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El Paso Groups Take in 500-Plus Released Migrants on Wednesday Alone; Stocks Set to Fall After Dow's Record Gain; Head of Customs and Border Protection Says that Congress Needs to Step Up and Provide More Money to Help Deal with the Migrant Crisis After the Death of a Second Guatemalan Child in U.S. Custody; DHS Secretary to Travel to Border to Review Care of Migrants. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 27, 2018 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:00] BERMAN: Starts right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto, Poppy has the day off.

President Trump's first ever visit to a combat zone is now behind him this morning. He and the first lady arrived back in the White House just before dawn after an unannounced trip to Iraq and a brief stop at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. They returned to a government still not fully funded. And though Congress is officially back in session today, most members aren't bothering to come back without a deal.

But there still is no deal. As the president bitterly complained to the troops, to reporters and to his Twitter followers the very second he got home. And in 30 short minutes, we will know whether Wall Street can maintain its historic post-Christmas comeback yesterday. At the moment Dow futures seem to say no. See that red arrow pointing down there.

But we begin this hour at the White House. CNN's Boris Sanchez is there.

The president's focus remains on the shutdown -- Boris.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim. Shortly after returning from his whirlwind 29-hour trip to Iraq and Germany to visit American troops stationed overseas, the president took to Twitter attacking Democrats over the shutdown.

The president received an enthusiastic welcome from those troops abroad. He tweeted about them, too. Thanking them for their service. The president was in a bit of a joking mood when he was abroad making a number of comments that raised eyebrows. At one point he suggested that the only reason that Democrats won't give him funding for his long promised border wall is because he wants it. He joked that if he perhaps he had bluffed and said that he didn't want it, then he would get the funding that he's looking for.

When the president was also asked if he would be willing to accept $2 billion in funding for border security from Democrats, notably way less than the $5 billion the White House had been demanding for a border wall specifically, the president said he didn't want to talk about that then. Although the president made a couple of jokes about Nancy Pelosi as well, not really a joking mood here back in the United States.

As you noted there is tremendous uncertainty when it comes to a volatile stock market. Questions about who is going to replace General James Mattis at the Department of Defense and of course the ongoing shutdown. As you noted, congressional leaders are due back on Capitol Hill today but there is no sign that we are any closer to a solution to the ongoing shutdown -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Boris Sanchez, thank you, at the White House.

The president being criticized for repeatedly misleading statements that he's the only recent president to get pay raises to the military. That's just not true.

Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon to explain.

Barbara, this is a -- it's a lie that the president has repeated over the course of the last 18 months. One, that he is the first president to give a pay raise in 10 years, but also, too, exaggerating the size of that pay raise. Walk us through the facts.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, you're absolutely right. President Trump has said this several times in front of military audiences, perhaps looking for their applause on this point. And yesterday while he was traveling, again he said to the troops that he was responsible for the rise in their paychecks.

Have a listen to what, one more time, the president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You just got one of the biggest pay raises you've ever received. You haven't gotten one in more than 10 years. More than 10 years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one. I got you a big one.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: No pay raise in more than 10 years. Let's have a quick look at the facts. And I think we have some figures to show everyone here about the rise in military pay over the last many years. But let's look just at the last couple of years. In fact, 2.4 percent in 2018. 2.6 percent in 2019. The 2.6 percent, it was, in fact, the largest in the last nine years. And you have to remember Congress weighs in on all of this. So there has been a steady track of military pay raises over time, not just during the Trump administration -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Facts matter. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thanks very much.

STARR: Sure.

SCIUTTO: The president is back home now. Also sitting at home this morning hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees as they begin to fill the pinch of the partial government shutdown now in its sixth day.

Suzanne Malveaux is on Capitol Hill where some lawmakers are returning from their holiday, though, Suzanne, it sounds like not a lot of actual negotiation, hard negotiation going on on resolving the shutdown.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. I mean officially the Senate is going to be back in session at 4:00 this afternoon but we don't really expect very much to get done here. It is eerily quiet. There are no votes that are scheduled. Very little sign of lawmakers returning.

They will have 24 hours they'll be called back to come in town if in fact there was a deal. But at this point there is just talks happening on a staff level. As Boris had mentioned, the state of play now is essentially the president who has dug in his own position, demanding the $5 billion for the border wall.

[09:05:07] One of his allies, Representative Mark Meadows of the House Freedom Caucus, saying just yesterday to CNN that the Democrats are really misreading this situation and the president, that he is not going to give up on that figure. The Democrats have offered $1.3 billion. He says that's not even close. And you see the president trying to blame the Democrats in a series of tweets calling the incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi simply Nancy, saying that Nancy is stonewalling here, saying that she is playing politics.

In the meantime, what is the offer? What is on the table here? Vice President Mike Pence when he came here to Capitol Hill to try to negotiate in some ways offered a $2.5 billion figure and the Democrats say look, they are sticking with their guns. They believe that they have the upper hand here, that it is for border security. They have given enough.

We have heard in a statement from both Nancy Pelosi as well as Chuck Schumer that that -- that this is the problem of the Republicans and of the White House. And what they are saying is that they are getting such mixed messages from this White House, they don't know what they're negotiating. But come January 3rd, they'll have a bill to try to re-open the government. But Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell saying he's not going to put up a bill on his side until he's got the president's OK and the 60 votes on that side to support it. So here we are a stalemate.

SCIUTTO: Sounds like it is going to go a bit longer.

Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much.

Joining me now is political anchor for Spectrum News, Errol Louis, and congressional reporter for Politico, Rachael Bade. So, Errol Louis, if I could begin with you, the president had taken a

fair amount of criticism for not yet visiting U.S. troops deployed abroad. He did that yesterday, an important step in your view.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, absolutely. It was long overdue, and you've got to really be happy for a lot of the men and women who are serving overseas who got a chance to see their commander in chief and take selfies and, you know, tell themselves and their families that the sacrifice and the low pay and the difficulty and the uncertainty all meant something because the guy in charge who's asked them to put their lives on the line in this theater or that theater actually cared enough to show up and really sort of support them in their very difficult effort in Iraq in particular.

It had been such a long and hard road over the years. 5,000 casualties over there. I mean, it's not a small thing for young men and women to devote part of their lives there. So yes, I was very, very happy about the whole thing. I think it did him a lot of good.

SCIUTTO: I mean, it's remarkable to think that in March this coming year it will be 16 years in Iraq. I always note when you see some of the soldiers there that they were babies when this invasion happened.

LOUIS: Yes, exactly.

SCIUTTO: Rachael, in a way, it's -- I will say it's an easy thing to do. But the kinds of things a commander in chief says on the ground from visiting the troops should be pretty easy. We thank you for your service, right? The president, though, repeated a bunch of lies yesterday. I mean, you were speaking to an audience. I find it amazing to tell a military audience that probably knows what pay raises they are getting pretty well to repeat a falsehood that he's repeated for 18 months, that he's given them the bigger pay raise ever. The first time in 10 years.

Why can the president not resist that? It is confusing, frankly.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. We've seen him fall into this trap before. Clearly entertainer in the president, the former TV show superstar wants to sort of exaggerate sometimes and he wants to claim credit for things that he did. And there were obviously some hints of truth to what he said in that this pay raise that the troops received is the biggest that they've seen in the past nine years.

But of course, they've had those pay raises every year for the past several decades as you guys previously reported, and so him claiming otherwise in that he was the only reason they got this bump was false.

I do wonder if part of this was not just speaking to the troops, but also to people back home. You know, his base obviously does listen to what the president says. And if he says, you know, I'm the one who gave the pay raise, a lot of people, chances are, are going to believe that and don't know the facts behind it. And of course he's gearing up for 2020 and he's, you know, getting ready for re-election. And so this is something he's obviously going to want to tout to his base to get them out to vote for him again. SCIUTTO: Yes. Don't let the facts stand in the way of a good

campaign pledge.

Errol Louis, the president in that famous meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, he said he would proudly take ownership of the shutdown. Now he says -- now he's shifting blame, perhaps shifting the goal posts a bit. And we heard some of that yesterday again as he mixed politics as well as some falsehoods into his visit to the troops.

Have a listen to what he said about the shutdown yesterday in Iraqi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We have a problem with the Democrats because Nancy Pelosi is calling the shots, not Chuck. And Chuck wants to have this done. I really believe that. He wants to have this done.

[09:10:04] But she is calling the shots and she's calling them because she wants the votes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So a shifting there of the goal posts, shifting of the blame. Does that message work as he tries to do that shift? Can he shift the blame successfully?

LOUIS: The polls don't indicate that this is working. The president's popularity is matching its all-time lows at this point, and the polls also say that most Americans believe that he is responsible for the shutdown, and that is sort of inescapably true just based on that footage from the Oval Office, that remarkable point where he said, I will take the blame. I will shut down the government if I don't get this wall.

He's going to be confronted. I mean, I think within that statement, what he got exactly right is that Nancy Pelosi is going to be holding a lot of the cards. She's going to be in a very powerful position once she is -- if she does in fact follow though and become the speaker because she said one of the first bills they're going to do is to reopen the government. It will then put the burden on the president to keep it closed than to explain that he wants to keep it closed for whatever set of reasons. And that's going to be a very, very tough sell.

SCIUTTO: Rachael, you're following the politics of this very closely. At the end of the day this is a political game of chicken here, and both sides, the president, Democratic leadership, digging their heels in. Both sides seem to have made a political judgment that they've got the politics on their sides. So in your view, how is this resolved, if it is resolved?

BADE: I think that, you know, we should settle in. It could potentially be several weeks of a shutdown. I know we were talking to someone yesterday who thought it could even go until February. So we're just going to have to wait and see. I think it's going to be a while. But I do think that the president's position right now, demanding the $5 billion for the border wall in order to reopen the government is not a sustainable position.

And I think that the pressure on him is just going to increase when Democrats come in on January 3rd, when Speaker Pelosi passes a bill as her first order of business to reopen the government. That is going to put pressure on Mitch McConnell in the Senate to also put that bill on the floor. And McConnell just on a personal note he -- he's an appropriator. He hates government shutdowns, and so he is already feeling the pressure on this. And chances are, he might feel pressure to put it on the floor.

If it passes the Senate then, you know, the president is going to be losing part of his party, and he's going to have to decide if he wants to continue that fight when Republicans themselves are divided on this. So I think it's going to be a difficult position for him. I know that Republicans and Democrats are now looking at January 11th as a soft deadline. That's the day of the first furloughed paychecks for these employees who are either not working or working without pay.

And so right now these employees are getting paid, so it's -- they're not feeling the burden as much and the urgency. But I think that, again, as we move on into January, this is just going to get -- the pressure is just going to build on the president. And whoever makes a demand in a shutdown fight usually loses. And this is the case for the president right now. He's making the demand so he's going to feel the heat.

SCIUTTO: And a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck, so they will look to that next possibly missed paycheck and wonder how they're going to make the ends meet.

Errol Louis, to be fair, there were dangers here for Democrats as well, are there not? The beginning of a Democratically controlled Congress is a shutdown, a good look for the Democrats here from voters who voted them in in the midterm elections expecting change. I mean, there are risks for a Democratic Congress as well, aren't there?

LOUIS: For sure. There are problems for both sides. In fact frankly I think the politicians in the end are going to probably have to follow the lead of the people themselves because, you know, Jim, you and I can take our news organizations and try and find somebody who's got a great story or an interesting story, a heart-rending story about what's going to happen because they couldn't buy their Christmas presents or they're missing a paycheck and they've got medical bills and all of that stuff.

Well, in the modern information age, people are doing it themselves under that -- under one hashtag or another. #Trumpshutdown is the one I've seen. Where they are explaining exactly what they are going through and what they can't do. And it's going to put an enormous amount of pressure on politicians of both parties to just get something done. I mean, on one level, you know, you step back and you say in a trillion dollar budget, how is it that we can't figure out what to do with this minuscule amount compared to the rest of the budget, this $1.5 billion. Why should hundreds of thousands of people be so inconvenienced and in

some cases really have serious problems over such a small amount?

SCIUTTO: And there is an economic cost to it, too. I mean, studies have been done. Shutdowns take money out of the economy, and there are consequences for that.

Errol Louis, Rachael Bade, thanks very much.

LOUIS: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Busloads of migrants are now flooding to El Paso, Texas. Hundreds already taken there without any plan whatsoever to care for them. I'm going to speak to the major of El Paso.

Plus, what goes up has to come down. This is true of gravity. Apparently Wall Street. Stocks get set to drop this morning just one day after making those historic --

[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, HOST, NEWSROOM: Plus, what goes up has to come down. This is through of gravity and apparently Wall Street, the stocks gets set to drop this morning just one day after making those historic gains. And just 677 days until America goes to the polls, go to the polls to vote for the president.

Which potential Democratic candidates are using this Christmas break to think about their White House run?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: The head of Customs and Border Protection says that Congress needs to step up and provide more money to help deal with the migrant crisis. This comes after the death and the second Guatemalan child in U.S. custody.

Eight-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez died on Christmas eve in a New Mexico hospital. Infectious disease experts tell Cnn that he likely had the flu. Officials have not confirmed that and they also have not said if the boy was given a flu test.

[09:20:00] Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen now says she will now travel to the border to personally review her department's care of migrant children. Meanwhile, ICE continues to release hundreds of migrants in border cities such as El Paso, Texas.

Joining me now live is Dee Margo; he's the mayor of El Paso. Mayor, thanks very much for taking the time this morning.

MAYOR DEE MARGO, EL PASO, TEXAS: Sure, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So just for the understanding of folks at home, this has become a regular practice, ICE dropping off a large number of migrants in your city, a city with no resources and often no warnings to deal with these drop-offs.

Five hundred and twenty two dropped off last night alone. Tell us why this happens. Why does ICE come to your town and leave them there? And is there any other option?

MARGO: Well, we have had 20 -- you're right, the numbers have increased significantly. The fact is it's five times more than a year ago, we've had 24,000 released since October. But we're a large sector here. We're a large port of entry, and they're coming here.

Some of the asylum seekers are going to the port of entry, so those that have been apprehended, trying to cross illegally by Customs and Border Protection. So we're processing them the best we can. They're usually here from anywhere from 24 to a maximum of 96 hours.

And we're using our NGOs and our police, our Office of Medicine(ph) and Management coordinates, we provide bus service for -- to the various shelters and police provide security.

SCIUTTO: Do you have the resources in El Paso to take care of these families? Five hundred in one night, that's a lot to take care of.

MARGO: Well, the NGO, Annunciation House which is our primary NGO, has been doing a wonderful job, a very credible job. We've got about 20 other shelter areas that we can take these migrants, and that's what we're doing. But the generosity of El Paso is unsurpassed and we were able to provide that support.

SCIUTTO: Forgive me, though, is that a burden that should be that of a city like El Paso, to take in -- I mean, it's tremendous charity work, in effect, that many of these organizations are doing. From your view as mayor of this city, is that a burden that should be on your shoulders?

MARGO: Well, let's back it up. The problem is the fact that the folks in Washington D.C. on both sides of the aisle haven't had the fortitude to take care of immigration.

SCIUTTO: Yes --

MARGO: We're worried, this is symptomatic of the problems that they failed to, as I say again, have the intestinal fortitude to take care of.

SCIUTTO: What solution, what step? Because, of course, solving immigration involves a host of issues here. But to deal with this particular issue, migrants taken -- I mean, Kirstjen Nielsen; the DHS secretary, she is blaming rulings from activist judges.

You're talking about a political solution here. To solve the problem that your town is facing, what remedy would you like to see Congress bring?

MARGO: Well, let me start at the beginning. First of all, we do need to control our borders. That's a given. But we have all these problems in Latin America that -- and I don't think our foreign aid is helping any. You've got the gang problems.

You've got the reason they're coming up here. They're credible reasons for their needing asylum. But we've got to deal with the immigration to begin with. We've got to deal with the DACA situation inside. We've got to -- you know, I don't care if we vet everybody and then give them green cards and then quit worrying about who votes and who doesn't vote. But something's got to get done.

And we need to send the -- you know, yes, it's a bit of a burden to us and as well as other communities, but they're passing through very quickly and going to their sponsors, and we're doing all we can to support that, and so is our Office of Medicine(ph) and Management.

And now they're doing the medical assessments, and so we're coordinating with our hospitals and our -- if they need ambulance care, we're providing that as well. So, yes, at a cost, but --

SCIUTTO: It sounds like you're --

MARGO: Yes --

SCIUTTO: You're asking for an adult conversation right here between Republicans and Democrats to deal with a whole host of issues involved here, rather than, you know, dealing with it like bumper sticker issues, right? Do I have that right? You want an adult conversation and compromise to get a solution that works.

MARGO: We need a resolution, and we're tired of dealing with the symptomatic problems that are creating -- that are just getting worse. El Paso is the sixth largest city in the state of Texas and the 19th largest city in the United States.

And we are the largest U.S. city on the Mexican border. So, you know, we need to deal with this. We can tell you first-hand. I've said before, you want to know about border issues, you want to know about immigration, come to El Paso.

[09:25:00] SCIUTTO: Well, fair enough, Dee Margo, thank you. We know you've got a lot on your plate, we wish you the best these holidays.

MARGO: Thank you, happy new year.

SCIUTTO: We are just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Could be a rough ride today, one day after the Dow's biggest one-day point gain ever. Christine Romans, she is following it all. Futures seem to be pointing to a little bit of give-back after yesterday's 1,000-point bounce.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the suggestion that maybe yesterday's rebound was a false rebound. Four down days and a big up day, and now it looks like a percent and a half lower maybe for the Dow Jones Industrial Average at the opening bell.

But Jim, I've got to warn you, it has been very volatile. You can't really judge what's going to happen at the closing bell by what happens at the opening bell. This has been a wild holiday trading week, we're going to have the opening bell for you right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)