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Migrant Family Reunification Deadline; Cave Rescue Efforts Continue; Interview With Virginia Congressman Scott Taylor; Trump Mocks #MeToo Movement and Senator Warren at Rally; Trump Administration Gives No Clear Plans to Reunite Families. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 6, 2018 - 16:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Running out of time and possibly running out of air.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The rescue effort in Thailand turns deadly, as a dozen boys and their soccer coach are trapped in a submerged cage. If a former Navy SEAL couldn't make it, how are rescue teams going to get all these kids out?

And the White House remains silent. Thousands of kids separated from their parents. How many exactly? The government won't say.

President Trump finds time to sling insults at his opponent, the media, even mocking the MeToo movement.

Plus, where is the poison? Authorities desperately trying find the source of the toxic material that may have come from Russia, before British citizens collapse.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Jake.

And we begin with the world lead and the dire effort to rescue 12 boys and their coach taking a deadly turn.

A former navy SEAL, a volunteer helping with the rescue efforts, died while making the five-hour dive out of the caves after delivering oxygen tanks to the teens' location. That reality emphasizing just how dangerous this trek would be for these boys, some of whom cannot swim, all of whom have been physically weakened by the ordeal.

A Thai navy official telling CNN the boys are not likely to be rescued in the coming hours because of that danger, and this as the oxygen levels in the cramped, pitch-black cave are dropping.

CNN's Matt Rivers has been following this story on the ground for us in Thailand. CNN's Tom Foreman is in the virtual studio.

Matt, I want to begin with you. So, do we know at this point if any of the parents have been able to have contact with their children? MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That has been a

priority, Erica, right from the beginning, trying to get actual telephone lines, communication lines into the cave to reach the boys so they can talk. That's not been successful as of yet.

And so what we know happened, in lieu of that, parents actually wrote letters. They were delivered to their kids inside that cave as these rescue operations continue here in Northern Thailand in earnest.


RIVERS (voice-over): Urgent rescue efforts through narrow passages and murky water are now all the more dire, as experts warn the oxygen needed to survive inside this cave is running out. Here in the small cavern where 12 boys and their coach are trapped, the air is so precious, half of the rescuers were forced to leave to conserve it, this as attempts to keep the group alive turned deadly.

Former Navy SEAL Saman Kunan delivered oxygen to the boys' chamber Thursday, but ran out of his own air supply on the way back and died.

MIKKO PAASI, FINNISH DIVER: Everybody's a professional, so we're trying to put it away and avoid it, never happen again.

RIVERS: The expert diver's death a grim reminder of the challenges ahead. Rescuers say the boys, as young as 11, may have to dive through the same perilous passageways to escape. The plan is unsettling for the families waiting above ground.

"He's never dived," this man says of his loved one. "But he can swim a little."

The next 48 hours are critical. Monsoons are due to deluge the area starting Sunday, flooding the cave exits that teams have been draining for days. Still, sources tell CNN they are unlikely to move the group for at least 24 hours. Evacuating them now is too treacherous and they don't have the right-sized wet suits to keep their small bodies warm on the journey out.

Local children rallying around the trapped soccer team, posting notes of love, encouragement. "Don't give up," one poster reads. Likewise, the local community is throwing all its resources, support and prayers behind the hundreds of responders gathered here. They're relying on them to bring their children out alive, and soon.


RIVERS: And so, in addition to the option of rescuing them by having the children swim out, the other big effort that has been going on here is trying to find out what rescuers are calling natural chimneys, basically holes that would go down into the cave from above on top of the mountain behind me there.

They surveyed about 100 holes during the day yesterday. Only a little more than a dozen, maybe dozen-and-a-half, 18, or so holes looked even promising. And within those, not a ton of promise there. So that effort is going to continue today, Erica.

HILL: All right, Matt, appreciate it.

CNN's Tom Foreman has a virtual look for us.

So, Tom, initially, the thinking here was that the boys may have to stay in that area for months in that cave until the monsoon season ended. Now, as we know, authorities saying circumstances have changed because of just how low the oxygen levels are inside there.



The simple truth is, the only reason that air moves in and out of a cave system anyway generally is because the temperature up on the ground changes. That would be true in this case as well.

And when you talk about going two-and-a-half miles in and a half-mile down, that has very little affect. For all practical purposes, these boys are in a sealed chamber with their coach and the air does appear to be running out. How much? They should be getting 21 percent oxygen in every breath of air.

By the accounts we're hearing, they're down to about 15 percent. That means decreased ability to work strenuously, impaired coordination. Their thoughts may get a little bit muddled. And there are accounts that basically say this can decrease your vision in low light.

None of this is necessarily permanent. We do know they've been taking supplemental oxygen to help out, but it's worrisome -- Erica.

HILL: Certainly is.

So, in terms of progress about getting the water out of the cave, I know there was some pumping going on. Where do we stand on that end?

FOREMAN: They're pumping a lot. It's clearly not enough as of yet. Right now, they have been clearing over 400,000 gallons per hour.

That's two-thirds the size of an Olympic swimming pool, with the idea of saying maybe you can get it down enough to sort of clear a brief path to bring those kids out. But look at what's been happening inside there. As far as we know, there are still substantial flooded areas, substantial areas where you would still have to take these kids in scuba gear underwater.

We don't if it's for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour. But it's a huge challenge to try to get them out of the entrance there. And as noted just a moment ago, the forecast moving forward is not promising. They have been trying to pump out this water, the water that came in the boys showed up.

They have had a little lull, but on the way big rains are coming, and there's no indication these pumps can possibly keep up with that, Erica. HILL: And, Tom, you just touched on this. I think that graphic

really puts it into perspective. This is not a straight line back to these kids.


HILL: It is very difficult to navigate and it takes hours to get there and back.

FOREMAN: Yes. The currents in there, the lack of visibility, the cold, these are all factors.

But nothing is more difficult than this fact, that there are places where reportedly the passageway is no bigger than a human being, where divers even have to take off the tanks to get through. That limits how much they can bring in and out in the way of supplies.

It makes it virtually impossible, along with the distance, to talk about anything like running an air pipe in here, constructing such a thing. And imagine trying to pull a frightened, inexperienced, exhausted teenager through something like that underwater for an extended period of time.

Again, it takes six hours to get all the way in from the outside for experienced divers. That's why there are engineers who are saying, look, the only thing to do is set up a relay system here and pound through a supply hole from above to keep these kids alive until you can solve the bigger problem -- Erica.

HILL: Wow. It's a massive undertaking. Tom, appreciate it, as always. Thank you.

Joining us, Congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia, a former Navy SEAL with extensive diving experience.

Congressman, thanks for being with us.

When we see the way that Tom lays that out and the challenges here, how would this happen? If you're bringing one of these kids out, are they just holding on to the Navy SEAL, or is there some sort of apparatus that they use so that they stay connected?

REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: Well, thank you for having me.

But let me first preface this by saying, like, I don't have any experience of bringing kids out of a cave rescue or something like that. That's a very unique situation that is happening right now. And it's a very dangerous one.

You had this Thai SEAL who has extensive experience, he's a professional and he died on the way out because those passages are extremely narrow. They're cold. It's wet, it's tired.

I would be very concerned about the children and their state of mind. I know and I understand that what they're trying to do is put full face masks on them, teaching them how to use that and dive. But stuff takes a really long time to really get proficient at it.

And, you know, again, the biggest problem, one of the biggest problems that they would have coming through is panic and state of mind.

HILL: Yes.

TAYLOR: So, you know, I'm not going to try armchair quarterback what's going on there, the professionals that are on the ground.

HILL: Sure.

TAYLOR: But you are talking about very bad options all around right now.

HILL: But you have obviously a much better sense than most of us do about those challenges as you walk us through.

And when you talk about the panic level and the anxiety, I was speaking with a scuba instructor the other day who said in some ways the age of these children could actually be a benefit, in that, unlike an adult, someone our age, who would sit there and probably go through all of the terrible things that could happen, these kids are still young enough that they may not have as much fear.

Would you agree with that?

TAYLOR: Possibly.

I have my own son, and he doesn't have any fear.

HILL: Right.

TAYLOR: But I will tell you, you know, that may be the case with some of the children, or some of them might be the opposite and just completely clam up.


But the reality is, when you're talking about this Thai navy SEAL who unfortunately passed away coming back through, this is a person who has extensive experience and understands the frame of mind, and, you know, probably doesn't panic in those type of situations because he's been through it.

It's a scary thought. Again, the options are limited. And a lot of them are negative. But it is a story of potential hope. I mean, it is a rescue operation now, not a search one. So there's hope. And, you know, our best wishes are with all those on the ground.

HILL: Yes, and a lot of focus on that hope right now.

Congressman, appreciate you sharing your expertise with us today. Thank you.

TAYLOR: Thank you. Have a great day.

HILL: Is President Trump trying to turn the selection of the next Supreme Court justice into an episode of "The Apprentice"?

Plus, as one deadline is in danger of passing, is the Trump administration any closer to reuniting thousands of children separated from their parents?


[16:15:15] ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: As White House battles an ongoing PR crisis, one with lasting implications for thousands of children and very serious humanitarian concerns, President Trump holding a rally in Montana bringing out some of his greatest hits attacking his own party, even mocking the #MeToo movement.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is traveling with the president and has the latest.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In choosing a new justice, I will select someone with impeccable credentials.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump starting a long weekend in New Jersey by teasing the prime time announcement of his Supreme Court justice nominee as if it's an upcoming episode of "The Apprentice."

TRUMP: I'm looking for the apprentice.

SANCHEZ: His weekly address, a major tone in attitude from the raucous rally in Montana. The president drawing cheers while taking aim at familiar targets like Senator Elizabeth Warren. Trump suggesting the Massachusetts Democrat take a DNA test to prove her claims of Native American heritage.

TRUMP: I'm going to get one of those little kits and in the middle of the debate when she proclaims that she is of Indian heritage because her mother said she had high cheekbones, we will take that little kit and say, but we have to do it gently, because we're in the Me Too generation, so, we have to be very gentle. And we will very gently take that kit and we will slowly toss it.

SANCHEZ: Trump also mocked a former Republican president, ridiculing 94-year-old George H.W. Bush's trademark phrase.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: I have spoken of a thousand points of light.

TRUMP: You know, all the rhetoric you see here -- the thousand points of light. What the hell was that? Thousand points of light, what did that mean? Does anyone know?

SANCHEZ: Trump took a noticeably different approach when talking about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

TRUMP: Meeting with President Putin next week and getting along -- let me tell you. Getting along with Russia and getting along with China and getting along with other countries is a good thing. It is not a bad thing. It's a good thing.

You know, President Putin is KGB and this and that. You know what? Putin's fine. He's fine. We're all fine. We're people.


SANCHEZ: And, Erica, President Trump is expected to have dinner tonight with vice president Mike Pence. We previously reported that pence had a meeting this week with some of the nominees to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, including Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh. Those are considered to be the strongest contenders for the Supreme Court so far. As we await what feels like a season finale come Monday night, Erica.

HILL: Indeed it does. Boris, appreciate it. Thank you.

My panel joins me now to dig a little deeper on this.

And, Margaret, I want to start with you in terms of the president mocking the Me Too movement. This is red meat for his supporters, but it's also red meat for the opposition.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. It's -- really hurtful and I ironic that he did that last night because it was today two years ago that Gretchen Carlson actually stepped out on a limb and filed a lawsuit against Roger Ailes, which ended up bringing down one of the most powerful in media and many people credit with having launched the beginning of the Me Too movement.

He is now just hired the communications director of the White House, somebody who worked for roger ales and who was part of keeping in place men who have mistreated women over many, many years and it's just showing that there is accountability in the Me Too movement and stopped at the water's edge coming to Republican politicians and Donald Trump somehow is impermeable to the criticisms. And his party refuses to hold him accountable either, and it's unbelievable that he can actually make it red meat and he flagrantly wave it around like a flag in front of a rally as though this has no consequences. And that kind of behavior doesn't make a real negative lasting impact on women's lives.

HILL: And yet here we are. I mean, that is to your point -- that is the remarkable thing, John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, you can dress it up and say it hangs a lantern on the problem. But it's really just insult comedy. There's not strategy to this. It's an unfortunate coincidence I suppose today that Bill Shine starts at the White House.

But this president does seem to be Teflon when it comes to his base. We perhaps can just finally give up the hypocrisy surrounding the rhetoric around family values in the Republican Party, maybe embodied by some people. But this president is a person who seems to have no regard for what that phrase means and certainly no regard for precedent, his predecessors. [16:20:03] I mean, in this rally, he praised Vladimir Putin. Can't we

all just get along? You know, take KGB, no big deal. It's fine. We're all fine.

HILL: We had that moment. Let's play it for people who haven't heard it.

AVLON: Sure, yes.


TRUMP: It's time to retire liberal Democrat Jon Tester. Jon Tester says one thing when he's in Montana. But I will tell you I'm testament to it. He does the exact opposite when he goes to Washington.

They're going, will President Trump be prepared, you know, President Putin is KGB and this and that. You know what? Putin's fine. He's fine. We're all fine.


AVLON: Spoken like a true mark. I mean -- I mean, you know --

HILL: But not surprising. Here's the thing, though, not surprising. In everything that we have heard, this is really the president in many ways rolling out his greatest hits. He's going after the same people, now going after the Me Too movement in a more open way, right? Praising Vladimir Putin. This is all come to be expected.


HOOVER: Yes. Kind of. I mean, it's almost like he's wound up and he hasn't been on the trail for a while, so he likes need to go out and get his own bite of red meat and then come back. It's almost like he does it more for himself. I mean, the crowds clearly love it.

There was one piece of last night that it just -- I can't not say this, right? I mean, you know what makes America great?

What makes America great are honorable citizens that put their lives on the country and willingly die for the country like George H.W. Bush and John McCain, both individuals who he thanklessly stomped all over last night and has -- you know, that thousand points of light speech, it was a speech that idealizes duty and sacrifice and patriotism and things Donald Trump can't bother to understand or thank or appreciate as the occupant in the Oval Office. And it is I think a testament to the strength of our institutions, frankly, that we will withstand this occupant of the Oval Office because he is an absolutely not capturing the values that make the country great.

HILL: As a traditional conservative Republican, we have seen a number of Republicans come out, Max Boot, George Will, saying, you know what? I'm out at this point. I'm saying goodbye to the Republican Party. They were encouraging people to vote for Democrats.

Are you still there?

HOOVER: I am still a Republican by golly. And I am not that kind of Republican. And I am not going to make a news cycle saying pooh-pooh with the Republican Party. But I do not relate to this president and his values and where the party has gone in Washington and I do not support the people who championed this, who do not call him out and who do not stand up for values.

Frankly, that -- I mean, I still espouse and relate to them, the modern American conservative movement, and the values that have frankly been shunned by the Republicans in Congress. But that doesn't mean I leave the party. I believe you stay in and fight and I'm losing right now. It's very clear I'm losing.

HILL: Not giving up.

AVLON: My bride is in exile an I respected that good fight.

But, you know, just to add to one important point, when he disses the thousand points of light speech, he's actually insulting the heart of American conservatism which was, we don't need big government, we shouldn't have big government because it's about a voluntary spirit at the heart of the American experiment, what her great grandfather called the American --


HOOVER: -- read about this. Thank you very much.

AVLON: You're very welcome. I will --

HILL: You have him well-trained, Margaret.

AVLON: But when he denigrates that, he denigrates the heart at the argument about modern conservatism, and he does it callously without caring.

HILL: To Margaret's point, though, it will be interesting to see and we're just out of time, it will be interesting to see if more conservatives pick that up and start to say it publicly and start to call it out.

Stay with us. We've got more to talk about.

A major deadline today for the Trump administration as we learn there are more children in detention centers, not less. So, will the federal government be able to fix this problem?


[16:28:10] HILL: Time is nearly up for the Trump administration to meet the first major family reunification deadline. The government must reconnect parents with children by phone today. This as the Justice Department admits it may need more time.

Feds chaotically searching through records relying on DNA tests to try to piece families back together. And just moments ago, at a hearing that it's actually still ongoing, a judge ruled parents who were already deported must also be reunited with their children who remain in the United States.

CNN's Miguel Marquez reports.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lesvia, a 39-year-old Guatemalan, may be the first separated parent to get out of detention after going through a normal immigration policy after President Trump signed an executive order ending the separation of families as part of his zero tolerance policy.

I can't stand being apparent from my son, she says. Just give me my son.

Lesvia hasn't seen her 10-year-old son since May 19th. She wrote him a letter. She believes he is in the same Brownsville facility visited by DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last week.

The deportation officers told me I had to leave and go to Florida to be with my family, she says, but I'm not leaving without my son.

Her uncertainty about how to get her son back is a sign that parents who are released even by the administration don't have a clear process for reuniting with their children.

A woman named Ada being held at Port Isabel Detention Center in South Texas says in a phone call to CNN, she is not sure where her son is in the promise of two calls a week have never happened.

No one has called, she says, social workers don't answer our calls. I'm desperate. I want to know how my son is. I want to talk to him.

By a federal judge's order, the Trump administration has until today to put detained parents in regular contact with their kids. Parents and lawyers representing them say most have had at least one phone call --