Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Lawmakers Face Hostile Constituents Back Home; `Trump to Unveil New Travel Ban As Early As Today; Speaker Ryan, GOP Lawmakers Visit Border Today. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 22, 2017 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:12] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman has the week off. So glad you're with us.

We begin with lawmakers back at home greeted with anger, hostility, and jeers. Those are those town halls across the country erupting in shouting matches as lawmakers field questions from angry constituents in everything, from immigration to the travel ban and Obamacare. Some Republicans dismissing those protesters as paid activists and the President piling on tweeting, "The so-called angry crowds are," quote, "planned out by liberal activists. Sad!"

Our Kyung Lah has been going to these town halls now for weeks. She is with me in New York, not across the country. So nice to have you.

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you.

HARLOW: Look, these didn't just begin but they have been growing and growing and growing in anger.

LAH: Growing in a tide of what some constituents are certainly expressing now, they are very unhappy, a number of them, and they are letting Congress know it.

The Congress is in district. They're at home this week. This is the week where they're supposed to be connecting with the voters. Well, those voters, they've been hitting them with a protest movement targeting Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(CROWD CHANTING)

LAH (voice-over): Iowa, Senator Joni Ernst drowned out, jeers following her all of the way out of her town hall.

CROWD: Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!

LAH (voice-over): Republicans in Congress defending the President's policies in packed town halls in their home districts.

In California, Congressman Tom McClintock --

REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R), CALIFORNIA: We don't know the financial relationships that Trump may have with Moscow. Does he want to build a hotel there? We don't know.

LAH (voice-over): In Virginia, Congressman Dave Brat's town hall, he faced off with voters on immigration.

REP. DAVE BRAT (R), VIRGINIA: He didn't ban immigrants. He only banned immigrants from countries that are either state sponsors of terror --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, they're not.

BRAT: -- or they don't have --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's not true, sir.

BRAT: Well, you better --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's not true, sir.

(CROWD CHANTING)

LAH (voice-over): Just a snapshot of one day of voter outrage, prompting the President to tweet, "The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!"

Organized, yes. But what we've seen at numerous town halls is empowered constituents. These Virginia Beach town hall attendees are so upset at charges that they're political operatives, they wore stickers with their home ZIP Codes to prove they do live in and care about their district. Many come from local groups calling themselves indivisible.

The name comes from this online guide written by these former Democratic congressional aides, a step-by-step manual to oppose the Trump administration, guiding the people here to channel their post- election anger and aimed squarely at members of Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you can answer any of that, I'll sit down and shut up like Elizabeth Warren.

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: I hope you feel better now.

CROWD: You work for us! You work for us!

LAH (voice-over): Some have canceled town halls this week citing security concerns to then only see protesters show up outside their district offices or pose pictures mocking them. A missing poster for Congressman Darrell Issa. Congressman Paul Cook's picture on milk jugs.

From Obamacare to climate change, D.C. came home only to find angry voters pointing right back at the nation's capital.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HARLOW: Kyung Lah is with me. Certainly vocal. What do you see as the connective tissue between all of these when it comes to the issues?

LAH: Yes. I mean, each town hall certainly has their local issue that they're bringing forward. We're hearing about jobs in certain parts of the country, Obamacare in other parts of the country.

The connective thread is saying no to the Trump agenda. Flat out, no. And that's how they all wrap it up.

HARLOW: So then how do they put these words and this anger and these jeers into action in 2018? Are they planning the primary, any Democrats that work with the administration and all?

LAH: Oh, what we're hearing right now is that they're focusing on just saying no, that they want to try to stop the agenda. But in doing that, what we're hearing out of some of the political operatives out of D.C. who are not connected, they actually see the long-term of 2018, flipping some of these vulnerable districts.

HARLOW: Yes. Right, yes. That's their hope. Thank you, Kyung. Nice to have you.

All right. Let's talk with our panel about it because Democrats are certainly smelling blood in the water. Plenty are trying to capitalize, as Kyung said, on these town halls by running Twitter ads, targeting vulnerable Republicans for their stance on Obamacare and doing a whole lot more.

[09:05:03] Let's talk about all of these with CNN Senior Political Analyst Mark Preston; CNN political analyst and senior congressional correspondent for the "Washington Examiner," David Drucker; Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun-Times," Lynn Sweet; and CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News, Errol Louis.

Nice to have you all here with us. Mark, let me begin with you. When it comes to the action and what can be taken from these in 2018, I guess the biggest thing they could capitalize on is if Republicans don't come forward with a plan to replace Obamacare very quickly. And they can argue that Republicans were caught flat-footed. How important is it to for Republicans to have some answers on Obamacare and on a plan for their constituents?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's important. And I'll just talk about this from the political side of things. It's important for Republicans to appear as if they have their act together, that they are, you know, tightly tied with the Trump White House, that he is not out saying one thing and then congressional Republicans the next day saying, you know, we have no idea what he's talking about.

Specifically, we've heard that on Obamacare. They do need to come up with a plan. They have pledged to repeal and replace it. And really for them, politically, it matters for independent voters and those Trump voters who weren't necessarily Republicans.

HARLOW: Yes.

PRESTON: They're not going to get the Democrats. I mean, that's clear, Poppy. But what's also more important for Democrats at this point, can they sustain this energy heading into 2018? And that's not quite clear yet.

HARLOW: So let's pull up what the President tweeted about this again, "The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists."

And then let's listen to what Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, said about exactly that, calling some these activists paid on Fox News earlier this month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS HOST: Instead of being an organic disruption, do you sense that there's an organized push back and people are being paid to protest?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, protesting has become a profession now. They have every right to do that, don't get me wrong, but I think that we need to call it what it is. It's not these organic uprisings that we've seen through the last several decades. You know, the Tea Party was an organic movement. This has become a very paid astroturf-type movement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Paid astroturf-type movement. David Drucker, to you. I mean, yesterday the President said at the African-American Museum of History and Culture, I am going to unite this country. Is that a tweet and a comment like that how you accomplish that?

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: No. Look, I think it's clear that the President is going to pursue his agenda and that uniting the country around the agenda is secondary. And look, there's not necessarily anything wrong with that depending on what his goal is.

The question is going to be then is, if he can work with the Republicans in Congress, because Republicans control everything in Washington, and they can get their agenda enacted, whether it's tax reform or the replacement of Obamacare and so on down the line, then how will people feel about it? And so I think what the President is banking on, despite his language about unification, is that, I'm going to do what I said I would do and then people will like it.

And I think that's what Republicans in Congress are hoping for, and I think that's the approach they're taking. I think that they're looking at Trump as a polarizing figure. They don't have really an opportunity to unite the country.

The country wasn't united under Obama either who had talked about unifying the country and it never worked. And so I think, for Republicans, they're banking on results to get the job done and get the public calmed down and behind them.

HARLOW: You know, Lynn, "The Hill" points out, and they're right on this, this morning that many Republicans, in these swing districts especially, are steering clear of these town halls, opting not to become sort of the focal point of a YouTube video that could go viral filled with jeers and taunts.

Do you think that that is a smart strategy? You know, that sign in Kyung's piece of Darrell Issa, sort of where are you? Should they steer clear of this, or strategically, is it better to go, like Congressman Mark Sanford who we have on the program later, and face the criticism?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Well, there's also a third way. Some lawmakers are opting to have a tele- town hall --

HARLOW: Right.

SWEET: -- where people call in and then you kind of avoid the idea of a video spectacle. But the underlying matter is, if there's going to be a protest, people don't need a town hall. They could just go to an office. If that was the strategy, to create some video for a local newscast, you could do that, you know, multiple ways. Go to the lawmaker's house, offices, et cetera.

So I think what we're watching here is a movement to replicate the Tea Party. Now, whether or not there is an organization behind it as opposed to a 100 percent organic-driven movement, I think it's not the point here as much as the result. People protesting at town halls gave birth to the Tea Party movement, and it was over Obamacare.

And now, what is it an issue so much? You didn't say in your report that people were talking about the impact of Russia on the elections or changing the tax rate. It's Obamacare again --

[09:10:08] HARLOW: Yes.

SWEET: -- because for people who get it, no matter your race, your politics, gender identity, your medical insurance is very important to you. And before you move something, you want to know if you can keep what you -- you know, you want to know what the future is.

HARLOW: Yes. It's how you protect and take care of your family for a lot of these folks out there, right?

SWEET: Yes. And then --

HARLOW: And they're seeing their numbers go up in the premiums, but they're also saying, if there's a new replacement plan, am I --

SWEET: Exactly.

HARLOW: -- going to be guaranteed to be covered? Errol Louis, to you, Tim Scott, in South Carolina, who held a joint

town hall with Congressman Mark Sanford had a very different take on it. He basically came out and said it's not necessarily the most productive and constructive way to engage. If we're going to have a chance to disagree, maybe we should ask the question, speak my answer, et cetera.

I just wonder if you think Republicans run a risk of looking dismissive, with answers like that, of their constituents.

ERROL LOUIS, POLITICAL ANCHOR, SPECTRUM NEWS NY1: I think they run a greater risk, Poppy, if they want to take this delusional attitude that you heard Sean Spicer voice, which is this notion that, oh, if somebody didn't pay people, 17 million who could be at risk of losing their health insurance would otherwise just kind of quietly submit to it. That's a crazy notion.

And of course, people are going to react to this stuff, and that's what the town halls are for. The question of whether or not they're paid is not really all that important. Frankly, the question of whether or not they have been organized is not that important.

If the local unit of the Democratic Party, which could be, you know, 10 people at the county level, happens to have pushed a few people to show up at the same time, well, yes, OK, fine, that's the Democratic Party getting involved. But the reality is, there's a hard policy core to this and I think you put your finger on it, which is Obamacare.

HARLOW: Yes.

LOUIS: This affects people. They understand it. They've been down this road before. They saw it sort of curtailed by a lot of angry shouting crowds, and I think people get the message that, if you go and make some noise, maybe you can keep it.

HARLOW: If you get on television, you certainly do. Hey, guys, I want to address something else.

John Podesta used to run Hillary Clinton's campaign just did an interview, and he pointed at FBI Director James Comey as one of the reasons that she lost. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN HEILMAN, NEWCO SHIFT FORUM HOST: You have a theory, the case that Comey wanted --

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR HILLARY CLINTON: Well, look, I think there's only two --

HEILMAN: -- Comey wanted Trump to win, that the FBI wanted Trump to win?

PODESTA: I think --

HEILMAN: There's got to be some theories here.

PODESTA: I think there's sort of two possibilities. There are at least forces within the FBI that wanted her to lose. I'm not sure they really understood the alternative, but they wanted her to lose. I think that's one possibility.

I think the other is, it's just become a cover your ass organization. And there was pressure coming up from underneath him, and he succumbed to that pressure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. So, Mark Preston, he didn't provide any evidence but he did say there were forces in the FBI that wanted her to loss. Doesn't this just perpetuate the sore loser argument?

PRESTON: It does. Listen, the wound is still open for most of Hillary Clinton's campaign staffers. They can't believe that they lost in November, but they are looking backwards. And I got to tell you, when you talk to people in the Democratic Party now, they want to look forward, Poppy.

And for instance, tonight, we'll see candidates for the Democratic National Committee Chairperson. This is going to be the person who is going to lead the party for the next four years, at least organizationally, and they'll be talking about their vision for their future. I guarantee you, they won't be talking too much about the past because if they are, then Democrats will remain in the minority for a very long time.

HARLOW: Yes. I mean, just to put a button on it, David Drucker, I mean, this does not help what is the future of the Democratic Party, which is very much up in air.

DRUCKER: No. You never want to look backward after a tough loss. I think Democrats got caught up in this after the 2000 election, when they felt like the Supreme Court stole the election from Al Gore and handed it to George W. Bush. And it only really helped George Bush and the Republicans at the time look like the party that was trying to deal with problems people had in the present and look toward the future.

And so the best thing for Democrats, although this may keep them motivated, is just to remember the lesson. Don't nominate somebody that's under FBI investigation. And now, figure out what you have to do to regain power under Trump and understand what you did wrong over the past eight years that left you with fewer state legislators, fewer governors than maybe any time in the party's history.

LOUIS: What if what he said is true, though? I mean, what if what he said true? I mean, it's an amazing --

HARLOW: Errol, I read the whole verbatim of it, the question. The answer is he didn't provide the evidence. I just wondered, if you come out there and make those assertions, well, I know it was this and it could've been this too. [09:14:53] LOUIS: I mean, it's astounding political advice for me to

say, well, you know, just take your loss. You know, even if you think there's something seriously wrong going on in one of our intelligence agencies or in the FBI, even if you think that based on statements we've heard from Rudy Giuliani and others, the crazy actions by James Comey -- the inconsistent actions at a minimum -- that's led to calls for an investigation, even if you think there's something seriously wrong, just be quiet because it makes you look like a sore loser -- I don't think that's how a political leadership works.

(CROSSTALK)

[09:15:25] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Guys, I've got to get to break.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Just very quickly, he wasn't being constructive, though, Errol. He was being -- he was acting in a sore-loser way. He wasn't acting in a constructive way to bring reforms to the FBI as needed, though.

HARLOW: Guys, thank you very much. Good thing no one on my panel is quiet. Thank you very much, Mark Preston, David Drucker, Lynn Sweet, Errol Louis. Nice to have you on.

We have a lot ahead. Of course, as we just mentioned, who will lead the Democratic Party in the era of Trump? That Democratic leadership debate is tonight on CNN, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, moderated by Dana Bash and Chris Cuomo, only right here.

Still to come for us this hour, the president's new immigration crackdown -- is the stage set for mass deportations?

Also, let's take this outside. The crowd at Congressman Mark Sanford's town hall was so big he took the rest of the questions outside of the building after it lasted 3 1/2 hours. What he said about these protests targeting his Republican colleagues.

And in just a few hours, Dakota Access Pipeline protesters mandated to clear out. Some will not budge, however. That's straight ahead for us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:20:35] HARLOW: As early as today, the Trump administration will unveil a revised executive order/travel ban. This is going to be a new version, a new version that tries to stand up in the courts against any of those political and legal blunders made in the first rollout. This comes on the heels of a new set of presidential orders cracking down on illegal immigration, putting of millions of undocumented workers at risk of deportation. Together, these are the most sweeping and controversial reforms in years.

Let's go straight to Joe Johns at the White House for more.

What's the timing on when we'll expect to get this?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's anybody's guess, quite frankly. I mean, what we do know from the administration at this stage is still early, that they say they are taking the shackles off of immigration officers.

And the one message we're getting from the White House more than anything else is that this is just enforcement of existing law. But by any account, this is certainly a robust enforcement, even an acceleration of enforcement of existing law. And the best example of that, perhaps, is the Obama administration focused on deporting serious criminals, people convicted of crimes.

Now the standard is going to be about people accused of crimes, people even suspected of crime.

Listen to Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Everybody who is here illegally is subject to removal at any time. That is consistent with every country. But the priority that the president has laid forward and the priority that ICE is putting forward through DHS' guidance is to make sure that the people who have committed a crime or pose a threat to our public safety are the priority of their efforts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So, your timetable question, Poppy, is going to take a long time to do all of this. It's not going to happen overnight and the big question, of course, is, where are they going to get the money to pay for it?

HARLOW: Exactly. Who's going to pay for it?

Joe Johns, thank you very much.

Later this morning, Donald Trump sits down with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before he heads to the border with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Now, the two men will also meet with the members of the Mexican government. Needless to say, there has been tense relationship between the Mexican government officials and the Trump administration.

So, let's go straight to our Leyla Santiago. She's in Mexico City with the reaction there.

What's expected ahead of this visit, Leyla?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, neither the White House nor Mexican officials had actually released an official itinerary yet. But we do know that this will be Secretary Tillerson's first bilateral trip to Mexico, one that is very important given the relationship between the two countries.

The timing of this also could be very interesting. You know, just yesterday, the foreign minister here in Mexico and they talked about trade and NAFTA, that free trade deal that involves Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

Yesterday, also, we saw Secretary Kelly, rather, from Homeland Security, in Guatemala, for a repatriation flight there. So, lots of immigration talk for Homeland Security not only in Central America where they see a lot of the immigration begin and go through Mexico and up in U.S.

But also, the timing is important given what we just heard Joe talk about, giving the DHS memos that talk about immigration and what is really perceived as a crackdown for illegal immigration in the U.S.

Now, we haven't heard from the Mexican government on reaction to that memo or these policies, but we know that everyone here is waiting to see what type of tone comes from these meetings. We know that Tillerson and Kelly are expected to meet with cabinet members here in Mexico, as well as the president, Enrique Pena Nieto. That is expected to happen tomorrow.

The big news today here out of Mexico is that Tillerson will arrive today and we're waiting to see what comes out of those meetings and we could see a presidential visit from either Pena Nieto or Trump -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Right. After that Twitter back and forth that ended up in the Mexican president canceling his visit to the White House, now he will sit down in his country with the secretary of state. We'll wait for the headlines.

Thank you, Leyla.

Meantime, House Speaker Paul Ryan also leading a group of GOP lawmakers to the U.S./Mexico border today. They are on a fact-finding mission about security.

Polo Sandoval is in Mission, Texas, right on the border.

[09:25:01] It's interesting. This is not something that the speaker has really talked up a lot. They have been purposefully trying to keep it on the DL.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Poppy. Details on that fact-finding mission, as you just mentioned, have been hard to get. Not just on the ground but some of the colleagues up in Washington.

I spoke to some of those local law enforcement here in South Texas and they said there were many reasons for that. Obviously, the security issue will be one since you had the speaker not close to the border but literally on the border as there is a tour of the Rio Grande that's expected to take place there this afternoon.

But there is also that concern about protesters. I should mention that the border part that you see behind me, the water being the actual body of water that divides both countries, that is typically open to the public. However, officials are closing that off today which has been requested by Capitol police, which really does feed to that security concern as you mentioned, Poppy. So, the question is, why choose this part of the border region when you have the rest of it? Well, this is, after all, the busiest region since 2013, seeing the largest amount of apprehension.

So, especially, we've been here to report on at least two of the surges as they are steadily flowing north of the border. There is that concern here by local officials and also by some residents. The question is here, of course, what will Speaker Ryan actually be able to see during what is expected to be a relatively short visit to the U.S./Mexico border? Poppy?

HARLOW: Polo Sandoval, reporting for us in Mission, Texas -- thank you very much for that.

And coming up, ICE is getting ready to handle, carry out the president's crackdown on illegal immigration. We're going to talk to the man who used to run the entire agency, the former head of ICE, to ask him what he thinks of all of this and how it will actually play out. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)