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CNN NEWSROOM

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders Lead in Popularity Among African-American Voters; Record Number of Female Candidates for President; Interview with the Children of American Majd Kamalmaz; NFL to Make Catch Interference Plays Reviewable; Supreme Court to Allow Military Transgender Ban to Go into Effect. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 22, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:26] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN, the most-trusted name in news.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: It is, what, January 2019? We already have a crowded Democratic field, and it's expected to grow after two more Democrats tease a potential run for president, senators Bernie Sanders and Corey Booker.

Both attended Martin Luther King events in South Carolina, Monday. Have a listen to what Senator Sanders had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: I'm going to be going around the country and I'm going to be talking to people, and see whether there is that willingness.

Because if we go forward, it will be a very hard campaign. We're going to take on every powerful special interest in this country.

(APPLAUSE)

So that's the question. And I'm -- and I'm -- to be honest with you, that's what I'm looking at, you know? We're looking at it. We're going to assess it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Then there is Senator Booker, playing coy about 2020 on Twitter, writing -- as if it's just between you and him --

TEXT: (Just between you and me) I will let you know soon.

HARLOW -- "Just between you and me, I will let you know soon." Hmm, I wonder what he was talking about.

They join several lawmakers already officially announcing candidacy. You see them on the screen. You've got Senator Elizabeth Warren, Kristen Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro. Many, many of them. Let's bring in our senior political writer and analyst, Harry Enten.

Good morning.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: Morning.

HARLOW: So, Bernie Sanders. That's a big maybe.

ENTEN: That's a big maybe.

HARLOW: He's very serious about it. And one thing that I thought was interesting is how well he's polling in this new NPR "PBS NewsHour" poll among African-American voters.

Fifty-nine percent approval rating, only to be topped by 70 percent for Vice President Joe Biden, an increasingly and very important, you know, constituency. And he's doing well among them.

ENTEN: I mean, look, African-Americans make up about a fifth of the Democratic electorate. We saw Bernie Sanders run into a buzz saw (ph) last time around in South Carolina --

HARLOW: Right.

ENTEN: -- where Hillary Clinton won big. So he recognizes this is a bloc that he needs to improve upon.

One thing with those numbers, I will point out, is a lot of those candidates with those lower favorability numbers, not a lot of people know who they are. So, you know, Bernie Sanders being --

(CROSSTALK)

ENTEN: -- high, that is partially at least name recognition at this point.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's interesting because the two African-American candidates had far lower favorability ratings --

ENTEN: Right. That --

SCIUTTO: -- Kamala Harris and Corey Booker.

ENTEN: Right. They just -- people don't know who they are. But we would expect --

HARLOW: Really?

ENTEN: -- if you look at -- you know, I know this is tough for all of us to understand, but most people are not into 2020 at this point. We are nerds, jumping into this.

SCIUTTO: I find that amazing.

ENTEN: I know. But if you were to look at the people who actually do know who these people are, you see someone like Kamala Harris very high favorability rating. You see the same with Corey Booker.

Versus Bernie Sanders, who still has a high favorability rating among all voters. It's perhaps a little bit lower among those who know exactly who he is.

SCIUTTO: And did you hear him -- I mean, because his words there were, "I'm going to take a look at it. I'm going to assess it." And I think in other public comments, he talked about the challenges he would face.

Did you hear him second-guessing himself on another run (ph) this (ph) --

ENTEN: You know --

SCIUTTO: -- cycle?

ENTEN: -- I think a little bit there. I mean, I'll point out that, you know, Chris Cillizza and I have him ranked seven in our power rankings. Seventh, you know, gives him a shot.

But keep in mind, last time, part of the reason he did so well against Hillary Clinton, because he was really the only alternative.

This time around, everybody is running. So Bernie Sanders' base from last time -- young voters, the left -- it's going to be chopped up.

SCIUTTO: A lot of choices.

ENTEN: It's going to be difficult for him.

HARLOW: Let's talk about the women running. You have Kamala Harris jumping in officially yesterday. She follows Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

You know, Hillary Clinton in her -- in her assessment of the 2016 election, wrote in her book, "This has to be said. Sexism and misogyny played a role in the 2016 election." That's her opinion.

But when you see the number of women jumping in this time, what's the significance? Sexism issues at play, is America ready for a woman, female president?

ENTEN: I'll just start off and say this is historic, right? We never had more than one sitting senator -- woman senator -- run at a time. Now we have four already in -- three senators, one representative. That's a record number.

I mean, look. Sexism is still obviously a part of this country. I don't think anyone denies that. But if you were to look at how people voted and you asked them different position issues, you would see that, in fact, sexism probably didn't hurt Clinton, at least in the primary.

She probably picked up a lot of votes because if you look at a CBS News poll from 2015 for example, you see that the second-highest reason that people gave for voting for Hillary Clinton was, they said it was time for a woman president. So I think it kind of goes both ways.

HARLOW: Interesting.

SCIUTTO: We'll save the questions on the New York Mets' roster moves for the next --

(LAUGHTER)

-- interview.

ENTEN: They're decent. FanGraphs has them going for the second wild card. Not bad, right?

SCIUTTO: You can tell what Harry and I are focused on. Harry Enten --

HARLOW: That's what they talked about the whole commercial break -- Harry.

SCIUTTO: -- thanks very much.

ENTEN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Be sure to watch the first major television event of the 2020 race. That is a live CNN Town Hall with Senator Kamala Harris, hosted by our colleague Jake Tapper. That will be next Monday night at 10:00 p.m., only on CNN.

[10:35:06] HARLOW: Really looking forward to that.

All right. Gone without a trace. An American father disappeared in Syria nearly two years ago, but it is now that his family -- his children -- are going public with his story, and trying to get the ear of the president to help bring their father home. Their first television interview is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:39:58] SCIUTTO: Take a listen to this next story. This morning, the family of Majd Kamalmaz, a 61-year-old American psychotherapist who disappeared in Syria nearly two years ago.

The family, now going public and asking President Trump to help find their father. Mr. Kamalmaz was in Syria visiting family there in February of 2017, just a short trip from neighboring Lebanon, where he had opened a clinic to help treat victims of the civil war in Syria.

HARLOW: Kamalmaz's family in America, on the advice of U.S. officials, has stayed quiet about this for two years, since their father first went missing after he was stopped at a Syrian government checkpoint.

TEXT: Who is Majd Kamalmaz? 61 years old; Longtime clinical psychologist in Virginia and Texas; Offered trauma therapy to survivors of Hurricane Katrine and 2004 Indonesian tsunami; Disappeared in Syria in February 2017; Was traveling to Damascus to visit relatives

HARLOW: But with dead end after dead end about his whereabouts, the family is now just speaking out, hoping to attract the attention of President Trump, hoping he can somehow help bring their father home.

So joining us now for their first interview -- television interview together is Majd's daughters Maryam and Ula, and his son Khalid.

Thank you all for being here. We can't imagine how excruciating these two years have been for you.

So let's just begin with this, Khalid. Why don't you tell us a little bit about your dad?

KHALID KAMALMAZ, SON OF MAJD KAMALMAZ: My father, he's a very empathetic, loving humanitarian. He's spent his whole life helping others. So much so that we kind of felt jealous, that he might not be, you know, spending as much time with us. But we know that he was always working for a good cause.

He's always been an amazing father for us as well. He's always there, always listening. He's the best ever.

SCIUTTO: Yes. As we noted, he went there to help victims of the Syrian civil war.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Maryam and Ula, I know with cases like this, that the concern is, you want to keep it private because you don't want to upset any of the parties involved here.

But now, after two years, you are going public. Why now? What changed your approach now?

MARYAM KAMALMAZ, DAUGHTER OF MAJD KAMALMAZ: Well, it's been two very long years. I think they've been longer for him than they are for us.

We've exhausted all routes. We've worked extensively within Syria and outside of Syria, with the State Department; we've reached out to Robert O'Brien, who has been wonderful and very supportive. And we've written a letter to the president.

We've reached -- we've reached a point now where we need to move up a step. We have not seen any sort of progress as of yet, and it's time to reach out to the president more directly and ask him to help release our father as soon as he can.

HARLOW: Ula, what is the last thing that you heard from your father? When was it, the two years ago, that you heard from him last and what was it about? What was the conversation?

ULA KAMALMAZ, DAUGHTER OF MAJD KAMALMAZ: He was visiting us in December of 2016. And it was just a family visit. And, you know? He traveled abroad quite often, so he promised to come back and visit us.

He spent some time with his grandchildren. We just had a very kind of small family reunion then. And, you know. We were used to him kind of traveling.

HARLOW: Yes.

U. KAMALMAZ: So when we heard the news, you know, we were quite surprised.

SCIUTTO: Khalid, as you approach the Trump administration here, very publicly seeking help, what response are you getting?

K. KAMALMAZ: We've been getting a lot of support from friends and family and social media. And we really appreciate that.

You know, our -- like we said, our main goal is to try to reach President Trump to see if he'd be able to take this matter personally and try to bring our father back.

HARLOW: Look --

SCIUTTO: Have you gotten any response from the --

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- administration, as you ask for that help?

K. KAMALMAZ: We haven't yet. We do know -- you know, we did send him a letter back in October. And it -- we do know that it reached the White House, but we just haven't heard back from him personally yet.

HARLOW: And for you, Khalid, I mean, your father has 13 grandchildren, including a son who you -- you know, you just have a new baby son. And obviously --

SCIUTTO: Right.

HARLOW: -- you want him to be reunited with you, and also all those grandchildren.

Maryam, obviously this is made more complicated by the lack of diplomatic ties now between the United States and the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Are you concerned about that in terms of the ability for the president to do anything here?

M. KAMALMAZ: No. I still believe President Trump has his unique way of negotiating. I think he can be successful. And I know that when he puts his mind to do something, he gets it done.

[10:45:00] So I know whatever the circumstances are, he will be able to succeed in returning our father. I am very positive about this.

U. KAMALMAZ: I'll (ph) agree.

K. KAMALMAZ: If I could just jump in to say that -- SCIUTTO: Please.

K. KAMALMAZ: -- my father was not an activist. He wasn't a political person at all. So it's just a humanitarian situation. A person caught at the wrong place at the wrong time.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

K. KAMALMAZ: So it's nothing to do with politics.

SCIUTTO: I mean, this is a war where the actors there have not distinguished, you know, based on people's backgrounds or their --

K. KAMALMAZ: Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- mission on the ground.

K. KAMALMAZ: Unfortunately.

SCIUTTO: This is a difficult question because you've gone through so much pain for these two years, but Ula, Maryam, Khalid, have you received any proof of life? Anything about your father's well-being in the last two years?

M. KAMALMAZ: Unfortunately --

K. KAMALMAZ: Unfortunately not.

M. KAMALMAZ: -- we have not received any -- yes.

SCIUTTO: Please. Ula.

M. KAMALMAZ: Go ahead.

U. KAMALMAZ: Go ahead, Maryam.

M. KAMALMAZ: Oh. Yes. Unfortunately, we have not received any proof of life --

SCIUTTO: or Maryam.

M. KAMALMAZ: -- no voice recordings, no pictures. Not a phone call, nothing. We've just received word of mouth that he is alive, and that's all we know.

Other than that, it's been very heart-aching, not to hear his voice and to be able to know he is doing fine.

Being a diabetic and having health issues, it's very difficult for us to -- you know, even imagine what he could be going through.

HARLOW: Ula, just remind us -- and the president, if he's watching, who you are trying to reach -- remind us why your father was there. What was the humanitarian work that he was doing?

U. KAMALMAZ: Ever since he was a young man, he had a passion of helping others. So he started out by helping youth in behavioral centers, working his way up to war victims of the genocide in Kosovo, Bosnia, to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Indonesia. I mean, he was there.

He couldn't handle seeing someone in pain. So I think it was just a passion of his to help others. And he traveled.

The last thing he was doing before, you know, he went missing, was helping refugees of the war. And he did not differentiate between any gender, any religion, anyone.

Anyone who needed help was welcome to the center that he opened up in Lebanon to help the refugees with their mental health issues.

HARLOW: Pretty incredible work.

U. KAMALMAZ: I'd just like to point out as well --

HARLOW: Yes.

M. KAMALMAZ: Thank you. When he did go into Syria though, it was to visit family members and check on their well-being, as he has a loving father.

And, you know, his heart is always with his family. So when he did go into Syria, it was mostly to see and pay condolences to our grandfather, our mother's father, that had recently passed away. And to check on his elderly family members who are also going through a lot of health issues.

So his heart was with them, and he thought he was close enough in Lebanon, why not go in and check on them?

He made sure that his name was cleared from any type of arrest warrant, and so he was good to go into Syria. No reason to be afraid.

HARLOW: Maryam, Ula, Khalid Kamalmaz, thank you very much for sharing this. We know how painful it is. We can only imagine. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: And we hope you get the help you're looking for.

HARLOW: We do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Thinking of you today.

HARLOW: OK. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:53:11] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN, the most-trusted name in news.

HARLOW: All right. After the Saints were robbed -- so I'm told -- of an appearance -- I missed that game -- in the Super Bowl -- in Super Bowl LIII, the NFL is now reportedly going to look at making pass interference plays reviewable.

SCIUTTO: Yes. If you've seen this video, it's a pretty rough one. Andy Scholes has been following this. More in today's "Bleacher Report." Are they going to make real changes here, now?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it looks that way, Jim and Poppy. And, you know, we've seen the NFL react like this before after a game-changing play in the playoffs.

Remember, after Tom Brady's fumble that wasn't somehow called a fumble, against the Raiders in the Snow back in 2002. We got the Tuck Rule.

Then after Dez Bryant's non-catch against the Packers in 2014, they changed the catch rule.

Well, according to multiple reports, this off season the NFL is now going to look at adding pass interference plays to instant replay. Right now it's just at the official's discretion and cannot be reviewed.

But the Saints say, you know, changing the rule now, not going to help the fact that they were cheated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRON ARMSTEAD, OFFENSIVE TACKLE, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: If they do add replay to pass interference calls, it doesn't do anything for us right now.

Like -- and that's just all. That's really my whole head space right now, is just -- it's just tough for us, devastating for us, you know, a team that has fought through so much and it was close. We were close.

So, I mean, whether they add replay to it or not, it doesn't help us at all. It's too late.

JERMON BUSHROD, GUARD, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: You don't get that moment back. You don't get this opportunity back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: And Saints owner Gayle Benson, putting out a statement yesterday saying she's been in touch with the league about changing the rule.

It read, in part, "No team should ever be denied the opportunity to reach the title game, or simply win a game, based on the actions or inactions of those charged with creating a fair and equitable playing field.

[10:55:03] "It is a disservice to our coaches, players, employees and, most importantly, the fans who make our game possible.

"The NFL must always commit to providing the most basic of expectations, fairness and integrity."

And Saints fans, obviously, still feeling this loss. Matt Bowers, who owns multiple car dealerships in the New Orleans area, paid for these billboards to go up around Atlanta.

One says the NFL blew it, the other says the Saints got robbed. One of them, right next to Mercedes-Benz stadium, the site of Super Bowl LIII. They're going to be up throughout the Super Bowl.

I actually saw one on my way into work this morning, guys, to CNN Center. I'll tell you what, the Saints are never going to let anyone forget that this Super Bowl --

HARLOW: Yes.

SCHOLES: -- is tainted in their eyes, and they should be playing in it.

SCIUTTO: Andy Scholes, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Appreciate it. We're following breaking news, some really important news out of the Supreme Court. The court, allowing a military transgender ban to go into effect.

SCIUTTO: But there are a lot of questions, need to be cleared up about this, including limitations as to which servicemembers who identify as transgender are affected by this ban after the Supreme Court's decision.

Stay with CNN. It's a story we're going to continue to follow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)