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President Trump Denigrated Haitians; Anger Burst in Kasur, Pakistan; Iran Deal Hanging by a Thread; Death Toll Rises in California Mudslides. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired January 12, 2018 - 03:00   ET



[03:00:00] CYRIL VANIER, HOST, CNN: Donald Trump again facing accusations of racism. The U.S. president tells lawmakers he prefers European immigrants over those from Africa and Haiti.

NATALIE ALLEN, HOST, CNN: Frustration and fear turned to angry protests. Pakistanis demand justice for a little girl raped and murdered.

VANIER: And the aftermath of the powerful mudslides that smothered neighborhoods in California, the desperate search for the missing.

ALLEN: Hello and welcome to our viewers around the world. The stories come ahead this hour. I'm Natalie Allen.

VANIER: I'm Cyril Vanier. You're watching CNN Newsroom.

ALLEN: Our top story, U.S. President Donald Trump made very clear on Thursday what he thinks about immigrants from certain developing countries. His remark widely viewed as reprehensible.

VANIER: The president was talking with lawmakers in the Oval Office about possible changes to immigration policy. But when the discussion turned to Haiti, Africa and Central America, a source says Mr. Trump asked in frustration, "Why do we want all these people from shithole countries coming here?" According to a person who was there, the president said more immigrants should come from countries like Norway.

ALLEN: Temporary protected status is given to places enduring natural disasters or serious political unrest. And these are among the countries the president was apparently referring to. You see here on the screen. About Haitians having temporary protected status, he said, "Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out."

VANIER: The Haitian government is demanding an explanation. It has summoned the top U.S. diplomats in Haiti to meet Friday with the Haitian president.

The former Haitian prime minister blasted Mr. Trump in a tweet, "totally unacceptable," he wrote, "uncalled for, moreover it shows a lack of respect and ignorance never seen before in the recent history of the U.S. by any president. Enough is enough."

ALLEN: U.S. lawmakers also reacted with horror and dismay.


BEN CARDIN, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: He does things that I never thought I would see come from the president of the United States. But this is extremely damaging and it is a very, very hurtful.

ADRIANO ESPAILLAT, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: We are traumatized as a nation about this president and how he behaves. He's certainly not behaving presidential.

CHRIS COONS, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: This is just beneath the presidency, but also suggests he doesn't quite get what it is that really makes America great.


ALLEN: One republican lawmaker is demanding an apology. Congresswoman Mia Love of Utah is a Haitian American. She released this statement. "My parents came from one of those countries but proudly took an Oath of Allegiance to the United States and took on the responsibilities of everything that being a citizen comes with. The president must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned."

VANIER: Now the White House didn't deny that the president actually said those words, and that's in contrast to similar derogatory comments attributed to Mr. Trump just a few weeks ago. At the time the White House had denied those.

ALLEN: You may recall he was quoted in the New York Times saying Haitian immigrants, quote, "all have AIDS," end quote. And that immigrants from Nigeria would never want to go back to their huts once they see the U.S.

CNN's Farai Sevenzo joins us live from Nairobi, Kenya. And Farai, it's just -- it's just -- it's beyond anything bizarre to really try to make sense of what the president said. What is the reaction to this latest slur?

FARAI SEVENZO, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: You're absolutely right, Natalie. It is astounding for the leader of the free world to say these things about those countries who are supposed to have protected status.

In Africa, Sudan is on that list as is Somalia as well as South Sudan. Countries who have been in terrible wars and conflict who are supposed to be protected by the international community.

Now the reaction you asked me, we heard from the presidential spokesman in South Sudan who told us that it shouldn't be our concern, Mr. Trump is the one who should be concerned.

Now remember, it is a very young country, bought in 2011. He went on to say, it is a new country and there are older countries in Africa who have more to say, obviously protecting its safety especially with someone like Nikki Haley, the special U.N. Ambassador for Mr. Trump having gone to South Sudan to try and straighten out the war and the terrible trauma that is going on in that country.

I also rang the Somali spokesperson, Mr. Abdirahman Omar Osman who is the mister of information, and his reaction was quite strange. He asked me if this was fake news and that if it is true that the president made those comments about people on that special status list, including Somalia, that it does not deserve a dignified response and he preferred to keep quiet.

[03:05:02] So, that's where we are at the moment. But Africa is waking up. South Africa will have reactions for you. We are about to go out on the streets of Nairobi to find out whether or not the country we live in, the country I was born, your correspondent, is indeed what has been described by Mr. Trump.

ALLEN: We thank you, Farai Sevenzo. We know this is a painful story. Thank you, Farai.

VANIER: Here is Ron Brownstein for more on this. He is CNN senior political analyst. Ron, as a political analyst, are these remarks racist?

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Yes, they are. I think there is no other way to interpret them. And they reaffirm things that have been reported about the president saying remarks in other immigration meetings earlier on.

Look, I mean, people often ask and I think a top question in U.S. politics, President Trump's approval rating stay at 40 percent or below even with the economy doing as well as it's doing and continuing on an upward trajectory. And the news today is why the answer to that question is yes.

Cyril, there was a poll just out yesterday where 65 percent of Americans said he does not share their values. While this kind of rhetoric is important to a portion of his base and helps explain why he has such a powerful connection with them, for most Americans I think do interpret it as racist and it is part of the reason why, along with his emotional volatility, they are so hesitant about him as president.

VANIER: Look, here's what Neal Katyal said, and I hope I'm saying his name right. He's a lead lawyer challenging Trump's attempt to impose a travel ban on mostly Muslim nations. He says, "As I put the finishing touches on the travel ban briefed to the Supreme Court tonight, the president's words remind us again of how his un-American racist ideology impact policy."

Do you feel that the policy President Trump is pursuing in terms of immigration as a follow-up to what you were saying, is a racist policy?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, the language is unquestionably racist, the way he is talking about it. But policy itself is more debatable, but certainly has racial overtones.

VANIER: That's right. BROWNSTEIN: Not everyone supports lower levels of legal immigration and/or shifting the focus of legal immigration from family reunification, what conservatives call chain migration toward economic need can be characterized as racist. I mean, that's obvious, I mean, that is suppose without saying.

You know, even in 2013 people forget and as part of the comprehensive immigration reform that passed the Senate and the gang of 13, and so forth, they did shift the overall level of legal immigration more toward economic need which is what the president is talking about.

The problem is that in its current incarnation and the Trump incarnation supported by Senators Cotton and Purdue and the Senate and by a new effort in the House, this is the shift it occurs within the context of severely reducing the overall level of legal immigration. And I think that does have a racial component to it. There's no question about it.


VANIER: You're talking about the economic basis for migration. That's part of the White House statement reacting defending the president's comments. They say, like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.

Politically, can this work in Mr. Trump's favor?

BROWNSTEIN: Look, there are three separate debates. One is what is the level of overall legal immigration that you should have, and the president and his allies on the kind of restriction side of the republicans are proposing to significantly reduce it at a time when we are rapidly increasing the number of seniors and face a growing imbalance between the working age population. That's the first debate.

Second debate, is within whatever level of legal immigration you have, how should you apportion it between the economic need and family reunification. And as I said in the past, there were over 60 senators who voted to tilt that further toward economic need as recently as 2013.

But then there is a third issue of using racist language to discuss immigrants from, you know, whole parts of the globe. Someone pointed out today data showing that among African immigrants to the U.S., a higher percentage of them have a four-year college degree than the native-born U.S. population.

So, I think all of these things can be separated. There are aspects of the immigration agenda that as you suggest are -- can be defended and are popular, particularly shifting the balance from more toward economic need.

But the racially charged, even racist language that he's using, I think that is at the core of the problem that he faces, why is this president stuck at approval rating of 40 percent or below, of looming heavily over republican prospects in 2018.

[03:09:57] I think it is -- it is so many other questions about his values, his judgment, his temperament, his experience, all of which come together in these rather remarkable comments today.

VANIER: Yes. The democrats and the left are up in arms over the words that the president has used, but of course it is worth pointing out as you did earlier that many, some among President Trump's base, actually have been saying, well, he's winning me over with words like this.

Ron Brownstein, CNN senior analyst...


BROWNSTEIN: That's hard to govern with that 36, 37, 38 percent.

VANIER: Ron, good to talk to you. We'll talk to you again.

BROWNSTEIN: Good to talk to you.

VANIER: Thanks.

ALLEN: Another subject involving President Trump, he tweeted a short time ago that he is cancelling his visit to London. He gives a few reasons, all revolving around a switch in U.S. embassy locations in London. The process took place under both the Bush and Obama administrations but the president mentioned only his immediate predecessor criticizing the Obama White House solely for selling the old embassy site for, quote, "peanuts."

VANIER: And senior European officials are urging Mr. Trump to honor the nuclear Iran deal. In the coming hours he must decide whether or not to weigh sanctions on Iran. If he chooses to re-impose them, that could effectively kill the deal.

ALLEN: During his campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly vowed to rip up the agreement which he calls "the worst deal ever."

On Thursday, E.U. officials met in Brussels and said Iran was complying with its end of the bargain. For more on the Iran deadline, we are joined live by CNN's Fred Pleitgen and Ian Lee. Fred has reported extensively from Iran, he joins us now from Berlin, Ian is in Jerusalem.

Fred, to you first. The U.S. president has been widely critical of this deal. Any indication from where you are why allies of the U.S. view it so differently?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, I think that there are several reasons. First of all, all of them have a vested interest in this nuclear agreement. And we have to keep in mind, Natalie, about the former U.S. administration, a lot of these European administrations bot also the Chinese and the Russians, they spend a lot of time trying to get this nuclear deal together.

It was very difficult, it was very controversial. It took a very, very long time. They were all quite happy when they managed to get that deal to happen. So, certainly the Europeans don't want to see that deal go away.

The other reason, Natalie, why they don't want to see it go away is because a lot of European companies right after that deal went into effect and some of the sanctions went away, some of their companies then started moving into Europe and started doing business there.

Now, it's not the same for American companies. American companies haven't done that on the same scale, but the Europeans don't want the agreement to go away and they don't want that business to go away either.

They also fear, quite frankly, and the Iranians have said this as well, that the alternative to the nuclear agreement could be or would be something worse with the Iranians going back to their full nuclear program.

It was interesting, because yesterday you had the Iranian Minister Javad Zarif, who was in Brussels speaking to some of these European foreign ministers saying yes, the Iranians could go back very quickly to their full nuclear program. So that's something the international community needs to keep in mind as well.

So, certainly they are all looking towards what the Trump administration is doing and you see all these European countries, including Britain, including Germany, including France, essentially deploring the president to keep the nuclear agreement and not to kill it by not signing the sancture waiver -- the sanctions waiver. Natalie?

ALLEN: Fred, thank you. Let's go to Ian Lee in Jerusalem. To Fred's point there, Ian, Israel did not agree to this deal. They don't like it either. But is there a concern there about what could be worse if the deal is dropped?

IAN LEE, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Natalie, from the very beginning we heard from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that this was a bad deal. He advocated strongly against it, went to the United States, spoke in front of Congress out against it.

Despite his efforts, the United States signed onto this agreement. And since then, we have seen the prime minister, even up to yesterday he was speaking at a conference saying that this is a bad deal. He has two options. He says that it should either be renegotiated, putting on tougher conditions on Iran or that it should be scrapped altogether.

For the prime minister, he sees Iran still continuing what he says is their nuclear program, their quest to achieve a nuclear weapon. And Israel sees Iran as its major threat in the region, especially in the neighboring civil war in Syria where Israel says that Iran is entrenching itself. That is a very big concern for Israeli officials.

We also heard from the head of Mossad, that is Israel's intelligence agency, that's over the past year they've seen better cooperation better efforts with the United States when it comes to Iran, that being under the Trump administration.

[03:15:00] But for Israel, they don't make any question that Iran, they perceive Iran as their biggest threat. And so when it comes to this nuclear deal, they would like to see change.

ALLEN: Ian Lee for us in Jerusalem and Fred Pleitgen there. Thank you so much. And we'll wait and see the decision by Donald Trump. Thank you both.