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Migrant Kids in Unconscionable Facility; Acting CBP Chief Resigns; Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) is Interviewed about Border Bill; U.S. Targeted Iran Proxy in Cyberattack; Candidates Prep for Debate; New White House Press Secretary; Trump Saves Us from Himself. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 25, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, everybody, for dealing with the breaking news.

Thank you for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today.

For our international viewers, "AMANPOUR" is next. For our viewers here in the United States, Brianna Keilar starts "RIGHT NOW."

Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, in America, as migrant children go without soap, toothpaste and sleep, Democrats fight among each other over funding to fix the problem.

And after Tehran mocks the mental fitness of the Trump White House and vows to end diplomacy forever, President Trump threatens Iran with obliteration if it attacks anything American.

The struggle to stand out on an extremely crowded debate stage. So how will the two dozen Democratic candidates do it? At least one is studying debate performances of President Trump and his former GOP rivals for a lesson on how to break through.

And from Sean Spicer to Sarah Sanders, the White House gets a new press secretary, and she's connected to the first lady.

We start with breaking news.

Just moments ago we learned that the acting head of Customs and Border Protection, John Sanders, is resigning. Though at this time he's not saying why. And this all comes in the wake of reports of the shocking treatment of children at the U.S./Mexico border. Children in the care of the U.S. government detained and left to care for themselves and each other, kids under 10 years old in charge of toddlers, sleeping on concrete floors, oatmeal, instant soup, frozen burritos every day for almost a month, little ones without diapers soiling their clothes, no soap, no toothpaste. This is happening in multiple Customs and Border Protection facilities

like this one in Clint, Texas. And after a nationwide uproar, the Department of Homeland Security has pulled nearly 250 of those migrant children out of this center. But you're going to be stunned to find out what happened to a hundred of those kids.

Advocates from Human Rights Watch were able to visit one of these facilities. And here's the account from two of those people. Quote, a second grader we interviewed entered the room silently, but burst into tears when we asked who she traveled with to the U.S. My aunt, she said with a keening cry. A bracelet on her wrist had the words "U.S. parent" and a phone number written in permanent marker. We called the number on the spot and found out that no one had informed her desperate parents where she was being held. Some of the most emotional moments of our visit came witnessing children speak for the first time with their parents on an attorney's phone.

Nick Valencia is on this story. He is in El Paso, where 250 of these kids were moved from the squalor in Clint. But now there's new information of what happened to a hundred of them. Tell us.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An estimated 100 child migrants were transferred back to the Clint Border Patrol station, the same facility where independent monitors called conditions there unconscionable. And the move by Customs and Border Protection, an official tells me, was made after they got some relief from Health and Human Services. They provided shelter for some of those kids who were initially taken out and removed from the Clint Border Patrol station, which allowed room for those hundred kids to be taken back to that same facility.

If you remember, it's that facility where independent monitors called conditions unconscionable. They said they found in interviews some teens hadn't showered for up to three weeks, others saying that they had limited access to soap and water. Some couldn't even get their hands on toothbrushes or toothpaste.

CBP pushed back on those allegations, saying that they'd been reported to the office of professional responsibility and the inspector general but they took the time on the call with reporters to also tout their progress, saying that there's less than a thousand unaccompanied child minors now in their care, down from 2,600 just a week ago. They did also take the time to highlight that they are overwhelmed by a crisis, a crisis which has left them stretched thin.

Nick Valencia, CNN, El Paso, Texas.


KEILAR: All right, thank you, Nick.

And I want to bring in now Evan Perez. He has news about the resignation of the acting Customs and Border Protection commissioner.

We don't seem to know why. Do you have any new information? EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, no. I mean, at

this point, he's not saying exactly why he's resigning. But he's only been there a couple of months as the acting commissioner. Obviously, there's been a tremendous amount of turmoil, turnover at this agency. Kevin McAleenan left to go fill the role at the head of the Homeland Security Department. And Sanders has been -- has been the acting commissioner now. He is now stepping down.

We don't know exactly what was behind this, whether this was something he was planning all along. But you can't escape, obviously, the things that just -- that Nick was just reporting on that you started the show with, these horrible conditions for the children along the border and the amount of heat, the amount of controversy that it has brought upon not only CBP, the Homeland Security Department, but the administration as a whole. They're very defensive. They say that they're doing their best handling an unprecedented crisis of tremendous scale, right? And so, at this point, we don't know exactly what reasons he gave for stepping down, but you can't escape what's been going on behind the scenes.

[13:05:04] KEILAR: Yes, it's clearly connected. It's going to be so interesting to see if it's because he can no longer lead considering what happened, if -- how much was he aware of, right?

PEREZ: Right.

KEILAR: Well, these are all questions we're going to hopefully answer here soon.

PEREZ: Right. Exactly. And keep in mind, there's also a little bit of political infighting going on, even inside this agency. You have the president appointing people to be czars, essentially, for immigration because he's unhappy with the leadership at this agency, even to this day. So, you know, Sanders is seen as an ally of Kevin McAleenan, who's been the butt, really, on the receiving end of a lot of criticism from some of the president's allies about the handling of this crisis.

So we'll see whether that played a role in this as well.

KEILAR: So interesting.

Evan Perez, thank you for that reporting.

And the House is scheduled to vote later today on an emergency spending bill that would address the border situation. Here is how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put this.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It's an appropriations bill to meet the needs of our children. So it can remove the needs that they have, but also the shame that we should have that they don't have diapers and toothbrushes and the care. I said to the members, we have to have a country where every child knows that they are in their parents' arms, literally or figuratively. We are the arms of these children in terms of this appropriation is concerned.


KEILAR: Let's bring in Florida Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. She is a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. She's also a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Thank you for joining us.

REP. DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL (D-FL): Good afternoon, Brianna.

KEILAR: So there's this divide in your caucus. Are you going to vote for this bill that would, in part, get help to these kids? And why or why not?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: Let me start by saying that I wouldn't classify it as a divide in the caucus. I think that we have been under negotiations when we found out -- when we received the language of the bill. We've been working through the weekend talking to leadership. I had certain concerns on the bill and they have addressed those concerns. I am going to be supporting the supplemental bill because we have to take care of the children at the border. This crisis has been manufactured by the Trump administration by providing a zero tolerance policy, separating children from their families, which is why you're seeing those scenes of kids being held in cages.

These kids, many of them, Brianna, have families here in the United States. I have a detention facility in my district, in Homestead. It's a for-profit detention facility. This government right now, this administration is paying close to $2 million a day to keep kids in a detention facility knowing very well that they have parents, family members, but instead of reuniting them, they are keeping them there, profiting from them, which doesn't surprise me that now they're saying they're out of funding. So something just doesn't make sense.

But what I can tell you is that our priority here in the House of Representatives is to do our part and send a supplemental bill that will take care of the basic necessities of the children that are suffering at the border.

KEILAR: OK, so this is interesting because you had been withholding judgment on this bill. You were a part of this meeting and trying to get some of the things you wanted. Now you are supporting this emergency funding bill.

MUCARSEL-POWELL: That's correct.

KEILAR: Are other members who had been also withholding judgment, is your expectation that they are making a similar move to you? Do you think there's going to be the support to push this through?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: I haven't spoken to all the members that had concerns. I do know that there's some movement with a few of them. The problem here is that we don't trust this administration because they have misused funding that we've already appropriated. So we just want to -- KEILAR: Well, let me ask you about that, though, because when it comes to this bill that we're talking about, the president already plans to veto it because it doesn't have funding for ICE detentions.


KEILAR: So with the next step of there being a proposal that would include that, are you -- where would you be? And are you satisfied with winning on the ICE issue only to say you didn't get help for the kids?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: Well, what I don't want is to provide funding for ICE agents that are going to be conducting raids in my community, Brianna. I think that we need to have strong border security. We need to deal with our broken immigration system. But we can't be raiding communities. These are our neighbors and people that have been here for decades. We passed through the Judiciary Committee a comprehensive bipartisan bill, the Dreamer TPS Bill. It's sitting on the Senate side. It hasn't had any movement. We need to start dealing with the issues. And this president --

KEILAR: But the choice -- the choice before you -- I'm sorry to interrupt, but the choice before you right now is this money for ICE detentions, which you don't like, money for the kids, which is it? What do you choose?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: My priority is always going to be with the children. And that's what we need to do. We have to send aid, we have to send funding so that we can take care of their basic necessities. We can't continue to see kids dying at the border.

[13:10:02] KEILAR: You differ, it seems, from the stated position of your colleague in the Progressive Caucus, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She says she's not going to vote for any bill that funds existing policies. Considering what you just said, is that an extreme view if it leaves these kids cold and hungry?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: I'm not going to speak for her. But, Brianna, you and I have spoken about motherhood. And I am a mother. You are a mother. And when it comes to taking care of our kids, I will do whatever it takes. And that's one of the reasons why, even though I had some concerns with the bill, I am in full support of the bill at this point.

KEILAR: All right, congresswoman, thank you so much. Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, we appreciate you being with us.

MUCARSEL-POWELL: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Tension between the U.S. and Iran just went from bad to worse after Iranian leaders suggested the White House suffers from a mental disability in the wake of new sanctions. President Trump firing back with a series of tweets. The most threatening one saying, Iran's very ignorant and insulting statement put out today only shows that they do not understand reality. Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration. No more John Kerry and Obama.

And CNN is now learning that the U.S. carried out a cyberattack on an Iranian-backed militia group. This happened days after Iran shot down an American drone.

We have CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon on this.

Catch us up here, Barbara.


Well, you'll remember last Thursday night the president backed off from air strikes against Iran by all accounts at the last minute saying, no, he didn't want to conduct bombing raids. But what we now know is that, at that time, there had been approval for a series of cyberattacks. And one of those cyberattacks was against a group called Kata'ib Hezbollah. This is an Iranian-backed militia movement that has fighters both inside Iran but also in Iraq and Syria. And what they were going after with the cyberattack was the group's networked communications, trying to keep them from being able to communicate amongst each other and presumably back to their leadership inside Iran.

We don't have the actual result of what happened after the attack was carried out, how much of their communications has been destroyed. It's an interesting, highly classified strategy because, you know, to some extent, you don't want to destroy your adversaries communications entirely. You want to be able to eavesdrop on them. You want to be able to intercept their communications. It's a way to learn what they are doing and be able to move against them.

So this whole cyber strategy -- and it's not the first time they've done it -- has been very sensitive, something the Pentagon doesn't want to talk about, something the military continues to routinely deny that it can talk about any of it. They simply won't address it.

But we do know that after the drone was shut down, the president did approve these cyberattacks. The military looking continuously very closely at Iran's threatening remarks, looking at any moves by the Iranian military in the region, certainly hoping they don't end up where they were last week having to contemplate military strikes.


KEILAR: Thank you so much for your reporting, Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon.

And just in, the White House now has a new press secretary and she's connected to the first lady, Melania Trump.

Plus, how the 2020 candidates are preparing for tomorrow's debate. We're going to tell you which one is watching President Trump's 2016 debates, along with watch those other GOP rivals of his on some idea about how to stand out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [13:18:26] KEILAR: When it comes to the major issues in the 2020 race, Elizabeth Warren seeming to have a plan for all of them. Today she unveiled her proposal to prevent election meddling and interference. And as part of her election security plan, Warren calls for state of the art federal voting machines with uniform ballots and a firewall to protect voter information, federal standards for same-day registration, early voting and vote by mail and money and assistance for states that abide by federal standards.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and her 2020 Democratic rivals are very busy right now because they're preparing for the first pair of Democratic debates, which are tomorrow night and Thursday night in Miami. And for her part, Warren has focused on boiling down her positions, her policy positions, to try to fit the time constraints.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been studying his own record, preparing for attacks on it. Senator Amy Klobuchar has spent time watching the 2016 debates to see how President Trump and his GOP rivals stood out in that crowded field. And Senator Gillibrand has really been focusing on mock debates.

Dana Bash and Gloria Borger are here with us.

How important is this moment to these candidates to stand out?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's very important. For many of them, it's their first time on a real national stage. They know the viewership will be up. So they want to kind of identify themselves.

Congressman Ryan, on our air earlier today with Poppy Harlow described it -- described it as speed dating with the American public. And I think that's a pretty good description of it.

On the flip side, though, if you make a mistake, you can also introduce yourself to the American public that way. Remember Rick Perry when he said, oops, and he couldn't remember the third government department he was going to cut. That was kind of not a bad way to introduce him --

[13:20:08] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You mean the department that he's now the -- running?

BORGER: The head of, right?

KEILAR: Which one is that? No.

BASH: The Department of Energy.

KEILAR: OK, so, to that point, so what if -- what if someone bombs, Dana? Is that the -- is that the end for them?

BASH: No. No, no, not necessarily.

Look, they -- yes, there is a lot to lose, but there's also a lot to gain. And the fact of the matter is, this is the beginning of voters really paying attention. Obviously, you've had these candidates now out there for several months, most of them. They have been on the campaign trail. They've been on television a lot. But this is a different forum. And it always is. And for voters, they just -- you know how it is, they just -- they want to get the feel of -- for them. They want to get to see them on the big stage. Do they look presidential? Do they feel presidential? Can they be the person who can be the one to go after Donald Trump and to actually beat Donald Trump? And that's the thing we have to keep in mind.

KEILAR: Do they want a second date?

BASH: Singularly focused.

KEILAR: As Gloria was saying.

BASH: Second date. Their second date. But do they think that they're the ones who they can actually marry in order to end the Trump presidency.

KEILAR: I love these analogies.

BORGER: OK, we're just (INAUDIBLE).

KEILAR: All right, let's -- well, let's move on. Let's talk about the White House press secretary. There is a -- there's a new one. So tell us about Stephanie Grisham.

BORGER: Well, Stephanie Gresham is a long time aid to Donald Trump. She actually also worked in the Romney campaign way back when. She has worked for Melania Trump. She's very close to Melania Trump. And so it puts her in the position as White House press secretary as having a relationship not only with the president, with whom she is also close, but also with the first lady. And that won't hurt her. That really won't hurt her because she'll know what's going on in each wing of the White House when something happens and that can help you in that job.

BASH: I thought it was very telling that it was Melania Trump --

BORGER: Exactly.

BASH: Who released the statement in her name that her press secretary was going over to work for her husband in the -- in the West Wing. And I agree with you that, look, I mean, Melania Trump, and we hear this from Kate Bennett a lot, I hear this from the president's political advisers, she is more influential and more politically attuned than anybody realizes. And the fact that her press secretary, who has a good reputation inside Trump world, and even out, as somebody who gets it and is no nonsense, the fact that she is going over to work for President Trump is very telling about a lot of things, but I think also is a reminder of how much impact the first lady has politically.

BORGER: And the question really is, for those of us in the press, is how much will it matter to us? I mean we haven't seen a briefing yet in that hundred days.

BASH: There's that. KEILAR: Yes.

BORGER: And the question is whether Stephanie Grisham is going to change that. Is she going to work to actually -- to actually brief the press every single day? They would argue, well, you've got the president doing that. Or will she take a back seat the way Sarah Sanders did?

KEILAR: What's clear is she'll have a tougher boss. I think we know that.

Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, a tougher one to serve, for sure.

A college student is missing after she took a Lyft ride from the airport and has not been seen since. What police are saying about the mysterious disappearance, next.

Plus, a new column in "The Washington Post" declares Trump heroically saves us from himself. We're going to talk to Dana Milbank, who wrote that, in just a moment.


[13:28:12] KEILAR: This just in to CNN, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaking out for the first time since President Trump basically called him clueless. The Trump appointee responding just moments ago in a potentially veiled message hailing the institution's independence.


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: The Fed is insulated from short-term political pressures, what is often referred to as our independence. Congress chose to insulate the Fed this way because it had seen the damage that often arises when policy bends to short-term political interests.

We must actively engage those who serve -- those we serve to understand how we can more effectively and faithfully use the powers they've entrusted to us. That is why we are formally publicly opening our decision making to suggestions, scrutiny and critique.


KEILAR: Powell has been under unprecedented public pressure from President Trump after recent interest rate hikes. In an interview with "The Hill" this week, the president says he could fire Powell if he wanted to, even though Powell maintains that the law says he can't.

Were they flip-flops, policy shifts or negotiating tactics? President Trump's reversals on major threats that he initiated are the focus of a Washington post op-ed, "Trump Heroically Saves Us from Himself." And among the examples cited, postponing immigration raids and mass deportations that he threatened to carry out, indefinitely suspending his threat to slap tariff on all Mexican goods and calling off a strike on Iran for downing an unmanned U.S. aircraft. "Washington Post" political columnist Dana Milbank wrote that op-ed.

And you noticed a clear pattern that you pointed out here.

[13:29:48] DANA MILBANK, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON POST": I think there might be a clear pattern. But, you know, we've seen, Brianna, from the very beginning the president sort of governs by crisis. Sometimes real crises, sometimes crises he's invented. But, more recently, we've been seeing that he steps in heroically to rescue us from this very crisis sometimes before we knew there was a crisis, for example, saying he stopped this attack