Return to Transcripts main page


Federal Workers without Paychecks Today; Drugs Coming into the U.S.; Uncertainty over Ginsburg; Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 11, 2019 - 09:30   ET



[09:31:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

This morning the shutdown's harsh reality sinks in. Eight hundred thousand federal employees are now without a paycheck, many of them still working. And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has a new message. Speaker Pelosi's refusal to negotiate virtually ends the congressional path to funding for a border wall/barrier. It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Joe Neguse of Colorado.

Congressman, thanks for taking the time this morning.

REP. JOE NEGUSE (D), COLORADO: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this.

President Obama liberally used executive powers, particularly at times when he could not get support from Congress. How is the president declaring a national emergency in this case different?

NEGUSE: Well, look, Jim, I think it's an apples and oranges comparison. I mean, ultimately, what the president is apparently proposing to do is to declare a national emergency to build a southern wall on our southern border. I don't believe he has the constitutional or statutory authority to do it. If President Truman could not nationalize the steel industry during wartime, then I find it hard to believe that this president could get away with manufacturing a crisis of this sort and declaring a national emergency. I just think those are fundamentally different.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because as the shutdown drags on, it strikes me that members of your own party are getting uncomfortable, concerned about how this affects Democrats. Representative Lucy McBath, Democrat from Georgia, she said, if we don't compromise, the American people are the ones who get hurt. Right now they are hanging in the balance.

I'll quote another one, Colin Allred from Texas, Democrat, I don't think it's the Democrats' in the House's fault that we're in a shutdown, but I do think it's setting us back in terms of those coalitions we're trying to build. I wonder if you share those concerns, that Democrats, at least in the

eyes of voters, are going to be perceived as sharing the blame here?

NEGUSE: I don't think that that's what those members were saying. I mean I -- first I would just say, we are a big tent party. We are very diversified logically and, you know, 234 members in our caucus are all going to have various views on -- on important public policy issues.

That being said, I think what you are hearing is a consensus that folks are uncomfortable by the ramifications of this Trump shutdown. You are hearing various members of Congress in the Democratic caucus make clear that they are frustrated that this president is holding our government hostage as countless workers, including many in my district, Jim, go without pay, are literally working without pay.

SCIUTTO: I get that. I get that. And we're talking to those -- we're talking to those people. But the fact is, Democrats have voted in favor of proposals in the past that gave many billions of dollars to border security, including a wall. But now the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, is saying not a single dollar. That's a change in the Democratic position.

NEGUSE: I -- I -- you know, with respect, Jim, I don't think that that's the case. I mean I hear you. Obviously Democrats, I think, are willing and want to have a conversation about border security and comprehensive immigration reform.

What we are not going to do is go into negotiations with someone who is going to take the government hostage every time he doesn't get his way. You know, fundamentally, that is not how our government is supposed to run. So I just -- I think that that's a difference of opinion.

SCIUTTO: Well, I -- OK, you have a difference of opinion on who to blame here.

But I wonder about whether you're concerned about the political ramifications here because Democrats, particularly a lot of first termers, young ones like yourself, were elected to change, right? And Democrats came into this session with a new majority, with an ambitious agenda on voting rights, on opioids. That agenda is -- we don't -- we don't see it. We're not hearing anything about it. We're only hearing about the shutdown. Are you concerned that the Democrats' agenda, that they're going to be viewed as obstructionists as opposed to doers?

NEGUSE: Well, Jim, you might not be hearing about it, but I can assure you that that agenda is moving forward. Just last week, the very first bill was introduced in this Congress, HR-1, was precisely what you just described, an election reform package to get dark money out of our politics, to reform the way that we conduct our elections in the United States so that more folks have access to the ballot box. That was HR-1, the very first bill.

[09:35:00] Now, with respect to the shutdown, I mean it can. We are voting -- in just a few hours I will vote, yet again, on a Republican- approved appropriation bill, this time to open up the Department of the Interior, which impacts national park employees in my district. These are Republican appropriation bills. They were approved by the Senate just 30 days ago. It's time for the Senate Republicans to take yes for an answer. I think this is -- you are right, the voters spoke in a pretty resounding way that they wanted change at the ballot box last November and that they did not want to, you know, to have their politicians arguing over manufactured crises. And so, ultimately, the ball is in the president's court. This is a crisis he has manufactured, not the Democratic caucus.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. In terms of getting something done before we go, would you be willing to give more money for a wall in exchange for protection for dreamers, something that Democrats have sought for some time?

NEGUSE: No. I mean, again, I don't support the wall. I think it is -- it's a morally bankrupt idea and ultimately sends a message to the rest of the world that the United States of America is closed to many who are seeking asylum and seeking refuge.

As you may know, Jim, my parents were refugees to this country from east Africa. They came from Eritrea. As a son of immigrants, I just find the message that the wall sends to be reprehensible. And I also -- you know, as many experts have said, it's unnecessary. It's ridiculously expensive. At the end of the day, this should not be about the wall, this should be about re-opening government. Let's re- open our government and then let's go to the negotiating table and let's talk about comprehensive immigration reform that this country so desperately needs.

SCIUTTO: Well, I, as a grandson of immigrants as well.

Congressman Neguse, thanks very much for taking the time.

NEGUSE: Thank you, Jim.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Jim, you make an important point, though, right, about the 2006 Fence Act and the number of Democrats that voted for it then. That's the point you're making, right, and that it is a marked --

SCIUTTO: Well --

HARLOW: It's a marked change.

SCIUTTO: True. And even more recently, right, last year, $25 billion. Granted that was more comprehensive immigration reform, which is what, listen, when you talk to members in private, that's what they want. But, listen, it's another one of those case where I have to imagine folks back home look at Washington and they're like, it just -- it just ain't working, you know?

HARLOW: As they stare at their zero dollar paychecks, right?

SCIUTTO: Yes. HARLOW: And we're going to have another one of those freshman Democrats on next hour and ask him a lot of the same questions, see if they can get sort of on a similar page here.

All right, so could a border wall stem the drug crisis in this country? The president has said it can. Our Sanjay Gupta actually went to the border to ask the experts.


[09:41:48] HARLOW: One of the key reasons behind the president's push for the border wall is his argument that this will all but stop drugs, illicit drugs, from coming into the United States. But is that really true? I mean would a wall really end this crisis?

Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta went to the border, went to the wall, to ask the officials that know the answers to tell you the facts. Here you go.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): What you're witnessing here are efforts to stop drugs from coming across the U.S.-Mexican border.

SCOTT BROWN, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, HOMELAND SECURITY INVESTIGATIONS: Almost every car crossing is crossing for a legitimate reason. It's a very small percentage that comes in carrying contraband. But I think when the inspectors pick up on something, their success rate's pretty high. When you saw the dog sits down at the back of the car, that's how that particular dog alerts.

GUPTA: Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown oversees the Phoenix Field Office for Homeland Security Investigations. And drugs are a big part of what he does.

GUPTA (on camera): So this is how it happens. I mean what we're witnessing here is --

BROWN: Is what happens every day along the southwest border of the U.S. And, you know, the officers at the ports of entry are phenomenal. They're fantastic at identifying fresh tool marks that shouldn't be there. So a screw that's been recently turned that there wouldn't really be a reason for it to be recently turned.

GUPTA: That's fascinating.

BROWN: They can pick up on that. I mean they're experts at what they do.

GUPTA: That's a human art and intelligence together.

BROWN: Yes. Absolutely.

GUPTA (voice over): What they find, about 24 kilos of hard drugs.

Minutes later, field testing reveals cocaine.

Situations like this were a central tenet of President Trump's argument this week for a wall.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl. Every week 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border.

GUPTA: But I wanted to learn just how effective the wall would be.

GUPTA (on camera): This literally is a physical wall in between the two -- the two countries that we're looking at here.

BROWN: The vast amount of hard narcotics don't come through at places like this. The vast amount of hard narcotics come through at the ports of entry, where we just were.

GUPTA (voice over): And besides meth, cocaine, heroin or marijuana, it's fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin. It's the big challenge nowadays. The most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that overdose deaths from fentanyl have skyrocketed at least 1,100 percent since 2011.

GUPTA (on camera): In the past, cartels might try and smuggle a hundred kilograms of drugs across the border. It wasn't easy to do. They were likely to get caught. But here's part of the problem. Nowadays they could smuggle across something that looks like this. This is just a one kilogram bag of flour. But if this were street fentanyl, it would cost about $8,000 to make, could be turned into a million pills and then sold for $20 million to $30 million on the black market. All of that from a small container that looks like this.

[09:45:09] BROWN: The vast majority of fentanyl is produced in China. It comes into the U.S. two ways. You know, it comes into -- into Mexico, where it's either pressed into pill form or combined with heroin. The other way it comes in is American consumers buy it direct often times from vendors out of China.

GUPTA (on camera): And then it gets mailed in?

BROWN: U.S. mail, which is the most common. A very small quantity of fentanyl is very hard to detect in the masses of letters that come into the U.S. every day.

GUPTA: How effective is a wall at preventing drugs from getting into the United States?

BROWN: In terms of hard narcotics, no, I don't know that we get immediately safer over hard narcotics. As of right now, the vast majority of hard narcotics come in through the ports of entry in deep concealment or come in through, you know, the mail order express consignments.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA: So, you know, when they say 90 percent of heroin is coming across the border from Mexico, that's correct. And we know how many opioid-related deaths there are every year. But the point again is that most of it's coming through ports of entry and deep concealment.

And, Poppy, I mean, look, the world has changed.


GUPTA: This is $20 million to $30 million worth of product.


GUPTA: This is just flour, but I'm saying $8,000 of raw ingredients turned into that much. You can see the economic incentive. And, obviously, just stick it in that car, like you saw there, that's the deep concealment they're talking about.

HARLOW: And, again, it's these experts that know they're at the border. They're not -- it's politics aside for them. These are the facts. They're coming through legal ports of entry.

GUPTA: They're living it. Yes.

HARLOW: And they say a wall isn't going to put an end to it.

GUPTA: Very clearly, yes.

HARLOW: So telling.

Sanjay, thank you for your reporting.

GUPTA: You got it, Poppy.

HARLOW: We appreciate it.


SCIUTTO: Well, the facts don't support the claim that a wall would stop it. It's a great story.

Coming up, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's absence from the bench this week is raising some big concerns, some questions about the high court. We're going to discuss that, next.


[09:51:19] SCIUTTO: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's absence this week has left a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the Supreme Court. It is the first time in 25 years that Ginsburg missed a court hearing for health reasons. A spokesperson for the court says the 85-year-old is reading briefs, casting votes while home and recuperating from her lung surgery.

Joining me now is CNN's Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic.

Joan, thank you very much.

You know this better than anyone. RBG is tough. We know that. But she has taken longer to return. What do you know about her health status?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Yes, I think it has to do a little bit with the expectations. Her surgery was on December 21st. She came home from the hospital and began recuperating on December 26th. So she spent some time there. And she left open the possibility that she would be on the bench this week, which probably was optimistic on her part and a little bit of, you know, that -- the iconic notorious RBG --

SCIUTTO: I can do it. Right. Yes.

BISKUPIC: Yes, exactly, I can do it. That's what she's always been about.

But, you know, our own medical experts say that you need several weeks. And so that's what's happened here is that she's just needed more time. But that's created a certain anxiety around the Supreme Court because, Jim, what's different this time around compared to the 1999 and 2009 cancer scares that she had is that we have a Republican president in the White House, Donald Trump. He could potentially get a third appointee in just three years.


BISKUPIC: If she were to just -- to step down.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And we know "Politico" is reporting that the White House is quietly making preparations for that possibility, assembling a list of nominees. Is the White House getting ahead of things here?

BISKUPIC: I think so. Our own CNN reporting finds that to be the case too, that they're at least quietly trying to get things in place just in case because they don't want a huge battle. They will -- OK, they will have a huge battle no matter what.


BISKUPIC: But I do think so. You know, it -- this was serious surgery that she underwent. She's going to be 86 years old in March. She's going to take some time. She wore it as a point of pride that she never missed a day. But she also is -- you know her -- her work ethic is legendary. But she also has a certain achievement attitude toward health too. And I bet she's sort of looking forward to day to day progress. And hopefully that is occurring

SCIUTTO: Right. Anybody who's seen her workouts knows that fitness is important.


SCIUTTO: Before we go, of course, the Kavanaugh confirmation fight was a big one. A little bit different because that was replacing a swing vote. This would be replacing a hard liberal, right, with enormous effects on the court.


SCIUTTO: How would a battle look like?

BISKUPIC: OK. If you can imagine something worse and more contentious, we will have it.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Right.

BISKUPIC: And that's because, you're exactly right, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is arguably the leftward poll of this Supreme Court. She's only gotten more liberal during her 25 years on this bench. And to be succeeded by a hard-right conservative appointed by Donald Trump would be a battle royale (ph) --

SCIUTTO: Yes. If you can picture the court kind of balancing.


SCIUTTO: And you take that off and it kind of swings this way.


SCIUTTO: Well, we know you're going to be watching it.


SCIUTTO: Joan Biskupic, thanks very much, as always.

BISKUPIC: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And be sure to watch the CNN film "RBG." It's a look at the life and career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That's tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern Time, only on CNN. I've seen it. It's a really powerful story. You learn a lot that you might not know about her.

HARLOW: Yes, it is remarkable. So make sure you tune in.

[09:54:43] Ahead for us, should a Texas Republican lose his post as vice chairman just because he's a Muslim? You know the answer to that question. But one county voted on that decision, ahead.


HARLOW: Well, this morning, a bid to unseat the vice chair of the GOP in Tarrant County, Texas, solely because he is a Muslim, has failed. Dr. Shahid Shafi was reaffirmed by his fellow Republicans in a lop sided vote brought about by a precinct chair who claimed that Islam is neither safe nor acceptable in America.

SCIUTTO: Well, you know, in the year 2019, still, 49 local party members actually endorsed that view, voted to remove him from the party. Thankfully, 139 voted against it, voted for him. He calls the vote, quote, a stand against bigotry of all kinds.


DR. SHAHID SHAFI, VICE CHAIR, TARRANT COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: This vote has reaffirmed my faith in our country, in our party.


HARLOW: Also, we should note, the state's top Republicans, including the governor, Greg Abbott, condemned the move against Shafi from the start.

[10:00:05] SCIUTTO: Top of the hour. Friday morning. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.