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Government Investigates Death of Migrant Child in U.S. Custody; Democratic Presidential Contenders?; Stock Markets on Track for Worst December Since Depression. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 27, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And just a few inches of snowfall tomorrow.

Then the rain, Ryan, moves to the east, heavy amounts. The severe weather threat will slide also to the east. So, tomorrow could be a pretty rough go Southeastern U.S. and the major hubs of the Northeast.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: All right, a lot of people on the roads and in the skies.

SATER: Yes.

NOBLES: Take some caution. Tom Sater, thank you so much.

Hour two. I'm Ryan Nobles, in for Brooke Baldwin.

And just in to CNN, we are now getting our first picture of the young migrant boy who died in U.S. custody. This is 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez. The Guatemalan child died in a New Mexico hospital on Christmas Eve shortly after being taken into U.S. custody.

It was the second death of a migrant child in U.S. custody this month. We are also learning that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will be traveling to the border this weekend, this as she warns that the border has been pushed to the breaking point. Nielsen blames parents for putting their children at risk by making the journey to the U.S.

Let's bring in CNN's Dan Simon. He is near the border in El Paso, Texas.

Dan, do we know much more about what may have caused this young boy's death?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't really know what happened. We do know that he was taken to the hospital on Christmas Eve.

He was given some antibiotics, amoxicillin and ibuprofen to help deal with his fever. And then, later that night, he started vomiting, and he lost consciousness while in the van on the way back to the hospital, and he died. Now, ultimately, we don't know if he got sick as a result of this dangerous journey crossing the border or if he got sick as a result of being in the custody of Border Patrol.

We do know that an autopsy has been performed, but we don't have the results of that yet. It'll take a few weeks, but, obviously, the fact that you have two children who died in less than a month while in the custody of Border Patrol, it's raising very disturbing questions about the treatment of these children and whether or not the Border Patrol is up to the task, whether or not they can handle this influx of Central American migrants.

We know that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, she's on her way to the border tomorrow. She's going to be spending some time in El Paso, we understand. And she's going to be watching what is happening inside these custody centers, specifically as it relates to health screening.

We know that she has ordered her agency to do enhanced health screenings, obviously, to help prevent any future deaths with children.

NOBLES: All right, Dan Simon in El Paso, Texas.

A beautiful boy, a terrible tragedy. We will see how the homeland security secretary addresses it when she travels there this weekend. Dan, thank you.

On Wall Street, traders are suffering a serious case of whiplash, as the Dow, just a day after posting record gains, plunges into the red. Investor fears over the economy, monetary policy and, of course, the dysfunction in Washington are sending stocks to a triple-digit decline.

These latest losses are helping the month of December earn a spot in Wall Street history, but not in a good way. U.S. markets are on track for their worst December since the Depression.

CNN's Alison Kosik is live at the New York Stock Exchange.

Alison, we did see stocks down as much as 600 points today. They are clawing their way back, but still in negative territory. What are you seeing there in this final hour of trading?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the final hour of trading, this is the hour to watch.

This is actually the hour yesterday where we saw that major surge in the Dow, when it closed over 1,000 points higher. So this pullback today is natural after that massive move by the Dow, but it certainly magnifies the volatility that's prevalent in this market right now.

You know, 11 of the 18 sessions just in December, there were there were triple-digit moves on the Dow. It just highlights just how volatile it's been. Now, these year-end gyrations come after massive moves downward for all of the major indices. The Dow was off thousands of points from its peak in October.

The S&P 500 was in bear market territory. Now it's out. The Nasdaq is in bear market territory again. That's a 20 percent drop from a recent high. Now, all of this volatility, a lot of it is because of year-end positioning. You're seeing a lot of these investment houses looking to square their books before they close -- before they close their books on 2018.

But when the new calendar year comes, 2019, investors are going to be looking for some clarity. They're going to be looking for clarity, a little more certainty on what the Fed plans to do. How many interest rate hikes will there be? They're going to be looking for clarity on the trade situation between China and the U.S.

And they will definitely be looking for more stability when it comes to what comes out of the Trump administration -- back to you.

NOBLES: All right, Alison Kosik, just a little bit left in this trading day, down now, tracking back down, down more than 400 points.

Alison, thank you.

And on Capitol Hill, it may be a new day, but the story remains the same, no progress in government shutdown talks and no end in sight.

[15:05:00]

In about an hour, both the House and senator expected to gavel in, but there's just one thing. Most lawmakers are still at home for the holidays. They're not even in Washington, D.C., and they won't be until actual negotiations that could reopen the government resume.

As of now, there are no votes scheduled to be held today. And it is a painful formula for every government shutdown. The longer it lasts, the harder it hits, especially to those most directly impacted.

Federal workers, 800,000 of them are losing out on wages. They're either furloughed or just working without pay.

Joining me now to talk about this is Randy Erwin. He is the president of the National Federation of Federal Employees.

Randy, I do want to talk to you about the president's tweet today, specifically, the last line. He says -- quote -- "Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?"

Randy, you represent many of these people. Can you confirm the president's statement there, or would you have a beef with what he said, what he has to say here?

RANDY ERWIN, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FEDERATION OF FEDERAL EMPLOYEES: It's ridiculous. I mean, it'd be funny if it wasn't really funny at all.

We know the political makeup a federal employees. They are split evenly down political lines, recent surveys, equal Republicans and Democrats, and a significant number of independents as well. So any notion that you could slice and dice and kind of furlough the Democrats and not the Republicans is just -- is just preposterous and comical.

And it just kind of shows that he doesn't understand the federal work force very well, or he wouldn't say things like that. I don't think he understands that 85 percent of the federal work force is outside of the D.C. area, not -- spread out across the country. They're in every community across the government.

Also, the federal government is the number one employer of veterans nationwide. Close to one-third of federal employees are veterans. So he's out there saying that he's proud to shut the government down. These are the people he's hurting. And it's just unbelievable, the things that he's saying right now.

NOBLES: I mean, even if it were true, should it matter?

ERWIN: No.

NOBLES: I mean, the political makeup of these people that work on behalf of the government, they do it -- don't do it in a political position. Many of them are civil servants. Should their political party matter?

ERWIN: Well, when he says things like this, it's -- well, it shouldn't matter. You're 100 percent right about that.

And it goes to why we need an independent civil service, people who come to work every day and work for the American people, not for anybody who is sitting in the White House.

NOBLES: Let's talk about this thing that's trending on Twitter right now called shutdown stories. It's a hashtag that people such as this mother of three talking about not being able to make rent or buy food.

I mentioned this before. I live in the Northern Virginia suburbs. Many of my neighbors are federal government employees. They are nervous about this situation. I mean, what are you hearing about how this shutdown is impacting families?

ERWIN: Well, the stories are pouring in. I have been speaking to dozens of my union's members and (INAUDIBLE) members across the country.

We're real big in the Forest Service. That's very, very strongly impacted by this shutdown, Bureau of Land Management, Housing and Urban Development. And, you know, these workers are just really hurt. Their pay has been shut off. They don't know how long it's going to last for. And these are real families real, real people, real hardworking American people with real families and real financial obligations.

And they had the carpet ripped out from under them. We have heard things like, as soon as the furlough hit, we had -- we had one of our members take presents that were rapped wand ready to be given out, unwrap them and take them back to the store. That's how serious it is for people, a lot of workers in the federal government, that live paycheck to paycheck. NOBLES: The other day, one of the president's top economic advisers kind of just shrugged off the idea that these federal workers were going without pay and suggested that they -- they get paid eventually.

That requires an act of Congress. We know how difficult it is for Congress to accomplish things, especially in this current environment. I mean, even though in the past they have received that back pay after being furloughed, are they still concerned that perhaps that pay won't come and do they prepare accordingly?

ERWIN: Well, you have to prepare as though it's not going to come, because there is no guarantee. So for a lot of these workers that are being furloughed right now, that money may never come. It takes an act of Congress to pay them, to not penalize hardworking federal employees for Washington dysfunction.

But they really cannot count on it. So it's just scary for those families.

NOBLES: All right. We should point out there is bipartisan legislation to address that, to have these workers paid, should the shutdown continue. As of right now, that is not moving in Congress, because nothing is moving in Congress right now.

ERWIN: Right.

NOBLES: Randy Erwin we appreciate it. Thank you for your perspective.

ERWIN: Thank you for having me.

NOBLES: Next: how President Trump's secret trip to Iraq became not so secret, thanks in part to a plane enthusiast who noticed something unusual in the sky over the United Kingdom.

[15:10:10]

Also, while the president was there, did he misinform U.S. troops, claiming that he was giving them their first pay raise in more than 10 years? We will discuss the facts.

And with the new year arriving, we are about to find out which Democrats of this very lengthy list you see in front of you will challenge President Trump for the presidency. We will read the tea leaves on who has the early advantage when we come back.

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NOBLES: President Trump and the first lady are back at the White House after their surprise trip to visit U.S. troops in Iraq.

[15:15:00]

It was a secret so hard to keep, the president said that he had to cancel a couple of earlier plans because of people finding out. Now, while in Iraq, the president was asked about the safety concerns that he had.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had concerns for the institution of the president, because -- not for myself personally.

I had concerns for the first lady, I will tell you. But if you would have seen what we had to go through, with the darkened plane, with all windows closed, with no lights on whatsoever anywhere, pitch black, I have never seen that. I have been in many airplanes, all types and shapes and sizes. I have never seen anything like it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: Joining me now, CNN law enforcement analysts Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent during the Obama administration, and retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, a former U.S. military attache in Syria.

Jonathan, let's talk first about this great story that's on CNN.com written by our friend Noah Gray. If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommended on CNN.com. Talks about this picture that was posted online before we knew definitively that the president was in Iraq.

This was a plane spotter in England who thought he saw what looked like Air Force One making its way through the skies, took a picture of it and posted it. Then we find out that was indeed it. I mean, how do you keep something like this secret when you were working on President Obama's detail? It must be difficult.

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, thankfully, we didn't have the social media that we have today, the followers that are constantly monitoring social media, the digital platforms to see where the president's moving at all times, the first lady.

I mean, that's a new vulnerability that the Secret Service, the military has to face now every single day. I mean, there was no mistaking what that aircraft was when that was posted online. I actually saw it. Right after was posted, I said, uh-oh, this is a game-changer for the Secret Service.

But, again, now that they understand that a vulnerability like this can telegraph the movements of, you know, confidential and private travel by the president, you know, they will just change. They will change their tactics. Again, in this case, it really didn't amount to canceling the visit or jeopardize the mission at the end of the day.

However, going forward, it's going to change the way that they operate.

NOBLES: I mean, does he have to travel in that specific plane? I know there are two versions of this plane that are clearly what we call Air Force One when the president is on board.

WACKROW: Yes.

NOBLES: I mean, couldn't they come up with some other mode of transportation that isn't so obvious when it's in the sky?

WACKROW: Well, I think for the next combat zone trip, they absolutely will.

But, for right now, that aircraft, Air Force One, has all the communications, it has all the necessary equipment to maintain the continuity of operations for the United States. It has all the medical gear. It has every contingency plan on board that specific aircraft, pursuant to the protection and safety of the president and first lady.

So right now, that's the asset. On a go-forward basis, I'm sure that may change.

NOBLES: We may see that change.

Well, Colonel, let's go to you now. And, now, the president said that this trip was planned three or four weeks ago. Now, we know, for general security reasons, that presidential trips to war zones are kept quiet, but explain the specific concerns there are when a president goes into a combat area.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, of course, you have got other people that don't wish us well. Nothing would be -- nothing would suit them better than to put the president at risk.

So anywhere the president goes, they have got to do all the advance work. They have got to maintain security and they got to make sure he is safe while he's on the ground. This is a big operation. It's very hard to do without being discovered, as you have been talking about. It's very hard to move aircraft around.

And it's not just one aircraft. I have handled presidential visits in the past, and it's usually about 10 aircraft over a period of time. They have to bring all the equipment, all the communications. So it's not just an airplane landing somewhere. It's a big, big operation, lots of logistics, lots of moving parts.

NOBLES: Speaking of those logistics, there was a meeting that was scheduled with the prime minister of Iraq. That meeting was canceled.

Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, said it was for security reasons that the White House was only able to invite the prime minister two hours before the scheduled meeting time. I mean, does that sound correct? Should they have given the Iraqis more notice? Or is there a real vulnerability there that, if you inform someone in Iraq's government, that that could then leak out to someone who would have perhaps nefarious intentions?

FRANCONA: I would say that it was for security reasons. You would not tell everybody. Well, you wouldn't tell the Iraqi government.

The Iraqi government is riddled with Iranian agents. And, frankly, the Iraqi government may have officially notified the Iranians. So that's something that I understand why they would keep it close-hold. I know the Iraqis were very upset. They said this was an impingement on their sovereignty and all that. But when you're making these arrangements, the safety of the U.S. president is paramount from our side.

NOBLES: Right. I do think we sometimes take this for granted, right, how difficult it is to move someone who as important as the president of the United States into such a dangerous place. The Secret Service, the military do a terrific job of keeping the president safe.

[15:20:05]

Colonel Francona, Jonathan Wackrow, thank you very much for your perspectives.

Next, with the new year right around the corner, are we about to find out who's in and who's out? As Democrats decide whether to run for president, who has the early advantage for 2020? Yes, we're talking about 2020 coming up next.

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[15:25:05]

NOBLES: I'm sure you're thinking about this as the year comes to an end. It's only going to be a matter of days before it's 2019, which means we already have to start talking about 2020.

And that is top of mind for a very specific set of Democrats. I'm talking about the ones -- and there are at least some Democrats not considering this. There are a lot that are, though, considering a run against Donald Trump for the presidency.

And we know at least two dozen are specifically weighing their bid. It's a stark contrast to 2016, when Hillary Clinton was the hands-down favorite for at least two years beforehand.

So let's talk 2020 prospects. It is not too early.

Joining me now, CNN political commentator Symone Sanders. She was, of course, national press secretary for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign. And CNN political commentator Alice Stewart, former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz.

I should point out both of your candidates announced relatively early on that they were running for president last time around.

But, Alice, let me start with you.

No question, the buzz right now is around the man that your former boss Ted Cruz defeated in his race for the Senate this year. Of course, I'm talking about Beto O'Rourke. Even though he lost, why is his appeal so strong right now?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He is a fresh face. He's very engaging. He certainly did well to connect with the people of Texas.

And, in politics, money is really the name of the game. He's a tremendous fund-raiser. And, look, it didn't -- his politics and his views and his Democratic issues didn't resonate with Texas. That's going to be a different story when we're talking about the presidential landscape. So I think he has a good shot.

And money is important. But the good thing with him is, he is I think, a good package and certainly for Iowa as well, because while cash is good, connecting is great, and he really has a great ability to connect with voters. And that will go a long way when they're campaigning in Iowa.

NOBLES: Symone, what about you? Who do you think is the Democratic front-runner at this point? And where do you see your old boss Bernie Sanders? Where does he stack up in that field?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, you know, Ryan, I don't think there is a Democratic front-runner at this point.

I think that's amazing and why the Democratic primary will be so important. It's going to be a very robust primary. You just saw all of the names and faces that we had there on the screen. And of those folks, I believe that anywhere between eight to 10 of those campaigns will be extremely viable, meaning they will have money, resources and people and the reach to be able to go the distance, not just hit Iowa, New Hampshire, but the California primaries earlier this year.

So you have to be able to go to California, Nevada, South Carolina, and then what is your Super Tuesday strategy? And so I think, of those -- of those 10 that have cash that are able to go the long distance, that will be where the real fight will be. So that's why debates will be important.

I think if Senator Sanders decides to run for president, he will absolutely be a contender. If he doesn't decide to run for president, I do think he will still be relevant to the 2019-2020 conversation. He has been extremely influential in the Democratic Party thus far, and I think he's not going anywhere.

The question is, what's his next move?

STEWART: And, Ryan, you have to think, this time back in the 2016 raise, the Democratic Party front-runner was obviously, as you say, Hillary Clinton, way far ahead of the field, and Warren and Sanders.

But it's really a double-edged sword to be the number one person at this stage of the game, because the bullseye is right on your back. So slow and steady wins the race, and staying a few seats back is, politically, in my view, more advantageous.

NOBLES: Well, to that point, we have gotten through a minute-and-a- half of this conversation and have not mentioned Joe Biden's name, which I think is the first time that's ever happened in 2020 conversation.

Symone, where do you rank the vice president? He is pretty formidable at this point. But with this huge field, anything could happen.

SANDERS: Look, I think anyone that's talking about -- first of all, I love Vice President Joe Biden. And I love a lot of the folks that have been mentioned, clearly my former boss Senator Bernie Sanders. I love Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, on down the line, Julian Castro.

So I love a lot of folks in the field. But the fact of the matter is, any of these polls that are saying that Vice President Joe Biden is number one, so on and so forth, these are all polls based upon name recognition. And so Alice is absolutely right.

This early in the game, I want to be the candidate that nobody's talking about. I want to be the person that is maybe not registering -- is registering at 5 percent in these name recognition polls, because that means I have room to grow.

I think the thing that will be concerning, if I was someone advising Vice President Joe Biden, which, to be clear, I'm not, is that he has very he -- his name recognition is that. People know the vice president. So the question is, how much room does he have to grow, if any?

NOBLES: Right.

Well, Alice, I do want to talk to you about the timing of all of this. I remember Ted Cruz getting out in front of the pack and announcing his candidacy relatively early in 2015.

We do have a couple of people that have announced already, Congressman John Delaney from Maryland. Julian Castro has set up an exploratory committee. Cory Booker has said definitively that he's thinking about it.

I mean, who would it benefit, from your perspective, remembering what happened with Ted Cruz? Because he was around right up until the end. Who would it benefit to jump out and get ahead of the field and say, yes, I'm running, as soon as possible?