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Aired September 5, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Monster storm. Hurricane Irma is now one of the strongest and most intense hurricanes on record. The potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane could make a direct impact on Florida where a state of emergency has been declared and mandatory evacuations are already ordered.

[17:00:19] Unprotected. The Trump administration moves to end a program that sheltered from deportation nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. Will a divided Congress now step in and protect them?

On the brink. South Korean warships conduct live fire drills in the wake of North Korea's latest nuclear test. But Kim Jong-un is not backing down, promising more missile tests as the world tries to pull back the rogue regime from the brink of war.

And "not my bride." Russian President Vladimir Putin says President Trump is, quote, "not my bride." The Russian leader is also threatening to expel more U.S. say diplomats as tension between the two countries rise.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. The latest forecast is just in for Hurricane Irma, and it's chilling. With sustained winds of 185 miles an hour, Hurricane Irma is the strongest Atlantic storm in a decade and tied for the second strongest Atlantic storm ever. The potentially catastrophic Category 5 monster is bearing down on islands in the northeast Caribbean with the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in line. Florida is under a state of emergency. Visitors are being ordered out of the Keys, and residents across the state are making a run on water, food and emergency supplies.

Also breaking, calling it the right solution for the long term, President Trump is defending his move to end a program that has protected nearly 800,000 young immigrants who came to the United States as children. The program has allowed them to live here without having to fear deportation. But the administration calls the Obama- era program unconstitutional, and the president says it's time for Congress to act on the matter.

Former President Obama says Congress never acted on immigration in the past and calls the Trump administration's revoking of his program, quote, "wrong, self-defeating and cruel."

And following its most powerful nuclear blast yet, North Korea may be preparing for a new missile test. South Korea has carried out live- fire naval exercises, but Kim Jong-un's regime is defiant, issuing a new threat to, quote, "blow up the U.S. mainland."

We'll get both sides of the immigration debate with Republican Congressman Mark Meadows. He's standing by live. And Democrat John Garamendi. And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the breaking news. The new forecast for Hurricane Irma just out, now tied for the second strongest storm ever in the Atlantic. A monster Category 5, Irma has winds of 185 miles an hour. Florida is under a state of emergency and bracing for what could be a devastating blow.

Let's go live to our meteorologist, Tom Sater, at the CNN Severe Weather Center. So what's the latest forecast? What's the latest, Tom?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, let's break this down. If we widen out our camera and go, you're going to be able to see the most massive storm we've seen before. There has only been one recorded in history that has been any stronger, and that was Hurricane Allen in 1980.

We are watching this most likely to make its way directly over the island of Anguilla. It could decimate them and the surrounding areas with loss of power, loss of communications and water. As it makes its way across the U.S.-British Virgin Islands, it's going to come pretty close to a landfall there, as well.

Tomorrow afternoon is when conditions will start to deteriorate in Puerto Rico. But if you look at the winds alone, it is going to be massive. This is going to leave a path of destruction.

What is this back behind it? That's Jose. It most likely will become a hurricane, but we're not going to worry about that. It should slide into the open waters. Let's hope.

We've got our own concerns right now as the new track from the National Hurricane Center has more of a curve, looks more like after interacting with Cuba on Friday and Saturday. Wolf, it looks more like it's going to be a west coast of Florida deal.

However, the computer models which have been in agreement for days continue to agree. It gives us confidence. But until that turn to the north makes its turn, until that happens on Saturday afternoon, we will not be able to say with any certainty who exactly will have a landfall and at what time, because we still have options here on the east coast of Florida, possibly up to the Carolinas or even more into the Gulf of Mexico with its eyes maybe on coastal Mississippi or Alabama, even the Panhandle.

One thing for sure is, with this massive storm, already at a strong Category 5, it will find itself in even warmer waters as it makes its way through the Caribbean, getting close to the coast of Florida. This is going to be jet fuel for this storm.

Wolf, one more idea I want to show you. I want to show you the comparisons of the European model and the U.S. model. Last Thursday they were 1,200 miles apart. But they are in agreement now. Right now, they're on top of each other. We'll take you from Friday, 6 in the morning. The European has more interaction with Cuba. The high terrain, the spine in the central and the eastern part of the country, that could help break the system down.

However, with that warm water, it's got time and space to still generate. The U.S. model carries it more on the eastern coastline, with possible landfall getting up closer towards Savannah. Any way you look at it, I don't want anyone to say, "Well, for sure you're going to have a landfall in Miami right now," because we've got to continue to watch this unfold day in and day out. It is hard to have a hurricane like this continue with its magnitude and strength for this long period of time. It goes through reorganizing. It will spin like a top on a table and start to wobble.

When it goes through that reorganization, Wolf, we could have a new center placement. So the retracking has to take place.

But it does look like, by this coming weekend and maybe a landfall on September 11, that somewhere in the southeastern U.S., we've got a formidable storm that could be a catastrophic hurricane, a Category 4 or Category 5.

BLITZER: A lot of nervous people down in south Florida, especially. Take Miami-Dade County, a county of nearly 3 million people. At what point do they decide to evacuate that county, for example?

SATER: Well, the way the models are shaping up right now, there's more confidence in this. And because they're clustered close together, I mean, these models, the European had this system here last Thursday. So it's got a great handle on the environment. I -- in fact, all families in all of Florida right now should be having a little family talk right now about what our plans should be.

But I think you've got some time in the next couple of days, because we're going to be watching this for some time. We've got all of, you know, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and into Saturday, but at that time you don't want to get backed up on the highways and not be able to exit the state in time. There is still that opportunity, though, Wolf. We cannot stress this enough, that this could head more into the Gulf of Mexico or slide off to the Carolinas.

We have lost the window, I believe, to see the system actually slide and miss the U.S. I think that window has shut, pretty much. It's hopeful, we're optimistic, but it really looks more and more like an impact in Florida, at least one coast or the other, come late Sunday and into Monday.

BLITZER: Let's watch every step of the way together with you. Tom Sater, thanks very much. Meanwhile, there's other breaking news we're following. A sharp

backlash developing right now to President Trump's move to end Obama- era protections for nearly 800,000 young immigrants who came to the United States as children. Protests are springing up. The party's own -- the president's own party, I should say, is deeply divided. And former President Obama calls the move, quote, "cruel."

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, the president strongly defending his decision.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We finally heard from the president on this decision this afternoon. He told reporters he has a, quote, "great love" for the DREAMers, but they're not feeling the love tonight, Wolf.

The White House said this wasn't a cold-hearted decision for the president and that it's one he wrestled with with his advisers, but in the end, the immigration hardliners in the White House won, and the president decided to dump the DREAMers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): For the young, undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, known as the DREAMers, it could be a nightmare. The Trump administration is terminating the Obama-era policy that shielded the DREAMers from being deported. The White House sent out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a fierce immigration hardliner in the Senate, to make an announcement that sounded tailor- made for the president's political base.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interests, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. It's just that simple. That would be an open borders policy, and the American people have rightly rejected that.

ACOSTA: Instead the same president who claimed he loved the DREAMers...

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We love the DREAMers. We love everybody.

We're going to deal with DACA with heart.

ACOSTA: ... released a statement. "My highest duty is to defend the American people and the Constitution of the United States of America. At the same time, I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for I don't condemn the parents for the action of their children. But we must also recognize that we're a nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws."

(on camera): Why did the president not come out and make this announcement himself today? Why did he leave it to his attorney general? It's his decision. These kids, their lives are on the line because of what he's doing. SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's in large part -- a big part of the legal process. This was deemed illegal by, I think, just about every legal expert that you can find in the country.

[17:10:08] ACOSTA (voice-over): Late in the day, the president finally weighed in.

TRUMP: Well, I have a great heart for the folks we're talking about, a great love for them. And people think in terms of children, but they're really young adults. I have a love for these people, and hopefully, now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.

And I can tell you, in speaking to members of Congress, they want to be able to do something and do it right. And, really, we have no choice. We have to be able to do something, and I think it's going to work out very well. And long term, it's going to be the right solution.

ACOSTA: The White House is stressing Congress still has six months to pass a fix to protect the nearly 800,000 DREAMers, and that no immigrant in the program will be impacted before March. But for the president to sign a DREAMer fix, he wants something in return, such as the wall.

(on camera): You're saying that "If we're going to allow the DREAMers to stay in this country, we want a wall." Is that accurate?

SANDERS: I don't think that the president has been shy about the fact that he wants a wall and, certainly, something that he feels is an important part of a responsible immigration reform package.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Democrats are already balking at that, questioning the president's motives, noting he pardoned Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted in federal court for defying a judge's order to stop profiling Latinos. Not to mention Mr. Trump's past comments about Mexican immigrants.

TRUMP: They bring in drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

ACOSTA: Fierce opposition to the president's plan is coming in from all sides: from a member of the president's own Diversity Council...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am resigning right now from that council. I don't see the point in continuing to try to work with people that clearly don't see this issue the way I do.

ACOSTA: ... to former President Obama, who said in a statement, "To target these young people is wrong, because they have done nothing wrong. It is self-defeating, because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel."

Now that it's in the hands of Congress, the question is, do they have time to fix this? SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), MINORITY WHIP: Let me say a word about the six

months. Calculation six months is to march 5, so we have plenty of time, right? Not by Senate standards we don't.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Trump administration is not offering much comfort to these DREAMers, who handed over their personal contact information to the Department of Homeland Security when they received protection from deportation. Officials now say that information potentially could be used by immigration authorities and that as soon as those DREAMers lose their DACA status, they are eligible for deportation, just like anybody else who's in the country illegally. Wolf, the dream is in danger tonight.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House. Thank you very much.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina. He's the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Wolf, it's great to be with you. Thanks so much.

BLITZER: So what's your reaction to the Trump administration's decision to rescind DACA, affecting these 800,000 young people?

MEADOWS: Well, obviously, I support the president's position here, Wolf. One of the things that perhaps is not getting reported a whole lot is that the jurisprudence that's out there would suggest that this was going to go away anyway. So it's incumbent upon Congress to act. And so as the president took a decisive action. He did it in a way that gives six months for Congress to deal with it. You saw there Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham, working together already to try to look at some potential legislative fix.

But more importantly, any solution is going to have to be -- start, really, with securing our southern border. So as we look at this, we're getting calls on both ends of the spectrum, Wolf, as you might imagine. Those that said, well, we should have left it just like it was. And yet, there's another group that says, "Why did you give it six months? We're a nation of laws. They came here illegal; they need to be sent back -- sent back now."

So as we look at this, it's critical that Congress acts. I think that you'll see a real expeditious way that we tried to deal with this.

BLITZER: I want you to listen once again. Here is the president just moments ago, speaking about these 800,000 DREAMers. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, I have a great heart for the folks we're talking about, a great love for them. And people think in terms of children, but they're really young adults. I have a love for these people, and hopefully, now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.

And I can tell you, in speaking to members of Congress, they want to be able to do something and do it right. And, really, we have no choice. We have to be able to do something, and I think it's going to work out very well. And long-term, it's going to be the right solution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So you agree with the president? Do you agree with him when he says, "I have a love for these people, and hopefully, Congress will be able to help them and do it properly?" In other words, allow them to remain here in the United States.

MEADOWS: Well, I do know personally from the standpoint, in having spoken to a number of people in the West Wing, including the president, on this particular issue, there is a real compassionate side of things, where his heart goes out; he understands that a lot of these people are here not -- really didn't intend to break the law. In fact, the law was broken on behalf of maybe a parent or somebody else getting them in, and so it was really a fight between that and the constitutional principles that we have.

[17:15:28] You know, if you allow a president only to make those laws, we has, we've got a problem.

I'll remind you: when President Obama talked about deferred action, he said that this was a temporary stopgap measure, intending for Congress to act. And so this president has said, you know, it's the duty of Congress to pass those laws so that we -- we get rid of any ambiguity that's out there, Wolf.

And so as we look at that, I can tell you, it did go back and forth in West Wing. The right decision was made. It us now incumbent on members of Congress in the House and the Senate to act and deal with this to make sure we have secure borders but that we treat people with compassion, as well.

BLITZER: Because your leader, the speaker, Paul Ryan, he said, "At the heart of this issue are young who came to this country through no fault of their own. For many of them, it's the only country they know."

When all is said and done, do you want legislation, Congressman, that will allow these 800,000 young people who have gone through the entire process, provided all their personal information, who are now working or in school or serving in the U.S. military, do you want them to be able to remain in the United States, have a pathway to legal status and a pathway to U.S. citizenship?

MEADOWS: Well, when we look at this, it gets back to what I said earlier, Wolf. You know, right now, we're dealing with 800,000 people. If we don't secure a southern border, how many are we dealing with? At what point does amnesty become the de facto immigration policy? And so what we've got to make sure of is, if we're going to deal with

this in terms of either a legal status or anything else that you were mentioning, we've got to make sure that we have e-verify in place, we have a border security, that we understand those that want to do us harm can't get into this country. And yet, somehow we've put that in a different silo and said, well, we're not going to talk about that.

It's all part of the immigration debate that is going -- ongoing that DACA and, certainly, our border security has to come together as we try to resolve this.

BLITZER: So -- so are you OK -- and I just want to be precise on this, Congressman -- assuming there's no other legislation, deporting these 800,000 DREAMers?

MEADOWS: Well, at this particular point, if we don't take action, they will be deported. And so it's...

BLITZER: Is that OK -- is that OK with you?

MEADOWS: Well, it's the rule of law. It's not a matter of what I think. I'm one member of 535 members. What we have to do is we have to be a nation of laws, and we look at that.

You know, we can't just say, well, we're going to ignore this one and have this other law put in place.

And so do I want, necessarily, that to happen? I mean, my mind goes to a person that -- that I just talked to in Mitchell County, back home in North Carolina, who had somebody that was really concerned about this issue, but yet what happens is our inaction creates a crisis.

So it's time that we move and we work on immigration. I know Tom Cotton has already put forth something. There are a number of other real level-headed people out there trying to do that. And as we see that, it's got to be part of a comprehensive package. We work best on deadlines, as you know. We're up against deadlines right now, with the debt ceiling and funding the government. If we didn't have this deadline, I'm afraid nothing will get done, just like it wasn't done in the last administration.

BLITZER: Let me just be precise. What would it take for you, just one member of Congress, to support letting these 800,000 young people live here in the United States legally, have a pathway to citizenship? If there's funding for the wall with Mexico, would that be enough? Would you then support this legislation, allowing them to stay here for -- and provide them with what you call amnesty?

MEADOWS: Yes, well, Ronald Reagan said you never get in trouble by not answering a hypothetical, Wolf, and so what I am going to say is, is this. We've got to start with border security and the wall. If we have a comprehensive program that not only deals with our southern border, but also looks at what we need to do in terms of e-verify and another of other areas where we have this situation. And really, with a merit-based legal immigration system, if we look at all of that, then I'm willing to look in a compassionate way at how we handle this DACA issue. I think we will. I think there's a number of us, perhaps, that get painted in one corner or another. But at the end of the day, I think we'll come across with a good solution that not only handles it in a compassionate way but finally deals with it. You know, we've been dealing to deal with this for three or four years, even dating back to Ronald Reagan. It's time that we finally deal with it.

BLITZER: Will your party, the Republican Party, pay a price if these 800,000 young people are deported?

[17:20:03] MEADOWS: You know, I think if you answer anything in political terms, certainly, there is a constituency out there that wants you to deal with it one way. There's another constituency that wants you to deal with it another way.

This particular issue, I think we have a bigger fallout if we don't secure our security border when it comes from our party standpoint. It will be a tough task. I know the speaker originally said that he wouldn't move any legislation without the majority of the majority being supportive of a measure on immigration. And so that means that we've all got to get together in a room and make sure that we work it, because at this point, you're not going to pass with 180 Democrats and 50 or 60 Republicans. It will hopefully be a true bipartisan solution.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens.

All right, Congressman. Thanks so much for joining us.

MEADOWS: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Mark Meadows of North Carolina.

Up next, we'll get a very different perspective from Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. He's here with me. We'll discuss this and more when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:25:20] BLITZER: Our breaking news: President Trump strongly defending his move to end protections for nearly 800,000 young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, saying, quote, "Long-term, it's going to be the right solution." But it's drawing a very sharp backlash. Former President Obama, who started the program, calls the move wrong, self-defeating and cruel.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Sure.

BLITZER: I -- you heard the interview I did with Mark Meadows, the Freedom Caucus, just now. What's your reaction?

GARAMENDI: Quid pro quo. It's a deal. The president has structured a deal to put 800,000 men and women, young DREAMers, on the line in exchange for his border wall. That's what this is all about. He is putting at risk those 800,000.

BLITZER: So would you vote for the border wall funding, billions of dollars for the border wall, if it allows these 800,000 DREAMers to remain in the United States?

GARAMENDI: I think it's a bad deal. The president didn't need to do anything. This is going to go through the courts to determine the constitutionality. To say that President Trump is a constitutional genius? Come on, give me a break.

This would work its way through the courts. Maybe it's going to stand muster; maybe it's not. In the meantime, we can move forward with a comprehensive immigration reform.

Certainly, we need to secure our borders, but to build a wall, there is no...

BLITZER: So what -- If there has to be a compromise -- and you know a lot of times there needs to be a compromise -- what would you do to support something to give people like Mark Meadows, for example, something they want, that border security, including funding for the wall, in order to have an opening to allow these 800,000 young people to remain in the United States legally?

GARAMENDI: Take that down payment on the border wall that the president wants. Give it to the Coast Guard, because the Coast Guard has the real potential of stopping the drugs coming into the United States.

And we need to move forward. Yes, there needs to be an e-verify. There needs to be a guest worker program. And by the way, you've got about 11 million people out there. What is their status? These are the undocumented people in the United States.

We need to have a comprehensive reform. Mark wants to take the first step forward with the DACA legislation. Great. Good step. Now let's put the rest of this puzzle together and solve this very serious problem.

BLITZER: Realistically, do you see -- do you see a possibility there can be legislation passed in the House and the Senate within the next six months, something the president will sign into law, that will in the end allow these DREAMers to stay here legally?

GARAMENDI: It's going to be a tough go. Let's understand that the president spent 18 months poisoning this well. His rhetoric from the very first day he announced his candidacy poisoned this entire immigration issue. And it's going to be an extremely difficult thing, particularly for the...

BLITZER: He says he loves the DREAMers; he wants to be compassionate. He wants to work something out. And you just heard him say he thinks, in the end, this will even be better for them.

GARAMENDI: This is the kind of love none of us want. This is the kind of love that put 800,000 young men and women who came forward, who signed an agreement with the -- with the nation that they would give their personal information in order to be able to go to school, in order to work in this country. Ninety-one percent of these people, they are working; they are in school; they are performing. You take these 800,000 people, and you move them out of this economy, we're talking about as much as a half-trillion-dollar loss, economic loss, to this nation over the next decade.

BLITZER: But do you really fear, realistically, that these 800,000 young people could be deported from the United States?

GARAMENDI: Absolutely, no doubt. You just heard Mr. Meadows talk about that. And we know that the president's ICE operation are going around, looking for the low-hanging fruit. Not the criminals, although they're doing some of that. But they're going out, taking people literally, as they bring their children to school.

Here we've got 800,000 targets for them. This is going to be a major challenge across this nation. Totally unnecessary. It would work its way through the courts, the current DACA situation, and found to be constitutional or not. And the Congress has to come to grips with a comprehensive immigration reform.

BLITZER: But is that realistic, given the nature of the U.S. Congress right now?

GARAMENDI: We can always be hopeful. We can always...

BLITZER: Do you think it's realistic that within six months you could get comprehensive immigration reform?

GARAMENDI: It's going to be hard enough to get with this quid pro quo.

BLITZER: Just for the 800,000?

GARAMENDI: Exactly.

BLITZER: Let alone the millions of others who are undocumented, living here in the United States, most of them living very peacefully.

GARAMENDI: Peacefully and employed and performing in our economy and paying taxes. Keep in mind that none of the DACAs can receive benefits. They can't receive welfare. That's part of the deal.

So we've got a situation here that is just totally unnecessary, extremely harmful to the economy, obviously harmful to these -- to the families, many of them married that now have children of their own, who are citizens.

BLITZER: So you're worried about that.

While I have you on a unnecessary, extremely harmful to the economy, obviously harmful to these -- to the families, many of them married that now have children of their own, who are citizens.

[17:30:13] BLITZER: So you're worried about that element.

While I have you, on a totally different subject, you're a member of the Armed Services Committee. I know you're going to be briefed tomorrow on this escalating tension with North Korea right now, the nuclear tension, the possibility they could be launching another intercontinental ballistic missile. What do you want to hear from the president of the United States to try to calm things down?

GARAMENDI: I want to hear nothing. I don't want to hear a tweet. I want to hear a deep breath being taken.

We've got a very big stick. Teddy Roosevelt says carry the big stick. Nobody has a bigger stick than the United States. Yes, we could wipe North Korea out. It would be a horrendous, horrible war, but we could do that.

But the other part of it, speak softly. Get back to the negotiating table. We've got some really good things to negotiate. There's no peace treaty. We've been 64 years without a peace treaty with -- between North Korea...

BLITZER: You want direct negotiations with North Korea?

GARAMENDI: Absolutely. Get the six parties involved. That does include South Korea, North Korea. It involves China, Japan and Russia. Get together. Negotiate this thing. There is fruitful negotiations that are possible. Is a freeze possible? Quite possibly, in exchange for...

BLITZER: A freeze of, what, the nuclear program? That's what you're talking about.

GARAMENDI: Exactly.

BLITZER: But they're not going to give up their nukes.

GARAMENDI: Well, they're not -- we don't know, do we? We don't know until we sit down at the negotiating table.

Their economy is in trouble. We need to ramp up the sanctions. Go to the banks. Prohibit the banks from doing business with them. Those are all negotiating principles that we have.

But this talk of war, this cheap talk is not cheap at all. It is extraordinarily dangerous, because there could be an incident that could start it. Then hell would be paid.

BLITZER: Let's hope not. All right. Congressman John Garamendi of California, thank you very much.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, after a powerful nuclear test, North Korea may right now be preparing for another launch, another intercontinental ballistic missile launch. Is Kim Jong-un staying a step ahead of U.S. intelligence?

And former President Obama calls it cruel but President Trump strongly defending his move to end protections for nearly 800,000 young immigrants here in the United States. Will Congress now act to protect them?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:37:04] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. President Trump rolling back protections for nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. President Trump says he has great heart for the so-called DREAMers. He expressed hope that his decision will force Congress to pass an immigration bill. But the move is drawing serious backlash from across the political spectrum, including former President Obama, who called the order today "cruel and wrong."

Let's discuss with our experts. And Jeff Zeleny, you learned how much the president has struggled with his own -- this issue himself over these past many months. I want to play for our viewers how he described the dilemma back in February.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me it's one of the most difficult subjects I have. Because you have these incredible kids in many cases -- not in all cases -- in some of the cases having DACA, and they're gang members and they're drug dealers, too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids, I would say mostly. They were brought here in such a way -- it's a very, very tough subject. We're going to deal with DACA with heart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So what have your sources told you, how the president came to his decision today?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In a sense, the timeline was forced for him. There was going to be a lawsuit and the government thought that they may indeed not win that lawsuit, because it is on very, you know, uncertain ground constitutionally.

But I am told by a senior White House official that there was -- it was like a tug-of-war in the West Wing of the White House. All these presidents -- all these advisers and outside advisers who the president listens to, you know, were largely telling him different things, but business leaders and others were urging him not to do anything draconian here.

But we're told he's not happy necessarily with this decision but was trying to find a spot in the middle there.

But I think, watching the president from February, it makes you wonder if he could have softened this a little bit more to have him make that announcement today, not the attorney general, which was such a form of harsh, hardline decision.

But the reality is, he is trying to bring Congress in on this, share the burden, and make them do it. The question is, if they don't -- and they've not been able to do immigration reform -- Dana and I have been on the hills of Congress -- the halls of Congress for a long time -- they've not been able to do it. So he's the new dynamic here. We'll see if he takes a leadership role on that. But this was a tough decision for him, and I believe that.

BLITZER: Listen to what he said just a few moments ago when he was asked by a reporter about today's decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have a great heart for the folks we're talking about, a great love for them. And people think in terms of children, but they're really young adults. I have a love for these people, and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So when you hear him talk like that about a love for these people, Congress will do it properly, you heard Mark Meadows of the Freedom Caucus say, if there isn't all sorts of other border security issues, a border wall included, he could see those 800,000 young people deported.

[17:40:10] DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, because conservatives in the House, and to a lesser extent in the Senate, but they're there, as well, it's hard to see them voting for anything, any piece of legislation that would allow these DREAMers to stay. It just is not going to happen. And that is, in large part, why the Republican-led House and Senate, when Barack Obama was in the White House, never did anything on even this, which is the most bipartisan idea of any of the immigration concepts, and that is letting these DREAMers stay in this country. Even that didn't get through.

And it's in part -- in large part because of those conservatives. Which is why the only answer to getting this done is bipartisanship. It's got to be genuine, real, old-fashioned, bipartisanship, where Democrats and Republicans come together, craft something where they know they're going to lose the conservatives like Mark Meadows. They know they're going to lose maybe even some of the liberals who want to go further. But they've got to come together, and that's the only way this is going to happen.

And then you've got to rely on the president to defy his base and -- and sign it, because it's hard to imagine...

BLITZER: When you hear Mark Meadows of the Freedom Caucus...

BASH: Yes. BLITZER: ... just say to us, as he did just a little while ago, that there shouldn't even be a vote, that the speaker should not allow a vote unless a majority of the majority...

BASH: Right.

BLITZER: ... is with -- is with them, and that's a problem.

BASH: Right. Well, it's a problem if the House speaker agrees to it. I mean, this is the same problem that his predecessor, John Boehner, found over and over again on issue after issue, where the base was tying his hands and not allowing him to -- to reach across the aisle.

And by the way, it's not that different from what you're seeing with the Democratic base right now, working with Republicans and Donald Trump on other issues. But that is is why -- that's the litmus test, that's the criteria in which the conservatives are trying to make this not happen. And it's going to be up to the House speaker who asks for, publicly asks for, the president to let Congress handle this, to put his money where his mouth is.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what is different than what John Boehner faced is that you now have a Republican president.

BASH: Yes.

BERG: And so a big wild card in all of this is what is President Trump going to do and what is his role going to be in this process? Because if he comes out and says, "I support the Republicans in Congress taking this action. I support a bipartisan solution," the conservatives will kind of be left as an island unto themselves, and they will be the ones facing the pressure, as opposed to Republican leadership, potentially.

ZELENY: I think it's a big "if," though. He could have said that more strongly today, and we've not yet seen him play a leadership role in any piece of legislation. But this certainly could be one of them. That would be the different dynamic.

You're right, Rebecca, some of those conservative Republican House members may go along. He has sway with people. But, you know, again, this is what presidential leadership is about here. But it is a -- more of a challenge, I think, than people think.

BASH: Yes.

ZELENY: Because anything with immigration related to it never seems to get far.

BLITZER: Dana, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, just told our own Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill that any prospect for large-scale, comprehensive immigration reform would be -- would pretty much guarantee failure.

He said, "We've tried comprehensive for as long as I've been here. We've never succeeded, because people have asked for a pathway to citizenship, for example, and we just have never been able to do that. So I think it would be a mistake. That would, I think, pretty much guarantee failure." Because there are so many Republicans who see anything involving a pathway to citizenship or even legal status, for that matter, as quote, "amnesty."

BASH: No question. Mark Meadows, who you interviewed, is one of those. And he's hardly alone.

The notion of comprehensive immigration reform, I think at this point, is -- John Cornyn is right. It's just not going to happen. And we saw the last time a real -- excuse me, the first time a real comprehensive immigration reform bill tried to get through with a Republican president in the White House, George W. Bush, in 2006, it failed big time, because conservatives walked.

BLITZER: Very quickly, you know, Rebecca, if they don't pass legislation in the next six months, do you really think it's realistic that these 800,000 young people will be deported from the United States?

BERG: I don't think it's realistic, Wolf, but it's a possibility, if there is no solution. I mean, it leaves them open to that uncertainty; it leaves them open to deportation. And I believe this would be a major political problem for Republicans if there is no solution.

Because if you do look at the polling on this issue, Dana is absolutely right. This is a part of a facet of immigration reform that does have broad bipartisan support. And children who are left in this situation are very sympathetic figures to many people.

BASH: And the one thing -- quickly, the one thing to keep in mind is the difference between kind of the debate before President Obama put DACA into place and now is that these people came out of the shadows. They gave all their information to the United States government. So they have that. They are known quantities. They are known people. And so if this isn't fixed and the government wants to deport them, it's a lot easier to find them, which is why they're --

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS: And by the way --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And since President Obama signed that executive order, they have been documented, people -- these 800,000 here in the United States.

BASH: Right.

BLITZER: They are not undocumented or illegal.

BERG: And by the --

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Now, they have all the information, which is one of the -- it was a big risk. And I remember talking to a lot of Dreamers at the time. It was absolutely a risk. But you look at wise, you know, experienced statesmen, like Orrin Hatch and others, who really, you know, would like to bring people along.

So this is different than the other debates, but the underlying contours of the immigration challenges are there as much as anything. The President is different. Let's see what he does on this.

BERG: And by the way, if you look at the timeline of this, Wolf, and the politics, six months takes you to the point where the midterms are starting to ramp up. Republicans are going to be thinking about that as well.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's much more news we're following.

As North Korea unleashes its most powerful nuclear test to date, many experts now worry the United States has underestimated Kim Jong-un. Why are U.S. intelligence agencies struggling right now to collect reliable information inside the secretive regime?

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[17:50:57] BLITZER: North Korea is once again flexing its military muscle, conducting a nuclear test and a missile launch within the last week alone. But American authorities are still struggling to understand the secretive regime.

Our Brian Todd has been digging into the challenges faced by the U.S. intelligence community. Brian is joining us right now.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some analysts believe the U.S. intelligence community was caught off guard by how rapidly Kim Jong- un's nuclear and missile programs advanced. Intelligence officials deny that, but they do acknowledge North Korea is a difficult target.

Tonight, we've got new -- new insights, excuse me, into the challenges of hacking, surveilling, and gathering human intelligence inside this nearly impenetrable regime.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): He's never met with a foreign head of state, never even set foot outside his own country during nearly six years in power. Some of the best intelligence on Kim Jong-un comes from the unpredictable former NBA star, Dennis Rodman, who says he's held Kim's baby daughter in his arms.

That, in a nutshell, shows the challenges of gathering intelligence on the secretive regime of America's increasingly powerful enemy.

BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER DEPUTY DIVISION CHIEF FOR KOREA, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: It is very difficult. In the intelligence community, we refer to North Korea as the hardest of the hard targets.

TODD (voice-over): The U.S. Director of National Intelligence recently admitted how difficult North Korea is to spy on. DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It is, if not one of

the hardest, the hardest collection, a nation that we have to collect against. It becomes a difficult challenge relative to the society as closed and as isolated as North Korea is --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

COATS: -- to get the right intelligence that we need.

TODD (voice-over): Human intelligence is scarce.

TODD (on camera): How hard is it for a westerner to get in there and walk down the street in Pyongyang, meet with someone, to get intelligence?

KLINGNER: It is extremely difficult, virtually impossible. First of all, we don't have an embassy in Pyongyang so that limits the official diplomats or any kind of agents we might run.

Also, just trying to blend in. Obviously, we stand out because of different ethnicity. But also even South Koreans trying to run operatives, they have difficulties. It's different dialects, different uses of words, different pronunciation.

And also, the populace itself is so incredibly suspicious of any foreigner, anyone they don't recognize.

TODD (voice-over): North Koreans who talk to foreigners without permission could wind up thrown in prison camps or even executed.

There are not a lot of phone or internet signals to hack. This photo from space shows just what a dark country it is.

And while spy satellites can look for activity at launch pads and nuclear sites, U.S. military officials say North Korea has stepped up its efforts to hide many of its weapons activities.

LT. COL. TONY SHAFFER (RET.), FORMER UNITED STATES MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: They have learned from watching how we attack targets how to bury things in deep underground complexes. So one of the notable things is where you see something like VIP housing, some observable. Often, what they've done is they buried something so deep you cannot see what is going on.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts say the U.S. does get valuable help from South Korean intelligence, but are America's decision makers making choices without a full picture?

SHAFFER: I think the decision makers may not have the full information, but they do understand how to look at history and figure out, by extrapolation, what's probably going to happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Analysts say U.S. and allied intelligence agencies often have to recruit North Korean defectors to get the best information, people like diplomats. But even they come with baggage.

Some might give misinformation in order to get money or protection. Some might be double agents for the North Koreans. And others could have criminal backgrounds because they deal in money and drug trafficking, and they might be unreliable because of that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Brian, in recent months, it seems at least that the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, and the new CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, they were giving sort of contradictory accounts of the difficulties of intelligence gathering when it comes to North Korea. Is that right?

TODD: That's right. You know, in May, Dan Coats told Congress that North Korea was the toughest nation to collect intelligence against. He said they get limited results when trying to collect electronic surveillance, and they have gaps in overhead reconnaissance.

[17:55:01] But Mike Pompeo, in mid-August, said the intelligence community has done what he called, quote, remarkable work in watching North Korea's missile and nuclear programs develop.

Today, intelligence officials insisted to us there is no daylight between Coats and Pompeo, that they're bringing a lot of resources to bear to make sure policy makers understand the threat, and they're on the same page.

BLITZER: The stakes, clearly, are enormous right now. Brian Todd, good report. Thank you.

Coming up, the breaking news we're following. With winds of 185 miles an hour, Hurricane Irma is one of the strongest hurricanes on record right now. The potentially catastrophic storm could make a direct impact on Florida where mandatory evacuations have already been ordered.

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