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Water Rescues Underway After Tornadoes Rip Across U.S.; Barr Says Trump Is Not an Errand Boy for Congress; Kobach Demanded Wild Perks to Be Trump's Immigration Czar; Broken Promises Weigh on Black Voters Ahead of 2020 Vote; Chinese Tariffs Drowning Maine's Lobster Industry. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 21, 2019 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Tornadoes have unleashed massive flooding in parts of Oklahoma for much of the day. Emergency crews have been carrying out dozens of water rescues in areas near Oklahoma City. Families have been trapped in their homes. Drivers stuck on the roads. Forecasters say several areas are at high risk for even more severe weather.

The storm that started all of this produced at least 21 tornadoes across 4 different states and CNN's Ed Lavendera is live in El Reno, Oklahoma, where forecasters say six inches of rain fell. Ed, I've been watching you all day in all these different rescues. It has been incredibly, incredibly compelling. Tell us about what you've been involved with.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hey, Brooke, even though we're on the back side of the massive storm system finally blue skies are out but this is what we're dealing with now. This is Six-Mile creek. Should be a tiny little creek but if you look out here in the distance, off this road. You can see just how much the creek has come out of the banks and it has completely overtaken this roadway. Way out there in the distance, hard to see but a white pickup truck that is stranded there in the water.

And if you look closer, you could see just how much the damage the water has done to the roadway here buckling up these roadways and then there are residents like the folks who live in this house where water -- they woke up this morning finding water surrounding them. We spoke with one family that had to be rescued this morning. They say they went to bed last night and woke up at 5:00 this morning and they felt like they were on an island surrounded by water.


MEGAN EDWARDS, RESCUED FROM FLOODING: Our house is surrounded. It is in the vents and everything. We went to bed and we got up at like 5:00 and from 5:00 to 6:00 it just got up around the house.

TAMMY FLOWERS, RESCUED FROM FLOODING: It is not good. It is not good. It is the water is coming up and it is really deep. It is scary. Scary. Especially when you got grand babies.


LAVENDERA: And these swift water rescue teams were extremely busy throughout the morning. We spoke with one team from Oklahoma City that was out here in El Reno helping out. We're about 20 miles west of Oklahoma City. They said they had done more than a dozen rescues in the early-morning hours and here in Canadian County, more than 40 swift water rescues.

In fact we spoke with one fire chief a little while ago that said some of these were still going on as these floodwaters start to recede, they are popping up in various places so people are urged -- the emergency officials are urging people to still be cautious even though it has stopped raining, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes, one fire chief I talked to last hour said even their own 33,000-pound truck had a hard time getting through the water so don't drive through it. Ed Lavendera, thank you very much in El Reno.

A candidate to be the next immigration czar has been scuttled after his list of demands was leaked and included things like access to a private jet, and Secretary Ben Carson with another wild hearing on Capitol Hill. We will play for you the more bizarre moments coming up.


BALDWIN: Attorney General Bill Barr is defending himself against critics saying that he is fighting for the presidency and not for President Trump. Barr has come under fire for critics say acting more like the President's own lawyer than the country's top law enforcement officer. Here is what he told "The Wall Street Journal," quote, "At every grave juncture the presidency has done what it is supposed to do, which is provide leadership and direction."

He goes on, "If you destroy the presidency and make it an errand boy for Congress, we're going to be a much weaker and more divided nation." Walter Shaub is a former Director of The Office of Government Ethics, and Walter Shaub, I woke up this morning and I read all of those tweets and you were -- you were on fire and you have some thoughts here on Barr's defense. Talk to me.

WALTER SHAUB, FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: You know, what upsets me is Barr trying to defend himself by saying what he was seeking to defend was the presidency and not the President is the distinction without a difference because he's drawing the line between being the President's private counsel and White House counsel. But he is neither. He is supposed to be the Attorney General and what he is supposed to be defending is the rule of law.

And it is very concerning to have seen him in this wild interview defending the President literally vouching for him at one point and saying he exercised leadership at every grave juncture and criticizing his own agency's investigation supporting the notion that it is reasonable for the President to call this a witch hunt. What is really concerning is that Bill Barr seems to be pursuing a course of strengthening the executive branch at the expense of the Constitution and weakening the other two branches.

BALDWIN: So you're concerned about that? I want to ask you, Walter Shaub, if you are concerned about Kris Kobach, the former Kansas Secretary of State, right. So I hear you laugh for everyone who is listening that don't know the story. He was in the running to become Trump's immigration czar. Now according to "The New York Times" his standing sank after he sent this -- the White House this list of demands before taking the job.

[15:40:00] There were like ten different items on this. I will take it if you give me X you know including 24/7 access to a government jet for weekly visits to the border, and then going back home and being with his family in Kansas. I mean, Walter, a private jet every weekend?

SHAUB: Yes, well ,at least it provided some levity in this very concerning week. Because --

BALDWIN: Did you get a good laugh?

SHAUB: I did. Those were the silliest and weirdest remarks in the entire Trump administration to see this guy saying he wanted these things. First of all, it would be completely illegal to fly him home and I think we learned that with Tom Price and Zinke and Pruitt.

BALDWIN: Been there and done that. Not OK.

SHAUB: Exactly. And this guy is coming fresh off having failed as the head of the vote suppression commission or whatever the White House was calling it. His leadership of that federal advisory committee failed which is why he's at home right now looking for a job. And to come in making these demands, it turns out we've finally found somebody too swampy and unethical for this White House.

BALDWIN: It is worth a read if you have not seen the ten items. Walter Shaub, thank you so much.

SHAUB: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Some bizarre moments today from Housing Secretary Ben Carson. He faced stiff questioning from Congressional Democrats on a range of topics and policies. And at times he got combative and confused and we'll play you some exchanges starting with the question about the Trump administration proposal to evict undocumented immigrants and their U.S.-born children from public housing.


REP. SYLVIA GARCIA (D-TX): So you're going to shift 55,000 children from being with their families to then a homeless status. What's going to happen with these children? Have you thought this program through?

BEN CARSON, HOUSING SECRETARY: Well, maybe what will happen with them is you and Congress will do your job and solve the problem. REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): I'd also like you to get back to me if you

don't mind to explain the disparity in REO rates. Do you know what an REO is?

CARSON: An oriole?

PORTER: Not an oriole, an R-E-O.

CARSON: Real estate.

PORTER: What does the "O" stand for.

CARSON: The organization.

PORTER: Owned. Real estate owned. That is what happens when a property goes to foreclosure. We call it an REO.

CARSON: If you listened to any --

PORTER: Yes or no, do they deserve to live in these conditions because they are poor.

CARSON: And you know very well --

PORTER: Would you like your grandmother live in public housing?

CARSON: You know very well --

PORTER: Would you let your grandmother live in public housing? Yes or no?

CARSON: You know --

PORTER: Under your watch, at your helm would you allow your grandmother to live in public housing under these conditions?

CARSON: It would be very nice if you would stop acting --

PORTER: You stated --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman from Florida --


BALDWIN: Last week the Government Accountability Office determined Carson's Housing Department broke the law when it spent $31,000 for a new dining set. And nearly $9,000 on a dishwasher for his office. But in a three and a half hour questioning today, not a single member of Congress brought it up. Next, dozens of black voters speaking out about what it will take to earn their support in 2020. The reporter that conducted those interviews will join me live next.

And CNN goes to Maine to see how President Trump's trade war is hitting the lobster industry hard.

[15:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) BALDWIN: With more than 500 days to go until the 2020 election and more than 20 Democrats vying for the nomination in what has become a crowded and diverse field of candidates, one of the few certainties for the Democrats is that black Americans will have a major say in who becomes the Democratic nominee. African-Americans make up about 20 percent of the party's primary voters nationwide. And one of the parties most loyal voting blocks. So their turnout will be a key factor if Democrats hope to beat President Trump in 2020.

And Cleve Wootson is a national political reporter for "The Washington Post". And Cleve, I read your piece this morning and I was like we have got to talk to this guy because of this perspective from dozens of black voters, Michigan and Pennsylvania and North Carolina, you wrote this piece for the "Post." It is called "Broken Promises of The Past Weigh on Black Voters as They Consider The 2020 Presidential Campaign."

So will you just talk to me about what's on minds and also you point to some of the disappointment that some of these black voters feel comes from President Obama not doing enough for them.

CLEVE WOOTSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Sure. One of the things, Brooke, that is on their minds is just to let politicians know that they're not of one mind, that a 75-year-old woman in a church in North Carolina is vastly different in opinions and expectations than a 35-year-old dock worker in Philly or a mother in Flint. That although black people show up reliably for Democrats in election after election, I found that they don't reliably have the same opinion.

[15:50:00] And to that second point, I talked to a lot of people who said that they were hoping and they had high expectations for what Barack Obama would do specifically for black people. And whether those expectations were warranted or not, they feel they told me a sense of disappointment and that makes it harder not just for the black candidates in the race, but also for all of the candidates.

BALDWIN: One of the few black candidates in the race is Senator Kamala Harris. So she spoke today about fatal police shootings. She's now supporting this notion of having these independent investigations after saying, essentially, otherwise, as California's Attorney General. Here she was.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said, quote, I don't think it would be good public policy to take the discretion from elected DAs, where there are abuses, we've designed the system to address them. As you know, in the wake of many of these incidents, the view is, by some, that the independent probes are better, to not let the DA investigate the cops they work with daily. Have you changed your mind about that or what is the best approach?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe the best approach is to have independent investigations. There's no question.


BALDWIN: So, Cleve, certainly everyone is allowed to evolve, but is this part of what worries black voters? This notion of just saying what they think they want to hear, appeasing them?

WOOTSON: I think that's probably one of the top issues. Electability, obviously, matters for everybody. But one of the things that people have said over and over again is that this is not our first rodeo, that these are not the first politicians that have come to these communities or neighborhoods looking for votes. And not just you know how you feel and have you've evolved and all of that stuff, but do you have a blueprint for enacting these things you say you want to do?

BALDWIN: And tell me whose name kept popping up among some of these voters you were talking to? A woman, Georgia, not in the race?

WOOTSON: I see. I see your point. Several voters I talk to, and they represent a minority of the voters I talked to, but a significant one. You know, they said over and over again, kind of, you know, Stacey Abrams aligns with our viewpoints. These were more activists that I met in Philly, in particular.

BALDWIN: Andrew Singh.

WOOTSON: Who believe that her take on voting rights and how she feels about disenfranchisement, like that that matters a lot and really speaks to them. Now, what remains to be seen is whether, like I said, not a monolith, not all thinking the same way, whether that's indicative of how a larger swath of African-American voters or voters in general feel.

BALDWIN: So important to hear from these black voters, though, ahead of 2020, I appreciate you talking to dozens of them and sharing. Cleve Wootson, appreciate you.

And just a reminder to all of you, 2020 presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke joins CNN tonight for this live "TOWN HALL" with Iowa voters. Dana Bash is moderating, so tune in tonight, 10:00 Eastern here on CNN.

Next, CNN learning new details about the possibility of special counsel Robert Mueller testifying in public. Why sources say his team is hesitant to let him sit in the hot seat.


BALDWIN: Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran is warning the Trump administration that the trade war with China is pushing farmers to the, quote, verge of financial collapse. In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Moran said farmers need more than government payouts. And it's not just them. CNN's Miguel Marquez went to Maine to see how the lobster industry is hurting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Siblings Chelsea and Cody Nunan, their family plucking lobsters out of the waters off the Maine coast for five generations, now worried they might be the last.

CODY NUNAN, FIFTH GENERATION LOBSTER FISHERMAN: It's scary. You know, I have an 8-year-old daughter now and it's hard for me to want to bring her into this industry.

MARQUEZ: Did you ever think that you would be sort of caught up in an international trade war?

CHELSEA NUNAN, FIFTH GENERATION LOBSTERWOMAN: Nope, never did. I guess that's up to the President.

MARQUEZ: The President's trade war slamming the Maine lobster industry after China retaliated last July with a 25 percent tariff.

SHAWN MCEWEN, CO-OWNER, SEA SALT LOBSTER: Any one of the dealers here in the state of Maine, including myself, was shipping, you know, tens of thousands of pounds per week to China. And that went to almost zero.

MARQUEZ: Wholesalers like Shawn McEwen, with Sea Salt Lobster says these days, business treading water.

MCEWEN: I would have at least another five to seven employees running my export, which would be a second and third shift and --

MARQUEZ: Full-time jobs?

MCEWEN: Yes. Full-time jobs.

MARQUEZ: How much an hour?

MCEWEN: Anywhere from $15 to $25 an hour.

MARQUEZ: So these are decent jobs?

MCEWEN: Yes, it's a living wage.

[16:00:00] MARQUEZ: Maine coast moves 7 million pounds of lobster a year. They've aggressively pursued other markets when exports to China collapsed. They'd like to expand more. But --

SHEILA ADAMS, VICE PRESIDENT, MAINE COAST LOBSTER: The uncertainty is what's hard. I think it's trying on all of our employees. We exited the year performing basically on target. We didn't grow as much as we would like to grow or historically have grown, but we didn't lose.

MARQUEZ: The industry holding on for now has a simple message for the President.

ANNIE TSELIKIS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MAINE LOBSTER DEALERS' ASSOCIATION: This is American jobs. It's rural jobs. These are industries that are really, really important for rural America.

MARQUEZ: For lobster men like Cody Nunan who likes the President, the tariff war, wearing thin.

CODY NUNAN: He made it sound very good, you know, when he was running.

MARQUEZ: How much is he hurting you personally right now or this tariff war hurting you personally?

CODY NUNAN: It's hurting. It's hurting.

MARQUEZ: Miguel Marquez, CNN, Cape Porpoise, Maine.


BALDWIN: Miguel, thank you. And thank you for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.