Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Lawmakers Face Angry Constituents back home; Trump Admin sets stage for Mass Deportations; Tillerson, Kelly Face Tensions in Mexico Talks; Paul Ryan leads Fact-Finding Mission at Border. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 22, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:10]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. 10:00 a.m. Eastern. I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman has the week off. So glad you're with us. We begin with angry voters unleashing on lawmakers back at home. Just watch.

In the intro here -- town halls across the country erupting in shouting matches, as you see. Lawmakers trying to field questions from angry constituents on everything from immigration to the travel ban to Obamacare. Some Republicans dismissing those protesters as just paid activists. The president tweeting, "The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!"

Kyung Lah has been to many of those town halls across the country. She joins me now in New York with what you're hearing. The president says they're liberal activists. His White House spokesman says they're paid and Astroturf. What have you seen?

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's talk about the organizational structure first. So, they are responding to a guidebook that was put out. So, what I'm hearing from the grassroots of what we're seeing some of this - you know, engagement that we've seen with these lawmakers is coming from the guidebook. But they're not being specifically led by anyone. These are people acting upon themselves who feel empowered because they now have the step-by-step manuals.

HARLOW: What is the net effect and what is the net hope? I mean, this is all about flipping seats in 2018. How do they carry this anger and these words into action?

LAH: It depends location by location. At some places, yes, they want to try to flip the district. But these are - you know, that's a tough goal, that's a long term goal for 2018. What we've seen is a different sort of sentiment in each one, the issues, again, Obamacare, immigration. It's important though, to understand that this is about voter engagement. I want you to listen to these voters talking to their congressmen. Here are a couple of examples.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have in the White House now, a notorious white nationalist as a special adviser to the President of the United States. I would like to know your thoughts on that.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: First of all, I don't speak for the president. --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would like to know how you feel about it. You're our Congresswoman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have to acknowledge that we got too damn many people on food stamps in Kentucky. These coal jobs are not coming back and now these people don't have the insurance they need because they're poor. If you can answer any of that, I'll sit down and shut up like Elizabeth Warren.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAH: And you know you can see the senator there, you know, responding. He was trying to respond as well as he could. And what I am hearing is that people are grateful that a lot of these lawmakers, knowing that they're going to get hit by this, but they're still showing up. --

HARLOW: I mean, you showed in the last hour, the sign of like, "Where is Darrell Issa?"

LAH: Yes, some of them are choosing not to. And they're getting hit on social media. They're constituents saying, "What are you afraid of? We're just your voters." But can you - in some ways, can you blame them?

I mean, Senator Joni Ernst, she walked into that room. She was looking at an uphill climb throughout. And then, right after that combative town hall, there was immediately some reporting on Twitter that she cut it short. But you know we're hearing from her office today that she didn't. That what ended up happening was that she tried to answer as much as possible but look at the crowd, it was hard to speak. --

HARLOW: You know what, though? They work for us, the people and we, the taxpayer, pay their bills and some people want their questions answered. Pay their bills - pay their salary. Thank you, Kyung, nice to have you on. We appreciate it.

A lot to discuss here clearly with our political panels, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Doug Heye is with us. Patricia Murphy who just wrote a column about the winners and losers in all of this joins us. She's a columnist for "The Daily Beast" and "Roll Call," and Angela Rye is here, CNN political commentator and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, nice to have you all here.

And -- let me begin with you, Patricia because you made this list of who wins and who loses in terms of Republicans and this. Who wins someone like Joni Ernst or Marsha Blackburn who get screamed at, or Mitch McConnell or someone who just doesn't show up? PATRICIA MURPHY, COLUMNIST "THE DAILY BEAST" AND "ROLL CALL": Well, the people who I listed on my list of winners are the members of Congress who were showing up and taking the criticism. Somebody like Mark Sanford, who you had on in the previous hour, he stayed for three hours at a town hall meeting over the weekend, just fielding people's complaints. People are very upset, anxious, in some cases confused about what might be happening in Congress over the next several months. And Congressman Sanford just listened and answered to the best of his ability.

And to me, voters are sophisticated enough to understand that their Congressman isn't always going to agree with them. But they do expect their congressman to listen to them. -

HARLOW: Right.

MURPHY: And it's not just to listen to the Republican fish fries who are excited to hear - excited to have you and welcoming you to come to their fundraiser. They want their Congressman to hear from them even if they don't agree with them.

[10:05:06] HARLOW: So, Doug, the president piled on in Twitter, right? He said these are liberal activists. And as Kyung said, I mean, some of them are following this guidebook that was put out. But some of them are people like that woman in Kentucky screaming, saying, too many people are on food stamps and now they can't afford their health care, and what are you going to do about it? Here though, is how the White House press secretary addressed some of these folks, not long ago earlier this month when he was asked about it on Fox News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN KILMEADE, HOST FOX NEWS: Do you sense -- instead of being organic disruption, do you sense that there's an organized pushback 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 that, you know, the Tea Party was a very organic movement. This has become a very paid Astroturf-type movement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Paid Astroturf-type movement, maybe some but not all, Doug Heye, you're a Republican strategist and even you take a shoe of that.

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, I do. Look, I think there's truth to that. One of the people I follow on Twitter is Guy Cecil, no stranger to CNN audiences, who ran priorities -- USA for Hillary Clinton, the big super PAC. -- He's running a town hall forum, a Twitter account that he was linking to just yesterday to get people to town halls.

So, clearly, there is organizing happening within Washington D.C. Also, clearly, there are a lot of people throughout this country, whether they're Republicans or Democrats who are upset and concerned about the direction that the country is going into. And so, whether they are paid or not paid, to quote Bill Murray, famously for "Meatballs," it just doesn't matter, Republicans have to be prepared for this. They have to have plans of action. And they need to know what they're going to say going in. And also, remember, these are their constituents. They should treat them accordingly. Offer them some coffee.

HARLOW: I don't know if coffee is going to do it, but it might be a start. Look, any time you quote "Meatballs" on this program, we're off to a good start. Angela Rye, to you, do you believe people like Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who did this joined town hall with Congressman Mark Sanford, came out and he basically said this isn't necessarily the most productive way to get things done. You know, what risk does someone like him saying that run or someone like Darrell Issa and others who are just not showing up at these. What risks do you believe they run?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: Well, I think that Tim Scott is of course, entitled to his own opinion. But I think you have a group of very frustrated Americans, 46 million and counting probably, who are trying to figure out what is the process for getting things done. You have a Democratic Party that is very much -- I would say in an identity crisis or at least finding itself right now after a very hard election that frankly, many of us know and see by the numbers we won the popular vote.

So there is a lot of confusion happening. There's a lot of frustration. There's a lot of anger. You see the president's approval ratings, you're trying to understand, you know, what Congress is really going to do to hold him accountable and you have not seen much movement in his first few weeks here or almost you know over a month now.

So I think that's the real issue. We don't know what he's going to do to move an agenda that impacts and helps the disenfranchised in this country, the marginalized in this country. And whether people are paid or not, I don't have any proof of that. It's interesting to see an administration that is frankly, helmet (ph) on talking about fake news that they would also be the pushers of that type of news. It's very interesting that they just can't take it for what it is. And that is strategic disagreement and resistance to an agenda that does not include all Americans.

HARLOW: Patricia, to you, what we're hearing is that some of these -- Republican representatives especially in these swing districts are making the political calculation that it's better for them, maybe to not show up, maybe to have these tele-town halls and not actually be in the room. And then, be vulnerable to that YouTube moment of all of those years and what we just aired. Politically speaking, let's step aside from what is right to the American people and answering to your constituents. Politically speaking, from a political calculus, what's the best answer for those people that are more vulnerable in those swing districts? MURPHY: Yes. Not smart. Not smart not to listen and not smart to even not pretend to listen to your constituents. And you know it's not a theoretical question. If you go back to what happened in 2009 with the Tea Party protesters which I believe was a very organic movement. Those protesters were very real but Democratic leaders, including Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, literally called it Astroturf just like Sean Spicer is calling this Astroturf.

It's an attempt to delegitimize and ignore what's happening in their own districts. But Democrats lost 63 House seats in 2010, 5 Senate seats. It's just -- whether they're paid or not, I don't believe they are. I've talked to a lot of people who say, could you just tell my Congressman I'm not getting paid. Democrats lost big. And I think that the way they handle those town halls was a big piece of that.

HEYE: Poppy?

HARLOW: But Doug, you make the argument - because just Doug, to this, you make the argument in your CNN opinion piece on it this week that Republicans are not - you know bound to holding these.

[10:10:00] HEYE: No, I don't think it's not an either/or proposition. Look, if you want to go to a huge forum like Joni Ernst did, or Chuck Grassley did, Tim Scott did. I agree with Tim Scott on this. It's not an either/or proposition. You can go to those events that really, were the loudest and angriest voices or you can do something different.

If you want to learn about Obamacare, visit a community health center or a hospital, talk to doctors and talk to patients. If you want to learn more about education in our country, visit a school. This requires members to be more vigilant in how they represent and how they interact with their constituents. But they don't just have to go to free for all forums. They can be smarter and more strategic about that, which the National Republican Congressional Committee and also, the House Republican Conference are working with members to make sure that they do, to make sure that these members avoid being seen as being AWOL.

HARLOW: I want to get your guy's take on something else. John Podesta, who used to run Hillary Clinton's campaign, her former campaign chairman, did an interview on - the summit and he was asked about FBI Director James Comey and his role at all in the election. Here is how he put it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN HEILEMANN, NEWCO: There you have a theory that the case that -

JOHN PODESTA, HILLARY CLINTON'S FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, I think -

HEILEMANN: -- that Comey wanted Trump to win, that the FBI wanted Trump to win. 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 were prepared to - 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 the underneath him, and he succumbed to that pressure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Angela Rye, let me get your response, the Democrat on this panel. What do you think? Is this just sore loser stuff?

RYE: I don't agree with the sore loser idea. And I don't want to call John Podesta, who was the chairman of her campaign, a sore loser. I think that he's calling into question things that, again, Americans all over this country have continued to call into question. Do I have any evidence of that? No.

But I think that it's fair for him to raise, whatever theories he'd like. I'd certainly have some theories that I've talked about them on air. I have gut feelings. I've talked about them on air. And I definitely support the members of the House and the Senate who are calling for an investigation not only into this election but ties that Trump has with his business interests and also to Russia. There are all types of issues surrounding this election which would make us -- I don't think sore losers, but calling this into reasonable doubt.

HARLOW: You get the last word because we're out of time. I'm sorry. You'll all be back. Doug Heye, Patricia Murphy, Angela Rye, thank you all.

Still to come for us, a lot ahead this hour, border-bound, House Speaker Paul Ryan is heading south to the Texas/Mexico border. What are they going to talk about? Not many details have been released yet. We're going to get an update on that.

Also, voters are mad. How do you channel this anger into action? What are you going to do about it? We're going to ask Democratic lawmaker Adam Schiff. He'll join us later this hour.

Also, the president's economic outlook, the numbers that his White House wants to see. Are they using fuzzy math? We're going to dig in to all of that, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:17:07] HARLOW: We're expecting this week that the Trump administration will unveil its revised travel ban Executive Order, a new version aimed at erasing the legal blunders of the first rollout. This comes on the heels of a new presidential order on immigration, a crackdown that puts millions of undocumented immigrants in this country at risk of deportation. And together, these are some of the most sweeping and controversial reforms we've seen in years.

Let's begin with Joe Johns at the White House this morning with more. I know we don't have any timing yet, do we, on when this new Executive Order may be handed down? JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No, no timing yet on that. And obviously, even after that a big question of how long it will take to actually get to implementation. But this is a big deal. We're talking about changes to a law that could probably affect a majority of the estimated 11 million people who are in the United States illegally.

This is expanded authority, of course, for immigration officers, a surge in the administrative judges, the immigration judges that handle cases, an increase in the number of detention centers. Huge changes across the board. But perhaps the biggest one, the one that a lot of people are zeroing in on is this idea of enforcing the law in a way that includes not just those immigrants -- who have been convicted of serious crimes in the United States, but also people who may be accused of crimes in the United States. Listen to Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: Everybody who is here illegally is subject to removal at any time. That is consistent with every country. But the priorities 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 there's a lot to do here with this new directive from the administration on immigration. The question of course not just the timetable about when they're finally going to put it out there, but also a question of how long it's going to take to actually get it implemented, and then how much it's going to cost. Back to you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Joe Johns at the White House, thank you.

And just about an hour from now, the president will sit down with his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before Rex Tillerson heads with the head of Homeland Security, General John Kelly, down to Mexico. The two men set to meet with Mexican officials including the President of Mexico. Obviously the relationship between the Mexican government and the Trump administration has been strained, to say the least. What will come out of this meeting? Let's find out through our Leyla Santiago. She's in Mexico City with more. What can we expect?

[10:20:00] LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, we expect Tillerson to arrive tonight. And then, there will be a series of meetings tomorrow. We know that they'll be meeting, as you mentioned, with President Enrique Pena Nieto as well as the Foreign Minister. But you know -- the Foreign Minister of Mexico.

But what will really be interesting, will be the tone that comes out of this. You know, this new administration really has not struck a positive tone with Mexicans. Given some of the comments that President Trump made on the campaign and given the back and forth that we saw in late January between the Mexican President as well as President Trump. And then you have the timing of this immigration -- the memo out of DHS. We really haven't heard much from the Mexican government, but here is what we heard from Mexicans planning to cross illegally into the U.S., when it comes to immigration and Trump's policies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTIAGO (on camera): He's saying that a border wall would not stop him from going back. He's saying Donald Trump can put four or five walls, and that won't keep him from migrating up to the U.S. because he wants to find a way to be with his family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANTIAGO: His name was Moises Vasquez. And he's actually been deported three times under the Obama administration and the Trump administration. So, we expect immigration as well as the DHS memos that came out yesterday to certainly be a topic in these meetings as well as trade and NAFTA, the free trade agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. Poppy?

HARLOW: You can bet they will be. We'll see if there are any tweets exchanged by the President of the U.S. and the President of Mexico after this meeting. Leyla thank you.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is set to lead a group of Republican lawmakers down to the Mexican border today. They're on a fact-finding mission about security and border security, specifically. This as Congress looks at the wall proposal and how to pay for it. Polo Sandoval is in Mission, Texas with more. It's interesting. It seems like the House Speaker and his office have been pretty tight-lipped about this trip, not exactly playing it up ahead of time. Any details you've learned?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, in fact, you know having grown up in the region and also even covered it for several years. I could tell you that these kinds of visits, those are not unusual in this part of the country. What is very extraordinary is the incredible amount of efforts that are being made to try to limit access not only to public but also to the press, of the Speaker's visit here to the border.

One high level law enforcement official I spoke to tells me that there are a couple of concerns there. Saying that not only is there the security issue, when you have the Speaker of the House not only close to the border but actually on the border. But there's also the concern for protesters, as this is one of the epicenters for the debate about that proposed border wall -- Donald Trump's border wall but also the flow of undocumented people. This is after all the busiest area, the busiest border region that has seen the highest level of apprehensions here by border patrol.

But again Paul Ryan's office here, in the last hour, really not offering a whole lot of information as to why this is happening, why they're limiting that access, saying, that they are at this point, declining to explain why this is playing out. I can tell you, though, that we do expect or at least these kinds of visits usually include a tour, both by air and also by boat. But again, the office of Speaker Paul Ryan has not really explained whether or not that is going to take place.

But again, this is really that the heart of where that debate is playing out. So it will be very interesting to see what the Speaker of the House does get to see and what will be his first trip to the border as Speaker, Poppy.

HARLOW: There you go. A tour that our own Ed Lavandera took all of our viewers on, right Polo, when he went along the border all 2000 miles and showed us from the air, from the land, what it would really take to build a wall that the president is proposing. Polo, thank you for the reporting there.

Still to come for us, outrage. Outrage over President Trump's policies fueling protests coast to coast but what are Democrats going to do to turn this anger in these town halls into real action? I will speak with the party's Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:28:29] HARLOW: Good morning. I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman has the week off. So glad you're with us. Lawmakers going back home this week and some of them not feeling the love. Look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!

HARLOW: Angry chants as Senator Joni Ernst in Iowa came face-to-face with some outraged constituents. She was not alone. Nationwide, voters are packing these town halls. Some of them are outraged after the president's first month in office and what their Republican representatives are doing, some Democrats, facing these gears as well. How are the Democrats taking this all in? Joining me now, California Representative Adam Schiff, he's a Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, nice to have you here.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA AND RANKING MEMBER INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you, great to be with you.

HARLOW: So you know, yelling and all of this makes for I suppose, you know television, but how do you as a party turn this into action? What is this all about? How are you going to take these people, motivate them in a way that they weren't motivated, frankly, in the presidential race?

SCHIFF: Well, Poppy, I have to say I was chuckling as I was seeing that clip of Sean Spicer on Fox suggesting that these are all paid Astroturf activists. Does he really think that the millions of people that have turned out to protest, to go to town halls -

HARLOW: Just to be clear, Congressman, just to be clear and I probably should have said on the air, that was on February 6th. And that is when he was asked about protesters in general including protesters, you know, protesting after the president's inauguration, et cetera. So, just to be clear, this wasn't him this week addressing those town halls. Just to be clear.

SCHIFF: Yes, well, at the same time, GOP members and GOP commentators are suggesting that still. That these are paid activists, paid protesters and if he really thinks that any organization has the capacity to turn --