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McConnell on Supreme Court Vacancy; Oklahoma and Johnson and Johnson Face Off; Tornado Outbreaks and Historic Floods; Climate Change Hurts Minority Communities. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired May 29, 2019 - 06:30   ET


[06:30:00] JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hypocrisy no longer has a heavy price. Mitch McConnell could not care less what we're saying about him here this morning. We could call him every name in the book and it wouldn't bother him because he has power. And only when that power's taken away, when he becomes minority leader, we'll get his attention.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And this it's a problem for Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell has really -- it's a problem for people who have tried to find some precedent or justification for what Mitch McConnell did, other than he did it because he could, right?


BERMAN: And that's the issue. It's a problem for people like Lindsey Graham, who is now the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who said this, this past October.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump's term, and the primary process is started, we'll wait till the next election. And I've got a pretty good chance of being the Judiciary --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're on the record.



GRAHAM: Hold the tape.



BERMAN: We've held the tape.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: So we've held the tape. And we'll see whether Lindsey Graham, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee's word means anything. But, generally, power trumps principle, as we've seen over and over. And there's an assumption that people have short memories. There's actually a contempt for consistency. And that's -- tone comes from the top, you know. Hypocrisy is no longer the unforgiveable sin in politics because Donald Trump does it all the time and it doesn't matter. And there's an assumption that, you know what, the base won't care and everyone else will forget, so take what you can while you can, and that's how democracy starts to die.

CAMEROTA: Well, Democrats haven't forgotten, Margaret. The 2020 candidates were talking about this hypocrisy yesterday on the campaign trail.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, he also said he will fill it, but that actually is the job of the president of the United States, not Mitch McConnell. So we also have to do a little history about the division of responsibilities between the United States Congress and the executive branch.

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. I want to believe that it's a nonpolitical organization and that politics are checked at the door of the courthouse. But when you're seeing things like that and hearing things like that from Senator McConnell, that's no longer the case and we could and should do better.


AVLON: That train left the station.

CAMEROTA: Margaret, your thoughts?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Senator McConnell would -- and his team would tell you that he has been consistent, that he's really not really being a hypocrite because there was always an asterisk next to what he said, which was that it was -- if it was -- the Senate was controlled by the opposing party, that would be the rule, not if the Senate was controlled by the same party and now the Senate is controlled by the same party as the president.

That is like a distinction for argument's purposes, but, politically- speaking, Democrats aren't going to recognize that distinction. So what you have is his position now is going to create both reinforced support for him on the Republican side and create a jumping off point for a new debate on the Democratic side. McConnell's position works fine for him unless voters decide to revolt against this and it affects --

AVLON: In Kentucky.

TALEV: Well -- or in the president -- in the next presidential election. And so I think you're starting to see, you know, some tension lines around the issue of abortion, for example, and the Supreme Court. So the Supreme Court may be at least a big point of debate and perhaps

a driver of votes in the general election. But, for now, McConnell's position is predicated on the idea that it will not be, that this will all be about the economy and that -- and that for Republicans, some of whom are uncomfortable with several of the positions Donald Trump has taken or ways he's conducted himself, that it has all been worthwhile for many Republicans because it allowed -- has allowed them to create a lot of permanent or long-term slots in the judiciary for like-minded conservatives. So if that's the game for McConnell, then you guys are exactly right, he's not concerned about what we're saying on this panel this morning.

CAMEROTA: That's the game. Check mate.


BERMAN: And -- and that's Joe's problem, which is that you know, Joe, historically that Republicans vote on the Supreme Court and Democrats don't as much.

LOCKHART: Right. Right. Right.

Yes, but I think Margaret makes a good point there that I think abortion has become a much bigger issue in this campaign than Mitch McConnell was counting on. I think, you know, traditionally, he's not reflecting history very well.

When the economy is weak, the economy is front and center. When the economy is strong, very often social issues come to the fore because people are satisfied with the economy. And I think Republicans are vastly underestimating the power of women, particularly Republican women, who see what's happening in Georgia, Alabama, Missouri as overreach. And overreach that's being protected by exactly the Mitch McConnell strategy of packing the courts with young anti-Roe v. Wade conservatives.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about what happened last night with Justin Amash. So Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan is the first Republican, only Republican, to publicly say that he sees impeachable offenses in the Mueller report.

[06:35:02] So the big question was, what's going to happen when he has to confront his constituents in Michigan. He had this town hall. And we were waiting to see what the reaction to him would be. He ended up getting a standing ovation. Here's what he said during this about other Republicans.


REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R-MI): By the way, a lot of them think I'm right about the Mueller report, but they just won't say it, a lot of the Republicans.


CAMEROTA: All right, he went on. That was a little snippet. AVLON: And he went on.

Look, Amash is a lonely libertarian who's been consistent with his principles. So he's come under fire from Donald Trump and the base. But you look at the standing ovation he got from his constituents last night. Take a look -- listen to all of what he said. He basically said that many members of Congress, his colleagues, are too cowardly to actually tell the truth about what they think about Donald Trump. They're too afraid of the base to actually say what they think about what's happening in Washington. And he went on to say that that cowardice, that hyper partisanship, is not only making us stupid, it's hurting democracy because it's crippling our ability to reason together as a country. Those are important comments for people to listen to today.

BERMAN: I do want to bring up one other subject because this struck me last night. Seth Moulton, who's a Democrat from Massachusetts, who's running for president, you know, he's not number one in the polls right now. He's at the bottom of the pack.

AVLON: He's one -- 1 percent.

BERMAN: But he -- but he did something historic yesterday, which is acknowledge that he has been getting therapy for post-traumatic stress. He served in the Iraq War under David Petraeus, among others, and said that he had dreams, among other things, after and he went and sought help. I don't know if we have a graphic of what he said. Do we?

CAMEROTA: I can read some of it.

BERMAN: All right. I had some particular experiences or regrets from the war that I just thought about every day and occasionally I've had bad dreams or wake up in a cold sweat. But because these experiences weren't debilitating, I didn't feel suicidal or completely withdrawn and I was doing fine in school. It took me a while to appreciate that I was dealing with post-traumatic stress and I was dealing with an experience that a lot of other veterans have.

So he went and got help. He got help, which makes him, in a way, the first announced candidate for president, as far as we can tell, really ever to admit that he or she is getting regular therapy. He says he goes once a month. I think it's a moment in history. It's a refreshing moment in history.

CAMEROTA: It is a moment in history.

And, Margaret, he's doing so many people a favor by speaking publicly about that.

TALEV: Yes, this reflects two things. This reflects the sea change in kind of the way society deals with mental health issues and the plight of -- and the circumstances of returning veterans. We just compare this with what you would have seen in the 1970s with -- well, with political candidates, but also with veterans returning home from war. It also reflects Seth Moulton's position in this very crowded field. I think if he were the number one, two, or three candidate, there would be a lot more calculation about how -- how publicly to be comfortable speaking about this and how much to kind of game this out. And, if nothing else, now this is -- creates a window for him to really connect with voters and with veterans and with interesting parts of the Democratic Party and the electorate at large.

AVLON: Around the time he was born, Tom Eagleton (ph) got drummed out of the Democratic Party in a VP nomination because he admitted to mental illness and intense therapy. This is a sea change. It is heroic. And I think it actually increases his credibility as a candidate of generational change. He's got the courage to come out and talk about it.

CAMEROTA: John, Margaret, Joe, thank you all very much for that conversation. We have a programming note for you. Dana Bash hosts a CNN town hall with Democratic presidential Senator Michael Bennet that's tomorrow night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

BERMAN: Will a big pharmaceutical company be held responsible for the opioid crisis? The state of Oklahoma is making its case. We have a live report, next.


[06:42:46] BERMAN: The father of a University of Oklahoma football star who died of an opioid overdose is set to take the stand today in the state's historic case against Johnson and Johnson.

CNN's Jean Casarez is live in Norman, Oklahoma, with the very latest for us.

Jean, what can we expect today?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a number of victims and their families will take the stand in this trial, which is a case of first impression. This is the first opioid case to come to trial right here in Oklahoma. And it's Craig Box (ph), his son Austin was a football player for the University of Oklahoma. He was injured. He had to recuperate. And what the plaintiffs, the state of Oklahoma, said yesterday is that he began to take opioids so he wouldn't feel the pain, became addicted and died.

We do want to say, the defense, in their opening, said there is no recorded prescription of opioids for Austin, that he actually died of a heroin overdose. But he will be a star witness, the father, for the state of Oklahoma.

Oklahoma said yesterday that this is the worst manmade disaster ever in this country, and especially in the state of Oklahoma. But prior to 1996, Oklahoma did not have an opioid addiction or crisis. But once Johnson and Johnson and Janssen (ph) came in and they started supplying their drugs to the people of Oklahoma and through their marketing saying how safe and effective they were, that that is when the crisis began, and it grew to astronomical levels.

I want you to listen to the state of Oklahoma in their opening statement.


BRAD BECKWORTH, ATTORNEY FOR OKLAHOMA ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE: There's a very simple truth with opiates. If you oversupply, people will die. The reason we have an opioid crisis is that simple.


CASAREZ: The defense has come back strong saying the reason we, for a time period, said that this was safe and effective is because that is exactly what the FDA was saying at the same time. And at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, they said that no one has ever come to the center or died of an addiction that took one of their two drugs.

[06:45:02] Why are we here, they said? When you're right, you fight.


CAMEROTA: Such an important trial to keep an eye on.

Jean Casarez, thank you very much.

Why are we seeing this unprecedented outbreak of tornadoes from Colorado to New Jersey? Chad Myers has the answers, next.


CAMEROTA: In just the past two weeks, we have seen more than 300 tornadoes destroy towns across America. Even in places not accustomed to seeing tornadoes. Plus, there's been historic flooding.

So, what's causing all of this severe weather? CNN meteorologist Chad Myers joins us now.

Do you have the answer to that, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is a stuck jet stream. Absolutely we saw it coming. We knew it was going to be here. And it did happen. One more day of that stuck jet stream, that's today. Still the chance of severe weather today.

This weather is brought to you by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, packed with goodness.

[06:50:02] So let's back you up 14 days when this patter was starting to evolve. Cold weather in the west, dreadfully hot in the east. That jet stream brought in the energy. Little low pressures riding along this jet stream. One almost every single day. And when they got to the northeast, that's when we got the severe weather here. We call those ridge riders.

But this is the area right through here that was the most significantly impacted. Now I will lay on top of this map where all of the tornadoes were. Right through here. Right through tornado alley. As we'd expect. Three hundred and fifty-three tornadoes in 13 days. And a lot of rainfall, too.

This area in the pink, that right there is ten or more inches. Many spots over a foot of rain in May all together. So, yes, the severe weather still is here for today, but the risk of this ridge breaking down is great news. At least this is over for now. We won't see more severe weather as the days go on, at least for another week. Could we blame all this on climate change? The tornadoes? No. The flooding? That's exactly what we expect.

Guys, back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Chad Myers for us. Chad, thank you very much.

Scientists do say climate change will eventually affect all of us. But here in the United States, minority communities are being disproportionately affected.

CNN's chief climate correspondent Bill Weir tells us why.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It is the great paradox of the man-made climate crisis. The fuels that built the modern world are the same ones now destroying it. And while a dirty energy addiction will eventually affect everyone, the folks with the smallest carbon footprints are the ones who will feel the most pain.

HILTON KELLEY, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY IN-POWER AND DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION: On one hand, I'm fighting to push these refineries to lower their emission levels and they're fighting and pushing back saying, we can't lower it any more than what we've already done without shutting down and losing our business. And then I have some of the residents coming to me saying, well, you know, what you're doing, you're going to push these industries away and we need these industries for our jobs, Hilton. Our livelihood depends on them. You know, we'll die quicker from starvation than we will pollution, so back off.

WEIR: Hilton Kelley was born amid these sprawling refineries of Port Arthur, Texas, where the working poor live with a carbon-burning double whammy. The toxic air that comes from processing millions of barrels of oil a week, and the supercharged storms that increase in frequency and power with every barrel burned.

KELLEY: So we're getting a storm like every other year, every -- every three years or so. Not just a little storm, but storms that cause you to have to rebuild your house over and over and over again.

WEIR: For almost 20 years he's been the kind of concerned citizen who grabs a camera when the toxic clouds get bad and has air quality officials on speed dial.

KELLEY: And they were like, well, what do you need to see if for and who are you again?

WEIR: He has a stack of complaints and a few wins. KELLEY: And we're constantly fighting those kind of battles. So, I'm

forever the guard at this gate. And as you can see from my place right here, there goes the dragon right there. So that's the --

WEIR (on camera): That's the dragon.

KELLEY: So that's the --

WEIR: You're constantly watching it.

What Hilton calls the dragon is actually the biggest oil refinery in America. And it is owned by a Saudi Arabian company that made $111 billion profit last year, almost twice as much as Apple. Meanwhile, their neighbor, was lives here, was driven out by the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey and almost two years later can't afford the repairs to move back in. This is why communities of color are worried that the gap between polluting haves and storm surviving have nots is only going to get wider.

WEIR (voice over): After Harvey flooded Motiva and other refineries, the Trump administration fast-tracked almost $4 billion to build storm barriers specifically to protect oil and gas facilities. But the predominantly black Houston neighborhoods flooded by Harvey can't even get the government flooding to update their storm drains.

BRIDGETTE MURRAY, PRESIDENT, PLEASANTVILLE SUPER NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL 57: Because she was on the back of the dread (ph) side, as well as the water not being able to drain off, her house got about four feet of water.

WEIR (on camera): Is that right? Right here?

MURRAY: Right.

WEIR (voice over): Residents say they are invisible to disaster planners while insurance premiums skyrocket.

DR. ROBERT BULLARD, DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF URBAN PLANNING AND ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, TEXAS SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY: Those communities that get -- get hit first, worst, and hardest should receive the aid, the assistance first. It shouldn't be in the back of the line. But right now it's the back of the line, back of the bus.

WEIR: And so a generation after the fight for civil rights, they now call for climate justice and they fight their dragons, one fire at a time.

Bill Weir, CNN, Port Arthur, Texas.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Bill for bringing us that important story.

The question is, what is the Trump administration doing about climate change? We're going to get a reality check in our next hour. [06:54:58] CAMEROTA: OK, meanwhile, Beto O'Rourke breaks down his

immigration policy in a new interview with CNN. How does he plan to deal with issues at the border? That's next.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It came through like a freight train. It seemed like it lasted forever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's one of the strongest storm seasons ever recorded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just imagine what the people inside of that house went through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I knew she was home. And once I started climbing through the house and she started yelling, it was quite a relief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were underneath the one part of the house that didn't get taken. I feel lucky I'm alive. How much luckier can you be?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm confident that if you read volume two, you will be appalled at much of the conduct. We can't let that conduct like that go unchecked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to salute your courage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I admire Justin Amash greatly, but why is he alone?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's been rebuked by his own party leaders. Their backlash just reinforces that this really is Donald Trump's Republican Party.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think this is the last word we've heard from Justin Amash.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

[07:00:02] BERMAN: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY.

Breaking news this morning, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, huge swaths of Pennsylvania.