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U.S. Border Patrol Investigates Offensive Facebook Posts By Agents; U.S. Lawmakers Outraged After Touring Migrant Facilities at Border; White House Threatens New Tariffs on European Goods; Joe Biden Slides After First Debates, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren Rise; Pete Buttigieg to Speak at Rainbow PUSH Coalition Convention. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired July 2, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:31] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Biden slides and female candidates surge. A new CNN poll shows front-runner Joe Biden's lead shrinking to just five points after the first Democratic debates. Closing the gap, a rising Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, capitalizing on their strong debate performances.

Good morning. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York. Poppy Harlow is off today.

The numbers seem to confirm what we had suspected last week. Senator Kamala Harris' attack on Joe Biden was devastatingly effective. It also shows that Bernie Sanders is slipping. And Pete Buttigieg, despite his big fundraising numbers, is practically stagnant.

Let's ask CNN's senior political analyst Mark Preston in Washington for his reaction here.

I mean, it's in the numbers, Mark, quite a dramatic drop for Vice President Joe Biden, although there are other numbers that look more positive for him. Break it down for us.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, no doubt. I think if we just go look at here, when you talk about dramatic, a 10-point drop. At the same time, you have Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris both coming up almost by double digits and you have to wonder, was it all because of that debate?

Well, if it was, where did he lose the support from? Let's take a look where Joe Biden is with African-American voters because remember that was the flash point during that debate. Where is Joe Biden when it comes to African-American voters? Well, he still has an incredible support from them, Joe -- Jim, rather. Look at this. He has 12 points over Kamala Harris, so even though we had this flashpoint moment on this issue of federal forced busing Joe Biden still is doing well.

Where he's losing, though, he's losing amongst college white educated -- white educated college voters. But moving on, look at this right here. When you want to know who they want to know more about, this is an important moment in time. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, what do those three all have in common? They're all on the rise. Pete Buttigieg, as you noted, still 4 percent in the polls, but is raising an incredible amount of money.

Still people are interested in finding out more about him, Jim. This comes right now, as you said, as Biden is sliding, Democratic voters are looking elsewhere.

SCIUTTO: Ultimately though, and this has been in a lot of polls, the unifying issue is which candidate has the best chance to beat Donald Trump, and on that number Biden still looks strong.

PRESTON: He sure does. I mean, this comes down to ideological purity or pragmatism. Look at this. Who has a strong chance of beating Trump? This is what Democrats want. They want Donald Trump out of the White House. And when you look at who they think can do it, that's where Joe Biden comes in. Right now 43 percent, although I have to say this isn't the hard number right now, Jim.

I think that Democratic voters are certainly willing to move if they think that Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren has a chance of winning. Anybody at the end Democrats it seemed that they're going to get behind.

SCIUTTO: You and I have talked about this. There are issues that Twitter-verse talks about and cares about, they're the issues that most Democratic voters care about or called voting issues in this election. What did we learn about the big issues for voters?

PRESTON: I think when you tie this all together this really explains the Democratic race right now. Why is Joe Biden doing so well? Because Democrats think that he's number one in handling the economy right now. On health care he trails Bernie Sanders but he still comes in number two. And on the issue of climate change which is becoming more and more of a focal point of this election, he comes in at number one.

Remember, Joe Biden has served in Congress since 1973, and then he did serve two terms as vice president, so they look at his experience. But this is interesting right here. Should the government provide national health care even if it would mean higher taxes? Again, another flashpoint moment that we will see over the coming months will be that, and then of course this is the divide right here on health care and undocumented immigrants.

Democrats believe that the government should help pay for that. The Republicans don't. This is general election question, but Democrats have to get by the primary before they get to the general.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Mark Preston, good to have you breaking it down.

Just minutes from now presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, he will speak at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition in Chicago. His speech comes just a day after announcing his stunning $24.8 million fundraising haul in the second quarter. It also comes amid ongoing scrutiny about his response to a police shooting back at home in South Bend and a clear struggle to connect with the African community -- African-American community there.

What that means for the larger national race? In a new CNN poll Buttigieg ranks at zero percent as the choice for the Democratic nominee among black voters. Quite a number.

[09:05:04] Joining me now is CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.

So, Phil, the mayor has a lot of ground to make up specifically with African-American voters. They're looking at his record back home in South Bend, perhaps. How important will his speech then be this morning?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think it's important because it acknowledges -- that there's a recognition with both Mayor Pete Buttigieg and inside his campaign that this is a significant problem. Minority voters, African-American voters, specifically. Each poll is just a snapshot in time and perhaps one poll you can just brush off as being not necessarily emblematic of reality.

But there have now been several polls in a row where Pete Buttigieg just simply isn't registering in the African-American community. And if you want to know how well they recognize that, you take a look at both words and actions. Pete Buttigieg repeatedly has acknowledged the fact that he hasn't connected.

His reasoning is that he isn't known. Remember six months ago most people on the national level had no idea who Pete Buttigieg was. Now he's raising $25 million in a quarter. But he does not have a base of support in the African-American community. So what you've seen him do over the course of the last several weeks is really try and be present, be there, go down to events. Go down to the community.

Lay out a plan. He released a plan called the Douglass Plan after the famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, which would try and increase access to capital, as criminal justice reform, voting rights reforms, all of those types of things, things that he believes and his team believes will increase their outreach to the African-American community. And in their minds hopefully translate at some point to support.

But why this matters, why the speech today at Rainbow PUSH matters so much is recognition. If you're a Democratic running in a Democratic primary and you have no majority African-American support, you cannot win. Period, end of story. They know that. They're trying to remedy that. How quickly they remedy that will really determine whether or not his candidacy is for real.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Can they remedy that? Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

Let's speak about this and more with CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, former adviser to four presidents, and Wesley Lowery is national reporter from the "Washington Post" as well as a CNN contributor. So, David, let me begin with you. You've looked at a lot of

presidential elections in your time. You know, the numbers tough for Joe Biden, no question, a big drop in his lead, but other numbers, his support among African-American voters, him being seen as the candidate with the best chance to beat Donald Trump, does this drop look to you like a snapshot in time or part of a larger trend downward for the vice president?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that matter still rests on Joe Biden's hands and what he does in the next few days, the next couple of weeks, to stabilize his campaign and get back on the comeback trail. If he simply goes quiet and does not address some of these issues, I think he will continue to sink, perhaps not raise rapidly, but he will not gain the traction he needs.

From my point of view, Jim, I would look back -- if I were in his campaign, look back and say, let's look at what President Obama did in 2008 when he got into trouble on a race issue. He went to Philadelphia, he gave a beautiful speech, extremely well-crafted and he answered the questions and dispelled the issue and moved on and moved up.

And Joe Biden needs a Philadelphia speech. And appropriately it seems to me he could well make that speech in South Carolina which is very sensitive of course on the race issues because of the number of blacks there. If they stick with Biden, that will make a major difference in winning that primary for Biden.

If he goes down and gives a speech, I think he could help himself and put this thing to rest. If he does not, he's going to continue to be continue to be vulnerable to surprise attacks, flank attacks, attacks out of the dark.

SCIUTTO: Wesley Lowery, you covered this race for a long time. How aware is Joe Biden's team that they need to do something here and something definitive like David was talking about?

WESLEY LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's certainly clear to the Biden team and to any observer that there's something going on here. Right? The question -- I think one of the key questions moving forward is, does the vice president do something proactive here to try to stop the bleeding to the extent that it's happening? There was always going to be -- you know, when he came out in the early polls and he's up at 30 percent and 40 percent, and even 50 percent in some of them, a lot of that was going to be soft support.

That everyone knew his name. He was associated with the beloved former President Barack Obama. There was always going to be some ups and downs. The question is, does there -- is a basement, right? Is there an amount of support that Joe Biden is not going to drop below and is that still going to be a comfortable enough support for him to hold on to the nomination or does he need to do something more aggressively?

Beyond that, I think there's a real more question about, you know, one of the reasons that Joe Biden polls so well is because people believe he can beat the president.


LOWERY: Right? That that is -- but as you see him starting to come under attack from other insurgent candidates, whether it'd be Elizabeth Warren, who wasn't on the stage with him, you or Kamala Harris, right, the way he responds to those attacks are going to start to shape the way voters see whether or not they think he can beat President Trump.


LOWERY: So if he gets flustered by Kamala Harris whose attack begins with a long aside about how I don't think you're personally racist.


LOWERY: How is going to handle Donald Trump on the debate stage?

SCIUTTO: He comes in, you know, throwing punches, right?

LOWERY: Exactly. And so I think there's going to be -- and so the way he handles these incidents, it's not even necessarily about the issue of desegregation or the issue of busing, and the intricacies of it.

[09:10:06] It's rather under attack, is Joe Biden ready for primetime still? Because that's going to shift the perception of voters of whether or not he's ready to be on the stage with Donald Trump who we all know will throw him (INAUDIBLE).

SCIUTTO: OK. David Gergen, the other headline of course here, because this is not just a Joe Biden problem. I mean, it's clearly a Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren strength here. Because it's not just him dropping. They did come up significantly, particularly, Kamala Harris. As you look at them, both of them very viable candidates, are they not, to win the nomination?

GERGEN: They are viable candidates. What we have not yet seen, Jim, or need to know in the next few days, how do they run against Donald Trump now? If you have Biden versus Trump or Kamala versus Trump, or Warren versus Trump, how do those numbers differ from each other? That's going to tell the Democratic activists a lot about, you know, how well this horse will ride. Kamala Harris gets pretty good -- great deal of excitement now, she is now then going to come under some scrutiny if people will look for the -- you know, the dark places in her past, things that -- issues that may come up.

And she -- you know, when you first get a big victory like this you get a lot of praise but then they come back and start scrutinizing you a lot more toughly. How will she survive that? I think she needs to continue to be on offense, come up with another big offensive play, not necessarily against Biden, but do things that convince people yes, she really is a presidential counterpart.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And because remember she had a great -- Wesley, she had a great launch, right, jumped in the polls and then kind of fell off the radar screen for a bit.

Pete Buttigieg, he's got a big event starting in just a few minutes, addressing, of course, Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition in Chicago. And I wonder, big fundraising haul, no question, get a lot of attention in the news, but at the end of the day you look at his polls there. I mean, he's in the low single digits, he went down a point after the debate and polling zero percent among African- Americans. I mean, is he as viable a candidate as he is talked about?

LOWERY: Well, look, there's no -- you cannot be a viable candidate in the Democratic race if you can't poll black support. You cannot be at zero percent.


LOWERY: Now it's a long race. We're still months and months away from the first votes being cast in the first primary, first caucus, right? So there's plenty of time. But also, look, white college educated liberals are relatively fickle in their support. The folks supporting Pete Buttigieg today were the folks supporting Beto O'Rourke, who's not even charting on this poll previously, right.


LOWERY: And so there is a real possibility, and so I think the Buttigieg campaign is showing that they see that through how proactive they tried to be on this stuff. But at some point, he's got to break through with black voters. It's unquestionably true that he has a name recognition issue that many others in the race don't and that over time perhaps that starts to come through. But eventually he got to start seeing him chart with black voters if he's really going to be a viable candidate.

SCIUTTO: All right. Wesley Lowery, David Gergen, I know we're going to be talking to you a lot on this going forward. Always good to have you on.

Still to come this hour, U.S. Border Patrol is launching an investigation after reports of cruel and offensive posts from its agents in a Facebook group. I'm going to speak to the deputy commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That's next. A lot of questions -- conditions on the border.

Plus, new questions this morning surrounding the death of 27-year-old Los Angeles pitcher Tyler Skaggs who was found unresponsive in his Texas hotel room. A tragedy for the team there.

And President Trump has long asked for tanks to be a part of this week's Fourth of July celebration. And now it's going to happen. That's a picture of one of them there. But there is a catch.


[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, HOST, NEWSROOM: There's new concern, new outrage at the southern border. Officials now investigating what they call disturbing social media posts discovered on a secret site for both current and former border patrol agents. This as Democratic lawmakers are lashing out after a first-hand look at conditions in those detention centers. Nick Valencia is in El Paso with more.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Jim. The National Border Patrol Council and the Border Patrol chief both quick to condemn this closed Facebook group with other leaders in the agency calling it vile and reprehensible. But what this closed Facebook group did is bring renewed scrutiny to an agency already struggling with public perception.


VALENCIA (voice-over): U.S. Customs and Border Protection under fire and under investigation, digging into what it calls disturbing and completely inappropriate social media posts allegedly written by current and former employees in a closed Facebook group.

"ProPublica" first exposing I'm 10-15, the group reportedly named after a code for undocumented immigrants in custody. One post about the father and daughter who drowned last week crossing the Rio Grande. According to the website, one member asked if the photo could have been faked because the bodies were so clean.

When questioned about the disturbing posts, President Trump said he did not see them.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the Border Patrol, they're patriots, they're great people. They love our country, they know what's coming in.

VALENCIA: CNN obtaining these screen grabs from the group responding to a story about a pregnant teenager and baby held in CBP custody for over a week. One commenter posting, "from the bottom of my heart, I don't give a --". According to "ProPublica", members also shared lewd and sexist content about Latina congress members including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

BRIAN HASTINGS, CHIEF OF OPERATIONS, U.S. BORDER PATROL: These do not represent the thoughts of the men and women at the U.S. Border Patrol. Each one of these allegations will be thoroughly investigated.

VALENCIA: All this comes as the New York Congresswoman toured two west Texas detention facilities with other house Democrats. The lawmakers leaving outraged by the conditions.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): What we saw today was unconscionable. No child should ever be separated from their parent.

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA): I am tired of the health and the safety, the humanity and the full freedoms of black and brown children being negotiated and compromised and moderated.

[09:20:00] VALENCIA: Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro managed to capture some of what he saw, posting this video to Twitter, showing women inside a cramped cell. REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): When we went into the cell, it was -- it

was clear that the water was not running. There was a toilet, but there was no running water for people to drink. In fact, one of the women said that she was told by an agent to drink water out of the toilet.

VALENCIA: CBP tells CNN, the claim of people drinking from toilets is completely untrue.


VALENCIA: Upon emerging from the facilities tour, Chairman Joaquin Castro said that migrants are being held in dehumanizing conditions, with another member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus saying that these are very dark days in America, saying that the migrants currently being held in U.S. custody are being denied basic human rights. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia, thanks very much. Joining me now is Robert Perez; he is Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Mr. Perez, thanks very much for joining the broadcast this morning.


SCIUTTO: I want to get your reaction immediately to the first-hand accounts from sitting members of U.S. Congress visiting these facilities. I know you're familiar with these descriptions. They mentioned -- I'll give you one, this from Congresswoman Madeleine Dean. Fifteen women in their 50s and 60s sleeping in a small concrete cell, no running water, weeks without showers.

I'll give you another one here, Representative Judy Chu, "if you want water, just drink from a toilet, that's what a border patrol agent told one thirsty woman we met." What is your reaction to these accounts and who's responsible for this level of treatment?

PEREZ: So, let me explain to you, Jim, the facts as I can best put them forth to you. We have for quite some time been speaking to the overcrowding at our facilities, never designed to deal with the volume of migrants that have been coming our way.

We have taken it upon ourselves, and now thankfully with the supplemental appropriation that has come through, we'll be able to fund additional soft-sided facilities that we've put up in addition to this outdated infrastructure, that again, was never designed to hold these many migrants and other individuals, they're meant for short- term holding and for people to move in and out of our processing quite quickly.


PEREZ: That said, while we have people in our custody, we adhere to very strict standards when it comes to accessibility to fresh-water, accessibility to consumables, accessibility to not only any and all hygiene products, but very -- again, standardized trips to get showers and the like.

All of which at times needs to be done quite creatively by way of procuring equipment that we either don't have --


PEREZ: Or moving people to facilities where we do have those things available --


PEREZ: And not necessarily at the places where they're being held.

SCIUTTO: So, you have high standards. My question is are you meeting those high standards? I want to play for you an account from a 12- year-old girl who stayed for 12 days inside a facility in Clint, Texas. Have a listen, and I want to get your reaction.




SCIUTTO: And apologies there Commissioner Perez, you don't have the advantage of seeing the subtitles there. I'll just briefly summarize. She said that "they gave us little food, some children did not bathe, they didn't bathe them, they had one blanket to share on the floor." So, you say, you have high standards, but we have both sitting members of Congress and a little girl who went through these facilities saying clearly that those standards aren't being met.

PEREZ: So, a couple of points, Jim, very important, I need to share with you. First, to the best of my knowledge and in every check that we have done internally, our Office of Professional Responsibility as well as our Office of Inspector General has independently gone in over the course of the last 6 to 8 months during this crisis to independently go back and make sure that we've been meeting those standards.

I myself have visited many of these facilities where we're getting overly saturated and have been for the better part of over a year. And I'm very confident that we are meeting and in fact most of the time exceeding these standards. Now, again --

SCIUTTO: But clearly not all the time, right? I mean, unless you're saying that this 12-year-old and these members of Congress are not telling the truth. I mean, clearly not all the time are you meeting those standards.

[09:25:00] PEREZ: What I want to share with you, Jim, is when and if we ever have an allegation of misconduct, if somebody raises to our attention instances like what you just shared, if they raised to us concerns with respect to the manner in which they're being treated, with the access, again of the fresh water that we have on hand everywhere, of the consumables, the foods, the snacks, the medicines. Now, we have a medical capability at an unprecedented level, over 140

medical teams littered throughout the entirety of our southern border. If there are allegations made of misconduct, we take those incredibly --


PEREZ: Seriously, we investigate those and get to the bottom of it. I am very confident in what it is that we are doing by way of caring for these individuals, these incredibly vulnerable populations in our custody. Again, in absolutely overly-saturated conditions. These are conditions --


PEREZ: That we've been speaking to, and one last point, Jim, that's really important. We've had dozens of congressional delegations and staffers come through our facilities for the last 6 to 8 months nearly every week. And so, as far as I've been made aware, this is the first time that these types of allegations have been made to us by virtue of any of those --


PEREZ: Visits to our facility.

SCIUTTO: So you say you're going to investigate them, and I will take that at face value, but I'm curious about the cause here, because clearly, the numbers are up at the border. But also the numbers of people being detained is up, and that is partly or even principally a product of the fact that they were being held longer than they were in the past. So, is the policy contributing to the problem from your perspective by holding them longer? Clearly, they're overwhelming the facilities here.

PEREZ: Great question, Jim, and so, let me explain really briefly. What is happening is that the entirety of the system well beyond CBP is absolutely oversaturated. And so, what's really the root cause in my opinion, again, after 26 years of doing this, is an outdated legal framework that has now been exploited by alien smuggling organizations and preyed on these incredibly vulnerable populations, and have literally saturated the entirety of the immigration continuum. And so by virtue of --

SCIUTTO: But is it just that -- is it just that if you're also holding them longer, right, I mean, yes -- I mean, it's in the numbers that more people are attempting to cross between the points of entry here. But if it's the administration's policy to hold them longer in these detention facilities, obviously that's contributing to the overcrowding in the facilities.

PEREZ: OK, just to clarify, Jim, they are being held longer by virtue of not being able to be handed off subsequently into our colleagues at other agencies who have their part to process by way of the immigration process to get these folks in front ultimately of an immigration judge who would adjudicate their claim. And so because the entirety of the system is oversaturated, what is

happening on the border --

SCIUTTO: Right --

PEREZ: Itself is that we are having to -- in CBP, to detain these people longer than these facilities were ever designed to do. And I have to tell you again --


PEREZ: We take any and every allegation of misconduct incredibly seriously, we get to the bottom of the facts, and there will be consequences to those who do not adhere to our standards of conduct.


PEREZ: That said, it is not indicative of the 60,000 incredible professionals of CBP, that some of what it is that is being alleged right now.

SCIUTTO: Commissioner Perez, and I know a lot of those folks are doing very hard work. Let's do this if you're willing, please come back in a week's time or a couple of weeks time after you've had a chance to get -- to look into this and we'll give you an opportunity to tell us what you found. How does that sound?

PEREZ: Thank you, Jim, appreciate it, thanks for having me --

SCIUTTO: OK, all right, Commissioner Perez, thanks very much. All of Major League Baseball is mourning the loss of a young rising star. Coming up, what we are learning about the death of Los Angeles pitcher Tyler Skaggs. And we're just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Investors are watching for the potential of another escalating trade war as the Trump administration threatens new tariffs on $4 billion worth of goods from Europe.

It was part of a growing fight with the European Union specifically over aircraft subsidies.