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Trump Claims Border Facilities "Far Better" Than Where Migrants Came From; Trump Critic Representative Justin Amash Quits The Republican Party; Small Town Moves To Higher Ground After Massive Floods. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired July 4, 2019 - 09:30   ET


[09:31:37] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A major setback to President Trump's border wall. A federal appeals court has blocked the administration from shifting $2.5 billion from the military's budget to build the wall. Meanwhile, despite the growing outrage and criticism over dire conditions in some detention facilities, the president says the migrants staying there are, he says, living in far better conditions now than where they came from.

Well, Law Professor, Warren Binford, she's visited some of these facilities. She joins me now.

Nice to have you back.


SCIUTTO: So you heard the president's words there, I'm quoting again, "Many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than where they came far and in far safer conditions."

You've been to these detention facilities. Is that accurate?

BINFORD: You know, it really is distressing to hear the president referring to two-year-olds, four-year-olds, six-year-olds as illegal aliens. These children are not from another planet and none of them is illegal. All of them are human beings who are -- need to be treated with respect, and the fact is, is that these children are in the hands of the government for only a few days. The government needs to take care of them.

At this point I have shared with you that these children are hungry, they are tired, they have not been cared for in these facilities. They have been locked up, made to sleep on concrete floors exposed to, you know, flu epidemics and lice infestations. It's just really frustrating to continue to hear this narrative that is so disrespectful and is entirely false.

SCIUTTO: You of course spoke to them when you were visiting these facilities, too. Did they say oh, yes, this is tough but it's better from where I came from?

BINFORD: Well, I mean, one of the things that really important for every American to understand is that these children have come to America for a reason, and one of the reasons is that their family is here and another reason that many of these children come to America is because there has been a collapse of the states back in their home countries. And so, we do hear stories about children who are threatened with death, are threatened with gang rape.

We have one little boy whose best friend was decapitated as they were running away from a gang after school. And so, on the one hand, yes, they're lucky to be alive and that's why they've come to America is because they are trying to survive in a really brutal world. But the fact is, is that, you know, for them to be greeted in America with the same type of inhumanity and brutality from which they're trying to escape but at the hands of the government itself but not at the hands of a criminal element, just, you know, it shows the depravity that our society is at risk of falling to if we don't redeem ourselves and start to, you know, treat these children with the dignity and the respect that they deserve and allow them to, you know, go through the legal system that we have set up for exactly these types of children.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's clearly affecting the children. These caught our eye. These are drawings that some of those detained children put together giving their impressions, how they see it from where they're sitting. And as you see these images, I mean, it looks like they're in cages.

[09:35:05] As you know, the head of DHS, the DHS acting secretary, announced yesterday that he is investigating offensive social media posts by current border agents. But I wonder he has not yet ordered an investigation into the conditions themselves. There's an I.G. report, which is kind of an inspector general report within the DHS which is sort of an automatic process but do you want to see the Homeland Security secretary investigate the actual conditions?

BINFORD: Yes, and let me say that one of the greatest frustrations about this entire hell that we're witnessing as a nation and the treatment of these children is that these children don't even need to be in these facilities, and so for me, you know, we really need to be focusing much more on getting these children reunified with their families. If you -- you know, if you're familiar with the testimony, the congressional testimony of Commander Jonathan White last February on this, he tells us 86 percent of these children have family or other potential guardians in the United States and it's really a matter of getting there.

There's a lot of money that was allocated last week by Congress in order to expand these facilities. But the fact is we don't need more facilities and we don't need this funding. What we really need is for much more investment in the unification of these children with their families. And so, for the -- you know, the shift to be on the facilities themselves and the number of beds that are needed and everything, it means that we're missing the point that these children need to get home, and home for them is America with their families.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, and then the family separation policy was supposed to have been ended but it sounds like in effect there still is one. At least in the effective policy.

Warren Binford, it's always good to have your first-hand experience from these centers. Thanks very much for joining us today.

BINFORD: Thank you so much, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, one of the president's biggest GOP critics is now declaring his own independence from the Republican Party. We'll have more coming up.


[09:41:29] SCIUTTO: New this morning congressman and outspoken Trump critic, Justin Amash, says he is now quitting the Republican Party. Amash, you may remember, is the only Republican congressman who says that the president has engaged in impeachable conduct.

CNN Congressional Correspondent, Phil Mattingly has been following the story.

So, Phil, he's been criticizing the president for some time, often the only one but certainly the only one who says that the president should be impeached. Why this move now?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, to some degree, I think, Jim, when you track back over the course of Justin Amash's congressional career this was kind of the logical next step or at least the inevitable next step of a slow-rolling break with the Republican Party in general and also President Trump.

Keep in mind Justin Amash was kind of brought into Congress in a Tea Party way. He was one of the co-founders of the rigidly conservative House Freedom Caucus And yet over the course of the last several months especially but really over the course of his entire career he has broken with Republican orthodoxy. And I think when you talk to him you'll recognize that he far more associates himself with being a libertarian than being a Republican in general.

But as he made the point in the op-ed, he has been a lifelong Republican. That is now changing. He states in part, "Today I'm declaring my independence leaving the Republican Party and I'm asking for you to join me in rejecting the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us. If we continue to take America for granted, we will lose it."

Now again, this is just kind of the next progression of what's been happening over the last couple of months. Keep in mind, in May he tweeted out that he, the only Republican to say this, believed after reading through the Mueller report that that had met the threshold for an impeachable offense. He also left the House Freedom Caucus which he co-founded a couple of weeks ago as well, saying he didn't want to be a distraction given his fight with the president.

Obviously, his battles with the president playing out on Twitter as we speak, have played out over the course of the last couple of months. The reality is in Justin Amash's mind the Republican Party of which he was still kind of only on the periphery to begin with has clearly left him, and the president I think is a big part of that -- Jim. SCIUTTO: So what's next for him? He already has a -- he would have

had a Republican challenger in the Republican primary. Obviously when reelection comes up, he's no longer running in a Republican primary. So what happens for him next?

MATTINGLY: Yes, look, it's a really big question. First on Capitol Hill it's likely he will be stripped of his committee assignments. He won't be able to conference with the House Republican Conference anymore. You lose a lot of your power when you walk out of the two- party system and that's exactly what he chose to do.

It also means on the electoral side the NRCC, the Republican campaign arm for the House, traditionally defends Republican incumbents when they're being primaries, that's obviously not going to happen now. You mentioned the primary challenges. He actually has several one that's probably more prominent than some of the others. There has been some talk inside Trump campaign circles that the president or somebody from the president's team would support a challenger. Right now, that seems all the more likely.

The big question I think I'm hearing from Republicans is, does this mean he's not going to run again for another term? Can he win if he does run as an independent? And the one that's been hanging out there for a while, is he considering running for president? He's been very cagey about this -- on the libertarian ticket or as a libertarian. He's been very cagey about this when asked in the past by reporters saying he's keeping his options open. That's something to keep an eye on as well -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Interesting, in 2020 you're saying?


SCIUTTO: Wow. With possible implications. I mean, you'd take away from Republican votes there. I mean, remember, you know, Ralph Nader in 2000.

Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

A small town destroyed by massive flooding was forced to pick up and move. Now researchers are hoping that lessons learned there can help other areas battling climate change.


[09:49:14] SCIUTTO: Well, on this July 4th, a small town in Illinois is celebrating the holiday from higher ground because it has to. A massive flood nearly wiped out the town of Valmeyer when the Mississippi River breached a levy back in 1993. To make sure this never happens again, Valmeyer moved two miles away, up on a bluff.

Considering the record-breaking floods the Midwest has seen this year, the move begs the question, is this the way of the future for towns susceptible to regular flooding?

CNN Correspondent, Stephanie Elam, she is in Valmeyer. So what are you hearing from residents? I mean, it's quite remarkable

to imagine a whole town moving to higher ground because of the threat of flooding?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jim. At least they have the option here of moving on a bluff right behind them.

[09:50:01] And we're actually in the old part of Valmeyer. You can see behind me there's a baseball diamond. It's part of their big Fourth of July celebrations. It's a big baseball tournament. This is quintessential small-town USA. But what's noteworthy about that baseball field is 25 years ago, when you take a look at first base, it was under water because of all that flooding. That's part of the reason that they've decided to make some changes here.


ELAM (voice-over): It's the defining image of the great flood of 1993. A home washing away in southern Illinois.

DENNIS KNOBLOCH, FORMER MAYOR OF VALMEYER, ILLINOIS: I didn't think that we would ever flood.

ELAM: Nearby, Valmeyer, Illinois, virtually disappeared under 16 feet of water.

KNOBLOCH: Standing here on the driveway, I can remember teaching the kids to ride their bike. There's a lot of good family memories.

ELAM: Most of the homes, the school, the churches, all swallowed by a wall of water that spilled over the town's levy and lingered for months.

KNOBLOCH: Everybody was kind of like punched in the stomach.

ELAM: Almost immediately Dennis Knobloch, who was mayor at the time, and most of the nearly 1,000 people in the town decided to do something drastic.

Erase the community that was their home for generations.

KNOBLOCH: I saw how the people suffered in '93. I didn't want to see future generations to have to go through that.

ELAM: Fleeing the wrath of the mighty Mississippi, Valmeyer moved on to a bluff just a couple miles behind it.

MAYOR HOWARD HEAVNER, VALMEYER, ILLINOIS: We have the opportunity to grow here, where in the old town, we did not.

ELAM: After leaving the floodplain, Valmeyer found ways to prosper. Developing a quarry underneath the bluff into a warehouse now used by the National Archives to store records. And turning the old town from ghost town into corn fields that are earning the town money.

(On camera): This is the Mississippi River. A source of livelihood and anxiety for the village of Valmeyer. Swollen past its banks the river just broke a record set in '93 of 104 days above flood stage in St. Louis. I'm walking along the levy that protects the town from those rising flood waters, but as you can see, on the other side, the water is hard to tame, as the flood waters have found their way underneath the levy and are seeping into the town.

HEAVNER: River is going down now, but you never really know whether it's going to go all the way down.

ELAM (voice-over): After the record-breaking flooding in the Midwest this year, other communities are looking to Valmeyer as a template. Researchers are studying its progress.

NICHOLAS PINTER, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA DAVIS: A third of U.S. communities will face increased risk of flooding by the middle of the century. Worldwide the numbers are really big. On the order of 100 million people, it's estimated are going to be displaced by rising sea levels alone by the end of the century.

ELAM: Is climate change affecting Valmeyer? There's no consensus here. They just knew they needed to change to survive.

(On camera): You still feel better at night sleeping knowing you're not down here?

KNOBLOCH: I don't have to look over my shoulder and wonder if the river is sneaking up on me, that's for sure.


ELAM: Now, Jim, it's worth noting that not everyone moved from the bottoms, as they call it down here and up on to the bluffs. There's still a handful of people who still live down here. And some of them are just now returning to their homes because that Mississippi River about two or three miles away from where I'm standing right now was still so high that it was threatening their homes. So while they say that this was the right option for them, they're not saying it's definitely the right one for everyone -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: It is a pretty incredible story, though, moving an entire town to turning the old land into corn fields. It's remarkable.

Stephanie Elam, thanks very much for bringing it to us.

Well, one week after the debate, Team Joe Biden and Team Kamala Harris are still clashing. Their feud over federally-mandated busing picking up speed. And be sure to check out our brand-new CNN original series "THE MOVIES" as it delves into the stories behind all the movies you love from the first silent film to current blockbusters of today. The history of American cinema is sometimes beautiful. It can be controversial. It can also be inspiring.


RON HOWARD, FILM DIRECTOR: There is still something about being told a story. A movie is something that's been really hand crafted to mosaic. It's been carefully pieced together. It just creates this opportunity to totally lose yourself.

MARTIN SCORSESE, FILM DIRECTOR: These images live in our consciousness. It stays in our minds, the way music is recalled in our heads, those images replay and we live our lives by them.

JULIA ROBERTS, ACTRESS: It brings all the elements of all of our senses together. There's really nothing else like it.

JON FAVREAU, ACTOR, FILM DIRECTOR: Even though you're doing something incredibly personal and in many ways incredibly selfish because you're doing something you love so much, and it gets out there in the world, and it can change people's trajectories.

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: When you can go somewhere that you can pretty much guarantee that you'll be able to set your worries aside for that period of time. It's like a drug. It's like a drug.

[09:55:04] HOLLY HUNTER, ACTRESS: It's just a direct conduit straight into your soul.

MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: I grew up wanting to be the movies. It was all about the movies.

BAZ LUHRMANN, FILMMAKER: Since the dawn of man, we like to get around the fireplace and commune in story together. So we can feel for a few hours that we're human together.


SCIUTTO: Well, those are some pretty good interviews in there. "THE MOVIES" premieres this Sunday night 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time and Pacific Time only on CNN.