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Trump Reverses Course on Separating Families at Border; Poll: Dems Have Advantage in Midterms. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 20, 2018 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Caving to pressure. President Trump does what he earlier had insisted only Congress could do, ordering a stop to separating undocumented families at the border. The major policy flip coming as everyone from the pope to the president's own family pleaded for change.

[17:00:24] Detaining babies. New details emerging about facilities now housing young children taken from their parents, including a converted hospital run by a contracted company. Why were CNN's cameras turned away from the property?

Shy of the votes. As President Trump punts to Congress on immigration, Republicans aren't even sure they have enough support to pass their own bills. If this attempted fix fails, what comes next?

And backed into a corner. President Trump notorious for holding his ground in the face of facts that contradict him. Why did he change his mind on separating families? Tonight, new insight into the president's thinking.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A rare retreat by President Trump. He signed an executive order, just a little while ago, ending his own policy, separating undocumented families at the border, caving to bipartisan outrage and wrenching images of children being taken from their parents.

But the president insists there will continue to be what he calls a zero-tolerance policy for people entering the country illegally. And while his order may seem to solve a crisis that's rocked the White House now for days, it's also creating new chaos and lots of questions tonight.

We'll talk about the breaking news with Congressman Eric Swalwell of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. And our specialists and analysts are also standing by.

But first, let's go straight to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's in Duluth, Minnesota, where the president will be holding a rally later tonight. Jeff, a complete reversal by the president under overwhelming pressure. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there was

overwhelming pressure indeed, indeed from around the world, from foreign leaders, from Pope Francis.

But I am told by a White House official, it was actually the pressure closer to home, from Melania Trump, from Ivanka Trump, that actually moved the president to action earlier today. He saw those searing images. He saw those sounds and heard the sounds from the border. That led the president to do something he has seldom done: reverse course.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're signing an executive order.

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump doing tonight what he insisted he could not. Stopping the policy of separating migrant families at the U.S. border.

TRUMP: Anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it. We don't like to see families separated.

ZELENY: In the Oval Office, the president abruptly changing course. Trying to contain an immigration crisis consuming his administration. He signed an executive order to detain parents and children together, if they illegally cross the U.S. border.

TRUMP: We're going to have strong, very strong borders. But we're going to keep the families together. I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.

ZELENY: But for days, the president and his administration maintained their hands were tied. They said an act of Congress was needed to change a policy roundly criticized for its cruelness.

TRUMP: Can't do it through an executive order.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Until these loopholes are closed by Congress, it is not possible, as a matter of law, to detain and remove whole family units who arrive illegally in the United States.

SARAH SANDERS, It's Congress' job to change the law. We're calling on them to do exactly that.

ZELENY: But the White House caved to worldwide public pressure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President! Don't you have kids!

ZELENY: Finally swayed by a near revolt inside the Republican Party.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I'm going to try to see that it doesn't continue. We should never play with the lives of these children. ZELENY: Administration officials told CNN these images from the

border and the sounds of wailing children became too much to overcome. And leverage to push a broader immigration bill faded in the controversy.

Sitting at the Resolute Desk today, the president even seemed to acknowledge that he was buckling to public pressure.

TRUMP: We're going to have a lot of happy people.

ZELENY: Yet for much of the day, confusion gripped Washington.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We are going to take action to keep families together while we enforce our immigration laws.

ZELENY: But Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders were caught off-guard by the president's sudden change of heart. By afternoon, they were summoned to the White House. The president made clear it would not entirely erase the zero-tolerance policy of separating children and parents at the border. But rather detain migrant families together.

TRUMP: We have zero-tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.

ZELENY: His words in stark contrast to his fighting mood only hours earlier on Twitter, saying, "It's the Democrats' fault. They won't give us the votes needed to pass good immigration legislation." He added, "But I am working on something. It never ends."

Also not ending was the global outrage over separating migrant families at the border. Pope Francis calling it "immoral" and "contrary to our Catholic values." British Prime Minister Theresa May also expressing disgust, saying she intends to raise it when Trump visits the U.K. next month.

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The pictures of children being held in what appear to be cages are deeply disturbing. This is wrong.

ZELENY: Corporate America also blasting the administration's policy. Apple CEO Tim Cook call it inhumane. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce saying, "This is not who we are, and it must end now."

The political crisis finally reaching a tipping point, after a series of grimacing moves by the president's allies. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, heckled while having dinner at a Mexican restaurant near the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shame on Nielsen, shame on Trump!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shame on Nielsen, shame on Trump!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shame on Nielsen, shame on Trump!

ZELENY: Former Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski dismissing the plight of children and parents being separated in this appearance on FOX News.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read today about a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read about a -- did you say "Womp-womp" to a 10- year-old with Down syndrome being taken from her mother?

LEWANDOWSKI: What I said is you can take anything you want --


ZELENY: Appearing on television today, he refused to apologize.

LEWANDOWSKI: An apology? When you cross the border illegally, you have committed a crime, and there is accountability for committing crimes, and there should be.

ZELENY: The president insisting he still plans to push his hardline immigration proposals and vowed again to build a border wall. But he acknowledged those close to him demanded that he bring this impasse involving children to an end.

TRUMP: Ivanka feels very strongly, my wife feels very strongly about it. I feel very strongly about it.


ZELENY: So the president saying he felt very strongly about it. Of course, that was in the wake of unrelenting criticism across the board.

As we speak, the president is flying here to Duluth, Minnesota. He is trying to sell his message on trade, on tariffs, a key battleground in the midterm election cycle.

Several House seats up here for grabs, a key governor's race, as well. It is the beginning of the president launching a five-state swing over the next week or so to campaign for those fall elections.

Wolf, that also helps explain why the president reversed course today. He heard from Republicans. He heard from allies. It was simply not sustainable to hold fast to the policy of family separation.

The question now, of course, is what happens next on immigration? The House is set to vote on a bill as early as tomorrow. No consensus over if that's actually going to happen. The president will be landing here soon, of course, rallying the faithful. We'll keep an eye on what he has to say about immigration here tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you. We'll watch it together with you.

The government, meanwhile, is now holding more than 2,000 children taken before the president reversed himself on separating families, and many of them in Texas.

CNN's Nick Valencia is joining us from Brownsville. Nick, officials, I understand they're scrambling to house all these kids.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, I'm standing in front of one of those facilities where officials are scrambling. Casa El Presidente houses 80 children, some of them as young as 8 months old. Half of them have been separated from their families because of this zero-tolerance policy.

All of them, of course, wondering if and when they'll be reunited with their parents.


VALENCIA (voice-over): This former hospital in Brownsville, Texas, is one of three detention centers for infants and children, housing around 80 of them, ten years and younger, without their parents. The three facilities, with a fourth planned, was first reported by the Associated Press, and have been rapidly repurposed to serve the needs of children, including some under 5.

REP. FILEMON VELA (D), TEXAS: Our understanding as of our visit on Monday, is that the 40 children who were separated from their parents are here directly as a result of the zero-tolerance policy.

VALENCIA: Texas congressman Filemon Vela, a Democrat whose district includes Brownsville, said that the facility was very different than the images and sounds emerging from initial processing centers on the border, where over 2,000 children have been separated from their families.


GRAPHIC: [Border Patrol agent] Don't cry.


GRAPHIC: [Child] I want to go with my aunt.

VALENCIA: Instead, the converted hospital, like other facilities, is run by a private company, contracted by HHS, called Southwest Keys. Vela says the facility still looks very much like a hospital and has staff members watching the children.

VELA: There is constant attention, and the people that are working in here are doing what they can under the circumstances.

VALENCIA: CNN attempted to gain access to the Casa El Presidente facility in Brownsville.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't let anybody on the property.

VALENCIA: And was told to call a phone number. No one answered.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please leave a message, and I will call you back.

VALENCIA: The CEO of Southwest Keys says his facilities are safe for children.

DR. JUAN SANCHEZ, SOUTHWEST KEYS CEO: Regardless of policy and whatever is going on politically, that's not our job. Our job is to take care of kids. And that's what we do, and we do it very well. And somebody has got to take care of these children, because if we don't take care of them, who's going to take care of them?

VALENCIA: Still, the zero-tolerance immigration policy that led to dividing children from their families raises many questions about how the U.S. could allow these separations to happen. And why it took so long for the White House to come up with a fix.

[17:10:06] VELA: When you walk into a room and there are two children, one the age of 8 months and 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.


VALENCIA: There is some skepticism among migrant parents who are still in detention. It was just a short time ago that, by phone, I spoke to a Honduran man who was ripped apart from his 3-year-old. He said he saw his 3-year-old be taken away to the bathroom by officials, and he hasn't seen him since. I spoke to him about Trump's executive order. He said he'll believe it when he sees it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Valencia on the scene for us. Nick, thank you very much. Let's get some more on all of this.

Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California is joining us. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, this executive order that the president just signed apparently will keep families together, but they will be together in detention while parents face criminal prosecution. Is that the solution you were hoping for?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: No, Wolf. And good evening.

You know, this policy of breaking the bond between parents and children and putting children in cages is inhumane, and the president was right to stop that policy. But let's not give him a medal for starting the fire and then bringing the fire hose.

The best thing we can do is to stay loud as American citizens, because I think that's what moved him to do the right thing. But also to make sure that we are not indefinitely detaining families. And that we devote resources so we can adjudicate these asylum cases as quickly as possible, and also that the ports of entry are open.

Because right now we've heard too many cases of people going to the right channels to the ports of entry, being denied, and then they have to illegally cross, and that's used as the reason to separate them.

So there's a lot of fixes we need, Wolf. And finally, let's understand the root of these issues, which is that, if people are fleeing where they know is home and the language that they know, it's because of the dire circumstances there. And let's make sure that we are working with other countries to address that.

BLITZER: The executive order that the president just signed directs the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, to modify what's called the Flores Agreement, which bans the federal government from holding children in detention longer than 20 days. Could this lead to children, together with their parents, being detained indefinitely?

SWALWELL: This could lead to family internment camps, Wolf. And that is what we do not want to see. And the way to avoid that is to still follow that Flores decision, which is a humane decision that does not want people in camps like this indefinitely. But also to put the judges down there, to allow the Border Patrol agents to process the evidence and have ports that are open so that we can make decisions as to whether there are lawful asylum cases or not. And allow the families to stay or to go.

But indefinitely keeping them there is no better than separating children from their parents.

BLITZER: During a signing ceremony a little while ago, the president himself said this executive order may lead to litigation. What sort of legal challenges would you expect?

SWALWELL: Well, families and human rights groups, rightfully, are going to protest any detention longer than 20 days. And so if that's what the president is seeking to do, that will be litigated. And the courts have been pretty firm that that is about the longest you should keep families in an environment like that.

BLITZER: Are federal agencies, government agencies, as far as you know, Congressman, now equipped to detain families for extended periods of time?

SWALWELL: No, Wolf. They're not. This has been quite burdensome. And that's why, if we had the resources down there as far as judges who can hear the evidence, attorneys who can assist the families, we can decide on these cases and give certainty to the fate of these families much sooner.

But we don't want to see our country become a place that is, you know, tent cities along our borders, keeping families confined in situations that you wouldn't even put your own pet in when you're away on vacation. That's not America, and that's not fair.

BLITZER: The executive order will not end the Trump administration's so-called zero-tolerance policy. That means the administration will still aim to criminally prosecute 100 percent of the people crossing the border illegally. What are your concerns about that policy remaining in place? SWALWELL: Well, many of these folks, Wolf, are coming through the

proper asylum channels.

BLITZER: But if they don't? What if they don't go to a legal border crossing; they just try to sneak across the border illegally?

SWALWELL: Well, they shouldn't be separated from their families. But, you know, we also have to have borders, and I believe in that. But if we have open ports of entry, and we stop families who are not going through that process, I think most people are OK with that.

[17:15:11] But we should see this as an opportunity, Wolf, to stop this family separation and finally have the debate that the American people want us to have and move to put in place certainty for the DREAMers, to have comprehensive immigration reform. To allow the 10 to 12 million families who are already here in the United States who live in the shadows to come out of the shadows by going through a background check and not cutting in the line but getting in the line so they have a pathway to citizenship. There's consensus around all of that. Why don't we start addressing that immediately?

BLITZER: You're calling on the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, to resign over all of this. Explain why.

SWALWELL: Well, I think anyone involved in this should resign, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. They have inhumanly led their departments in ways that are un-American, that are cruel, and are being condemned from our churches to other countries. That's embarrassing, Wolf, that other countries who we have always called peers are condemning what we're doing to human beings on our southern border.

BLITZER: More than 2,300 children have already experienced the trauma of being separated from their mothers and their fathers. This executive order, and we've read it carefully, doesn't address what's called family reunification, only prospects going down the road. What needs to happen right now, immediately, to reunite those families?

SWALWELL: Wolf, you're absolutely right. I mean, there are children who may never see their mothers or fathers again. And that is just heartbreaking and unacceptable.

And what we must do in Congress is make sure that the Department of Homeland Security is doing all they can to make sure that if a child has been separated, we find the parents immediately, put those family members back together. We can't forget about the children who have already lost their parents. And it really is hard to think about that, that there are kids out there right now who don't know where their parents are.

BLITZER: Would you give the president any credit at all for at least changing his mind, changing his position and allowing the families to stay together; from now on they're not going to be separated?

SWALWELL: Zero credit, Wolf. He should have done the right thing in the first place. I give him zero credit. And now I'm just concerned, Wolf, that we are going to move to

indefinite detention of families at our border and that we're not going to solve this. Congress now has an opportunity, because the imminency of this has been addressed and fixed. But now we have an opportunity to put long-term immigration policies that have consensus among the American people in place. And we should welcome that opportunity so we don't find ourselves in a horrible situation like this again.

BLITZER: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thanks so much for joining us.

SWALWELL: Yes. My pleasure.

BLITZER: All right. There's more on the breaking news. The president continues to insist on zero-tolerance, despite ending family separation. Will this continue to be a major headache for the White House?

Plus, how pressure from Mr. Trump's fellow Republicans may have helped change his mind.


[17:22:34] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour: President Trump signing an executive order ending his own policy of separating undocumented children from their families at the border, caving to pressure from all sides.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is joining us from Capitol Hill.

Manu, how much pressure did the White House face from congressional Republicans to reverse his policy?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Growing pressure, Wolf. And growing frustration that the administration had significantly mishandled the situation at the border, had failed to loop in Congress, had failed to have an infrastructure in dealing with these separated families and had no clear messaging about exactly what was happening.

At the same time, two senior administration officials came to Capitol Hill today -- Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and the homeland security secretary, Nielsen -- making the rounds to House Republicans, and Sessions meeting also with Senate Republicans.

But in those private meetings, they did not acknowledge any missteps by this administration, even though, Wolf, a lot of Republicans said there were significant missteps by the administration, who clearly mishandled this issue.


RAJU: Has the White House been handling this well?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Uh, no. RAJU: Why do you say that?

GRAHAM: Well, because this is all we're talking about, and clearly, they didn't think this thing through. Rather than announcing a policy that blew up in their face, they should have brought us down, Republicans and Democrats, and said, "Listen, I need your help to fix this."

RAJU: Should they stop it right now?

SEN. DEAN HELLER (R), NEVADA: That would be my preference.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say that none of this reflects well on Congress or the administration in terms of our inability to solve the problem. So we need to step up.

HATCH: I'm going to try to see that it doesn't continue. We should never play with the lives of these children.


RAJU: And leaving a House Republican meeting this afternoon, Secretary Nielsen emerged, talked to reporters. I asked her if she stood by her comments from this week that Congress alone could fix the issue involving separating the families at the border, and she told me that, quote, "We have court cases that prohibit us from keeping families together."

So she's standing by those remarks, even though the administration is taking administrative steps to end this policy, at least ostensibly end this policy. But Wolf, Nielsen not backing down from what she said, even though it seems like they've been proven wrong by events just today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. The president himself seemed to have pulled the rug out from under her, clearly saying this executive order can change what she had earlier said no executive order could do. Only Democrats in Congress. They repeatedly said that.

Manu, thank you very, very much. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

[17:25:03] The breaking news continues next. The president's executive order could spark a significant legal battle. Does the administration have a strategy?

And despite caving on his own policy, the president isn't admitting defeat. We'll take a closer look at a classic move from the president's playbook.


BLITZER: Breaking news: President Trump has ended his controversial immigrant family separation policy, signing an executive order just a little while ago to reverse a choice made by his own administration.

Let's get the latest analysis from our experts. And Dana Bash, only a few days ago, the president said he couldn't sign an executive order changing.

[17:30:09] He said the Democrats in Congress had to do so. All of a sudden, he signed an executive order.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And what changed? What changed is obvious: politics. The political pressure was -- and the political walls were closing in on him in a way that, frankly, this president, who seems to be impervious to that kind of political pressure, even couldn't get away with and couldn't get around.

And it really is a moment in the Trump presidency for that reason. You know, maybe at the beginning of the administration when they realized that the travel ban that they put in place, which was not well-thought-out needed to be changed, but not ended, changed. This is really the first time that the president himself, as far as I can remember, has reversed himself and really caved in a way that we have never seen before.

And the reason is -- is obvious. It's because Republicans of all stripes, people who never speak out, were coming to him and saying, "You have to change this. This is absolutely not how America works."

And maybe even a more practical reason, and that is those Republicans who are governors, who the president was relying on to send National Guard troops to the border to enforce his policy are saying, "We're not going to be a part of this. We're not sending our troops. We're pulling them back."

BLITZER: At least nine governors --

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: Democrats and Republicans, saying, you know, if the commander-in-chief wants National Guard troops from our states to go down there and implement this, not happening. It was a very significant development.

Nia-Malika Henderson, so he's backing off the family separation policy, but he's not backing away from what he calls the zero- tolerance policy. That means that the families will be kept together, but they will be kept in detention, potentially, for long periods of time. And that could cause further headaches for the administration.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL WRITER: Yes. The images from that aren't going to be great either. I mean, they're still going to be kids in detention facilities.

And even if you look at the separation of these childrens [SIC] -- children, even though the president signed this executive order, it's not like immediately these over 2,000 kids are going to be reunited with their families.

There's going to be an implementation phase. The White House had a call about this just a little while ago. And it's clear that things aren't quite clear in terms of how this is going to be rolled out. So you imagine we're going to get more stories about kids, vulnerable

kids, some in these tender-age facilities, who haven't been reunited with their families. I mean, it really is a bureaucratic nightmare.

And you mentioned, this is the government, right, that has to handle this. And oftentimes there is red tape, there's snafus, and the kids are going to be on the other end of some of this. So I imagine there are going to be more headlines.

We're going to see, obviously, the Hill try to act tomorrow. Not likely that that's going to be something that actually comes into law out of the House or the Senate. So this is going to be a rolling crisis for this White House.

BLITZER: And Rebecca Berg, it's going to be a legal battle, too. In the executive order the president himself said the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, shall promptly file a request with the U.S. District Court for Central District of California to make some significant changes. There's going to be a huge fight under way.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And this is also something, Wolf, that Congress can attempt to address, but Congress right now is gridlocked. We don't know that they're going to be able to address this. And so they're relying, as well, on the president and the administration to look at this issue.

But this is also the political fight, as Nia suggested just a minute ago, is also continuing at the same time. You have Senator Kamala Harris tweeting today about the detentions of families together, rejecting that as the president's solution here.

And I think you're going to be hearing more and more of that from Democrats, asking, you know, why is it OK to detain children, as long as they're with their parents?

And so Republicans and the president might not be out of the woods just yet with this executive order, not only from a legal perspective, but also from a political perspective.

BLITZER: Jackie Kucinich is with us, as well.

Jackie, this was -- this was a headache that the president himself created. He didn't need to start this new policy. They've been thinking about it for a year. All of a sudden back in April and May, the attorney general announces this new policy. Now they're spending a whole lot of time trying to clean up this mess. But it was a self- inflicted problem.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, this president goes with his gut and does not change.

Dana mentioned the travel ban. That's actually a really good comparison with this. You had the semantics with the language, whether or not it was a ban. Sean Spicer famously said it wasn't. The president said it was. You had the fact that it was implemented, no one knew what to do. It

caused a whole bunch of chaos with immigrant families. And then you had the legal battle.

And we could be setting up, as you mentioned, for a legal battle with this, too, because how this potentially violates the Flores Agreement. But, again, this president doesn't really take any advice, except for his own.

[17:35:04] And the tragic part of this is, and we can't -- we mentioned this already, as Nia did, there are 2,000 -- more than 2,000 children who don't know their fates, who don't know where there -- a lot of them don't know where their parents are, and they shouldn't be forgotten because of this president's short-term half-thought-out fix.

BLITZER: Yes. The Flores Agreement says right now, Dana, as you know, children can only be detained for 20 days. The president wants to go to court to change that, keep them detained for a longer period of time, to be with their families, but under detention.

The House of Representatives is supposed to vote as early as tomorrow, not on one, but two prospective comprehensive immigration reform pieces of legislation. What's the prospect?

BASH: Grim. I mean, that's just -- that's just it. The president was up on Capitol Hill last night as we talked about yesterday, and he gave what, by many accounts, kind of a half-hearted endorsement. He said, "Support legislation. I want you to do what you can do to give me the pillars of my immigration policy."

And we're talking, obviously, much more broad. We're talking about changing the way the visa system work. We're talking about money for the border wall. Dealing in some way with the DREAMers.

And there are two competing pieces of legislation. You saw members of the administration up on Capitol Hill again today. The White House asking key players, undecided lawmakers, to go to the White House to try to twist their arms. But it is very unclear if either of these measures -- one that is more conservative, one that the leadership is calling the compromise -- even though both of them have a version of changing the separation of children with their families in there. It's unclear if any of those will actually pass, and actually, I think saying it's unclear is probably being generous.

BLITZER: Yes, they just need 218 Republicans, because it doesn't look like Democrats are going to vote for it at all.


BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's a new exclusive CNN poll that has just come out and it shows, at least right now, Democrats seem to have an advantage going into the midterm elections. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:41:47] BLITZER: Let's get back to our panel, and Dana, a new CNN poll, an exclusive CNN poll shows Democrats, at least right now -- take a look at it -- looking pretty good when compared to Republicans going ahead to the midterm elections. Registered voters' choice for Congress right now. Democrats at 50 percent, Republicans at 42 percent. Back in May, it was 47-44.

BASH: That's right. Republicans were feeling a little bit better going into this summer. And now if our poll -- I know that it sort of mirrors a lot of what other people are showing internally, that Democrats, at least on that generic ballot, are breaking away a little bit more.

And it is very much related to what we were talking about in the last segment, that Republicans in conservative areas, in conservative districts in particular -- obviously, we're talking about the House -- their biggest concern is whether they're going to get a primary from the right. So they're not as worried politically -- maybe morally or ethically -- about what's going on at the border, but politically about what happened.

But this question about the control of the House isn't going to be fought there. It's being fought in the suburbs.


BASH: And among women, among independents, and that is why I'm sure you all have -- I have talked to Republican after Republican who are -- they're saying, "This is absolutely horrible for us what is happening on the border." Not just in terms of the images, but the fact that it is the inept ability, or inability, I should say, of the government, of the Trump administration, to deal with this.

BLITZER: Nia, what's behind the Democratic gains?

HENDERSON: You know, I think some of the things Dana was talking about there. I think one of the big take-aways from this incident that we just saw, some people argue about whether or not it was inhumane, whether they're being too tough on folks down at the border. I think everyone's sort of in agreement that it was a display of incompetence, right, and sort of incoherence from the White House.

We've seen these polls jump around a bit. It was as high as 16 in terms of the Democrats being, you know, higher in poll numbers. We've seen as low as three points, and now you see it back up. There's probably -- this is probably the average, about eight points with the Democrats in the lead.

You know, you talk to people who are looking at this. They say, well, there are no generic candidates. And I think Dana is exactly right about this. It's going to be fought in very specific places in these districts that Hillary Clinton won, particularly in states like Florida and states like California and New Jersey, Colorado.

And that's why there's so much angst among Republicans about what we saw from the White House over these last couple of days. BLITZER: And Rebecca, the Democrats seem to be more enthusiastic

about voting in the midterms. Democrats, 55 percent say they are enthusiastic about the upcoming election. Forty percent of Republicans.

BERG: Right. So Wolf, we've seen these poll numbers bear out over the past few months in special elections across the country. And that is the reason why Democrats are so optimistic and have remained so optimistic.

Now the poll numbers, they do jump around. It's still relatively early, and things certainly can change. But if things continue on the track that they're on, the Democratic enthusiasm is going to be the story of this election cycle.

And it's why Republicans, as well -- there hasn't really been a moment where they have been optimistic, because even as the president's numbers have improved a little bit, even on those occasions when their numbers have gotten a little bit better, still in the back of their minds, they're thinking about the president. And all of the uncertainty around what he can do and what he can say or tweet on any given day --


BERG: -- and the immigration fight has been the illustration of that.


BLITZER: And I just want to be precise, among the enthusiastic voters, Jackie, 55 percent who say they are enthusiastic are Democrats, 40 percent are Republicans. But it's still relatively early, things can change.

KUCINICH: Well, right. This is one of the reasons Republicans really want to focus on the economy. But the President isn't really letting them do that because he -- I don't think I'm overstating this -- has absolutely no ability to stay on message.

But there has been some reporting that it's one of the reasons that the President is talking about immigration, hoping to juice turnout, hoping to get Republicans, particularly in his base, riled up and out to vote. It's a dangerous gamble on, particularly, as you all noted, that the battles are going to be fought mostly in the suburbs.

So we'll have to see. But, you know, when you talk to Republicans on the Hill, this is the last thing they want to be talking about. They want to talk about the tax cuts and the economic gains, for sure.

BERG: Right.

BLITZER: Yes, they want to talk about the economy, of course. All right, guys, good point.

Coming up, the latest on our top story, President Trump reversing course today on family separation at the border with Mexico. Will his new policy spark a lengthy legal fight?

Plus, President Trump likes to boast that he never backs down. Was this latest move out of character?


[17:51:10] BLITZER: President Trump is backing down from his immigrant family separation policy, but he continues to cast the blame on Democrats. Brian Todd is joining us now with more on this story.

Brian, this sort of fits the pattern for the President, doesn't it?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It clearly fits part of his pattern, Wolf, along with bullying and the idea of hitting back much harder than he has been hit.

Tonight, as the President and his team brush back and strategize over the message on immigration, Trump biographers are telling us they've seen this kind of behavior from him for decades.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're going to have a lot of happy people.

TODD (voice-over): He's not admitting defeat even with a new executive order that ends the practice of immigrant family separations that he created. Instead, President Trump is following his own very Trumpian playbook, blaming others.

TRUMP: We're having a lot of problems with Democrats. They don't want to vote for anything. They don't care about lack of security. They really would like to have open borders where anybody in the world can just flow in.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": Blame and credit are really essential currencies in Donald Trump's life, and they have been forever. He's almost like a kid in a large family who says, it's not my fault, it's my brother's fault.

TODD (voice-over): From members of his own party to world leaders and even the Pope, Trump's been heavily criticized on the immigration issue, critics even calling it inhumane. But Trump, as always, defiant.

TRUMP: And when you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away.

TODD (voice-over): It's classic Trump, his biographers say. When all sides are marshaled against him and he's completely boxed in, his instincts are to double down and hit even harder.

D'ANTONIO: When he's backed into a corner, he's not going to accept or confess that he did anything wrong. He's going to always blame somebody else, whether the facts back that up or not. TODD (voice-over): The President even admitted to that tactic at the

summit in Singapore when he voiced confidence that Kim Jong-un would hold to his promise of drawing down his weapons.

TRUMP: I may be wrong. I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, hey, I was wrong. I don't know that I'll ever admit that, but I'll find us --


TRUMP: I'll find some kind of excuse.

TODD (voice-over): Never admitting blame, deflecting it, instinctively punching back when boxed in, all tactics that biographers say Donald Trump learned from two masters.

MICHAEL KRANISH, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP REVEALED: THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY OF THE 45TH PRESIDENT": Trump's instinct was taught to him by his father and also by Roy Cohen, his former lawyer. And that is when you're hit, hit back a hundred times harder. That's what he is basically ingrained with. He has basically boasted, even as a child, that he liked to bully other people.

TODD (voice-over): But sources tell CNN Trump was, in part, turned around on this crisis by his daughter, Ivanka, and first lady Melania Trump.

D'ANTONIO: In the President's inner circle, there are very few people who wield as much influence as his daughter, Ivanka, and the first lady. Where Ivanka is concerned, we see a young woman who is especially influential when it comes to softening the President's image, to pointing out to him that he's gone a little bit too far.


TODD: Trump's biographers say that if his pattern holds, the President will quickly move past this setback and might even use it to build toward his broader goal of constructing a border wall. And if he doesn't get that, they say, he'll likely revert to the Trumpian tactic of blaming others like Democrats or those Republicans who couldn't muster enough support for the wall -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, and as part of this pattern of fighting back, the President and his team, they're now going back on the offensive with the news media.

TODD: That's right, Wolf. CNN has obtained an e-mail from the Customs and Border Protection Agency. It's a call to all of its field offices asking for additional press staff to come to its headquarters for two months just to help address the media reporting on this issue.

Their mission is going to be to push back on what the administration views as factually inaccurate reporting in the media and look for reports in the press that contain, quote, glaring inaccuracies. That e-mail says they are very frustrated on their end.

[17:55:10] BLITZER: They certainly are. All right, Brian, thanks very much.

There's breaking news. A rare retreat by President Trump reversing course on separating families at the border. How will he spin his flip at his rally that's coming up tonight?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Trump gives in. The President signs an order to end his own policy of separating families at the border, bowing to intense pressure from his party, his family, and even the Pope. Now, he's trying to sell his cave-in as an act of courage.

[18:00:04] Creating more chaos. As children wait to be reunited with their parents, the President's plan to detain families together is raising new legal red flags. Will hundreds of kids who --