal immigrants, specific question, illegal immigrants working in the United States, should they be deported? Among whites, 43 percent said yes, 24 percent among blacks, 21 percent among Hispanics.
How do you read those numbers?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: As Gloria said, this is a hugely consequential decision both in terms of substance, it could affect five million people, but also politically, because it really crystallizes the fundamental choice Obama has made on a series of issues in his second term.
This is going to alienate the culturally conservative whites, who are already moving away from the party. If you look at the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" today -- poll that came out today, 60 percent of whites without a college education said they would oppose him moving unilaterally through executive action.
But he's willing to take the risk on this, on carbon, gay marriage, because he believes, as Gloria says, it will mobilize and motivate this new Democratic coalition of millennials, minorities and socially liberal upscale whites and it's something that could help the party in 2016.
But as we saw in 2014, that coalition is not well suited to controlling the Congress and this could make it tougher.
BORGER: One moment, Gloria, because we're just getting in some excerpts from the president's address tonight. I want to read a line here and get Jeffrey Toobin, our legal analyst, to assess.
Among the things the president will say tonight in his address, "The actions I'm taking are not only lawful. They're the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every Democratic president for the past half-century. And to those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill."
Jeffrey, you have been studying the law. The Republicans saying -- we just Jim DeMint, the former Senate, the head of the Heritage Foundation, say the president is about to act unlawfully. You have been studying what is going on. What is your analysis?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, let's put aside the issue of whether it's a good policy or not. I will leave that to others.
It's important to talk about how limited this is. This is not about a path to citizenship. The president clearly could not change the laws of citizenship on his own. But what he can do is decide who is going to be deported and in what order.
And what the president is doing in this policy, in this executive order is, he's saying we're going to deport certain groups, but not others. And that seems clearly to be within his discretion as president. He's not saying they can stay here as citizens, but he's simply saying that we are simply not going to deport people who have children who are American citizens.
And that, it seems to me, is a legal thing for the president to do. Whether it's wise or not, that's a separate question. But, legally, I think the president is on very secure ground.
BLITZER: All right. I want all of you to stand by. We're waiting to hear from the president. An hour and a half or so from now the president will address the nation. Stand by for that.
Meanwhile, there's other breaking news we're monitoring. Police in several cities across the United States, they're being warned to prepare for violence as the grand jury decision nears in Ferguson, Missouri. But Michael Brown's father is now appealing for calm.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL BROWN SR., MICHAEL BROWN'S FATHER: But hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son's death to be in vain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Police in several cities around the United States are now being warned to prepare for possible demonstrations over the weekend tied to a grand jury decision on the Michael Brown shooting, which could come as soon as tomorrow.
Sources tell our justice reporter, Evan Perez, that federal and state law enforcement agencies are taking the very unusual step out of an abundance of precaution.
Evan is standing by. He's in Ferguson and will join us in just a few moments. Let's get some more now with Democratic Congressman Lacy Clay. He represents Missouri's 1st District, which includes Ferguson and St. Louis.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. LACY CLAY (D), MISSOURI: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: How worried should we be that demonstrations could get violent?
CLAY: Tensions are running really high, and from the start of this case, I have had no confidence in the state grand jury proceeding, with the number of leaks that have come out of it. With just the way that prosecutor McCulloch has handled the case by dumping the evidence on the grand jury and not really prosecuting it.
And so I -- I am telling the community that this process is not over, that we still have a federal investigation that's proceeding. In talking with Attorney General Holder, he is not on the same timeline as the federal -- as the state grand jury.
BLITZER: That could take years based on past history.
CLAY: He has -- he has indicated to me that it will be a very thorough investigation, and the evidence will lead us to where it may.
BLITZER: So you're basically bracing for no indictment of this police officer. Is that right?
CLAY: All of the signs point to no indictment. There's been a history by this prosecutor of not indicting police officers when cases similar to this have come up.
BLITZER: And you've called on this prosecutor, McCulloch, to recuse himself.
CLAY: Oh, for sure.
BLITZER: To get a different special prosecutor.
CLAY: For sure.
BLITZER: You never trusted him to begin with.
CLAY: No, I did not. Not in -- not when it comes to excessive force by police officers.
BLITZER: So let's say they reach a decision tomorrow. They've said they're going to give local authorities 48 hours before they make it public. But there could be a leak, right? There could be...
CLAY: There certainly could be a leak. And my message to the community is that this is not over. Let us calm down. Let us be calm on the ground, and realize that they are all pushing towards serving justice.
BLITZER: But you heard Michael Brown's parents, among so many others, say, "You know what? You can demonstrate but do it peacefully and don't let it get violent," in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
CLAY: Sure. And -- and what people need to understand, especially in St. Louis and around the country, is that Michael Brown Jr.'s life does matter. It matters to people like me. It matters to that St. Louis community, and it matters to his parents. And I have made a commitment to his family that we will seek justice, wherever that takes us.
BLITZER: You've also suggested, and I want you to be precise, that you want an expanded investigation into the release of that surveillance video which we saw Michael Brown in that convenience store, allegedly stealing cigars. We're showing it to our viewers right now. You see it, intimidating the owner of that store. Basically, he's a big guy, walking out. You didn't think that video should be released. Tell us why.
CLAY: Absolutely not. I mean, this was certainly a character assassination on the part of Ferguson police.
BLITZER: But he was stealing those cigars.
CLAY: On the part of the Ferguson Police Department. I'm not sure what he was doing in the store, but I don't think it was related to him losing his life.
And here is another issue for the St. Louis community, and for the country as a whole. We also need to -- and hopefully Governor Nixon's Ferguson commission will deal with the elephant in the room, which is the racial divide in the St. Louis community. And that is why you have this tension.
BLITZER: Do you have confidence in the governor?
CLAY: Do I have confidence in the governor? I hope his commission will address the issue of race in the St. Louis community, and how we repair that racial divide in that community, and how we make progress by bringing the two races together.
BLITZER: Congressman Clay, I want you to stand by. We have a lot more to discuss. I want to also bring in our justice reporter, Evan Perez. He's on the ground for us in Ferguson. Also joining us, the community activist John Gaskin and our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
Evan, first to you. You have some new information about federal and local law enforcement being on increased alert right now, ahead of the grand jury decision being released. What can you tell us?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the concern extends from coast to coast. But first I'm going to start with some new information we just got from local authorities here.
St. Louis County has sent a message to employees who apparently have been raising concerns about their safety when this grand jury decision is announced. And the message says the following. It says that they're planning to increase security at county buildings, including using the National Guard to help boost security and protect employees.
They are warning that some employees may not be able to get to their workplaces in case of some of these public demonstrations, as you know, Wolf. They also said, though, that they're trying to make sure that employees are kept aware of events as they come -- as they come on.
Now, as you said, you know, the concern is on a national level. We know that the Federal Protective Service, which does security for federal buildings around the country, is preparing for demonstrations that might, you know, take place in front of federal buildings. And so they've warned their officers to be on alert for that possibility.
And local authorities in several cities are also expecting demonstrations. We know that some groups have already said that they're planning to bring marches around the country in major cities around the country. Law enforcement says that they expect, you know, most of these demonstrations to be peaceful. However, they are aware that some people are planning to cause confrontations with authorities, and there could be the potential for violence, Wolf.
BLITZER: What about the report, Evan, from the St. Louis Police Officers' Association, that says the officer, Police Officer Darren Wilson doesn't expect to face criminal charges? What are you hearing from that?
PEREZ: Well, Wolf, we've been trying to reach out to the police union to try to see what exactly they're hearing. We suspect that this is based on, obviously, the information that's already out there. There's a great deal of feeling out here -- you just heard from the congressman -- that it's very difficult for this grand jury to reach -- to reach a level of bringing an indictment against this officer. We'll see what the grand jury decides when it meets again tomorrow.
BLITZER: I want everybody to stand by. We have much more on what's going on in Ferguson right now and around the nation. More of the breaking news with all of our reporters, analysts and guests, including the congressman, right after this.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Police now on alert in several cities around the United States for possible demonstrations tied to a grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting, which could come as soon as tomorrow.
We're back with Democratic Congressman Lacy Clay of Missouri, our justice reporter Evan Perez, he's in Ferguson, the community activist John Gaskin, and our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
You're there, John Gaskin. What's going on, what's the mood? Give us a little flavor.
JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Well, people are walking on egg shells. Many people, they're -- things are fairly calm right now, but people are waiting. This thing has loomed for several months now and people are anticipating a decision potentially this weekend. And so, as we wait, people are wondering what the outcome of this will be.
Protesters are continuing to organize peacefully. And I believe that the vast majority of protests, if not all, will be peaceful and will be done in good taste and in good order.
But in terms of outsiders, the protesters have made it very clear that if you are an outsider and you are going against the requests of Michael Brown, Sr., and Lesley McSpadden, the parents of Michael Brown, to act in a dignified way, no matter what the decision is, they are letting you know that you are not part of our cause and you're not a part of our mission, and what it is that we want out of this.
BLITZER: Well said.
Jeffrey, how extraordinary is the preparation under way right now, the decision reached, let's say, tomorrow, then 48 hours to alert local law enforcement, schools, everybody else. It's pretty unusual, isn't it?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's very unusual. Everything about this case has been unusual. And, frankly, that's a cause for suspicion.
You know, the criminal justice has certain ways of doing things. What the prosecutor has done here in simply giving every piece of evidence to the grand jury is not how prosecutors usually operate. And it does suggest a prosecutor who is not trying to take responsibility for his own decision, but simply passing the buck to the grand jury.
I didn't know what the grand jury is going to do, but this is certainly a very unusual investigation.
BLITZER: And your advice to the folks on the ground over there, Congressman Clay, is what?
REP. LACY CLAY (D), MISSOURI: Is for both sides, the law enforcement as well as the demonstrators, to tone it down, and to not let tensions rise to the point of violence. And I don't want to see violence. I don't think the good people of St. Louis want to see violence.
BLITZER: But are local and state law enforcement who are there in Ferguson, in St. Louis County, and the area, are they ready for this, are they trained?
CLAY: Yes, they have been trained. I have been reassured by the leaders of law enforcement that it will not be an aggressive stance on their part.
BLITZER: We know the National Guard has been activated as well, by the governor, right?
CLAY: Yes. Yes, they have.
And people have a right to demonstrate.
BLITZER: And let's hope everybody remains calm. Demonstrate if you want, but keep it peaceful. We don't want to see violence.
CLAY: And people have a right to demonstrate.
BLITZER: People certainly have.
CLAY: To exercise the Constitution.
BLITZER: This is the United States of America. Congressman, thanks you very much.
Everyone else, we'll stay on top of this story.
We'll take a quick break. Much more news right after this.
BLITZER: A leading Democratic senator is promising to keep fighting for legislation to address skyrocketing student loan debt in this country. This, as a new CNN film "Ivory Tower" explores the costs and the benefits of a college education.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is joining us from Capitol Hill right now.
Senator, thanks very much for joining us.
You worked passionately. You tried earlier this year to get a refinancing bill to lower interest rates for college graduates who are stuck with huge student loan burdens. You failed. There wasn't enough support in the Senate. The next Senate is going to even have more Republicans.
Where do you go from here?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Yes, this is going to be the fight. We've got to have that.
This is crazy, that you can refinance your home, you can refinance your car, you can refinance your business loans, but you can't refinance student loan debt. And as a result, we've got kids stuck at high interest rates and the government making tens of millions of dollars, billions of dollars in profit off their backs.
So, my view on this is, you know, we don't give up. We just keep fighting harder and harder. This touches families across America and I believe they're going to be part of this fight.
BLITZER: And the problem is there's a lot of Republicans didn't like the fact that to pay for lowering the student interest rates, the loan rates, you wanted to raise taxes on wealthy Americans, and they say that's a nonstarter, to which you say?
WARREN: To which I say -- wait a minute. We have billions of dollars in tax loopholes for millionaires and billionaires, or we can invest that money in young people who are trying to get a start in life.
You know, this is one of those cases where it's pretty clear what the choices are that are available to America. And I think that we ought to ask millionaires and billionaires to pay taxes at least at the same rate that middle class families do. You know, our -- as a country, we need to be investing in the future. We need to be making sure that all of our kids have a fighting chance to build something for themselves. And that's what this is about.
BLITZER: Aren't there other ways to pay for this, to help these students who got these enormously high student loan debt, there are other ways. As you know, there is a lot of waste in the federal government, a lot of expenditure. A lot of your fellow Democrats would like to see the billions spent on defense cut down and use some of that money, for example, to pay for this instead of raising taxes.
WARREN: You know, I'm open to any way to pay for this, because what matters most to me is getting that interest rate down for our kids. That's where we really need to be focused. And I kept saying throughout the debate on the Senate floor, if the Republicans had some other idea for how to pay for it, come on down. Let's talk about it. Put your alternative on the table.
But instead, they just filibustered. They voted no.
BLITZER: In light of the cost, and we've got this major documentary that's airing later tonight on CNN. Is a college degree for everyone?
WARREN: Well, look, the opportunity to get a college degree should be out there for everyone. It shouldn't be just there for kids who are rich. It should be there for kids who work hard, who play by the rules.
You know, this one is really personal for me. I grew up in a family that had a lot of economic ups and downs, and there was no money for me to go to college. I ended up graduating from a commuter college that cost $50 a semester. I'm the daughter of a janitor and a mom who worked a minimum wage job at Sears and I ended up here in the United States Senate because I grew up in an America that was investing in opportunities for kids like me.
That's the America that helps us build a real future. That's the America I'm committed to.
BLITZER: I know it's a passionate issue for you and you're going to continue to struggle on this front.
Quickly, while I have you, the president is about to address the American people on immigration reform. He's going to take executive action, unilateral action. He's deeply irritating, as you know, a lot of Republicans. Here is the question to you: does he have the legal authority to change the rules in effect tonight?
WARREN: Look, I was proud to vote for comprehensive immigration reform a year and a half ago, and the Republicans haven't done anything since then. They keep blocking bringing this to a vote.
So, I support the president in taking what actions he can within the law to help families, to help businesses and try to patch up this broken immigration system.
BLITZER: Senator Warren, thanks very much for joining us.
WARREN: Thank you.
BLITZER: And the all new CNN film "Ivory Tower" airs later tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. You're going to want to see it.
Eight p.m. Eastern, I'll be back with Anderson Cooper for our special coverage of President Obama's address right here on CNN. You will see it all live on this Cable News Network.
Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.