Return to Transcripts main page


Reparations Debate; Will House Overturn Trump's National Emergency Declaration. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 26, 2019 - 16:30   ET




SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump a huge rebuke, in the hopes of blocking the president's move to get his border wall.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This isn't about the border. This is about the Constitution.

SERFATY: In the next hour, the House will vote to overturn the emergency declaration. It is expected to pass easily, with some Republican support.

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: There's a lot of conservatives who have always been uncomfortable with this emergency power presidents have.

SERFATY: The real showdown will come in the Republican-led, where Senate Republicans, many of whom have been vocal critics of the president's national emergency, are facing a big test. Will they defy the president and vote against him? And will the rebuke stick with enough members to override a presidential veto?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I personally couldn't handicap the outcome at this point, but we will certainly be voting on it.

SERFATY: Trump tweeting a warning on Monday: "I hope our great Republican senators don't get led down the path of weak and ineffective border security."

But a handful of Republican senators seem willing to buck their party's leader, North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis writing in "The Washington Post" that while he supports border security, he would vote against the emergency, saying: "I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress."

He's joined by Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who are planning to vote against the president. Only four Republicans will need to break ranks and vote with Democrats in order for it to pass in the Senate, meaning Republicans are now razor-close, one more Republican defection away from rejecting the president's move, likely prompting the president to use the first veto of his presidency. REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: It's an uphill climb to override any

veto, not just this one. So -- but we're not going to give up. We're going to keep fighting and I'm hopeful.

SERFATY: Republican leaders today are confident that the rebuke ends there and that there is not enough congressional support, two-thirds of both chambers, to override a very likely presidential veto.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: There will be nowhere near the votes to override a veto.


SERFATY: And while we will see a lot of action on this over in the House tonight, do not expect that in the Senate. The Senate has a bit of time, 18 days total, to bring it to the floor for a vote over here in the Senate.

And Republican leadership in the Senate, Jake, they have been very clear that they're not going to move on this immediately. They say some time over the next few weeks they will bring it to the floor.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

They have 18 days, according to what the privileged resolution calls for. We should note that the Senate Republicans are not even sure if this is legal. Take a listen to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked if he thought the president's emergency declaration was legal. Here's his answer.


MCCONNELL: Well, that's part of what we were discussing today.

QUESTION: What do you think?

MCCONNELL: Well, we're in the process of weighing that. The lawyer was there to make his arguments. There were some counterarguments. I haven't reached a total conclusion about...


TAPPER: I mean, the Senate majority leader isn't even sure if the president's national emergency declaration is legal.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, look, "The Washington Post" did a count and found six Republican senators voicing opposition, 16 of them concerned.

Obviously, the fact that he will likely veto may make them more hesitant to go on the record for this. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, interestingly, came out in "Washington Post" with this op-ed. He notably is up for reelection in 2020. That primary is coming.

But I think his argument is pretty sound, which is, look, I stood against this under the Obama administration, and I continue to stand against it.

Trump has asked Republicans to choose between him and constitutional powers. I do think that in this case, there was an explicit act by Congress to say, this is the power of our purse and we're making this amount available to you, and he is just overriding that.

So I think there's an argument to be made that easily that would be abused in the future.

TAPPER: Yes, but I'm just -- I'm sorry. I'm just stunned that the Senate majority leader is saying he's not even sure if the president's emergency declaration is legal, while the House is about to vote on it, and the Senate is going to have to take it up.



When somebody like Mitch McConnell cannot tell you affirmatively or otherwise, hey, this is illegal, it clearly is and clearly there's issues with it. It's beyond any kind of reasonable doubt.

So I think that my hat goes off to those Republican members who are not -- as the senator said, there's an intellectual dishonesty that goes off that, if it was not good enough for President Obama, it certainly is not good enough for President Trump.

So what is President Sanders going to do about it? What is President Elizabeth Warren going to do about something like an emergency...


TAPPER: I want you to respond to this, because that's exactly what Thom Tillis, the senator from North Carolina, said in his "Washington Post" op-ed.

He wrote: "As a U.S. senator, I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress. As a conservative, I cannot endorse a precedent that I know future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms."



I'm an institutionalist, right? I believe in the comity -- not E-D-Y, I-T-Y -- right, of our three branches of government. And we have seen over the past decade here the abrogation of congressional authority, beginning, right, with giving up earmarks, right?

The Congress wiped their hands of earmarks. They gave it over to the executive branch. And each one of these things really erodes congressional power. And it's bad. It's bad for our republic. So I take the same stance as Senator Tillis.

Look, I support what the president is doing on the wall. I don't think this is the best mechanism to go about doing it.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's nice that people, I guess, finally have found their morals and their values and their ethics.


FUENTES: There's three of them.

FINNEY: We have just been ripping children away from their parents.

I mean, there's other things you could have weighed in on a lot more significantly a lot sooner.


HAM: It's never going to be enough for Democrats.

FINNEY: I mean, fine, do it now. I think there's plenty of other places you could -- I see this more as politics, right?

There's a little bit of something for everybody in this one, right? There are Republicans who -- some of whom may live in places where we have eminent domain issues and land may have to be taken away, and they're happy to be able to say, I stood up to the president.

And some are able to use the Constitution to say, I stood up to the president. And then there are Democrats who get to say, we're fighting the president, and then the president gets to veto. And so he gets to continue to fight for the wall, which is exactly what he wants, as we have talked about before, going into 2020.

So there's a little bit of something for everybody.


URBAN: Republicans should be fearful, because the point is well taken.

If you have Senator Sanders and he said, listen, there's a national health care crisis, and I'm going to do the same thing President Trump did on health care, right? It's a very slippery slope.


TAPPER: Or climate change or guns.


URBAN: Take your pick, right? And that's the concern.


HAM: There actually is a legal question here, right? It needs to go through the courts. And I hope that we get some clarity by it going to the courts, because there's a lot of wiggle room in exactly what the executive do.

So it's not as if there's like a concrete answer here. I think it's inadvisable. And I hope that the court decides against this, but there is a legal question here, which is why we go through this process.

FINNEY: But the very fact -- to your point about McConnell saying, I don't even know if it's legal, what a -- talk about profiles in courage here, right?

I mean -- and I mean that sarcastically, obviously. It's very easy to take a principled position when it's not really going to be an issue that you're going to have to worry about.

HAM: Anybody having done it on DACA.


TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

She made a bold pledge to keep big money out of her campaign, but is Senator Warren already backtracking? Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our 2020 lead and a new topic of discussion among Democratic presidential candidates, whether the United States government should pay reparations to the descendants of slaves.

The conversation was resurrected last week when Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker were asked about it on a radio show. Senator Bernie Sanders was asked about the topic in a CNN town hall last night and responded by asking, what does it mean, what do reparations mean?

And that really is the question, as some candidates express support for the principle, with specifics remaining elusive.

CNN's Jessica Dean reports.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls are putting a new spin on an old idea, whether to pay direct descendants of slaves.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So what is your position specifically on reparations? I ask the question because Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, they have indicated they want what to...

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What does that mean? I'm not sure that anyone is very clear.

What I have just said is that I think we must do everything that we can to address the massive level of disparity that exists in this country.

DEAN: But Bernie Sanders opponent former HUD Secretary Julian Castro has raised reparations as a serious campaign issue.

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We compensate people if we take their property. Shouldn't we compensate people if they were property sanctioned by the state?

DEAN: While fellow 2020 candidates are seeking to reframe the debate by focusing less on direct payments and more on ending systemic poverty and racial injustice, like Elizabeth Warren, who talks about the need to address forms of discrimination, such as in housing, head on

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America has an ugly history of racism. We need to confront it head on.

DEAN: But Senator Kamala Harris, who has proposed helping impoverished families through tax credits, is hesitant to commit to reparations.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to sit here and say I'm going to do something that's only going to benefit black people, no, because whatever benefits that black family will benefit that community and society as a whole and the country.

DEAN: Their appeals reflect the importance the African-American vote will play in deciding who wins the Democratic nomination, but a 2016 poll showed a majority of Americans, 68 percent, said the country should not pay money to African-Americans who are the descendants of slaves.

And that same year, neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders supported reparations. In fact, Democratic candidates have long wrestled with the idea of reparations. President Bill Clinton opposed the idea in the 1990s, as did 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry and then candidate Barack Obama in 2007.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the reparations we need right here in South Carolina is investment, for example, in our schools.


DEAN: So, while a majority of Americans do not support that idea of cash reparations, that same Marist poll from 2016 showed 58 percent of African-Americans do support that idea.

That's the pressure on these candidates, to talk about the issue and also discuss those potential solutions -- Jake.

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Jessica Dean, thank you so much. And as you pointed out, in 2016, neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders supported reparations. Sanders at the time said he didn't think it would unify the country. Listen to his explanation when he was asked if he would support reparations as president. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: No, I don't think so. I mean, I think it would be -- first of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress as nil. Second of all, I think would be you know, very divisive.


TAPPER: Now, he didn't embrace the idea last night but he didn't shoot it down the way he did there.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Well, it shows a bit of an understanding of kind of the political nuance of answering the question because he was sort of asking you know what sort of -- what method do you -- are you talking about, right? Because when we talk about reparations there are different ideas about how to do it.

But I just think in their context of 2020, this is sort of -- there's a political angle and there's a policy angle. And we dealt with this in 2016 and sort of to me, the political piece is this is way of a candidate to show like -- and my age you would say that you're down.

Now kids would say that you're woke, right, that you get the issue, but you're talking about systemic racism but that you're also talking about the historical impact of systemic racism. And so from a policy standpoint, what Bernie talked about the 10-20-30 which is an idea that Congressman Clyburn put forward in 2011 I believe it was which says that ten percent of funding in poor communities should go to places where it's 20 percent of the people have lived below the poverty line for more than 30 years.

And what's brilliant about that idea, it's an idea actually Hillary Clinton was the first one to talk about in 2016 it was wise for Bernie talk about it, it be wise for the others to get on it is it really gets to the underlying issue which is that there are systemic inequalities that have to do with raise, that have to do with historical inabilities to accumulate wealth, to attain wealth, to attain access.

And frankly it helps people -- poor people all across the country, many of whom are represented by Republicans and live in conservative red states, many more frankly in some instances than black folks. And so I think, the policy conversation is a good one to have as long as we have in the right context.

TAPPER: David, you said you thought that the strongest Democrat potentially against President Trump would be Vice President Joe Biden. He was just speaking a few moments ago. He said something that's not going to damp down speculation of a 2020 run. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: Most important people in my life want me to run. I don't want this to be a fool's errand. And I want to make sure that if we do this and we're very close to getting to a decision, that I am fully prepared to do it.


TAPPER: He went on to say I have not made the final decision but don't be surprised. It sounds like he's getting in.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. It sounds he's getting in. It'll be -- it'll be interesting to see what happens, right? You heard Bernie last night talk about all these issues you know, Medicare for all these kind of you know, can't say in America is not going to be a socialist country. All those things that what used to be really kind of a big really earth-shattering, now, that's the mainstream part of the Democratic Party right.

The discussion has moved pretty far left to Center and this in this primary so it's interesting to see Joe Biden there kind of crusty old white guy from Scranton. How that's going to play?

TAPPER: And then Senator Sanders also talked about the Green New Deal. A lot of the Democrats are embracing the green new deal which would guarantee a job and living wage for every American who wants one at least one version of the Green New Deal. Ivanka Trump was asked about the plan. Take a listen to her answer.


IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: I don't think most Americans in their heart want to be given something. There -- I've spent a lot of time traveling around this country over the last four years. People want to work for what they get.


TAPPER: Your thoughts.

JENNICE FUENTES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think if anyone is unqualified to speak about what most Americans want or need or has any kind of reference point that is truth to the reality of anyone in this country including people of color, I think it's not Ivanka Trump. I think she's speaking as Mr. Kelly said when he was Chief of Staff, I think she's playing politics all throughout this entire -- you know, since her father became president. She has no clue what she's talking about.

URBAN: This -- let me just say -- I think -- let me defend what she's saying there. I think I'll stick with IT over AOC any day right. But what I think she was talking about is --

TAPPER: It's Ivanka Trump.

URBAN: Yes, I'm just trying you know, I'm trying to be woke or whatever you --

FINNEY: Don't, don't, don't do it. Don't do it.

TAPPER: I'm not trying -- I.T. did it. (CROSSTALK)

URBAN: My point is, you know, she's talking about -- in the Green New Deal plan, there was this -- there's this big notion of we're going to pay you even if you don't want to work, right?

TAPPER: Right. That was taken out.

URBAN: No, but I think that's what Ivanka is referring to is people want to earn the money. They don't to be just given money. There's dignity in work and I think that's what she's referring to.

FINNEY: But I think there's a better way to talk about that to say -- to talk about how hardworking people are not able to live on what they are earning if you're -- even if working two jobs or three jobs and we've got a deuce.


FINNEY: And how do we deal with that.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The entire primary is going to be a woke off, and in the woke off, in which no one will be woken up is going to limit people's appeal in the general election. And that's why a guy like Joe Biden who has some likability and might be able to crossover in some ways and convince a more populist set that he's the guy could be hopeful. I have also been to a Biden presidential rally in Iowa and it has not always a pretty sight.

[16:50:18] TAPPER: How so?

HAM: He has -- he has tried this before and he hasn't gotten overwhelming support. He is likable as President Obama's Vice President but it's different now. And look, as long as the Democrats are talking about policy which I love for them to talk about, because getting into specifics of how you're going to pay for all this is real interesting, and they're out of step with a lot of Americans.

80 percent of Americans support abortion, they limited in the first three months. According to this Marist Poll that's gone up five points. 73 percent of Americans want no race or ethnicity involved in admissions to college. So these are things that they're going to have to grapple with and they're all going to be fighting to get so far left, it's going to be a problem.

FUENTES: Yes. I think we cannot be known as the anti-Trump party and that's basically a platform. I think Democrats stand for a lot more than just being anti-Trump. And I think the question really is who can defeat Trump and the Trump is in the tribal people that basically will continue to express themselves in support of something that quite frankly does not represent us as U.S. r citizens.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, thanks so much. A peaceful place used to teach kids about butterflies has turned into anything but. The hate mail, the bulldozers, the politics at play coming up next


[16:55:00] In our "NATIONAL LEAD" now, with President Trump's emergency declaration facing possible defeat in the House and Senate, residents and organizations along the southern border of the United States are also fighting construction of the wall on their property, filing lawsuits against the federal government's eminent domain claims trying to take over their land. The National Butterfly Center is one of them.

After losing its first lawsuit and becoming the target of some rather sickening pro-wall hate mail, the sanctuary continues to fight to save its once pristine land from further demolition. And as CNN's Bill Weir reports, these colorful creatures illustrate the fight over preserving natural habitats that happen to be on the border.


BILL WEIR, CNN ANCHOR: On the banks of the Rio Grande sits 100 acre pocket of life unlike any in North America.

MARIANA TREVINO-WRIGHT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL BUTTERFLY CENTER: For butterflies, it's like that movie Fantasia. Everything's in bloom in the fall and you have to walk and talk with your hand covering your mouth so you don't suck in a butterfly.

WEIR: The National Butterfly Center is the tip of the funnel for these beautiful little Migrants like the Monarch which flies thousands of miles back and forth from Mexico to as far as Montana and Wisconsin.

TREVINO-WRIGHT: They've got the little skipper right there.

WEIR: As director, the only thing Mariana Trevino-Wright used to worry about was pointing them out to school kids but these days, she gets hate mail.

TREVINO-WRIGHT: I got a whole lot of (BLEEP) you and (BLEEP) your butterflies. I hope MS-13 rapes you. A lot of ignorant, awful, hateful stuff.

WEIR: For the butterfly people.

TREVINO-WRIGHT: For the butterfly people.

WEIR: Living here, she's quite used to border security.

TREVINO-WRIGHT: So this I'm sure is somebody from the Department of Defense or somewhere else coming to check out this area.

WEIR: But the summer after President Trump took office, things changed.

TREVINO-WRIGHT: They were cutting down our trees, and mowing down vegetation, and widening the road. I said, who are you and what are you doing? And they said, the government sent us to clear this land from here to the river for the border wall. WEIR: The plan calls for 18 feet of solid concrete topped by 18 feet

of steel bollards right through the middle of their property. Then they saw what this machine was doing to a neighboring wildlife preserve.

And that's what they're using just west of you.

TREVINO-WRIGHT: On the forests, on the National Wildlife Refuge.

WEIR: When they realized how devastating the so-called enforcement zone would be to their habitat, they sued and last week they lost.

So what are you going to do now?

TREVINO-WRIGHT: I understand from the lawyers will be appealing or refiling.

WEIR: We asked but the Border Patrol does not comment on ongoing litigation. But in this letter sent to local stakeholders, they're arguing for 30 new miles of wall around this area because the Rio Grande Valley typically leads the nation in arrests of illegal immigrants. What it doesn't mention is that those numbers nationwide are way down since 2000. And Mariana says she has witnessed three illegal crossings in the last six years.

TREVINO-WRIGHT: We absolutely are in favor of border security. If there were a national emergency, why would I Drive to work here every day. We have six children. Why would they allow mom to report for duty on the banks of the Rio Grande River every day unarmed to receive school children and birders and butter flyers from around the world.

WEIR: Congressionally approved plans would have spared this place but the President's emergency order trumps all that.

TREVINO-WRIGHT: So we're just watching and waiting every day to see if that machinery shows up here.

WEIR: And all the while, these little guys flutter, oblivious to borders and politics with no idea how fragile their future might be.


WEIR: Those big machines are idle tonight, Jake. Everybody here is in wait-and-see mode, waiting to see what Congress will decide a borderline decision that would affect creatures great and small.

TAPPER: All right, Bill Weir, thank you so much as always for that great report. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching.