Return to Transcripts main page


Over 100 Children Returned To Overcrowded, Filthy Texas Border Facility; Sanders And Warren Compete For Progressive Voters; 9/11 First Responders Say McConnell Is Committed To Holding Vote. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired June 26, 2019 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] WARREN BINFORD, PROFESSOR, WILLAMETTE UNIVERSITY, SALEM, OREGON, INTERVIEWED MIGRANT CHILDREN AT TEXAS DETENTION FACILITY: Well, I immediately thought to some of the children and their families that we've interviewed recently as part of these site visits.

There was another mother last year who described her 2-year-old falling out of an overcrowded raft coming across the Rio Grande River and someone that she didn't even know diving in after the little 2- year-old and putting her back in the raft even though he, himself, couldn't swim.

And I thought to myself, that's exactly the kind of person that I want to have in our country. Someone who is really focused on the children to the extent that he would be willing to risk his own life in order to save a child.

So it really brings to heart a lot of the stories that we hear about the treacherous journey that these children and their families have in trying to come to the United States.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I think that your point about these are the qualities that, of course, we would want in our fellow citizens -- selflessness --


CAMEROTA: -- courage, taking care of children over yourself.

However, I think what the --


CAMEROTA: -- administration would say is there is a legal path for them. It is too dangerous to take the illegal path. There is a legal path for people who want the American way of life, who want the American dream and that that's what these parents should take.

BINFORD: Well, but you also have to remember that it is entirely lawful under both domestic and international law for people to come to the United States without documentation in order to claim asylum. And we have an entire legal system that is set up specifically to evaluate whether or not they have a credible fear of persecution in their own countries.

We know that young girls are being raped by gangs in the Northern Triangle.

We know that little boys as young as six years old are being forced into gangs. We interviewed one boy who watched his best friend being decapitated in the streets of their hometown on the way home from school because those two little boys wanted to stay in school and not join the gangs.

So it's really important to understand that the people who come to the United States and are apprehended have a legal right to be here and have their claim for asylum heard as long as they're claiming asylum. And we need to keep that in mind and give them a chance for those claims to be considered --


BINFORD: -- under the appropriate authority.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but therein, lies the rub and that's exactly where you come in because the asylum system is overwhelmed. And the reason that the asylum system -- part of the reason that the asylum system is overwhelmed is because the administration would say too many people who are not qualified are claiming asylum.

For instance, using this horrid example of this father and daughter. The father's mother, who lives in El Salvador, said they were poor. They were just terribly poor and he wanted a better life for his daughter, which I think we all understand.

That's not covered under asylum. They were not political -- politically persecuted.

And so, what the administration says is that people are using their economic conditions, which are deplorable, and claiming asylum, and that's not what it was built for.

And that's why you have been able to go into these detention centers and see the overcrowding and see the horrible conditions because too many people are claiming asylum and that's how we've gotten into this condition.

BINFORD: Well, that's not entirely true. We are nowhere near the highest level of border apprehensions that we've witnessed in recent decades.

And one of the things that we're seeing is that we have these very high levels of overcrowding in the facilities not because there are so many people coming across the border because, again, these are not record numbers when you look at the number -- the influx over time.

What we're seeing is that this administration is keeping these children and their families in these facilities far longer than they're allowed to under the law, and that that is what's contributing to the overcrowding. Most of the children who are apprehended by border patrol have family in the United States. Eighty-six percent of the children who were placed in ORR custody last year were able to be placed with a family member or another guardian in the United States who was able to sponsor them while their asylum claims were being heard.

So this is a situation where the government should be releasing children to their families and they can release the children to their families because their families are here in the United States already.

CAMEROTA: I want to talk about what you saw in the detention centers because our cameras are not allowed in. Most journalists' cameras are not allowed to see what's been happening inside these detention centers so we rely on the first-person accounts of advocates like you.

What do they not want us to see?

BINFORD: What they don't want you to see is the large number of children who are being kept in facilities -- border patrol facilities that were not designed for children, and that everyone has always agreed should not house children for any significant period of time.

[07:35:00] Basically, children come into the custody of border patrol and they're supposed to be released to ORR custody within a matter of hours. Instead, what's happened is when we arrived last Monday we discovered there were over 350 children in this facility that was not meant for children. Over 100 of these children were young children.

And when they brought them to us they were dirty, they were tired, they fell asleep during interviews, they were hungry, they were crying. They had not been given showers for extended periods. Some of them were sleeping on concrete floors. There was an influenza outbreak, there was a lice outbreak.

It was truly horrendous what these children were going through.

And perhaps, one of the worst aspects of all is that the children were having to take care of each other because there were no adults who were capable of taking care of these children. They weren't in the right facility.

And when we talked to the children about where are your families, they pulled out little slips of paper. They gave us the telephone numbers. They told us the telephone numbers that they had memorized and we were able to call their families and reach them immediately.

Most of those children could have left on Thursday when we did. However, the government has not released these children to their families and they need to get these children there.

CAMEROTA: You bring us such an important perspective that we wouldn't have without you having gone to these detention centers.

Professor Warren Binford, thank you very much for all of the information.

BINFORD: Thank you.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we're just hours away from the first Democratic primary debate. What's the one thing that candidates should say or maybe shouldn't? The key lessons from history. A reality check is next.


[07:40:45] BERMAN: The first Democratic debate just hours away and if history teaches us anything about this it's that there are many ways to win or lose.

John Avlon with a very important reality check -- sir.


So, here we are. The first Democratic debates are finally here and with such a crowded field every candidate is going to be fighting for that big moment where they can define their candidacy and capture the imagination or they could swing and miss and sink into oblivion.

So, like prizefighters studying old tape, here are the top five greatest hits and misses from primary debates in the last 40 years.

Number one: In 1980, Ronald Reagan was rebounding from a tough loss to George Bush in Iowa.

And just ahead of the New Hampshire primary, the Federal Election Commission decided that a local paper couldn't sponsor a debate. So, Reagan decided to pay for it himself. But there was a dispute about the ground rules and that's when the Gipper got pissed.


JON BREEN, REAGAN DEBATE MODERATOR: Sound man, please turn Mr. Reagan's mic off for the moment.

RONALD REAGAN (R), FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green (sic).


AVLON: Now, losing your cool doesn't usually benefit a candidate, but in this case it established Reagan as a tough guy who wouldn't get pushed around.

Reagan would later say, quote, "I may have won the debate, the primary, and the nomination right there."

Next stop --


CLARA PELLER, ACTRESS; 1984 WENDY'S COMMERCIAL: Hey, where's the beef?


AVLON: So, that famous Wendy's ad became shorthand for something with a lot of sizzle but no substance.

In 1984, Sen. Gary Hart was mounting a dark horse run of the Democratic nomination, preaching the power of new ideas. Well, that's when former vice president Walter Mondale smacked him down with a sound (INAUDIBLE).


WALTER MONDALE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad, "Where's the beef?"



AVLON: And with that, Mondale stopped Hart's momentum and won the nomination, only to go on to lose 49 states to Reagan.

Fast-forward to 1992, Bill Clinton versus Jerry Brown -- the Thrilla in Vanilla -- a baby-boom grudge match between two of the youngest governors in the country. But one jab went a little bit too far for Bubba.


GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is funneling money to his wife's law firm.

BILL CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You ought to be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife. You're not worth being on the same platform as my wife.

BROWN: I'll tell you something.


AVLON: Now, Clinton's counterpunch made him look like a guy defending his wife's honor. And, Brown's campaign never really recovered, although he went on to have a strong second stint as California's governor.

In 2008, it was Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama, who had just stunned the nation with a big win in Iowa. But when Clinton was asked whether she was likable, the kind of question male candidates never get, she tried to laugh it off. But, Obama couldn't resist this dig.



H. CLINTON: Thank you so much.


AVLON: Now, voters paid him back for that unlikable comment with a loss in New Hampshire a few days later.

Finally, in a reminder that bad primary debate performances can kill candidacies, look no further than the oops heard round the world.

Back in 2011, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was campaigning on cutting the size of government with a catchy promise to eliminate three agencies, but there was just one problem.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The third agency of government I would -- I would do away with the Education, the --


PERRY: -- Commerce. And, let's see --


PERRY: I can't -- the third one I can't, sorry -- oops.


AVLON: And just like that, Rick Perry was Texas toast.

But in the latest reminder that God has a sense of humor, he is now the secretary of Energy, the very department he forgot he wanted to eliminate.

And that's your reality check.


BERMAN: So it worked out well, is what you're saying, for everybody.

AVLON: So you're saying there's a chance.

CAMEROTA: A twisted sense of humor.

But, John -- I mean, that just reminds us there's always moments like that. I mean, every day. More often than not there will be an unpredictable zinger or embarrassment or something tonight.

AVLON: And those are the things to watch for and learn from.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much. All right, Senator Elizabeth Warren will take the debate stage tonight during a recent surge in the polls. And that has grabbed the attention of several of her opponents, especially fellow progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more.


WARREN SUPPORTERS: It's time, it's time, it's time for a woman in the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Never mind Joe Biden. For now, one of the most intense contests unfolding in the Democratic primary is between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. It's a battle promising Warren's big ideas --

[07:45:08] SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is our chance in 2020 -- our chance to dream big, to fight hard, and to win.

ZELENY (voice-over): -- and Sanders' pledge for a revolution.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our job is to complete the revolution we began.

ZELENY (voice-over): But this time around, Sanders has considerable competition in his pursuit of progressive voters. Warren is not only stealing a share of his thunder but attracting some Sanders admirers who see her as the fresh face of the left, one who they believe may be more electable.

As they prepare for their first Democratic debate this week in Miami, their broader policy ideas are similar, with calls to implement Medicare for All and to fight income inequality.

But there are differences, like the respective plans to relieve student debt. Sanders would wipe out all outstanding student debt in the country, but Warren is proposing to forgive up to $50,000 for anyone in households making less than six figures a year. It's a subtle but key distinction beginning to frame their dueling candidacies.

They insist it's a friendly fight.

WARREN: I think Bernie is terrific. We were friends long, long before I ever got involved in politics.

SANDERS: Elizabeth is a friend of mine. I think she's running a good campaign.

ZELENY (voice-over): Yet, just beneath the surface, tensions are rising. Some Sanders supporters have never forgiven Warren --

WARREN: I'm here today because I'm with her. Yes, her.

ZELENY (voice-over): -- for endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016 before Sanders dropped out.

And, Sanders is making clear he feels footsteps, suddenly painting Warren as more of an establishment candidate after the moderate Democratic group Third Way recently said they prefer her candidacy to his.

SANDERS: At this Third Way meeting, I was called, quote, "an existential threat to the Democratic Party."

ZELENY (voice-over): Sanders made that argument the theme of a weekend speech at the South Carolina Democratic Convention.

ZELENY (on camera): But they prefer Sen. Warren to you?

SANDERS: I don't care who they prefer. That's not what I'm talking about. But I am talking about the need to have a Democratic Party that represents the working families of this country.

ZELENY (voice-over): Many Warren admirers we talked to, like Virginia Bailey, say they like Sanders but believe Warren can win and favor her softer touch.

VIRGINIA BAILEY: It's not so -- it's not as upsetting to other people.

ZELENY (voice-over): But, Sanders loyalists, like Nina Turner, say his ideas are driving the 2020 conversation and only he can bring sweeping change.

NINA TURNER: So people have to decide, do they want the original or do they want copies?

ZELENY (on camera): So, he's the original?

TURNER: He's the original.

ZELENY (voice-over): Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Miami.


BERMAN: They will not be on stage together but that interplay over two nights will be fascinating.

So, 9/11 first responders finally get a face-to-face meeting with the Senate majority leader. How did it go? Two of the 9/11 heroes who were in the room join us, next.


[07:52:06] JOHN FEAL, 9/11 FIRST RESPONDER, FOUNDER, THE FEALGOOD FOUNDATION: The chairs that they put their asses in, the pens that they use, the pads that they write on, we pay for that (bleep). That's ours. They work for us.

Mitch McConnell works for us. He works for all of you guys. And today, Mitch McConnell promised to work for us and I'm going to take him for his word.


BERMAN: So, that was 9/11 responder John Feal after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Feal was part of the team of responders demanding, as they told me, congressional action to pass funding for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.

Joining me now is John Feal and Rich Palmer. Both were 9/11 responders and both met with Sen. McConnell yesterday. Guys, it's terrific to see you this morning.

John, this meeting with Mitch McConnell -- you said this one was different, you're encouraged. Why?

FEAL: Well, it's good to see you again, John. It's been a while.

This one was different because Mitch McConnell showed his humanity yesterday in that meeting. I saw a different side of Mitch McConnell that I have not seen in previous meetings. And I believe with Rich there and my other guys, we tugged at his heartstrings.

And when we gave him Luis Alvarez's badge, I think he sensed an urgency this time and I think he understands now that we have a serious problem on our hands in the 9/11 community. And I'm confident that he's going to stick to his word.

And listen, we're going to take him at face value. We're going to hold his feet to the fire, still.

We're not over, we're not done. Nobody's celebrating. We didn't pop the champagne.

We've still got a lot of work to do and -- but we're in a different place from yesterday and it's guys -- because of guys like Rich and my team and those that I keep bringing to D.C., that made a difference.

BERMAN: Rich --


BERMAN: -- 96 trips to Washington since 2008?


BERMAN: Ninety-six trips.


BERMAN: You've made, 10 since October. What for, and your hope is to not have to have to do this anymore, correct?

PALMER: That's correct. And we keep coming back here and fighting for the individuals that can't make it down here and for the families of the guys that have suffered from 9/11 illnesses. And every day we hear stories of people continuing to get sick with cancers that are -- still haven't come out fully, and it's only going to get worse.

So, having the senator get on board yesterday and guarantee us he's going to push this to the floor in August means a lot to all the responders out there and the ones that are being cut because the funding was cut for all, starting in February.

BERMAN: You talk about the guys --

FEAL: You --

BERMAN: Go ahead.

FEAL: You know, John -- you know how I knew the meeting was different? You know, the last time we met with Mitch McConnell there was a young lady that walked in the middle of the meeting with a piece of paper with nothing on it, and then he said he had to go. That same girl walked in the meeting yesterday with a piece of paper. He didn't get up and go -- he stayed.

[07:55:06] BERMAN: And --

FEAL: And, you know, it's one of the oldest tricks they do in D.C. --

BERMAN: And --

FEAL: -- but he stayed. He was engaged. He was asking questions and --

BERMAN: Good on him.

FEAL: Yes.

BERMAN: It's his job. It's his job.

And, John, you gave him -- you know, Rich was talking about the guys who can't come down anymore. Luis Alvarez, we heard from in June -- you know, your friend who was a cop -- you know, dramatic testimony. You gave him Luis' badge.

FEAL: Yes.

BERMAN: Why did you give the senator Luis' badge?

FEAL: That wasn't my intention. That was Luis' intention. Luis wanted Mitch McConnell to have his badge.

And let me tell you something. For a New York City police officer to give up his badge, that's like somebody donating an organ. And, Luis wanted the Senate Majority Leader to understand the importance of this and to be reminded that people are sick and dying. And, Luis is going to leave us soon in the near future.

And, it worked. You know, when I handed that to him and I shook his hand with that badge, I thought I was going to shake hands with Darth Vader. I shaked (sic) hands with Obi-Wan Kenobi, who can help us. BERMAN: And, Rich, you want to make clear this isn't just a New York issue. Obviously, we see it here in New York City every day, but you're talking to a senator from Kentucky there. How do you convince them, Rich, this isn't just about New York?

PALMER: Well, we met with his staff a couple of times over the last few months and I'm sure they got to him and let him know that.

And they know it -- because we've been down here such a long time -- that 433 congressional districts have somebody that's sick in there. And we go in there with numbers and we prove to them that, listen, it's not just a New York issue.

The sick responders came from all over the country. Not just in New York, but the Pentagon and the Shanksville. So -- and they're sick throughout the whole country.

So, I think that's the message we got across to him that he knows it's not a New York issue. And we gave that to him yesterday and he already knew that. So going in there we didn't know what to expect and we left there pleased of what the senator told us about bringing a bill in August.

BERMAN: It's not a New York issues, it's an American issue.

And, John, I want to leave with this point here.

You come on -- and we've talked to you a number of times now -- and you're a good looking man but you're also a humble man and you want everyone to know this isn't just about you. There are teams of guys like Rich who have been going down there to make this case, like Luis Alvarez, who was going down there --

FEAL: Yes.

BERMAN: -- as recently as June --

FEAL: Yes.

BERMAN: -- to make this case, right?

FEAL: You know, I'm the least selfish person I know, but it's been so selfish of me to keep asking guys like Rich, who has been with me longer than anybody -- to keep asking them to leave their families and to travel down I-95 and go to D.C. with me.

I take these men and women from their safety nets. I take them and prevent them from going to therapy or a doctor's appointment to go and challenge Congress' humanity. And it's so selfish of me.

And when this bill gets passed, I'm not going to jump up and down and say yeah, we got a bill passed. I'm going to apologize for being selfish. And then, I hope they forgive me.

PALMER: We have a team of about 30 individuals that make these trips down here with us, even though this was a smaller team leaders this time to go to meet with McConnell. But we usually have a team of 25 to 30 individuals that walk the halls with us.

BERMAN: Well, look, Rich and John, we thank you for your work. I know Luis is grateful for everything you've done and even if he doesn't benefit from this fund, he knows that other people will, going forward, because of everything you've done.

Thank you for pushing this. Thank you for keeping us in touch. And keep us posted as what we can do to make sure that these leaders keep their promises to you.

FEAL: Thank you, John. It means a lot.

BERMAN: John, Rich Palmer, I appreciate it.

PALMER: All right, thank you.

CAMEROTA: You can't find better messengers --


CAMEROTA: -- for that message than Rich and John. Jon Stewart is good, but he pales in comparison to those guys.

BERMAN: And, Jon Stewart would give credit to these guys --

CAMEROTA: Absolutely.

BERMAN: -- any day of the week.

CAMEROTA: He taught them everything -- they taught him everything he knows about this.

BERMAN: And, you know, good on Mitch McConnell for listening.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely.

BERMAN: You know, for not taking that blank paper yesterday when the staffer walked in, that John was talking about there.

CAMEROTA: All right, we have big news. Robert Mueller will testify in public.

And, there's this heart-wrenching image we've been struggling with all morning. Does it change the immigration debate today?

Let's get right to it.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The special counsel has agreed to appear in public in an open session to testify.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got questions about how Mueller's team was assembled.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): There's no limitation on confining his testimony to the four corners of the report.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): It is case closed for me. The conclusions can't change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roughly 250 children transferred into HHS care and he says that freed up some room to bring back about 100 child migrants to this Clint station.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Our legislation is a vote against the cruel attitude toward children of this administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no way to look at this photo and not have your heart broken.