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GOP Lawmaker Responds to Racially Insensitive Office Display; White House Still Won't Say if Trump Will Sign Border Deal; Interview with Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL); A First: Two Women Lead House Committee that Controls Spending; Navy Vet Whose Wife is Active-Duty Coast Guard Says Pay Coast Guard if Another Shutdown. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 13, 2019 - 13:30   ET



[13:30:25] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: A Republican Congressman is offering up an explanation, but no apparent apology for having racially insensitive material displayed in public in his congressional office. Georgia Congressman Drew Ferguson had several historic articles on display, including a lock of George Washington's hair. He had a few military medals and a book on Confederate General Robert E. Lee. And this was under glass. And it was open to a page that said this: "The blacks are immeasurably better off here than Africa, morally, societally and physically. The painful discipline they're undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race."

Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill.

How did this even come to light? And what is this congressman saying about this?

LAUREN FOX, CNN REPORTER: Brianna, was there a group of workers from the American Federation of Government Employees who had planned to meet with the congressman on Monday, when one of them, Octavius Miller, actually got up and he noticed in a glass case that book with the page open to the excerpt that you just read at the top of this. And what he said was he was shocked by what he saw. And later, they were not able to meet with the congressman because of a schedule conflict. But they did call the office back to say, we saw what you had in the office and we were horrified by it, and we want an apology and we want to make sure that the book is removed.

The chief of staff called Octavius Miller back the next day and said that the book had been removed and apologized profusely. But AFGE wants a more public apology from the congressman.

We spoke with the congressman earlier today, my colleague, Ellie Kaufman, and I, and here's what he said about the book in the office.


REP. DREW FERGUSON, (R), GEORGIA: I did not realize that the book was in the office. I had a decorated office when we moved in. It's not something they ever remember seeing there. I certainly am as offended by the remarks in the book as anybody would be. That's why it's been removed from the office.

FOX: Have you read that book?

FERGUSON: I've read parts of the book, and parts of that, that I found completely against my ideology and my belief system.


FOX: AFGE wants a more public apology, Brianna. So that's just something to keep watching for. The congressman said I think we've apologized and I think we're probably good, but AFGE saying we want something more public.

KEILAR: So he's read the book, Lauren. But he's making the point that he's trying to distance himself from the book, but he admits he read it.

FOX: That's right. I tried to press him on exactly, did you read it before it was displayed in your office and did you read it after you found out it was displayed in your office, and his staffer told him it was time to go to a vote and didn't have time to answer more of our questions. And he said that he thinks that the office has apologized to Mr. Miller and he thinks they've satisfied the situation.

KEILAR: We will see if they have satisfied the situation.

Lauren Fox, on the Hill for us, thank you so much.

First, the president called for her resignation and now Vice President Pence is weighing in on the congresswoman who apologized for an anti- Semitic tweet that she put out. I will ask one of her colleagues to respond.

Plus, if Mexico is not paying for the wall, how about El Chapo? Hear the idea that is gaining steam now that the drug lord has been convicted.


[13:38:19] KEILAR: Lawmakers are racing against the clock to finish work on a border security deal. And one Democratic aide tells CNN there's still a ton of work to do. This bill needs to be signed into law by President Trump before midnight on Friday to avoid another government shutdown.

We have Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, of Illinois, with us.

Thanks for being with us, sir.


KEILAR: You've heard the president and we've heard from sources close to him. The indications are that he will sign this. Do you think he might not or do you think he is going to? KRISHNAMOORTHI: I am hopeful. I think people are optimist that the

brawl over wall is over at this point and we can move on. I introduced a bill with Paul Mitchell, of Michigan, who is a Republican, it is called the Shutdown Shutdowns Bill, that basically takes shutdowns off the table as a negotiating tactic going forward. The American people don't want shutdowns.

KEILAR: You have said that you would support a physical barrier in some places on the border as part of border security. So when you look at that number, $1.37 billion for a barrier, is that enough?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think it's reasonable. I think this was based on a fact-based assessment done by the appropriators and people who actually know what is needed on the border. So I'm OK with that.

KEILAR: Senator Ted Cruz has said that convicted drug kingpin, El Chapo, should pay for the wall. This is what he tweeted. He said, "Let's pass the El Chapo Act and make El Chapo pay to secure our border."

It's getting a lot of attention, but do you think that that is any sort of serious proposition?

[13:40:09] KRISHNAMOORTHI: Very interesting. I don't know how much El Chapo has, but if he wants to, if we can use his money instead of taxpayer money to fund this particular appropriations package, why not?

KEILAR: All right. So I want to ask you about another story that we're following. The vice president is blasting Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. You're familiar with her comments. She tweeted an anti-Semitic trope with one of her tweets. She has apologized. But the vice president wrote that her tweets were "a disgrace and her apology was inadequate." And he goes on to say that "anti-Semitism has no place in the United States Congress."

What do you make of this response and also his silence over offensive remarks that the president has made that are anti-Semitic?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: That's right. I condemn these remarks. They have no place in the United States Congress. And I am -- I'm also glad that the caucus and Nancy Pelosi took that step, as well immediately upon seeing them. However, you point out something very important, which is that in the staples by the vice president, he said nothing about anti-Semitism having no place in the White House. We know that, you know, the president said that the people in Charlottesville, the Neo- Nazis were, quote, unquote, "very fine people." And so I just ask him, would he be willing to condemn those remarks, because I think that's what's needed from folks like him right now.

KEILAR: The Senator and Democratic presidential candidate, Amy Klobuchar, says that ideas like Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal are aspirations. That was the word she used, quote, "aspirations," that provide a framework for discussion. Let's listen to her.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D), MINNESOTA: We need to put out a negotiating bid here. I don't see it as something that we can get rid of these industries or do this in a few years. That doesn't make sense to me or reduce air travel. But what does make sense to me is to start doing concrete things and put some aspirations out there on climate change.


KEILAR: So some Democrats, like Amy Klobuchar, are essentially suggesting these ideas are fantasy, but there are a ton of people in your party who love these ideas. Are you worried that we will see a big split between Democrats and will it be really bad for your party?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: No, I don't. I think that the Green New Deal resolution -- I read it. I think it's bold. It sets a goal. But my constituents asked questions such as, who will pay for it, and what are the details. Similarly, they ask questions like that about every single piece of legislation that comes before us that we might ask to support.

KEILAR: Bold. Is it realistic? You've read it. Is it realistic?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think, in 10 years, going to the type of economy that this envisions seems very aggressive. But on the other hand, the climate change crisis is so pressing. I come from the solar industry, and I started the bipartisan Solar Caucus for the first time here in Congress. And so I care very much about this issue. I'm trying to bring other people from the other side along so we can put solutions in place as fast as possible.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, thank you for being with us, sir.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. Thank you so much.

KEILAR: Just days after President Trump's physical, Dick Cheney's cardiologist says something is not right and he's asking, what are they hiding?

Plus, as the president remains non-committal on whether he he'll sign a deal to avoid a shutdown, meet the two women leading the House committee that controls government spending.


[13:48:10] KEILAR: As lawmakers negotiated on a deal to keep the government open and provide border security, history was being written for different reasons. Two representative congresswomen, Nita Lowey and Kay Granger, are the two new heads of the House Appropriations Committee, which helps control government spending. And they first pair of women to lead any House committee in 42 years.

CNN's Dana Bash recently sat down with both of them to talk about bipartisanship and their pledge to get things done. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. NITA LOWEY (D-NY), CHAIRWOMAN, HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: What an honor it is to serve as the chairwoman of this committee.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A moment for the history books. Democrat Nita Lowey, the first woman to chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

LOWEY: I look forward to our productive relationship.

BASH: And with Kay Granger, the top Republican, this is the first female duo to lead any House panel since 1977. And that was a committee on the House beauty shop.

LOWEY: Too bad it was disbanded. I could use a House beauty shop. I never knew there was a House beauty shop.

REP. KAY GRANGER, (R), TEXAS: I didn't, either.

BASH (on camera): You here in charge of the committee that performs the most important task constitutionally of Congress.


LOWEY: The power of the purse.

BASH (voice-over): Translation -- they write bills to fund the government and were key players in cutting a border security deal to avert another government shutdown.

They duo joke it could have been done quicker if they were left alone to hash it.

LOWEY: Give us an hour, 30 minutes.

BASH: They worked together for years across party lines.

GRANGER: Nita Lowey always said we're going to be friends, we'll show how well two women can get this done, we'll disagree but not be disagree and work things out, do it on time, do it the right way.

BASH: Don't let their congeniality fool you.

GRANGER: There would be times when someone would come to the podium and misunderstand that beautiful smile and nice way she handles it. I'd say, she's in for such a surprise because she's a very tough lady.

[13:50:12] BASH: A male colleague even gave Lowey an ice pick as a gag gift.

LOWEY: He said, watch out for that smile. She has a silver pick in her hand.

BASH: Granger, the first female mayor of Ft. Worth, is no different.

(on camera): You probably have steel-toed cowboy boots.

GRANGER: Yes. One member of leadership said if you're going to be in a knife fight, make sure Kay is on your team.

BASH (voice-over): Lowey, age 81, and Granger, 76, marvel at the influx of young women in Congress.

(on camera): Do you feel a responsibility to mentor the younger women?

LOWEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. I interact with the young women, the middle-aged women, and reach out and try and be as helpful as I can.

BASH: You're one of 13 Republican women, that's all, in the House. And that's total of 102 women, which is remarkable. Only 13 are Republicans.

GRANGER: Very disappointing. We have a lot of work to do.

BASH (voice-over): A big part of their job, traveling to see firsthand now taxpayer dollars they appropriate are spent. Like Granger's recent trip to the southern border.

GRANGER: Talking in a room in Washington is one thing, but when they see it for themselves, it's a game changer.

BASH: (on camera): Man, man, man, man.

(voice-over): Back in Washington, walking through the capitol's statuary hall, it's hard not to notice the statues are mostly men.

(on camera): These men probably never imagined that women would be in charge. And you are.


BASH (voice-over): A female oasis of bipartisanship on a crucial House committee.

GRANGER: This is what I gave her when she became chair. And when I was elected by the Steering Committee, she was the first to call and congratulate me. So we have that sort of relationship.

BASH (on camera): Do you use that at the hearings? Or is it ceremonial?

LOWEY: I use it for lots of things.


BASH: Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.


KEILAR: Such a great report by Dana Bash. Thank you, Dana.

Did the president's former campaign chairman lie to the special counsel? A judge expected to issue a ruling on this any moment.

Plus, just in, a former Air Force specialist charged with spying for Iran and accused of some pretty explosive behavior.


[13:57:08] KEILAR: President Trump still won't commit to signing the bipartisan border security deal. That makes people like my next guest, Michael Little, pretty nervous. He's a Navy combat veteran, his wife is active-duty Coast Guard and he wants to take action and get Congress to understand they should pay the Coast Guard during the government shutdown. Certainly, in the least, and certainly going forward.

Michael, you are in Washington. You are visiting offices. You and volunteers will have visited all Senate and House offices. What is the message?

MICHAEL LITTLE, WIFE IS ACTIVE-DUTY COAST GUARD: We need to pay the Coast Guard. They're one of the five branches of the uniformed services and their mission is just as important as the Army, the Navy, that Marine Corps and Air Force and there's no reason why we should not be paying them. This is the second branch of the military in our nation's history to not be paid. In 1877, we didn't pay the Army. And 2019, we've now not paid the Coast Guard.

KEILAR: They're housed under DHS, that's part of the issue, because DHS funding has been hung up. DOD has, which has the Navy, Army, Marines, they are guaranteed funding. The Coast Guard is not. Tell me about being a Coast Guard spouse and -- some people don't even know this is a military branch. What do you have to say?

LITTLE: It's hard because I'm a Navy veteran. I think about when I served in combat and served alongside Coasties, so to hear people say the Coast Guard isn't a branch of the military I get very angry. And I think about how honored and proud I am of my wife. And I get so disappointed that anyone would have anything ill to say about our branches of the military so it makes me want to be more activated and work with more volunteers willing to help us because they are important. They have a role to play and it's a shame that we are being tied to the political issues out there.

KEILAR: Quickly, how hard was this last shutdown for you and those around you?

LITTLE: Very hard. Fortunately, for me, I make a paycheck but I watched a lot of our shipmates that couldn't afford to pay their rent or buy food. They had to shop in the food banks. And it was very sad, very depressing.

KEILAR: Morale takes a hit.

LITTLE: Morale took a hit. Hopefully, recruiting doesn't either.

KEILAR: All right. Certainly, that could be an effect. And we'll keep an eye on that. Michael Little, thank you so much for coming in and sharing your


You can read more about this in my weekly column called "Home Front" on Send me story ideas or feedback, at

That is it for me.

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

[14:00:10] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Brianna, thank you.