Return to Transcripts main page
Interview with Representative Chris Stewart; Is Trump Administration Immigration Policy Emboldening MS-13 Gang?; Kremlin Seizes U.S. Properties, Orders Diplomats Out; Aired 10:30-11a ET
Aired July 28, 2017 - 10:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:31:43] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: A stunning defeat for the White House and for Republican leadership after a rollercoaster week of health care debate. In the wee hours of the morning, Senator John McCain delivering a final blow, voting against the last ditch effort to repeal Obamacare.
Let's get reaction from Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah. He voted to pass Republican health care reform in the House.
Thank you for being here. Who does this failure fall on? Is this Mitch McConnell's fault? Is it the president's fault? Whose fault is it?
REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: Well, I don't think it's one any individual's fault. Obviously we're disappointed. I think Mitch McConnell did everything he could to get this across the finish line. I think the president did everything he could as well. I mean, at the end of the day these are the --
HARLOW: You do? You think President Trump sold this enough and --
STEWART: I do.
HARLOW: -- spoke about it enough in the days leading up to it? He certainly talked a lot about the attorney general that he doesn't like.
STEWART: Well, look, I did that and we could have that conversation. Believe me, I shared that frustration. But I do think that he did all he could. Look, we've been working on this for months, right? It's not just this week. And I know that he's working behind the scenes having many conversations that, you know, the press wasn't reporting on, but, at the end of the day, these are individual senators who have to make their own decision.
And I've got to tell you, I'm so disappointed and I'm so frustrated and I'm a little bit angry over this. We've been saying for months that we need to do this. And it's better for the American people. We're trying to help what is a failing system and to be left with the system in place -- and people say to me all the time, well, will you work with the Democrats? And I respond two ways, one is, we tried to work with the Democrats. And the second is I don't know a single Democratic proposal other than spending more money.
And I just don't know what we do now. I want to say I'm not hopeless about it, but I'm very frustrated.
BERMAN: You just said you were angry a moment ago. Are you angry at John McCain, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski? What is your opinion of them this morning?
STEWART: Yes. Well, I'm just disappointed. I didn't see it. This is better than the existing program that we have now and the millions of Americans that are affected by what is a failing program. There isn't a question about it. This isn't a choice between something that's working perfectly in the Republican plan, it's a choice between a system that is hurting millions of Americans and what we thought was something better.
BERMAN: Can I tell you, though, the skinny bill, you know, John McCain and, you know, Susan Collins were looking at the so-called skinny repeal and the CBO score and saying, 50 million fewer people on health care.
BERMAN: Premiums rising 20 percent and they may have looked at that and said that is not better than what we have right now.
STEWART: Well, you know, we've had this conversation a number of times. I am a little skeptical of some of the CBO numbers. I think that they haven't -- for example, they have conflated this idea that they are kicking people off health care when that's simply not true. Millions of these people are just people who are going to choose not to participate in these plans which they feel like they can't afford.
And we were hoping that we can provide them with plans that they could afford. So -- but, look, I understand that people make their own decisions. And again I'm not going to call out individual senators. I'm just going to say that we're very disappointed to be where we are right now.
HARLOW: Is part of what is to blame for this, Congressman, the soap opera -- to use Newt Gingrich's phrase, the soap opera that is playing out in the White House right now? Does that have an impact on getting real points on the board in terms of legislation?
STEWART: Yes, I think in this particular case, in repealing Obamacare, I don't think that it did have a direct impact.
[10:35:07] But I've got to tell you, I'm frustrated with that as well. And I read some of these things and hear some of these interviews, I just think this is absolute nonsense and it's so undisciplined.
Look, we've got real challenges in our nation. I mean, it's not just health care. We've got tax reform now. We've got regulatory reform that is sitting on the Intelligence Committee. My heavens, we live in a dangerous world. We've got real challenges, and yet these, you know, these continual distractions where Republicans attacking Republicans I just think is so unnecessary. And as I said it's just nonsense if you are trying to accomplish things to help the American people to spend your time doing some of these other things that are so meaningless.
BERMAN: So, Congressman, it's so interesting. One of the things you've said in the past is that you quit reading the president's tweets because you don't think they are policy and because I think a lot of this frustration you're feeling right now. This week, he announced policy, major policy, on Twitter that he is banning or would like to ban transgender individuals from the military.
You know, do you have to change your opinion perhaps whether or not you read the president's tweets if he's going to announce major policy there?
STEWART: Look, I mean, no, not really because that's not the first time that he actually has announced a policy through Twitter. But it isn't generally the case. I mean, a vast majority of his tweets are not substantial policy decisions or policy announcements. They are something much less than that.
And the problem I have and I think have expressed this to you is so we spend a lot of time talking about these different things, his musings things on Twitter, but we're not talking about the important issues. I mean, I can't tell you the number of times I have come on television to talk about national security, for example. And instead, they say well, let's read you the latest Twitter and what the president tweeted this morning. And we spend the whole interview talking about that rather than talking about North Korea or, you know, some --
BERMAN: Is that just -- and I know a lot of it, you know, many members of Congress blame the media for that. But it can't just be our fault. I mean, is part of that fault lie on the administration and the White House?
STEWART: Well, for sure. You know, I'm not calling you out on that because as I said I think the media is reacting in a way that's fairly predictable. But I think there really is a shared responsibility between the administration and between the media. And I do wish that the media in many times would ignore the tweets. So let's focus on things that really matter. I think the American people would appreciate that.
HARLOW: OK. I hear you, but you can't ignore tweets when he's making policy, huge, sweeping policy on them.
Congressman, we appreciate you coming on.
BERMAN: Yes, good discussion.
HARLOW: Good discussion.
STEWART: Good to be with you. Thank you.
HARLOW: President Trump has been promising for a long time to crack down on these bloodthirsty gangs. You hear him say MS-13 a lot. That's one of the most cruel, machete-loving gangs. Well, CNN went to where the president is going today to talk to these gang members. What we found might shock you. The fact that president's own policies may be making these gangs stronger. A live report, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[10:42:24] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are dismantling and destroying the blood thirty criminal gangs and, well, I will just tell you this, we are not doing it in a politically correct fashion. We are doing it rough. Our guys are rougher than their guys.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: You hear the president talking about gangs right there. It is an important day for the president on that front. He heads to Long Island to focus on the ultraviolent MS-13 Gang linked to at least 23 murders there. Police say they hack people to death with machetes.
HARLOW: It is absolutely a central campaign promise to crack down on illegal immigration. Home base for the MS-13 is in El Salvador, which is where the embattled attorney general Jeff Sessions is today.
But CNN's Dan Lieberman reports that this gang may actually be getting more powerful. Why? Because of the Trump administration's own policies.
And, Dan, you went and spent a lot of time with the MS-13 Gang in this place in Long Island. The Trump administration says it's the epicenter of the crisis.
DAN LIEBERMAN, CNN DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The last couple of months we've been reporting on Long Island, talking to immigrants in the community. And we sat down with two MS-13 gang members and all of them sort of describe the situation where the level of fear among immigrants is so high, that it's actually emboldening the gang, easier for them to recruit.
LIEBERMAN: And immigrants are so afraid that they're not going to the police to report MS-13. So this is what they told us. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it's not MS-13, you're the target. If you're not in it, you're the target. If you don't want to be the target, you most likely join. You know, you can't beat them, join them.
LIEBERMAN (voice-over): MS-13 is one of the most violent gangs in America.
TRUMP: The vicious and disgusting and horrible MS-13 gang members.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have machetes as a weapon of choice. Chains, sometimes with a lock.
LIEBERMAN: The FBI says there's been a surge in MS-13 activity in recruitment in the last two years. We wanted to know what leads some young people to join MS-13.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They feel they can do whatever they want because Trump himself has made everybody fear. All the immigrants, they feel like if they go to the police or something, they get deported. So like whatever happens to them, they rather stay quiet and let it happen.
WALTER BARRIENTOS, LEAD ORGANIZER, MAKE THE ROAD NEW YORK: This gives them the opportunity to tell immigrants, what are you going to do? Are you going to report us? They are going to accuse you. They are going to associate you with us.
LIEBERMAN: These MS-13 gang members agreed to be interviewed on the condition that we disguise their voices and not show their faces. Speaking out against the gang can be deadly. The surprising thing about them is just how young they are. At 16 and 17, they have already been gang members for years.
[10:45:06] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At one point, I feel like, damn, why am I in this? Is that what I'm going for, taking somebody's loved one and hurting them? What if they took somebody from me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Murderers from MS-13 don't only hurt one family, but hurt both. If you get caught, your family's never going to see you again.
TRUMP: We are getting them out. They're going fast. We're actually liberating towns like Long Island, where I grew up.
LIEBERMAN: For some people Long Island means summer in the Hamptons. But not far away from the mansions on the beach, MS-13 has been on a killing spree.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My god, no. Who's going to do that?
LIEBERMAN: In the last two years, the FBI says they've committed more than 20 murders on Long Island.
BARRIENTOS: What we're seeing is that they are targeting some of the most recently arrived coming into families who are in transition with their immigration status and young people who don't know a lot of people in the community, who are easily targeted and scared.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They tried to kill him because they cut him twice with a machete in the stomach and hit him.
LIEBERMAN: Margarita, as she asked us to call her, is from El Salvador. Until now, she's been too scared to speak up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Then after, they say that there were four gunshots. And he doesn't call the police.
LIEBERMAN: Her teenage son is hiding in a safe house. She says MS-13 is trying to kill him because he refused to join them. She's a witness. But like many others, won't go to the police for fear she'll get deported.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): So MS-13 sees that we don't have the support of the police. We feel afraid to call them so they feel more free to go around bothering people.
LIEBERMAN: Between February and May of this year, ICE arrested on average 108 undocumented immigrants a day with no criminal record, an increase of about 150 percent from the same period a year ago.
THOMAS HORAM, ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: I have said it 100 times, that is a crime to enter this country illegally. We want to target the most violent criminals, not the witness, not the victims, to remove them.
LIEBERMAN: The MS-13 gang members I spoke with have a message for other young people who are thinking of joining up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a motto they go by. Once an enemy, always an enemy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're everywhere. You could move anywhere you want. They'll find out where you are.
LIEBERMAN (on camera): There's nowhere you're safe?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to try to leave. At one point you're not going to be able to. So the message I'm going to give to everybody else that's thinking about it, don't join it.
BERMAN: All right. Back now with Dan Lieberman.
Dan, that was so interesting as we were watching. One of the important points there that a lot of these people are making is that immigrants were afraid to come forward, immigrants who could help authorities catch, capture, apprehend members of MS-13. They are afraid to come forward because of the Trump administration's immigration policy. They are afraid they will be deported.
What does the administration say to this.
LIEBERMAN: Yes, that's why it's so scary and it's so nuanced. And that's why it's really to understand that. We reached out to the White House for comment last night. This is what they told us, senior Trump administration officials said, quote, "The reality is that we are removing MS-13 and other criminal gang members in very large numbers and they are hurting. If you want to be looking at strategies that need to change and change right away, sanctuary cities would be at the top of that list."
HARLOW: It's a fascinating piece, Dan. Thank you very much for bringing it to us.
LIEBERMAN: You bet.
BERMAN: Thanks so much, Dan.
BERMAN: All right. Russia firing back now demanding U.S. diplomats leave Moscow over the possibility of new sanctions. Key word, possibility. The president has yet to decide if the sanctions will become law. Will he sign this bill? We are live, next.
[10:53:00] HARLOW: So Russia retaliating this morning before the president has even decided whether or not he will sign a new sanctions bill into law. Russia ordering U.S. diplomats to leave Moscow, vacate two storage properties that you see here all in retaliation to these sanctions that Congress passed overwhelmingly that are now sitting on the president's desk. What will he do? Will he sign it? Because it does ultimately take power away from him.
Michelle Kosinski is live at the State Department with more.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: And you know, Russia has been warning for months that it was going to retaliate for President Obama at the end of his administration, acting against Russia for meddling in the U.S. election, by kicking out 35 Russian diplomats and seizing these two enormous properties in Maryland and New York.
The Russians have been trolling the U.S. on social media about this saying we are going to do something, you know, we're going to retaliate in kind. And clearly, now, even before the president signs this sanctions bill, they see the writing on the wall. They know that even if the president vetoed this, the numbers are there for it to be overridden.
And you know, let's say the president did decide to veto this. Some could see that as siding with Russia or giving a gift to Russia. But you saw the White House yesterday talking about some option to that. That it could be, well, we are going to veto this to come up with something tougher. But of course, now, you know, with the numbers in the Senate, a veto is not likely going to happen anyway.
So here's what the Russian Foreign Ministry is saying in a strongly worded message. "This measure," the sanctions bill, "is further proof of the United States' extremely hostile foreign policy. Hiding behind its sense of superiority, the U.S. arrogantly ignores the stances and interests of other countries. The bill is an obvious indication that relations with Russia are being dragged down by political infighting in the United States." Now the U.S. embassy in Russia, in Moscow, responded saying, "We've
received the Russian government notification. Ambassador Tefft expressed his strong disappointment and protest. We've passed the notification back to Washington for review."
[10:55:12] So what Russia is doing is saying, we are going to cap the number of U.S. diplomats that are allowed to stay there at 455. That's the same number of Russian diplomats that are in the U.S. We don't know the exact number that's being kicked out because the State Department isn't releasing that number and Russia is also limiting the U.S. use of two properties.
Back to you, guys.
BERMAN: All right. Michelle Kosinski for us at the State Department. Thanks so much.
Just into CNN, new pictures, communications director Anthony Scaramucci arriving at the White House. He got there 30 minutes ago. Did he do it silently and without profanities? We are waiting to find out. We're also waiting to find out what the president has to say about the status of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus or perhaps the health care defeat. Stay with us.