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Interview With Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA); Trump Back At White House After Campaign Kickoff Filled With Old Grievances And New False Claims; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) Among Democrats Critical Of Biden Remarks About Segregationist Senators; Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Opposes Reparations, Says No One Alive Is Responsible; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Gains Momentum In Democratic Primary Polls, Surging Among Progressives With Policy-Laden Agenda. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 19, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Trump confidant Hope Hicks refuses to answer Democrats' questions about her time in the White House. We're learning new details about her testimony and what she held back.

Destroy in court. The House Judiciary Committee chairman is vowing to challenge the White House claim that Hicks has immunity, calling it ridiculous. Can Democrats force Hope Hicks to answer their questions?

Biden backlash. Some of the Democratic front-runner's rivals are criticizing his remarks about working with segregationist senators. As Congress is revisiting America's racist history, will Joe Biden now apologize?

And Warren rising. The Massachusetts senator is gaining momentum in the Democratic presidential race, with one poll showing her in a dead heat with Bernie Sanders. What's driving Elizabeth Warren's surge?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on Hope Hicks' congressional testimony that ended just a little while ago with many questions unanswered.

The former Trump aide and confidant refused to talk about her time at the White House after the administration declared she had immunity.

Tonight, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, says he will destroy that immunity claim in court, as President Trump is accusing Democrats of putting Hope Hicks through hell.

Also breaking, there's growing pressure right now on Joe Biden to apologize after he cited his work with segregationist senators as an example of civility in politics. More Democrats are coming forward tonight to criticize Biden's remarks, including his 2020 primary rivals Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker.

This hour, I will talk with Congressman Denny Heck. He's a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, now that the hearing with Hope Hicks is over, what more are you learning about what she said and didn't say behind closed doors?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she didn't answer any questions about her time in the White House.

There were counsels from the White House who were in the room who said that she had absolute immunity from answering questions about her time, saying those are essentially off-limits. That included topics about the Mueller report, things that Democrats wanted to ask about allegations of potential obstruction of justice, what she knew with the firing of James Comey, the efforts allegedly by the president to try to get rid of the special counsel himself.

Would not answer those questions. Also, she was asked about what she knew about those hush money payments that were made in the run-up to the 2016 campaign. She said that she had no knowledge of some of those activities, not giving Democrats what they wanted, which was to learn more about what exactly what happened here.

Now, Democrats are planning to fight this in the days ahead, take this to court. Jerry Nadler of the House Judiciary Committee just emerged from a closed-door meeting with other Democratic chairmen. And he made it very clear he wasn't happy with the White House's approach.


REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): She answered some of our questions. We learned considerable information.

The White House pleaded a nonexistent absolute immunity, and that will not stand.

RAJU: What do you plan to do next?

NADLER: That, we will comment on later.

RAJU: Are you confident you're going to win this case in court? Are you confident you're going to going to win this in court?


RAJU: He had said earlier in the day, Wolf, that he believed that they could -- quote -- "destroy" the administration's claims in court.

Republicans, meanwhile, said that this was essentially a waste of time. Nothing new, in their view, was learned. Some Democrats agreed nothing new was learned as well.

And Republicans didn't spend much time asking questions, Wolf. They let that to the Democrats make their case, but, as you can see here, Democrats have more questions perhaps than answers after today's testimony -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And more hearings now planned. We're learning that a former business partner of the president is now set to testify on Friday. What are you hearing?

RAJU: Yes, that's right.

Felix Sater, who is a former associate of the president's who was involved in those efforts to move forward with the Trump Tower Moscow project, along with Michael Cohen, the president's former fixer who is now in jail, he will come to the House Intelligence Committee, we are told, behind closed doors and meet with that panel on Friday.

Now, this comes after Sater was supposed to come and meet with the committee in a public session earlier this year, but that was rescheduled in the aftermath of the Mueller report. And now the committee has agreed to bring him back, but behind closed doors.

So the committee so far has declined to comment. Adam Schiff just emerged from this closed-door hearing as well. We expect to learn more about exactly why they're doing this behind closed doors, rather than in a public setting.


But this is all part of his -- Adam Schiff, the chairman's move to try to investigate the president's financial ties, any that exist with Russia, his business dealings that occurred during the 2016 campaign, as well as Michael Cohen's false testimony that he gave to the House Intelligence Committee about the pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project.

That is still part of this committee's investigation also, will still be asked behind closed doors on Friday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. We will speak to a member of the Intelligence Committee shortly.

Manu Raju up on the Hill, thank you very much.

President Trump is back at the White House tonight after his campaign kickoff in Florida. And Hope Hicks' testimony clearly is on his mind.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the president is accusing Democrats of putting Hope Hicks through hell.


And he's even invoking the Mueller report, saying -- quote -- "They were unhappy with the result, so they want a do-over, very unfair and costly to her."

And he asked the question, will it ever end?

Now, Wolf, we know this comes as the president has been telling allies he's not worried that Hicks would reveal any damaging information about him on Capitol Hill, but he doesn't like seeing one of his former closest confidants being dragged in front of Democrats, though now questions are being raised about just how close the two of them still are.


COLLINS (voice-over): She was once President Trump's top aide and closest confidant. But when Hope Hicks returned to Washington today, she was on Capitol Hill, instead of the West Wing.

Trump fired off this simple message while Hicks was testifying behind closed doors: "Democratic congressional hearings are rigged," adding, "They gave crooked Hillary's people complete immunity, yet now they bring back Hope Hicks."

Sources tell CNN his relationship with Hicks has changed dramatically. While they were once inseparable, now the two hardly speak. When Hicks didn't return several of his calls last year, Trump asked allies, what happened to Hope?

Despite the distance, her friend said she's still on Trump's side and just wanted out of his orbit. Trump making clear in Orlando Tuesday night where that orbit is, going after his 2016 opponent, before mentioning those running against him in 2020.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thirty-three thousand e-mails deleted. Think of it. If I deleted one e-mail, like a love note to Melania, it's the electric chair for Trump.

COLLINS: It was supposed to be the official launch of his 2020 campaigns, but Trump focused on airing his grievances instead.

TRUMP: They went after my family, my business, my finances, my employees, almost everyone that I have ever known or worked with. But they are really going after you. That's what it's all about.

COLLINS: Telling a packed stadium he would cure cancer if he's reelected.

TRUMP: We will come up with the cures to many, many problems, to many, many diseases, including cancer and others.

COLLINS: And painting a dire picture if he's not.

TRUMP: Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage. They want to destroy you, and they want to destroy our country as we know it.

COLLINS: The charged rally coming amid drama back in Washington, after Trump's acting defense secretary took himself out of the running for the permanent job when details of domestic abuse and his family became public.

Patrick Shanahan's sudden departure highlighting how Trump's Cabinet is full of the last person standing. Trump now has an acting defense secretary, acting DHS secretary, acting U.N. ambassador, acting SBA administrator, and acting chief of staff, among many others.


COLLINS: Now, Wolf, the president said he wasn't concerned that Hicks would divulge anything damaging while up on Capitol Hill. But some of those around him weren't so sure, pointing to the fact that the last time she testified was when she conceded she had told white lies on behalf of the president.

We will know soon enough when the transcript of her testimony comes out.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.

Joining us now, Congressman Denny Heck. He's a Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

After this hearing with Hope Hicks -- it just ended a little while ago -- the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, is vowing to destroy the White House argument for immunity in court.

Do you think he will prevail?

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): So, I found the assertion of absolute or blanket immunity to be curious in a bunch of regards.

First of all, it's not terribly original. It's been tried before, and didn't work. More about that in a second. And, secondly, it's completely predictable, because the president has done everything he can to withhold information. This is the least transparent administration in modern history.


But this was tried before, Wolf. And I think it was 2008, a U.S. district court ruled that there is no such thing as absolute or blanket immunity just because you work for the president.

This is not going to work in the long run. They can run -- they can hide, but they can't -- they can run, but they can't hide. And the truth of the matter is that when you live in a free, open, democratic society, like we do, with a vibrant press, even though he campaigns against it on a daily basis, the truth will out.

And it will in this case as well.

BLITZER: Nadler, you just heard him say as he was emerging from this meeting, he did say they did get some very good information from Hope Hicks. Is that a sign that the current Democratic strategy is working?

HECK: Well, there's no question that it's working, when you consider what's happened over the last few weeks, two court cases with respect to being able to subpoena the accounting records.

We won. In fact, the judge not only ruled in favor of the effort to produce those documents, but did so with a very strongly worded ruling. And then, secondly, with respect to the court decision on gaining access to Deutsche Bank and Capital One records as well.

And, in addition to that, we had, of course, Hope Hicks on a limited, very qualified basis come forward. We had Donald Trump Jr. come forward. And that which hasn't received too much attention is that there have been successful negotiations for the partial production of documents of interest to the House Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee as well.

So, we are making progress across all fronts. I wish it were faster, and we're going to stay at it and we're going to keep our shoulder to the wheel here.

BLITZER: Your committee, the Intelligence Committee, will hear testimony from Felix Sater, this Friday.

Sater, as we noted, he's a Russian-American businessman who worked on that Trump Tower Moscow project during the 2016 presidential election. What exactly do you hope to learn from him?

HECK: So, let me be real clear, Wolf.

I will neither confirm nor deny that Mr. Sater is coming before the House Intelligence Committee this Friday. I will confirm with you that we continue to have people in, some on a voluntary basis, some which must be subpoenaed, some which must be negotiated to agreement, but we will continue to interview people that we think are relevant.

And much of this will, in fact, take place behind closed doors, because our part, our focus on this investigation has to do with counterintelligence. And, of course, that's sensitive and classified matter -- material often, and we don't want to compromise other people or procedures.

BLITZER: Speaking of counterintelligence, your committee has started reviewing counterintelligence documents from the Mueller report, going beyond the official Mueller report.

Has that material, Congressman, shed light on the president's business interests with people like Felix Sater, with other Russians, other foreign countries, for example?

HECK: So, again, I'm not going to elaborate as to the specifics of the material that we have received in a classified setting, as you might imagine, Wolf.

But I will tell you that I guess, if I had a disappointment with the Mueller report in terms of its content, it would be that he never did explore potential financial conflicts of interest. And I think that's relevant, especially as it relates to an awful lot of the activity and the communications that we knew took place between 17 Trump campaign operatives or staff people and people on behalf of the Russian government or actual Russian government representatives.

So, we need to know and understand if there is a predicate for this behavior that helps explain it.

BLITZER: Your committee subpoena for Trump documents from Deutsche Bank, from Capital One, I understand it's now in the courts.

Has your committee subpoenaed other banks, in addition to those two banks, to try and get more information on any other foreign business dealings?

HECK: I'm sorry, sir. Again, I can neither confirm nor deny that, because it is of a sensitive nature that has to do with the discussions that are under way.

But you might well imagine that we're going to subpoena all of that which we think is directly relevant and for which we have good reason to believe we might learn something from it, as a matter of fact.

The answer to the spirit of your question is yes, but I will not answer the question in the specific because of obvious classified sensitivities.

And, by the way, the subpoenas of Deutsche Bank and Capital One, that was a joint effort on behalf of both the Intelligence Committee, trying to get the counterintelligence track record or paper trail, as it were, and the Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction in this area, and on which I also happen to sit.

BLITZER: Congressman Denny Heck, you're a busy guy. Thanks so much for joining us.

HECK: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Just ahead, can Democrats force Hope Hicks to testify fully and destroy the White House claim she has immunity?

Plus, the former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara -- there you see him -- he's about to share his legal opinion.

We will discuss the potential damage as well to Joe Biden's campaign. And he's getting heat for his remarks about working with segregationist senators.



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, the House Judiciary Committee chairman is now vowing to fight an immunity claim for Hope Hicks in court. The former White House communications director refused to answer

Democrats' questions about her time at the White House during a hearing that wrapped up a little while ago.

We're joined now by the former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara. He is a CNN senior legal analyst.

Preet, the chairman, Jerry Nadler, says he will take this now to court. How strong of a case does he have?


PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's a pretty strong argument.

What is happening here over and over again, as the Democrats have shown in prior court cases that are parallel to this, not quite this exact same issue, the president's team is overreaching in the kinds of claims it's making about executive privilege or immunity or anything else.

The question will be, how long will it take to get through the courts? And it depends on the kinds of things that the Democrats are going to be asking for. Remember, there are four distinct periods of time that Hope Hicks is relevant to, one, campaign, two, transition, three, actual service to the president in the White House, and then, four, anything that's happened since the time that she left the White House.

Obviously, the president's team's claim is the most strong, if it's strong at all -- and I don't think it is -- with respect to the time she spent in the White House.

But there's plenty of other things to ask about with respect to those other time periods.

BLITZER: And I'm sure the committee members did today.

In a letter to the Nadler on the eve of the hearing, the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, he wrote that the Justice Department advised him that Hope Hicks is -- quote -- "absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters occurring during her service as a senior adviser to the president."

What do you make of that argument?

BHARARA: So I'm not aware of any legal doctrine that's called absolute immunity in these circumstances.

I haven't heard any other legal scholar, no matter what side of the political spectrum they're on, saying that they understand what that is. And, again, this is another example of there may be some arguments that you could make, at least make a -- set out of a non- laughable case for why something should go a certain way or why someone should not be permitted to have to answer questions.

But they take a little bit too far. This issue of absolute immunity, not having to answer anything at all or even show up, is not something that I think has squarely been addressed by the courts. But if you think of the logic of it, it doesn't make a lot of sense.

It's sort of along the lines of what they're doing with Don McGahn. And I think they have a poor argument there also, because there's also the suggestion of waiver, because Hope Hicks did talk to the special counsel's office about a lot of these things already.

BLITZER: Hope Hicks is one of the very few people who stayed with President Trump from his time as a private citizen through the 2016 presidential campaign into the White House.

How important do you believe her testimony to House Democrats -- how important is that testimony? The Democrats clearly trying to build a case on this obstruction of justice issue.

BHARARA: So I don't know how important she is to ultimately building the case, as you describe it.

I think what the Democrats are trying to do -- and I don't fault them for it -- you had a special counsel who laid out in a report all sorts of instances that looked like they make a case for obstruction of justice; 1,000 federal prosecutors have said that they believe that's the case.

And now they want to keep that in the public eye and make sure that there's attention spent on it. I don't know how important Hope Hicks was to that. She's mentioned a bunch of times in the Mueller report. And I don't know what the Democrats are going to find beyond what's already been put forth in the Mueller report.

But I think, as with Don McGahn and Robert Mueller and a bunch of other witnesses, it's important, given that almost no one has read the Mueller report, for those kinds of things to be talked about in an open hearing. And I think to the extent that's important to the Democrats, she's an important witness.

BLITZER: Preet Bharara, thanks so much for joining us.

BHARARA: Sure, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead, we will have more on this so-called absolute immunity claim for Hope Hicks and whether it will hold up in court. We have a team of analysts standing by.

And the newest firestorm for Joe Biden, it's raising some questions about his sensitivity on racial issues and whether he's out of touch.



BLITZER: We're following all the breaking news on the congressional testimony by Hope Hicks, who was one of President Trump's closest aides. Democrats venting their frustrations tonight, after Hicks refused to

answer any of their questions about her time serving in the White House.

Let's bring in our analysts.

And, Jamie Gangel, the president is tweeting his support for his former communications director. He said this in his tweet. He said: "So sad that the Democrats are putting wonderful Hope Hicks through hell."

But, Jamie, CNN is learning that Hicks' relationship with the president has actually changed a bit. The two are speaking, obviously, a less frequently. Hicks has even failed apparently to return several of his phone calls. What does all that tell you?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very few people do not return the president's phone calls.

This is reporting from our colleague Kaitlan Collins. What we don't know here is, is this a personal dynamic? Did she just want to distance herself from him? Or is it a legal strategy? Were her lawyers telling her not to be in touch with him so much?

But there is no question that this is someone Trump cared about. A lot of people have left the White House, but, when she left, the president was clearly very upset about it.

But I think, for today, Wolf, what's important is, to the White House, she did not -- Hope Hicks did not answer questions the White House didn't want her to answer.

BLITZER: Important point.

David Swerdlick, the president formally launched his 2020 campaign attempt last night with a blistering attack on Democrats and his critics.

Listen to this.


TRUMP: Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage. They want to destroy you, and they want to destroy our country as we know it. Not acceptable. It's not going to happen.



BLITZER: They want to destroy our country, as we know it. They want to destroy you.

David Swerdlick, this is extremely damaging language coming from the President of the United States. DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. And the President, clearly, was coming out hot. You can imagine him saying things along those lines as the campaign gets rolling. But to launch his campaign in that way suggests and it sends a shot across the bow to all democratic opponents that he is going to be in their face and really bringing a very divisive, a very aggressive fight to them.

I think he was saying two things at the same time there, Wolf. Both he was sort of without saying the word, socialism, laying some track for himself, where later in the speech and later in the campaign, he's going to try and paint all democrats as socialists even though the only declared socialist is Senator Sanders.

And then the other thing is that it sounded like a little bit of projection there, right? He talked about hate and negativity, I think, was the word he used there, but he is the person who, in 2016, and, to an extent, last night, really, has come out with the most vitriol and the most negative campaigning at least thus far.

BLITZER: David Chalian, what did you think?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I agree with what David Swerdlick is saying. I think that Donald Trump showed us last night that he believes so very much so about what got him to the Oval Office, right, the immigration line of attack, the way he gets the crowd riled up. He believes these are the things that delivered him the presidency. And he's not going to deviate at all from that script going forward. He wants to repeat it.

BLITZER: Jamie, let me move on to this other story we're following today involving the former Vice President, Joe Biden. He's now being widely criticized after he invoked his previous work with segregationist U.S. Senators to illustrate his ability to reach across the aisle.

He told donors at a fundraiser. He said this. I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland. He never called me boy. He always called me son. Well, guess what, at least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done.

How much of a misstep was this to bring this up last night?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it was a big misstep. At the very least, it is tone deaf. But we also note this is not a story. This is not the first time he's told this story. And his staff, his advisers, have said to him, do not tell this story. This is not appropriate.

We're also seeing, I think, we're up to either six or seven of his democratic rivals coming out and say that he needs to apologize, that he shouldn't be saying this. I think it speaks to another thing.

What we're waiting to see with Joe Biden, we've talked about a lot is the D word, discipline. His staff told him not to tell this story, and he went out and told it again. BLITZER: David Swerdlick, let me read to you what Cory Booker, one of the democratic presidential rivals, said. You don't joke about calling black men boys. Men like Senator James O. Eastland, a democrat of Mississippi, used words like that and the racist policies that accompanied them to perpetuate white supremacy and strip black Americans of our very humanity. What do you make of this controversy that has erupted today?

SWERDLICK: Yes, well, a couple things. First, to Jamie's point, his staff should be or is telling him not to tell these stories, and while no one expects Senator Biden to be at the sort of cutting edge of a discussion about racial dynamics in this country, people, when you look at a comment like this, feel like he should really know better. And I think that's why he drew so much fire from Senator Booker and others.

Look, Senator Booker, a younger African-American Senator, is a very glass half-full, can't we all just get along type of guy. So for him to come out and have these sort of sharp words for Vice President Biden suggests that Vice President Biden really sort of misstepped here.

I think Cory Booker is right when he says, look, it's one thing to come out and answer that question and say, I was in the Senate with these guys. I had to work with them. It's another thing to bring up this issue of whether they called him boy or son. Calling African- American men boy has traditionally been an insult. Vice President Biden should know that. He was right to be called out.

BLITZER: You know, David Chalian, all this comes as the Senator majority leader, Mitch McConnell, suggests a conversation about around reparations is not necessary because no one was alive today who was responsible for slavery. What do you make of this whole debate over beginning a serious dialogue about reparations?

CHALIAN: Yes. I think Senator McConnell went further to say, Wolf, that the election of Barack Obama was somehow reparations enough, if you will, that an African-American was elected president. No mention that, of course, Mitch McConnell made it his mission to blockade everything Barack Obama tried to do and made that his stated goal. I think that Mitch McConnell is misreading the moment here where this issue is.


It's obviously gotten some real currency inside the Democratic Party right now.

And I think that's why you saw a hearing on this matter today. We saw a conversation around this on Capitol Hill. I don't think we've ever seen that get this kind of attention today. I think this issue is not going away so fast, especially for the democrats.

BLITZER: I totally agree. All right, guys, stick around. There's more news we're following. Just ahead, her rising poll numbers don't tell the full story. We're going to take a closer look at why Elizabeth Warren is now in the top tier of democratic presidential candidates.



BLITZER: Tonight, there's new evidence that Elizabeth Warren is gaining momentum in the democratic presidential race. One new poll shows she's now in second place running neck and neck with Bernie Sanders.

CNN Political Correspondent M.J. Lee is joining us right now. So, M.J., what is Senator Warren's surge?

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Elizabeth Warren appears to be the 2020 candidate to watch right now, poll after poll showing the Senator moving up. This is all happening, of course, at a crucial moment in the race with the first debates now just a week away.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): I've done more than 100 town halls now.

LEE: Elizabeth Warren enjoying a breakout moment.

WARREN: Shoot, I'm over 30,000 selfies now. So I'm in this.

LEE: And it seems to be paying off. Warren is gaining ground in the crowded democratic race for president in a new national poll, the Massachusetts Senator seeing a five-point bump among democratic voters since last month, putting her even with Bernie Sanders.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT): I'm going to run my campaign. Senator Warren will run her campaign. And I think what the evidence will show is that I am, in fact, the strongest candidate to defeat Trump.

LEE: In a potential warning sign for Sanders, Warren gaining significantly among self-identified liberals, the countdown now on to next week's first democratic debates.

Warren taking center stage the first night in the debates, a prime time opportunity to go big on her idea's heavy approach that has fuelled her success.

WARREN: I have a plan for that.

I have a plan for that.

I have a plan for that.

LEE: Warren's ideas even attracting more moderate democrats who disagree with Sanders. The co-Founder of centrist think-tank, Thirdway, telling CNN that Warren's policies are within the lines of democratic policies. They are not democratic socialist policies.

Sanders striking back Tweeting today the cat is out of the bag. The corporate wing of the Democratic Party is publicly anybody but Bernie.

So far, Warren showing no signs of hard feelings toward Sanders.

WARREN: Bernie and I have been friends for a very, very long time. I think it's great for him to get out and make the case that he wants to make. Bernie fights from the heart.


LEE: Now, we asked the Warren team today about her rise in the polls. And here's what a senior campaign aide said in a rare statement. They said, quote, we don't pay much attention to the polls. They will go up and down throughout the race and focusing on the daily headline, Tweet or cable news chatter is not a recipe for long-term success, the Warren team, Wolf, clearly trying to downplay the horse race. Wolf?

BLITZER: M.J. Lee reporting for us, thank you, M.J.

Just ahead, as the President makes false claims about the environment, the Trump administration rolls back a rule aimed at easing the global climate crisis.


[18:47:45] BLITZER: The Environmental Protection Agency is rolling back a key part of the Obama administration strategy to fight the growing climate crisis. Just last night, President Trump falsely claimed that the air and water in the United States were the cleanest they've ever been.

Our climate change correspondent Bill Weir is joining us. He's got details.

Bill, tell us what you're learning.

BILL WEIR, CNN CLIMATE CHANGE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, thousands of climate scientists around the world from the Pentagon to NASA and NOAA all agree that in order to save life on earth as we know it, most known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground, to transition to something more renewable. But we all know the president does not believe those warnings.

And today, his EPA ignoring market forces made it a lot easier to burn the dirtiest fuel of all.


WEIR (voice-over): Before leading the EPA, Andrew Wheeler was a coal lobbyist, and today's rule change announcement made it hard to tell he ever left that job.

ANDREW WHEELER, EPA: The contrast between our approach and the green new deal or plans like it couldn't be clearer. Rather than Washington telling Americans what type of energy they can use or how they can travel, or even what they can eat, we are working cooperatively with the states to provide an affordable, dependable and diverse supply of energy.

WEIR: In reality, American coal consumption is at a 40-year low, not because of regulation but competition. For the first time ever, more power is now being generated by cleaner, cheaper renewables. A free market trend President Obama tried to accelerate with a tough carbon cap called the Clean Power Plan.

But after several groups sued, a conservative Supreme Court majority kept those rules from taking effect and today, the EPA killed them. Instead, they'll give states three years to come up with their own pollution standards.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our air and water are the cleanest they've ever been by far.

WEIR: This is a lie. In fact, the American Lung Association says the air has gotten measurably worse in the last two years, and four in ten Americans are now breathing unhealthy air. And according to a "New York Times" analysis, this is just one of 83 rules being rolled back on everything from toxic chemicals to endangered species to the climate crisis.

[18:50:03] So, scientists can't help but worry.

MICHAEL MANN, CLIMATE SCIENTIST, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY: The people who have been appointed to run the EPA are industry sort of lap dogs, close ties to fossil fuel interests and the Koch brothers and what they've been trying to do is to literally roll back the environmental protections of the past half century.


WEIR: Well, obviously, Wolf, if West Virginia decides to crank up the coal fired plants, those emissions aren't going to stay in West Virginia. So, it's pretty safe to assume that all of this is going to end up in court.

BLITZER: Sure it will.

Bill Weir, good report. Thank you very much for that.

A lot more news just ahead.


[18:55:18] BLITZER: Tonight, CNN is examining a health and safety threat to many children across America. Their schools are in disrepair and dangerous.

CNN's Alexandra Field is joining us now with the latest installment of our special series on the nation's crumbling infrastructure.

Alexandra, this crisis is clearly putting public school students at risk.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, in more places than you might imagine, Wolf. In more schools than you probably would possibly think at this point.

But educators and administrators are telling us they are struggling to keep students safe. They are struggling in many cases just to keep the school building standings. Tens of thousands of schools across the country are badly in need of repair. The estimated price tag to make those fixes is eye-popping. And there's no plan in place to do it.


FIELD (voice-over): Here is where tomorrow starts, a public school in America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll send my kids with water bottles every day because there have been lead tests done on the water fountains. And a few of them were deemed unsafe amounts of lead.

They had asbestos in the floor so they had to rip up carpets.

FIELD: It's the place where dreams are built and the imagination is supposed to grow.

BRIAN GANAN, SUPERINTENDENT, KOMAREK SCHOOL: Her daughter, at first she came home and said, I can't learn in this place. The school is a dump.

We had a septic flood from the bathroom upstairs and came pouring down here.

FIELD (on camera): This is the main support beams with the huge crack.


The kindergartens can't sleep on the floor because of the boiler room underneath, the floor is over 95 degrees.

FIELD: Do the kids think this is normal?

GANAN: They do. This is all they know.

FIELD (voice-over): We visited two schools outside Chicago.

GANAN: This building was built in 1936.

FIELD: Schools crumbling in front of today's students.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In my room, they'll leak through the ceiling and then they'll actually drip into the lights.

MATT BENDER, PENNOYER ART TEACHER: Without windows, some days it's 80 in my room and there is no fresh air. FIELD: Money for school facilities comes largely from local


(on camera): Everyone in the community knows about the problems here. But the taxpayers voted against spending the $22 million it would take to fix the school. So, in this suburb of Chicago they're hoping for state funds to fix the building. The idea of getting federal dollars still seems too far-fetched.

(voice-over): In the United States, for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, there are 100,000 public school buildings. More than half of the schools, 53 percent need facilities improvements just to be rated good. That's according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In its latest study released in 2014, the Department estimated a fix cost $197 billion. But the federal government chips in just 0.2 percent of school capital costs.

(on camera): So, these are fire hoses from 1952.


FIELD: And do these work?

GANAN: I don't think -- I wouldn't try it.

FIELD (voice-over): Komarek was built for another era.

GANAN: I don't call it a bomb shelter but it was built like so that it was secure.

FIELD: Today's challenges are different.

(on camera): Do you do active shooter drills here?

GANAN: Yes, we do.

FIELD: Do you feel that this school is secure?

GANAN: We have very good systems in place to keep kids safe. But, again, I will also say that the facility was built in 1936, and others in 1955, and --

FIELD: When we weren't talking about school shootings.

GANAN: Exactly, exactly.

FIELD (voice-over): Other safety measures required in modern schools aren't required here.

GANAN: You won't see sprinklers here, and again, that's because we are grandfathered in. Doors are not fire-rated.

FIELD: Same goes for wheel chair accessibility. The old buildings don't have to meet today's requirements. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now, we have a student in a walker. And

they're able to put a belt on her and guide her up and down the stairs. She has to be assisted

FIELD: With whatever funds the school can spare, heating and cooling are prioritized.

KRISTIN KOPTA, SUPERINTENDENT, PENNOYER SCHOOL: If you ask my teachers the if you mean one thing, it's the HVAC system. It's very stagnant air.

FIELD: Cosmetic fixes don't make the list.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe if the bathrooms weren't so absolutely disgusting --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- most kids wouldn't have to hold it in the entire day not to go into the rooms.

FIELD: These are yesterday's schools, the crumbling bridge to our future.


FIELD: The nation's latest infrastructure report card gives schools a D-plus. And, Wolf, that grade comes as really no surprise when you get a look inside some of these buildings.

BLITZER: Awful situation indeed.

Alexandra Field, thanks for that report. Very, very important.

Be sure to watch the next installment of our special series on the infrastructure crisis. It airs tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks very much for watching. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.