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Interview with Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA); New Information on Reported Attack on "Empire" Star Jussie Smollett; Sen. Kamala Harris May Face Challenge with African-American Voters in 2020 Race. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 31, 2019 - 14:30   ET



[14:30:00] REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Localities where technology, some infrastructures -- I said about the ports of entry, we might need more ports of entry. We may need some roads. That's part of the negotiation. It is not a negotiation for the president to say.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: A little while later, from the White House, the president warned if the Democrats don't come up with money for the wall, he doesn't want to, quote, "waste his time" hearing what they have to say. He also tweeted, quote, "The wall is getting done one way or the other."

Republican Senator John Kennedy with me now live from the Hill.

Senator Kennedy, a pleasure, sir. Welcome.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, (R), LOUISIANA: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right. So let's just, you know, fast-forward to February 15th. You heard the president. If there's no wall money, no dice, no deal, which means he would declare a national emergency. Do you think that that declaration is inevitable or is there still time to compromise?

KENNEDY: A couple points. There's still time. I listened to what Speaker Pelosi said. I don't completely understand what she said. She said no wall but there can be infrastructure. I don't understand what she means.

BALDWIN: What do you take that as meaning?

KENNEDY: I have no idea. I have no idea. I don't even know what the politically correct term is today to refer to the wall, whether it's barrier, wall, infrastructure. All I know is -- and I think most American agree with me, legal immigration makes our country stronger. Illegal immigration is illegal. And one way to stop illegal immigration, not the only way, Brooke, but one way is a border wall or a barrier or whatever you want to call it. It's working now in San Diego. The wall is working in El Paso. It's working in Yuma. Its working on the West Bank of Israel. Its working between Saudi Arabia -- there's a wall between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. And I could give you a bunch of other examples. Now Speaker Pelosi has one vote. Will every member of the House or every Democratic member of the House follow her? I don't know. But I know in the Senate I'm wait and see what the committee members come up with. It advances securing our border, I'll consider voting for it. If it doesn't, I won't. And my position will not be determined by Speaker Pelosi or, for that matter, President Trump, though I think President Trump is correct as is just about every fair-minded person who has looked at border security, most conclude that it is impossible, impossible to secure 1,900 miles of real estate without a barrier.

BALDWIN: Yes, correct. Listen, we've talked to border control folks and they say, yes, barrier in some sections. But when you're really talking about drugs, it's coming from ports of entry. We see the drug tunnels. These folks down there get creative. We can have an entire debate on the barrier. But I want to come back to your confusion. And I don't think you're alone. And maybe what Speaker Pelosi was saying, but it sounded to me, when you listen to the whole thing, maybe, maybe there was a little bit of wiggle room. When you read the Democratic plan on paper, it seems like they're offering up zero when it comes to border wall funding, but she may be -- may be open to something. If Nancy Pelosi were to be open for --


BALDWIN: -- some funding for some sort of barrier, fencing, whatever word you choose, Senator Kennedy, why wouldn't that be good enough for this president?

KENNEDY: Well, it might be. Speaker Pelosi is an extraordinarily bright person. She knows that the walls we have right now are working. She knows you can't secure 1,900 miles of border without using barriers. I think she probably just doesn't want to use the word "wall." That's OK. She can call it a wang doodle for all I care. The president's position has never been nor has mine been and the president and I don't agree on everything but we agree on this, we're not talking about a wall from one end to the other. Walls are placed strategically along with what the speaker talked about better technology at ports of entry, more border control agents, more detention beds, drones. It's a combination. But it does include a wall and I know that's hard for the speaker to say. Maybe she should call it a wang doodle.

BALDWIN: We all know what she'd be talking about whatever the word is she uses. My goodness, it's almost silly, but -- but --


KENNEDY: It is silly.

BALDWIN: When you look at the potential compromise, this bipartisan group of your colleagues have been working hard to avoid another shutdown. This new poll shows that it was your party who are the ones that took the big hit over the first shutdown. Approval down eight points in one month. In the end, President Trump didn't get any farther than where he started on December 22nd. My question to you is, was it worth it?

[14:35:07] KENNEDY: Well, see, I think that's part of the problem here, Brooke. They've been looking at this for a political lens. I'm not naive. I understand politics are important. But the real issue here is, it's very simple, can you secure, assuming you believe in border security -- and I take my colleagues, all of them, at their word that they do and I doubt them sometimes, but I take their word -- if you believe in border security, can you secure a 1,900-mile border without some kind of barrier.


BALDWIN: Hang on. Sir, the question was, from December 22 to just a couple days ago, when he finally reopened the government, it was the same speech we heard from the beginning and nothing really changed. He caved. Was it worth it, is my question, yes or no?

KENNEDY: Yes, it's not over yet.


BALDWIN: Yes, it was worth it? Yes, it was worth it that for 35 days --


BALDWIN: -- all these hundreds of thousands of American were not paid, were rationing asthma medicine? It was worth it? For what?

KENNEDY: Well, let me finish, Brooke. We're not through it yet, number one. I happen to think border security is important. I think the reason we're having this debate is because there has been a 30- year bipartisan refusal both by big government Republicans and rich Democrats to refuse to enforce America's immigration laws. Let me say it again, legal immigration makes our country stronger. But illegal immigration is illegal, duh. And one way to stop it is to secure the border and you can't secure the border without a barrier or a wall or a wang doodle or whatever we're calling it. And if Speaker Pelosi -- and she knows that. Speaker Pelosi is an enormously talented person. She knows that. Politically, she doesn't want to use the word wall. I get it. That's OK. She can pick her wall. But I think in order to secure the border and to solve this controversy, we'll have to have a barrier. Do I want to shut down? No. Before your editors write the headline that says, Kennedy says it was all worth it, I don't support, I don't support shut downs. I don't want to see another shutdown. But I also think it's time for us to have an honest discussion about our immigration system and about how we're going to secure the border and what we ought to do to solve this problem.

BALDWIN: Sure, sure. We'll be paying close attention to all of this, as you do, that over the coming days and weeks. And I so appreciate your candor on all of this. I have time for one more question.

KENNEDY: Sure. BALDWIN: Soon, the Senate will be voting on keeping troops in both

Syria and Afghanistan. And this is a major break from the president's recently announced withdrawals of U.S. forces from both those countries. I know where you stand, at least on Syria. Is the president ignoring your warnings?

KENNEDY: Well, what's in front of us this afternoon is Senator McConnell's amendment, which basically says, as I understand it, we shouldn't get out of Syria. I'm going to vote against this amendment. I'm not saying he's wrong. I just don't know if he's right. I don't know who's right or wrong. I do know this. I think the president is going to pull out of Syria. If he does, it's going to leave one of our biggest allies, the Syrian Kurds, exposed. I'm trying to offer an amendment now that would protect them. I'm getting a lot of pushback. I don't understand that. Everybody says, well, we ought to help our allies. And I say, well, who's our allies? They say Israel, Jordan, some say Saudi Arabia. I say, what about the Kurds? We wouldn't have beaten back ISIS without the Kurds. And if we leave, they're sitting out they're naked and alone. I don't want to pick a fight with Turkey, but Turkey has made is very clear, Erdogan's made it very clear how he feels about the Kurds. And I don't want to see Erdogan go in there and slaughter the people who joined with us, who believe in democracy and helped us beat back ISIS. I understand a foreign policy based on interests, but American foreign policy has to have a moral component. And you don't leave your friends behind. And I'm very upset that the Senate refuses to accept my amendment or at least let me debate it. They don't want me to face it, like it's going to go away?

BALDWIN: I feel your anger.

Senator John Kennedy, thank you so very much. Let's talk again. Appreciate it.

KENNEDY: Thanks, Brooke.

[14:39:44] BALDWIN: Coming up next, breaking news out of Chicago and a possible hate crime against "Empire" star, Jussie Smollett. What police just revealed, next?


BALDWIN: There's now new information coming in about the reported attack against "Empire" star, Jussie Smollett.

Sara Sidner is our CNN national correspondent. Joining me now with more.

What have you just learned from police?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: New and important information coming out from Chicago police. Our Ryan Young got some of these details for us. He said police do have the rope and Smollett's sweater. The rope we're talking about is the one that he says was put around his neck in this alleged attack. The sweater because they are testing it for an unknown substance that Smollett said was thrown on him or poured on him during the attack in Chicago.

We have some sense of where this happened as well. The police now saying that -- but they weren't called, though, until 30 to 40 minutes after the attack happened. And they said, when they did arrive, they said that Smollett was still wearing the rope, that the rope was still around his neck, though it was tied more like a tie than a noose. That's from police's recollection of what they saw when they saw Smollett after they had called police.

[14:45:00] There's another detail, too, that Smollett and his manager, Brandon Moore, have been asked for their phone records or their phones because the two of them said, yes, they, indeed, talked to one another and were talking to one another as this attack was happening near the Lowe's Hotel there in Chicago. And police say it is normal police work for them to try to verify every detail of what happened as they try to dig further into this alleged attack. And at this point, neither Smollett nor his manager has handed over their phones or handed over the phone records that police are requesting. So that remains to be seen.

We also know that there's some information about -- in the days prior to the attack, it is confirmed by police that there's a letter containing white powder that was sent to the studios in Chicago where "Empire" is filmed and that the hazmat team did respond to that. It was determined that that powder was actually aspirin. But, indeed, there have been some suspicious activities as well involving "Empire" itself. All of this part of the investigation. The FBI is now looking into that as well. Lots of small details here.

And again, overnight, police showed some pictures of two men or two people. They can't determine who they are. They can't determine what they look like. But they were in the vicinity. And that's the film there. And that is still image from surveillance cameras that are in that vicinity. And they are hoping that the public can help them identify these two people because they would like to talk to them. They are not suspects at this point. They are simply people that they want to question in connection with this case -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Hopefully, members of the public are able to help out.


BALDWIN: Sara Sidner, thank you for the update. Appreciate it.

Meantime, Howard Schultz, in the middle of his beef with Democrats, deletes a tweet attacking two female candidates. Hear his explanation for that.

And why Senator Kamala Harris may face a massive challenge with African-American voters.


[14:51:28] BALDWIN: Now to the presidential run of California Senator Kamala Harris, the first black candidate to enter the 2020 race. Senator Harris served as California's attorney general and district attorney of San Francisco. And her allies believe her life's work as a prosecutor may help set her apart from the growing list of Democratic competitors. But it's that same history and that same record that is also creating a massive debate within the black community. Critics are questioning some of her policies, which they say worked against black families at the time, including a crackdown on parents whose children were truant.

Here she was in 2010 touting the success of the Commonwealth Club.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D), CALIFORNIA: It's like the case of a woman by herself, raising her three children, holding down two jobs and homeless. She just needed some help. But by shining this infrared spotlight of public safety on the fact that her children aren't in school, we were able to figure that out. Get her access to services that exist, and through that process, the attendance of her children improved, we dismissed the charges against her. And, overall, we've improved attendance for this population in San Francisco by 20 percent over the last two years.


BALDWIN: With me now, former senior aide to the Hillary Clinton campaign, Joel Payne, who wrote this opinion piece on "The Hill, called, "The Curious Case of Kamala and the Black Vote."

Joel, a pleasure. Welcome.


BALDWIN: You write, "Depending on who you ask, her relationship with the African-American voters will either be the differentiator that puts her over-the-top or the Achilles heel that holds her back."

How do you mean?

PAYNE: Here's what I mean. Kamala Harris' record as a prosecutor, as you mentioned, is being used to really help her stand out from the field. And, look, she does have an impressive record. She's a fresh face. She's certainly had a wonderful role out to her campaign. But when you really go and look at who her policies really impacted, there's a disproportionate impact to African-American and Hispanic folks, particularly in the Oakland/Bay area community. That's a real challenge for her to explain, particularly in an era of Black Lives Matter, in an era where we're going back and looking at things over a decade ago. Look at what happened to Hillary Clinton with the crime bill. Kamala Harris may face a similar challenge.

BALDWIN: You can't just place a Mary Jay Bilge at your rally and think all is good. How does the Senator refrain her record and that part of her past if she wants to push through it and get the black vote?

PAYNE: She's trying to lean into the fact that she would argue that actually a lot of those policies really did help those communities, and there's a case to be made for that. I think the clip that you show from the Commonwealth Club certainly explains that well. She'll go back and say, listen, at all time, I was focused on the people. Notice that her entire campaign moniker was around this idea of being the peoples' prosecutors, I'm unbought, I'm all about the people. I'm just curious, as somebody who worked in this position on the Hillary Clinton campaign, whether African-American voters will look at it the same way. Whether African-American voters will say, we understand the job she was in at that moment required her to make those types of tough decisions or will they hold it against her and say, she doesn't represent the values that we represent.

[14:55:01] BALDWIN: Quickly, did it bug you or appreciate it that she announced on Dr. King's day?

PAYNE: It didn't bug me. The opinions that I expressed in the op-ed were just for us to consider. This is a really interesting election cycle. Senator Harris is as strong as anybody, particularly with the African-American community. And I think it'll be just interesting to see how the community digests all of this information. So, you know, it should be an interesting time. And everything from how she dresses to who she dated to whether or not she played Mary Jay Blige at her rallies will enter into all of it.

BALDWIN: All of it. All of it. And you and I are going to continue this conversation.

Joel Payne, a pleasure.

PAYNE: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much.

PAYNE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Still ahead here, breaking news in the Russia investigations. Special Counsel Robert Mueller releasing details of the evidence collected in the case against Roger Stone.