Return to Transcripts main page


Feud Between President Trump And The Admiral McCraven; Firefighters In California Are Not Only Battling Flames But Also High Winds And Dry Air; Friday Is Just Around The Corner Kicking Off The Holiday Shopping Season; Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 18, 2018 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: We begin tonight with the President wading into yet another spat with a member of the U.S. military. This time it is retired admiral William McCraven, the commander who oversaw the operation mission that killed Osama bin Laden. President not only dismisses McCraven as a quote "Hillary Clinton backer," but says it would have been nice if bin Laden have been taken out sooner.

Here is the President talking to FOX News anchor Chris Wallace.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Retired admiral, Navy SEAL, 37 years, former head of U.S. special operations.


WALLACE: Special operations.

TRUMP: Excuse me. Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE: Who lead the operations, commanding the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and that killed Osama bin Laden, says that your sentiment is the greatest threat to democracy in his life.

TRUMP: He is a Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer. And frankly --.

WALLACE: He is a Navy SEAL.

TRUMP: Wouldn't it be nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that?


CABRERA: McCraven has been an outspoken critic of Trump. He wrote a stunning review for the President in August saying Trump had embarrassed and humiliated the U.S. And back in February of last year, he called Trump's attacks against the media quote "the greatest threat to democracy."

McCraven is now responding to the President's latest comments. He tells CNN quote "I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else. I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush. Both of whom I worked for. I admire all Presidents regardless of their political party, who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times. I stand by my comment that the President's attack on the media is the greatest threat to our democracy in my lifetime. When you undermine the people's right to free press and freedom of speech and expression, then you threaten the constitution and all for which it stands."

CNN's Boris Sanchez is outside the White House for us tonight. And Boris, defenders are going to say the President is simply hitting back, but this isn't the first time the President had a controversy with a military commander or member.


And it comes at an interesting time. Of course, President is drawing criticism this week for skipping a traditional trip to Arlington national cemetery on Veteran's Day. More on that in a moment.

But you are right, the President is known for fighting back against criticism, even when it comes from members of the military or military families. In fact, here is a list of awkward moments the President has had with military members or their families. You recall that during the 2016 campaign, President Trump drew criticism for referring to Senator John McCain as not being a war hero because he was captured by the Vietnamese during that conflict.

He also dismissed the Kahn family during the 2016 campaign after they spoke out against him at the Democratic National Convention. Further as president, let's not forget the President had a spat with another gold star family. The family of Sargent La David Johnson (ph) who disagreed with President Trump over the content of a phone call that he had with Johnson's widow.

We should also point out President Trump has not made that customary trip to visit troops overseas battling in war zones, something which is a common practice, almost a basic requirement of being commander in-chief.

As for skipping the trip to Arlington national cemetery last week, President Trump actually told FOX News that's something that he regrets. Listen to this.


TRUMP: I should have done that. I was extremely busy on calls for the country. We get a lot of calling as you know.

WALLACE: But this was Veteran's Day.

TRUMP: I probably, you know, in retrospect I should have. And I did last year and I will virtually every year, but we had come in very late at night. And I had just left literally the American cemetery in Paris. And I really probably assumed that was fine. And I was extremely busy because of affairs of state, doing other things.


SANCHEZ: Now, Ana, I reached out to the White House to find out if they had any additional insight, any other statements on this feud between President Trump and the admiral McCraven, no response yet from the White House. Of course we are all watching twitter to see if the President has anything more to say tonight -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Boris Sanchez at the White House, thank you.

And as you just heard, we have reached out to the White House for a statement. So while we wait, I want to get a military perspective with us as retired army major general James "Spider" Marks.

General, first, just your reaction to the President's remarks about McCraven.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. Sadly, incredibly unfortunate that the President would say that. Yes, I know Bill McCraven. A lot of folks had the great honor to serve with Bill. He is an incredibly gifted leader, a very honorable guy. Incredibly honorable guy.

I don't know that the President's attack on free speech or at least the media is the greatest threat. I don't know that I would go that far. But I can tell you in history, Democratic republics don't collapse based on external threats. They collapse from within. They become (INAUDIBLE). They begin to kind of eat away of themselves because they become higher and more mighty than they should be.

So it is very, very important that we always take a chill pill, take a step back, breathe through our nose and open ourselves up for criticism and external voices. It is absolutely imperative that we do that. That's my greatest concern.

[18:05:22] CABRERA: It makes us all better as an individuals as well what you just said. Hit a cord and a nice note with me.

CNN has called McCraven's op-ed back in August that I referenced earlier a stunning rebuke when he said Trump has embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage. Did McCraven crossed the line in his criticism of the commander in-chief? And is the President simply just hitting back?

MARKS: Well clearly, the President is, as they say a counterpuncher, but as the President of the United States, I'm not certain why you would counterpunch. I mean, frankly, nobody is at your size, you know. You pick on somebody your own size. You are the President of the United States. There's nobody else who is out there who is your own size. And I can't - I would not offer a judgment of on Bill McCraven's exercise of free speech rights. It is not at all.

Would Spider Marks do that? I'm not saying that I would. But I can be critical of what I see and clearly, Bill McCraven is he has every right to be. And he is, you know, when you think about the nature of this criticism, it has to do with one of the most incredibly successful raids that our military has ever put together. You just look at the cascading effects of the intelligence that had to be in place at the right place at the right time, the training, and all of this has to come together.

This is an amazingly precise, very, very tightly coordinated. Bill McCraven was at the top of that and allowed these incredible men and women to exercise. We went after Osama bin Laden. He was killed. I mean, that was phenomenal. Why are we discussing that? I don't get it.

CABRERA: So, is the President out of touch when he says it would have been nice if the U.S. had gotten Osama bin Laden sooner?

MARKS: Of course it would have been nice. But don't think for a second - I mean, having been involved in those hunts for Osama bin Laden in terms of the intelligence building up for our combat in Iraq, in our deployments in Afghanistan, this is very tough, difficult, very precise, demanding work. So it is not like anyone held back in this entire apparatus of government specifically the operational arms of the military and the intelligence and held back in terms of going after Osama bin Laden. We didn't self-regulate except we didn't necessarily have the right intelligence at the right time. Were the forces ready? Absolutely.

Did we have the right intelligence? We didn't.

CABRERA: As Boris noted earlier, this isn't the first time the President has seen controversy involving the military. He attacked on McCain. He has gone after Gold Star families. He referred to the military as being in shambles at one point. He is yet to visit U.S. troops in a war zone. Do you feel like this President supports the military?

MARKS: I would say this President does support the military. He needs not doing it in a conventional way that I would embrace or that I would recommend.

Clearly, every time you embrace the military, it should be there's ways you can do it very privately in those very special moments, very personal moments, generally with greeting family members and you want to discuss that sacrifice. You don't need to put a spotlight on that at all.

But there are some things that you can do that are easy wins, easy victories for the President to literally stand in front of the military in a very public arena and say thank you. Everybody appreciates what you do. God bless you for your service. Why he doesn't do that more overtly, I don't know. Again, I can't get into his head about this.

CABRERA: Retired major general Spider Marks, good to see you. And thank you for your service. And thank you for being with us tonight.

MARKS: Thanks, Ana, very much.

CABRERA: I want to play a little bit more from this FOX News interview with the President because Trump also talked about special counsel Robert Mueller. The President says he plans to submit his answers to Mueller's written questions this week and he claims getting through them was no big deal.


TRUMP: I'm preparing written answers. I'm the one that does the answer. Yes, I have been writing them out. Yes. They are writing what I tell them to write.

WALLACE: Are they going to be submitted?

TRUMP: At some point very soon, yes. I have completed them.

WALLACE: So you are submitting.

TRUMP: It wasn't a big deal. By the way, it wasn't a big deal. The questions were asked and answered. It wasn't a big deal. You know, they make it like I had meetings for many, many --. I got the questions, I responded. We wrote them out. I read them once. I read them a second time. We made some changes. That's it. They are very simple.


CABRERA: With us now, reporter and coauthor of "Politico's" playbook, Daniel Lippman and CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin. Michael has worked closely with Robert Mueller in the past.

So I want to start with you, Michael. The President says answering these questions wasn't a big deal. He called it simple. Are you surprised?

[18:10:13] MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't believe him but not surprised that he would say that. I think these were difficult questions that required a lot of work by his attorneys over a long period of time to get to the point where they had a narrative that they felt comfortable with that they could write down and the President could attest to.

CABRERA: Daniel, what do you know about the process that went into answering Mueller's questions?

DANIEL LIPPMAN, REPORTER/CO-AUTHOR, PLAYBOOK, POLITICO: So, you know, we don't know everything inside the room, but we can assume that the lawyers writing the answers with the President, that they were going over them with a fine toothed comb and looking for any inaccuracies and trying to answer them so that they wouldn't get follow ups and that Mueller's team would not dismiss the answers as not even really answering the question and then they might have to subpoena him. And so, you know, this has been such a long process in terms of Trump wanting to talk to Mueller and yet his lawyer is saying if he did he would get in a perjury trap. That it would be very hard for him to tell the truth.

CABRERA: Michael, back in May, the President did say he would quote "love to sit down with Mueller," but then in this new FOX interview he said he is finished. That there probably won't be a sit down. Do you think Mueller will be satisfied with just written answers?

ZELDIN: Well, it's a good question and I don't know the answers. I think that what we see from the President is a President who is finally listening to his attorneys who have advised him not to do this. Whether or not Mueller accepts the representation by his lawyers at any questions that involve the transition period or post inauguration or executive privilege and therefore the President has a right not to answer them, that if he wants an answer from - if Mueller wants answers, he should subpoena them and they will fight it out in court.

But I think that the President is really trying to stand on executive privilege as a basis for not proceeding and putting it to Mueller to say I dare you, in a sense, to seek a subpoena against me and we will see whether acting attorney general Whitaker approves it.

CABRERA: Right, because the President handpicked. He appointed this acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker and he talked about him in his interview this morning as well. Listen.


WALLACE: Did you know before you appointed him that he had that record and was so critical of Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: I did not know that. I did not know that he took views on the Mueller investigation as such.

WALLACE: If Whitaker decides in any way to limit or curtail the Mueller investigation, are you OK with that?

TRUMP: Look. It's going to be up to him. I think he is very well aware politically. I think he is astute politically. He is a very smart person, a very respected person. He is going to do what's right.


CABRERA: Was this an accurate statement from the President, Daniel? Because we know the President pass over multiple officials who would have been a more natural choice to personally appoint Whitaker.

LIPPMAN: Yes. And after he appointed him and Whitaker got a lot of bad press attention, he said he didn't know who he picked. He didn't know the acting AG. And so, this is a guy that Trump has enjoyed watching on FOX before he was in DOJ as chief of staff for Jeff Sessions. He enjoyed watching him defend himself. And Don McGahn brought Whitaker in basically for a job interview to be part of the defense team in the White House to defend the President. And so, I don't think that this passes the smell test. And you know, for Trump to say that it's up to Whitaker, well, Trump has tried to interfere with in the investigation in the past and considered firing Mueller, and so that may not be accurate either.

CABRERA: Michael, do you trust Whitaker to let Mueller do his job?

ZELDIN: Well, Matt Whitaker, well CNN analyst has made a lot of statements saying that he thinks Mueller investigation has gone too far and that a subpoena isn't warranted and he made all the of these statements when he didn't really have full transparency into the evidence.

Whether he now gets briefed by Rosenstein as to what the evidence is and changes his legal mind about it, we will have to see. But I do think that the appointment was, at least, you know, sort of a bad decision politically. And probably legally as well that it was unconstitutional that Rosenstein should have been the successor appointed after he fired Sessions.

But we have to give Matt Whitaker a chance to learn what the evidence is. Hopefully, not relay it to the President and make a legal decision. If he doesn't do any of that, if there's a sense that he hasn't done that, when the Democrats take over the House Judiciary Committee, you can be assured that Matt Whitaker will be there under oath testifying about this. So there's a lot of traps here for Whitaker if he doesn't play it correct legally.

[18:15:14] CABRERA: In fact, I think it was Jerry Nadler about a week-and-a-half ago or maybe two weeks ago telling our Jake Tapper that Whitaker will be one of the first people they call before their committee when they have the majority in January.

Thank you both, Michael Zeldin and Daniel Lippman. Good to have you with us. Thank you.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

LIPPMAN: Thanks.

CABRERA: The destruction is unimaginable and wildfires are still burning across California.

Up next, how one hospital raced to keep their patients safe as the inferno raged around them.


[18:19:48] CABRERA: Welcome back.

Firefighters in California are not only battling flames but also high winds and dry air. Everything it seems is working against them.

Several separate massive wildfires are still burning this weekend. None of them fully contained. People in towns north of Sacramento are beginning to return to the remains of their homes salvaging what they can from the ashes.

The physical things destroyed by these fires, houses, vehicles, property, painful to lose but replaceable, the lives though are not. And 79 people so far are confirmed dead across the state.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Chico, California.

And Paul, those victims I just mentioned, they are on the minds of so many people around this nation but especially there among the people who will be gathering for a vigil coming up shortly. Tell us about that.

[18:20:38] PAUL VERCAMMEN: You are actually right, Ana. The people in this area and I know that many neighborhoods portray themselves as being very close knit and tight but this is a neighborhood that's hung together like you can't believe and I have an example of it. They will have the vigil soon.

But in this parking lot, a man named Izzy Taylor who is a member of a pool or billiards league in Chico, got all of his people together and they started cooking for all the refugees. Well, Izzy is here. His girlfriend just had a baby, a day ago I believe, and as is fitting for this story, the baby's name is Destiny.

And Izzy, if you can tell, what prompted you to come down here and just give so much of yourself right when your girlfriend is having a baby.

IZZY TAYLOR, FEEDING FAMILIES DISPLACED BY WILDFIRE: Well, Paradise is a real dear town to me. I have been around for 24 years. And I have been a Chico resident and my girlfriend's mother lost her home. My landlord lost his home. And numerous of my teammates and opponents lost their home. And this is such a huge catastrophe. It touched of the heart so much. And I have been given the time to be able to do that, due to my boss committing suicide and passing a week ago - two weeks ago. So I'm over here with no job and just volunteering my time with my friends and family. And snowballed, my bed full of donations - truck bed and snowballed to this, food like barbecue. It's lasted seven days now. And just the outpouring of generosity to keep me going is just been amazing. And we have been feeding many, many people and many families. And it's just heartwarming. I can't just stop what I'm doing after feeding so many residents and so many people that I don't know and just seeing smiles on their faces and being able to accept donations to make them even smile for another day is just heartwarming and overwhelming.

VERCAMMEN: And we should note, Walmart has told you don't have to leave right now.

TAYLOR: Well, they are asking everyone else to leave, but we are feeding so many people. I haven't been given the formal, you know, told to leave. So I'm going to stay here until they say something along with Sexy Panda which we are collaborating together which is allowing me to stay here for the number of days I have, you know, despite me having a baby in the hospital, I still - I have a crew here running my thing while I'm at the hospital with my girl. And I'm just spending a few hours a day here, just keeping my little barbecue going with my friends and family.

And it's just been overwhelming. The outpouring of generosity. I mean, my family. I got my mom here and my girl here. All the way up to two days before she was due. She was helping serve. Everyone is calling her a soldier. Now she is in the hospital delivering and taking care of my kid. I'm going to there here in a minute, but it's just overwhelming.

VERCAMMEN: Well, everybody who just heard this, I'm thanking you for all of them because what you have done is phenomenal. Congratulations you proud papa. And kudos to you for your selflessness.

Back to you. You heard it, Ana. What a move by Izzy Taylor. It all started with some friends in a billiards league.

CABRERA: And it is unbelievable that he also has somebody who is in the hospital having a baby and he is still doing his part to help the greater good there in the community.

Paul Vercammen, thanks for your ongoing reporting sharing those important stories for us. We appreciate it.

Now, if it seems like the fire is happening in California are bigger and more frequent, wildfire is burning there in that state in recent years, you are right.

Meteorologist Tom Sater is in our severe weather center for us.

And Tom, what's happening out west that is causing such intense fires right now?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, Ana, you could make an argument that there's a difference between forest fires and wildfires. I mean, wildfires are feeding on the wild extremes of our climate that is dealing with us. And of course, the only numbers we want to see with this are the containment numbers that are going up. But we are seeing more scorched land. We are seeing - unfortunately, a larger number of large fires, a greater number.

Let's go back into the 70s where it all started and then to the 80s here. The number of large fires for the decade of the 80s for the western U.S. was roughly about 140 a year. Then into the 90s with an increase of drought, increase of the temperature, 160 on average. Between 2000 and 2012, we are up to 250. With the heat continuing to build, I wouldn't be surprise in two years, this number is over 300, maybe 340.

There's a direct correlation between the number of large fires and the increase in the temperatures out west and in California. A report coming out, of course on climate change in California said by the end of the century if we do nothing with our greenhouse gases, we could see a 77 percent increase of scorched land.

Now, just this year alone, and we will go back a couple, four of the last five summers were the hottest on record in California. Four to six inch deficit in northern Cal right now. If we would have had the rain beginning in October as we typically would see that, we wouldn't have had Cal fire most likely.

President made a little mentioned of Norway today in rake in the forest. I want to pull up Norway for you. It's about two-thirds the size of California. It is almost all forest with lakes. But this is the number of days they have snow on the ground. And just about all of it has at least a 120, 130, 250 days with snow.

They typically don't have fires but they did this summer because of the extreme especially in neighboring Sweden (ph). They had their worst wildfires in history because their temperatures instead of 60s or 70s were in the upper 90s and they were dealing with extreme drought. They didn't even have tankers to drop water. They again from Italy and France.

An article in the "L.A. Times" today is now staying in the Santa Monica Mountains. It could take 20 years to get the vegetation to grow back. They are worried of course about the wildlife and where it is moving. When you look at a half inch of rain, that will stop the spread of the fires. Two inches can put it out and we are in for a big change.

One wave after another coming in. This week beginning really Wednesday and Thursday, waves of moisture move in but it may be a bad thing. We like to get rainfall but we do not want to see two, three, four and five inches of rain, Ana, in this area. Want the mountain snow, but we really don't want to see into these mud flows and these debris that could pick up with this much rain coming in this week alone beginning Wednesday and Thursday.

[18:26:52] CABRERA: Yes. As you point out, it is like you don't want too much of a good thing. They need the moisture but too much would be another disaster of its own.

But Tom, I just want to just clarify. You mentioned Norway, I think you meant to say Finland when you were comparing the President's comments, though.

SATER: I'm sorry. Yes, it is correct. Thank you.

CABRERA: Didn't want our viewers to be confused there.

Tom Sater, your graphic has Finland. So we knew what you were talking about. Thanks so much.

It's that time of year again. Black Friday, if you can believe it, is just around the corner kicking off the holiday shopping season. So how is Wall Street looking ahead of the holidays?

CNN's chief business correspondent Christine Romans has the break down -- Christine.


Investors may be grateful for the short week on Wall Street. The market is closed Thursday for thanksgiving and Friday is a half day. Last week was volatile for stocks. Big swings in oil prices. Concerns about the tech sector and worries about a global slowdown all weighed on the market.

The health of the housing market is another concern. Existing home sales have fallen for six straight months. This week we will find out if they slipped again in October.

Economic concerns aside, retailers are feeling pretty positive about the holiday shopping outlook. The season kicks off at the end of the week with Black Friday. The national retail federation predicts holiday sales will rise more than four percent from a year ago thanks to strong consumer confidence, low unemployment and rising wages.

In New York, I'm Christine Romans.

CABRERA: Thanks, Christine.

A recount in Florida is over and Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson has now conceded to Governor Rick Scott.

But in California, the votes are still being counted in a county, former President Ronald Reagan once said good Republicans go to die in has now flipped blue. We will tell you why that matters live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Don't go anywhere.


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: This evening, Republicans are celebrating another victory in Florida. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson has now conceded to Governor Rick Scott after a manual recount that ended earlier today.

Scott won the race by a little more than 10,000 votes. Senator Nelson acknowledged defeat and took a swipe at President Trump without naming him directly.


SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: We have to move beyond a politics that aims not just to defeat but to destroy, where truth is treated as disposable, where falsehoods abound, and that the free press is assaulted as the enemy of the people.

There's been a gathering darkness in our politics in recent years. My hope today can be found in the words of John F. Kennedy, who said civility can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.


CABRERA: Governor Scott, now Senator-elect, released a statement, saying we must do what Americans have always done -- come together for the good of our state and our country. My focus will not be on looking backward but on doing exactly what I ran on, making Washington work. I know change is never popular in Washington and that I'm just one person, but we have to start somewhere.

Now, let's go coast-to-coast. To California in an area that Ronald Reagan often said was where good Republicans go to die, Orange County.

Democrats have now run the table there, having captured every congressional seat in what had been the last reliably red area in that state. CNN's Maeve Reston is joining us now. [18:35:01] Maeve, why is this erosion of GOP support in Orange County

so striking?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it's just stunning. I mean, you think of Orange County as being the place that launched Ronald Reagan's career, political career.

It was also the birth of the conservative movement. That really began in Orange County with the John Birch Society and many conservative activists who drove anti-tax measures and then, later, some anti- immigration measures. So this is just really a stunning transformation.

A lot of Democrats have said that they hoped that if there was a blue wave in California -- or in America this year, that it would have started in California. And indeed, they managed to flip all of those seats by very close margins.

Obviously, these were the races that were being counted to the very end along with Florida. But, really, a chilling day for Republicans ceding that territory over to blue territory.

CABRERA: I mean, those last three races were just called today here, almost two weeks past Election Day.

RESTON: That's right.

CABRERA: And as the focus of the country has really been on the Florida race recently and a lot of complaints of how long it was taking --


CABRERA: -- we were watching the numbers trickle in from California. Why does it take so long for the races to be called in those districts?

RESTON: Well, you know, basically, we did have a lot more voters coming out for the midterms this year as we saw all over the country. And in particular, you saw a lot of college-educated voters turning out. They were angry about Donald Trump.

But the -- many of these people cast their ballots by mail and, you know, often turn them in right at the last minute, so the counting took a long time. And the margins were so close that many news organizations, including CNN, were very cautious right up until the end in calling these races. So -- but a big day for Democrats.

And Republicans believe that had Donald Trump not been in the White House, they would have done a lot better in Orange County. And they still have kind of a glimmer of hope going forward that they might be able to recapture some of those seats if more of the moderate Republican wing is able to rise in reaction to Donald Trump, Ana.

CABRERA: I want to take a look at the bigger picture because with these newly called races, Democrats have now picked up 37 seats in the House.


CABRERA: There are still three House races left to be called, but, Maeve, what is this going to mean for the Democrats' ability to push forward their agenda?

RESTON: Well, I mean, they have a very -- a difficult hand to play here in the sense that, yes, they have now taken the majority in the House, but, obviously, the Senate is still very divided. The country is very divided.

So you've seen the Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, really say that they're going to push forward with the investigations that they wanted to do once they were in the majority but also, you know, try to reach across the aisle because 2020 is knocking on the door. It's not as far away as everyone thinks.

And they will have to bring in moderates and independents if they hope to retake the White House. So we'll have to see how carefully they play that hand. You're not hearing the word impeachment a lot, Ana.

CABRERA: Mm-hmm. In fact, I just spoke with Hakeem Jeffries today --

RESTON: Right.

CABRERA: -- who said I think it's more Republicans that were talking about impeachment than Democrats. He was definitely trying to distance himself and his party from that word, impeach.

RESTON: Absolutely.

CABRERA: Thank you, Maeve Reston. We appreciate it.

RESTON: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: Coming up, President Trump officially endorsing a bipartisan bill for prison reform. I'll talk to one of the co-sponsors of that bill. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is here with us next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


CABRERA: A rare show of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. Top Republicans and Democrats are working to push through the most sweeping changes to the federal criminal justice system in decades.

President Trump endorsed the measure last week. This legislation has been a pet project of his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

And this legislation, called the First Step Act, would shorten mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent offenders. It would eliminate a regulation triggering longer sentences for firearms- related crimes and addresses sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine convictions among other things. Now, the House overwhelmingly passed a narrower version of the bill in

May, but it still faces a tough road in the Senate.

One of the most vocal critics is also one of the President's allies, Senator Tom Cotton. He says this measure is a misguided effort to let serious felons out of prison early, even calling it a jailbreak that would endanger communities.

And Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is a co-sponsor of the First Step Act and joins us now.

Congressman Jeffries, as we mentioned, the President supports this. He wants to work across the aisle on this. What's your reaction?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Well, his support is a positive step in the right direction.

We have a mass incarceration epidemic in the United States of America. When the war on drugs was first declared by Richard Nixon in 1971, there were less than 350,000 people incarcerated in America. Today, 2.2 million.

We incarcerate more people than any other country in the world. It's a stain on our society, and it's time to do something about it and do something about it in a bipartisan way.

[18:45:00] CABRERA: You have said this bill will transform lives, that it's the end of a beginning on the journey to eradicate the mass incarceration epidemic in America. Can you expand on that?

JEFFRIES: Well, it will do two things. One, there's the prison reform aspect of it, which was initially passed in May by a strong bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives, with leadership from Doug Collins and Jared Kushner. I was the lead Democratic sponsor.

And that's designed to make sure that we can successfully re-enter currently incarcerated individuals into society with the skills, with the training, with the education, with the vocational support, with the substance abuse treatment necessary to make sure that when they are released back into society, they can become productive citizens, dramatically reduce the recidivism rate, and save taxpayer dollars.

And then, as you pointed out, there's the sentencing reform aspect of the revised First Step Act that's being negotiated in the Senate that would reduce some of the harsh, unnecessarily punitive mandatory minimums and "lock them up, throw away the key" type of sentencing provisions that have gotten us into the over-criminalization mess that we're in right now.

CABRERA: "The New York Times" is reporting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is telling the President they may not have time to bring this bill up for a vote this year. What is your take on that? Is gridlock going to get in the way?

JEFFRIES: It's a very unfortunate statement by Mitch McConnell. The only person in Washington, D.C. right now who believes that there is not enough time to deal with this criminal justice reform bill is Mitch McConnell.

Chuck Grassley, who is the chairman of the House -- Senate Judiciary Committee, along with Dick Durbin, who has been negotiating the bill in the Senate, both believe that there is more than enough time. Speaker Ryan believes there is more than enough time for us to address it.

And this is 40-plus years in the making. We should find the time to begin to break the back of the prison industrial complex in America.

CABRERA: This could be a breakthrough bipartisan moment, as we've been discussing. Even the President is supporting this, as you point out.

Other Republicans have come on board, but there is what we've heard from Senator Tom Cotton. He even wrote in a tweet, if it's finalized and ready for a vote, why offer to keep changing it?

On the other hand, you also have some Democrats who are urging more changes, saying the measure doesn't go far enough. So how do you reconcile that?

JEFFRIES: Well, we think that the bill is in a sweet spot right now and it brings together a substantial number of Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives.

People on the left and on the right, advocacy groups in the civil rights community, as well advocacy groups such as the Koch Brothers and Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich and The Heritage Foundation are all supporting the need for criminal justice reform and the fact that we need to reduce over-criminalization in America and, in the process, save taxpayer dollars. Now is the time for us to act.

CABRERA: So do you think you could get your Democrats on board then, those who want to see more changes? Do you think they're willing to compromise?

JEFFRIES: Well, absolutely. I had some very productive conversations with my Democratic colleagues.

Now, when we passed the First Step Act in May in the House, 70 percent of the House Democratic Caucus, including all of the leadership, the chairman of the CBC, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the majority of Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus members, very important progressives such as Tulsi Gabbard and Keith Ellison, along with more moderate members of the House Democratic Caucus, all supported the bill. So we have a great foundation.

And now that it's being strengthened in the Senate in a bipartisan way, I'm confident that the overwhelming majority of Democrats will support the revised version of the First Step Act.

CABRERA: Congressman Hakeem Jefferies, thank you so much. And now, to your children and vaping. Kids, middle schoolers addicted

to nicotine, and the numbers are soaring. What can be done about it? Dr. Sanjay Gupta is next live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


CABRERA: Disturbing new statistics are revealing a spike in e- cigarette use among teens. We're talking middle schoolers and high schoolers. The FDA and CDC found a nearly 80 percent increase in vaping among high schoolers and nearly 50 percent increase for middle schoolers.

CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has more.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, I think that when these e-cigs really started hitting the market, it wasn't clear what the impact would be on young people.

But the numbers over this past year in terms of trends, I think, got everyone's attention, especially at the FDA -- nearly 80 percent increase in use among high schoolers of these e-cigarettes, nearly 50 percent among middle schoolers. These are numbers that nobody wanted to hear.

And I think this is the real issue. These e-cigs, maybe there's mounting evidence that they can help people stop smoking as a smoking cessation tool. But if they're also encouraging people to start e- cigs and possibly transition to real cigarettes, that's a big problem.

Scott Gottlieb -- he's the commissioner of the FDA -- we talked to him about it.


SCOTT GOTTLIEB, COMMISSIONER, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: We know that some proportion of kids who initiate on nicotine through an e- cigarette are going to migrate on to combustible cigarettes.

And so all the dramatic gains that we've made in recent years getting smoking rates down among kids, there's a threat that that's going to be reversed if we don't do something about this.


GUPTA: There's something else that I want to just add to that. And that is that 90 percent of people who become life-long smokers start before the age of 18. Ninety-five percent of life-long smokers start before the age of 21. Only one percent of people who become life-long smokers start after the age of 26.

[18:55:02] The point, Ana, is that that's a really vulnerable time. People start these things around that age, the likelihood that they will continue to do it is much higher.

So here's what the FDA is proposing specifically -- no surprise given the data -- restrict sales of flavored e-cigarettes overall, ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, and prohibit marketing that targets teens.

They just want to make the stuff harder for kids to get their hands on. They want to make it less attractive to kids by virtue of these flavors. Again, this is just -- these are just recommendations. It's got to go through a whole comment period, and we'll see how this all shakes out, Ana.

CABRERA: Dr. Gupta, thank you, sir.

The President taking on the man who led the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. How the former commander is now responding.

But first, a quick programming note, make sure you don't miss an all- new episode of "THIS IS LIFE WITH LISA LING." That's at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN.