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Trump: "I'm Working On Something" To Solve Crisis; Interview with Rep. Kevin Brady; Ryan: House Will Vote Tomorrow "To Keep Families Together"; Report: Babies And Toddlers Held In "Tender Age" Shelters; Why Can't Congress Tackle Big Crises Facing Country? Global Leaders Condemn U.S. Separating Families At Border; Former Obama Administration Official Refutes That They Separated Families. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 20, 2018 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Here is a quote for you, the crying babies don't look good politically. That was the message from President Trump to Republicans in a closed- door meeting last night.

Today there's zero sign the president will be backing down on his zero-tolerance immigration policy separating children from their parents at the border. This morning he's speaking to his, let's call it his greatest hits on this. It's the Democrats' fault.

They won't give us the vote to pass needed immigration legislation. They want open borders that breeds horrible crime. Republicans want security and I'm working on something. It never ends.

If he's working with that he didn't share that with lawmakers last night. Some lawmakers leaving the meeting saying they didn't know which of their two bills that he favored and he, quote, "Didn't move the ball."

But there are new developments while Congress continues talking, new reports of hundreds of young children, babies, toddlers being separated from their parents. The Associated Press reporting the administration is calling them tender age shelters. Three facilities in Texas, housing hundreds of children, again, babies, toddlers, all younger than 13 years old. Tender seems a tough word to use today.

Let's get over to the White House. CNN's Abby Phillip is there. Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill. Abby, let me start with you, because the president just tweeted this, I'm working on something. Any word on the White House on what he's working on?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Kate. There is no word yet from the White House about what exactly the president was referring to and it will be interesting to see what he's been working on in part because for days now the White House has insisted that there's nothing that they can do, that this is required by law and that they're only enforcing it, even while lawmakers have asked them to stop the practice of separating children at the border.

The White House has insisted that the president can do nothing at all about it. Now President Trump is clearly frustrated by the narrative that is out there about this issue. He has been blaming Democrats and also pushing back on some of these images that you just describe.

Children being held at these facilities at the border, but there is a sense within this building right now that this is not working for them. Whatever the White House is trying to achieve is not necessarily happening in part because there is so much pushback, so much pressure, it will likely, at least according to the president force him to do something, and we'll see very soon, I'm sure, what exactly that will be.

BOLDUAN: And what will have turned the tide. What was it -- the pressure has been on and what was it that turned the tide for him to act if he's going to. Thanks so much, Abby.

Sunlen, we just heard from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. What did he have to say about what they are trying to work on, a legislative fix, if you will.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It should be noted are many potential legislative fixes, many proposals and many pieces of legislation, but the reality of the moment up here on Capitol Hill, Kate, is that none of these potential fixes at this hour have a chance of passing.

That said, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, coming on the heels of that big meeting with President Trump last night said that they are pushing for a vote tomorrow in the House on this immigration proposal, this compromised proposal that also includes addressing the family separation issue. Here's what he said just moments ago.


REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: We do not want children taken away from their parents. We can enforce our immigration laws without breaking families apart. The administration said they want Congress to act and we are. Tomorrow the House will vote on legislation to keep families together.


SERFATY: The reality is as of now, Kate, the House does not have the votes, and the House Republicans do not have the votes to pass that bill that they will likely vote on tomorrow, and even if they were able to get the votes it would go nowhere in the Senate.

So, the big question is what is the real plan b, then, when all of these legislative proposals fail up here on Capitol Hill and Speaker Ryan today would not answer if he would endorse potentially putting a very narrow, standalone bill specifically to address the family separation issue on the floor. He just said we will cross that bridge when we come to it. Likely, they will have to come to that -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Might be sooner than later. Thanks so much, Sunlen. I really appreciate it.

All right. Now to the new report from the Associated Press on what the Trump administration is calling tender-age shelters, housing the youngest migrants caught up in all of this. CNN's Nick Valencia is in Brownsville, Texas, with more on this. Nick, what are you learning?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, I'm standing outside of Casa Presidente, and it is owned by Southwest Key, which owns two of the three facilities. Inside there, there are children as they define tender age, 10 years and younger. There are also babies in there, infants.

[11:05:05] And it was a short time ago that I spoke with Congressman Filemon Vela, who is the district representative here in Texas and he described to me what he saw inside after getting a tour on Monday.


REP. FILEMON VELA (D), TEXAS: You walk into a room and there are two children, one the age of 8 months. Another the age of almost 1, who is without their parent, and you begin to think and realize that this -- these children that are toddlers are being held hostage by the president of the United States.

It's abhorrent, and the fact that in the United States of America, in 2018, that we're allowing this to happen is just really shameful and what we need is for the president to rescind zero-tolerance right now.


VALENCIA: Inside the demographics include 80 children, 40 of them that have been recently separated from their families as a result of this zero-tolerance policy according to Congressman Vela. He went on to say that he saw four infants inside, two of them that were currently with their teenage mothers and the other two that were being tended to by staff.

It wasn't just babies that were there, Kate, it was also children between the age of 4 and 5 years old. About seven to eight of those children, he described it as just absolutely heartbreaking -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Nick, thank you so much for bringing us their stories and thank you for bringing the correspondence. We really appreciate it.

Joining me right now to discuss this and what is going on, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Texas Congressman Kevin Brady. Congressman, thank you for coming in.

REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), TEXAS: Sure, Kate. Thanks.

BOLDUAN: So, what's going to happen with the vote tomorrow?

BRADY: Yes. I feel pretty optimistic about it mainly because the president is in full throated support of this common ground because one, it does close the back door of illegal immigration which means there won't be an encouragement on drug trafficking, sex trafficking, human trafficking and those dangerous journeys to America.

But it also finds a good, compassionate solution for the DACA and the DREAMers who are here as well as making sure families can stay together as their cases are being heard at the border. This is a very thoughtful, I think, balance, common ground and the president made no bones about it and he's fully 1,000 percent in support of the House passing this bill.

BOLDUAN: Are the votes there yet?

BRADY: Well, I hope so. I haven't counted the noses myself, but again, I think in the last three meetings of the House Republicans what I've seen are the most thoughtful, and I think best discussions we've had in a long time about how we find the solution to immigration because we know it's been broken for decades.

President Obama didn't fix it. We have an opportunity to find a real solution, and I think we within 24 hours as we're speaking right now, we have a chance to find a real solution for the country.

BOLDUAN: If it -- even if it passes, all of our reporting suggests that it's not going anywhere in the Senate. The Senate is working on its own kind of fix.

BRADY: I am hopeful.

BOLDUAN: I'm not saying you shouldn't ask because of it, I'm just saying, do you think this is just gets the ball rolling?

BRADY: No, I'll tell you what, in Washington action creates action, sure. Could Chuck Schumer and the Democrats block this humane solution? Block a legal path for the DACA DREAMers? Block this real change in law to keep --

BOLDUAN: Are you sure though that Mitch McConnell will put your bill on the floor?

BRADY: What's that?

BOLDUAN: Are you sure that Mitch McConnell will put the bill on the floor?

BRADY: Well, if Senator Schumer has every opportunity to step forward in support of a real solution, border security, reform of immigration, families staying together and finding a good, compassionate approach for the DACA DREAMers. It's right there, and I'll tell you what, if he's serious about this, within 24 hours he has an opportunity to actually help Leader McConnell bring it to the floor.

BOLDUAN: But much to Chuck Schumer's chagrin, he doesn't control the floor.

BRADY: Actually, he does, and you know you're not a new reporter. You know the Senate has a 60-vote rule to bring bills to the floor, so, you know that Senator Schumer has to sign off on that and so --

BOLDUAN: But are you even assured that Mitch McConnell would put it on the floor?

BRADY: If Democrats are serious not about showmanship, but about solving the problem within 24 hours they can join with House Republicans to do exactly that.

BOLDUAN: A quote from last night coming from the president in your closed-door meeting, the crying babies don't look good politically. Congressman, is that how you're thinking about this?

BRADY: So, can I tell you, I was in that, you may have been in a different meeting than me. What I heard the president talked about is that it is important for families to stay together. He doesn't like this false choice between what the law says today which, by the way, Democrats also supported and following the rule of law, and so here is an opportunity --

BOLDUAN: Did you not hear him say that?

[11:10:04] BRADY: I know that some are looking for a band-aid, a quick fix. We're looking for a permanent solution for families. We think we have the right approach together.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, did you not hear him say that to the room?

BRADY: That was part of a longer discussion the president had in which he said I think families ought to stay together. You, Congress, this is your law. Come together and change it so that we can keep them together while their cases are being heard. That's the humane approach, and so, yes, the president is strongly supportive.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, you guys have some wheels in motion and how far it goes. We will wait and see. Do you concede that this problem is something that the president could fix?

BRADY: No more band-aid. I know that's what Democrats are looking for. It's time for real solutions.

BOLDUAN: I'm hearing from Republicans. No, no, Congressman, I'm hearing from Republicans.

BRADY: So do I, you just heard from Republican President Trump saying it's time for us to change the law, and I agree.

BOLDUAN: The crisis at hand. Lindsey Graham was on my show on Friday and he said the president can fix this with a phone call.

BRADY: In Congress --

BOLDUAN: Do you concede that he can do it?

BRADY: Within 24 hours.

BOLDUAN: I hear you. I hear you.

BRADY: That should solve the problem so no more band-aids and no more showmanship, let's really solve this, come together for Republicans and Democrats.

BOLDUAN: Would you like to see the president act unilaterally, though? If he so chooses.

BRADY: No more band-aids.

BOLDUAN: You don't want to see an executive action even if he did.

BRADY: I want to see action by Congress to get these families together permanently and that's the real solution and by the way, we can do it now.

BOLDUAN: You are no spring chicken coming to Capitol Hill. You are very optimistic for how things can work on Capitol Hill right now, Congressman, but we know how things work which is at a snail's pace at best most of the time.

BRADY: I was told that about tax reform and I was told about IRS reform and the truth is when we come together, I think we can get these things done.

BOLDUAN: Orrin Hatch, senator and other Republicans have written a letter to the president and asked him to put a pause on these separations and in the letter, they write this, "We support the administration's effort to enforce our immigration laws, but we cannot support the implementation of a policy that results in the categorical, forced separation of minor children from their parents." Do you stand with them in the sense that while you are working on it, working on a fix on the Hill, that the president should pause the separations?

BRADY: I think there is an urgency for Congress to act. I think we should just as when the President Obama, when he originally did the DACA executive order, when in effect he invited all of these unaccompanied minors, these young children to travel those dangerous distances, and to be warehoused in those same facilities and pipelined to the northeast on their own, Democrats said nothing. The media said nothing. Here we have an opportunity to create a real solution that's compassionate and humane and let's act together now.

BOLDUAN: I just want to put a final point on it. Republicans were outraged when Obama had an executive action fix to DACA. You do not want to see even, if he could, and even if he would try, you do not support the president using executive action on this?

BRADY: President Obama's actions were outside the law and outside the Constitution. Congress has a chance as the president challenges, to actually solve and change the law. Why would we put band-aids on an issue this serious? Let's solve it.

BOLDUAN: I'm going to take that as a no, I think. Comprehensive immigration reform has alluded Congress for years. Another issue --

BRADY: This isn't comprehensive -- it's securing the border and change the immigration.

BOLDUAN: No, no, I understand.

BRADY: I don't want you to mischaracterize it.

BOLDUAN: If you let me answer the question, it wouldn't be mischaracterizing. I promise you, Congressman, I'm not mischaracterizing this, the broader issue that comes up when we talk this is an issue that has thwarted Congress for years, which is really getting down and dirty and fixing the immigration system.

Another issue that is holding you up now is opioids and how to tackle that crisis facing the country. A series of bills just passed the House last night, you were involved in that. What do you say to the public health community that I'm seeing talking saying there's nothing ground breaking here that you're passing. This isn't a fix.

BRADY: So, I think it is. They're wrong in this fact, there is no one fix. So, we'll have to tackle this a dozen different ways. You do it through prevention of the overprescribing the education from patients and physicians, but also access to treatment. Congress has appropriated billions of dollars for the treatment to address this issue.

[11:15:07] These laws are necessary this week and last week because it gives the authority to solve this issue from a dozen different directions, and so, look, this is Republicans and Democrats, by the way, working together. On the issue of other stock who they couldn't work together on as well, so I see some hope here.

BOLDUAN: All right. Hope spring eternal. Kevin Brady, always great to have you on. Congressman, thank you so much.

Let's see what Congress can do in the next 24 hours. This morning, American allies are weighing in, even the pope is speaking up about the crisis at the U.S. border. Coming up, we will go live to the Mexican side of the border where CNN is talking to families hoping to make it to the U.S.

Plus, some Republicans and White House officials say the policy did not start with Donald Trump. We will fact check that. Stay with us.


BOLDUAN: Very disturbing to our friends and allies and probably satisfying to our adversaries. That's how the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper is describing the crisis at the border.

[11:20:09] Britain's prime minister calls the images deeply disturbing and Pope Francis is also weighing in declaring the practice immoral. Let's go right to the border. CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Mexico across the Rio Grande from Texas. Ed, what are you seeing there?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. We are inside the migrant shelter just on the edge of the Texas/Mexico border and this is a place that has a number of rooms just like this and this is essentially, Kate, a place where migrants, it is either a last stop before they decide to travel into the United States or for people who have been deported and need to make their way back home to Central America or other parts of Mexico.

We came here to get a sense of as we heard the Trump administration in several different ways over the last couple of days talk about how this zero-tolerance policy is designed to serve as a deterrent and whether or not that is the message that migrants here are getting.

What's interesting is we've talked to a number of people who have been at this shelter for several weeks now. Some of them have made several attempts to get in. The pastor who runs the shelter tells me that he's seen a number of people in the last few weeks who have given up.

They said the threat of having their children separated from them was too much, but the vast majority of the people that we talked to here, Kate, say that it is a risk and a chance that they're still willing to take that where they come from is so much worse that they're not willing to get this far and not have a chance to get inside the united states. And that is the message that these folks here are relaying to us as they try to make sense of this policy -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, Ed, continue following their stories and we'll report it out. We appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Meantime, the blame game of sorts continues. Some Republicans and Trump administration officials are saying in essence, this doesn't start with us. This started with Obama. Listen.


REPRESENTATIVE BOB GOODLATTE (R), VIRGINIA: Children have been separated from their parents under previous administrations and in this administration prior, but now with the zero-tolerance policy if you're apprehended across the border you are automatically going to be placed in prosecution and the Department of Justice doesn't have the facilities to take care of the children. Therefore, they were being place elsewhere.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: This is something that was enacted after the attorney general announced zero-tolerance policy. This never happened before he announced. That's actually not true. The last administration, the Obama administration and the Bush administration all separated families at -- they absolutely did. Their rate was less than ours, but they absolutely did do this. This is not new.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no doubt about that, but they separated the families.


BOLDUAN: All right. Let's cut through it a little bit if we can. Joining me right now is Marsha Catron, spokesperson for DHS under President Obama. Thanks for coming in.

MARSHA CATRON, PARTNER, SWANN STREET STRATEGIES: Sure thing. BOLDUAN: I mean, you heard it very clear there from Secretary Nielsen. When people say this happened under Obama, you were the spokesperson for DHS under Obama. What do you say?

CATRON: The Obama administration was tough on border security, but it's simply untrue to say that we had a policy of separating kids from their parents. The only time that would happen when a kid is separated from a parent is to double-check that it actually is the parent, but we could not and would not as a matter of policy separate kids from their parents. In fact, family unity was key to our policies. It was written in all of our memos in 2014.

BOLDUAN: President Obama's domestic policy adviser told "The New York Times" that the idea of separating families was discussed and was looked at as a broader way of what they could do but then quickly dismissed. What were the conversations that you all had about this back then?

CATRON: There were a ton of conversations and many ideas were brought to the table. In fact, all ideas were welcome, but that's just where we drew the line. We could not separate a child from their parent. It is too hard to go through the process both as an adult and a child, they're on totally separate tracks and to reunite them is just too hard. Family unity was key to our message.

BOLDUAN: What about the issue of deterrents? What about the issue of -- and it depends on who you talk to when it comes to the Trump administration, Marsha, because you heard from John Kelly and Jeff Sessions. Is it -- it was to act as a deterrent to people making the dangerous trek up to the border and coming over.

This was supposed to act as a deterrent. Did you not care about deterrents or did you not think it would have been a successful deterrent, was that a part of the calculation and the conversation that you had?

CATRON: Look, no amount of deterrent will stop people from fleeing a burning building and that's what they're doing in Central America. They're fleeing violence, poverty, all these push factors that are driving America in the first place.

And we did do a matter of deterrence in 2014 when we saw an influx of kids crossing the border unaccompanied. We put families in detention, in family residential centers while they went through their immigration proceedings and we didn't separate them.

So, what the Trump administration isn't doing that we did is also get out the message in Central America using the State Department and all of our resources that is a dangerous journey that you will not be allowed to stay here.

That you will be put in holding centers while you go through your immigration proceedings, and what we also did was provide aid to Central America. You're not going to stop anything if you don't start there and that's what's missing from their procedures now. BOLDUAN: And to be clear, the Obama administration did face public outrage over detention of families and children and families and children, of course, were with their parents. Looking back, looking back from where things are now, do you acknowledge that you all didn't land on the correct answer in this delicate issue?

CATRON: We did have a lot of controversy especially in 2014, I spent the summer in McAllen, Texas. It was my job to take all of the reporters through the facilities to describe what we were doing, and it was a whole of government response.

We had FEMA and DHS, and the State Department and HHS and even DOD involved, but no amount of deterrence will stop the push factors. It will stop these families from coming to the U.S., and I believe in border security. We enacted strong border security measures under the Obama administration, but there is a way to do it humanely. There is a way to do it without ripping families apart.

BOLDUAN: Let's get real for a second. Who do you think will finally end this crisis?

CATRON: President Trump can pick up the phone and end it in a matter of minutes, and I hope that they do. I was really disappointed to hear that none of the top administration officials have actually visited some of these facilities.

You know, Jeh Johnson, my former boss, the secretary of Homeland Security went numerous times to McAllen and saw the facilities himself and he talked to kids himself and he talked to families. He and his wife both cried together over what they saw and wanted to change things.

It was -- it, you know, I would encourage all of the Trump administration officials to go down there, to see what's happening with their own eyes, to smell it so they can -- maybe something will change in their hearts and maybe they'll realize this has to stop. They have the power to do that right now. No one has to wait for Congress to act.

BOLDUAN: Marsha Catron, thanks so much for coming in. Appreciate it.

Coming up for us, former Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, on defense right now after appearing to mock reports of an undocumented 10-year-old girl with down syndrome being separated from her mother. Corey Lewandowski is reacting to the outrage that was sparked. He is speaking out and he's going on offense.