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Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) is Interviewed about Iran, Saudi Arabia, Citizenship Question and Equal Pay; U.S. Scientist Killed in Greece; AOC says Pelosi is Singling out Women of Color. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired July 11, 2019 - 09:30   ET



[09:33:07] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, this morning, tension is escalating with Iran. U.S. officials have confirmed five armed Iranian boats unsuccessfully tried to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. This is just as it was crossing into the Strait of Hormuz. Iran denying the incident but the U.S. says it has video.

With me now is Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming. Not only does he serve on the Foreign Relations Committee and is the number three ranking Republican in Senate leadership, he was just there on the USS Abraham off the coast of Iran.

So, sir, such an important voice to have this morning. I appreciate you taking the time.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): Thanks for having me, Poppy.

HARLOW: Of course.

You have said vis-a-vis Iran, quote, I'd rather do this diplomatically than militarily. And I'm interested in, given what you've just seen, the service members you've just spent time with, and what Iran has just done to that British tanker, has your position changed vis-a-vis diplomacy versus military escalation?

BARRASSO: No, not at all. No one wants war, but we are prepared, if necessary. And I saw that with the Wyoming National Guard in Kuwait, as well as with our sailors who are right there off the coast of Iran. We are prepared if need to go.

What I also heard in the region, because we're dealing really with 40 years of bad behavior by Iran, is that the president, his action last week, by showing strength but not attacking actually increased the resolve of other nations in the area against Iran. So it was a very well received what the president has done.

HARLOW: That's interesting.

OK, so let's talk about another critical country in the Middle East and a complex relationship with the United States right now, and that is Saudi Arabia. Just this week a bipartisan bill has been introduced in Congress,

including from Republicans James Risch and Marco Rubio, to examine the Saudi-U.S. relationship given the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the White House's failure to meet the legal requirement to report to you guys about whether they think Mohammad bin Salman is the mastermind of that, and the ongoing humanitarian toll from the war in Yemen.

[09:35:09] Are you supportive of that legislation to have a review of the U.S.' relationship at this point with Saudi Arabia?

BARRASSO: I am supportive of that. I told Chairman Risch yesterday I'm going to co-sponsor that legislation. We need to really reevaluate our long-term relationship with Saudi Arabia, that we have a strategic interest in terms of working closely with them, but they are in complete violation, and specifically the crown prince, of our American values. And that is the issue.

We've had a relationship with them over 70 years. We're going to need to have a relationship with them in the future.


BARRASSO: But we need to see how that relationship works in terms of the way they behave, in terms of their neighbors, as well as for our own citizens.

HARLOW: Right. And we'll all remember John McCain's words, our interests are our values and our values are our interests as a nation.

Ted Cruz -- Republican Senator Ted Cruz blasted the administration this week on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and some Middle Eastern countries without the approval of Congress. Listen to this.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): I voted with the administration on the substance because of the threat of Iran, but I'll tell you, from my end, if the administration does it again and there is not a live an exigent emergency, you will not have my vote and I predict you will not have the vote of a number of other Republicans as well. The simpler process is follow the damn law and respect it.


HARLOW: Senator, are you one of those fellow Republicans who agrees with Ted Cruz?

BARRASSO: I support the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. There are no perfect actors in that part of the world. There are some that have our interest and some who --

HARLOW: Hold -- hold on, Senator, it's not --

BARRASSO: So I am going to support the sale of the arms to Saudi Arabia. HARLOW: But it's not a question -- it's -- and I -- I hear that, but

it's not a question of supporting the sale, it's -- it's a question of doing it without the approval laid out in the law that is needed by Congress. That's the question.

BARRASSO: Well, I think there's been an effort to block the sale, and the president's going to veto that and I'm going to vote to override the veto -- to sustain the president's veto.


Why do you think the president should be able to have unchecked authority to do that?

BARRASSO: Well, I don't think any president ought to have unchecked authority. I think you have to take into consideration the national security interests of the United States at a time when Iran is being so belligerent and so active, as they are today in terms of continuing to move toward development of a nuclear weapon and as well as offer -- efforts to slow down the flow of oil to the rest of the world because of the Straits of Hormuz, that's 20 percent of all the oil flow. That would shake up the world economy.

HARLOW: No, I hear you.

BARRASSO: So I want to make sure that Saudi Arabia is prepared to deal with the Iranian threat. They are our military allies in the area.


I hear you and we're going to move on in a moment.

I would just note that if you dig into the details, as I'm sure you have, sir, about this arms sales agreement, some of those orders, especially by Saudi Arabia for some of these arms, are for years out from now. So they don't actually address the current Iran threat.

But let's move on to the census.

The president will go to the Rose Garden today and CNN has learned that he will likely take executive action to add that citizenship question to the 2020 census after the Supreme Court ruling that the legal argument for the administration now is not enough to allow them to do that.

Are you supportive of the president taking executive action to get the citizenship question on the census?

BARRASSO: I am supportive of having the citizenship question on the census. I think the more information that we can have makes us better able to make decisions in Congress, especially in light of the fact that Democrats in the debates are saying we want to provide free health insurance for all illegal immigrants. I think as you make policy decisions, we need to know how many people you're talking about, where they are and what they're doing. HARLOW: OK. So we've learned -- we've learned the administration may

use that, Democrats, as an argument as to why they should be able to do this with executive action.

I just wonder, because you were so vocal, sir, as a senator during the Obama administration against the executive action that President Obama took. But now you're comfortable with the president, despite the Supreme Court saying, look, your legal argument isn't good enough, come up with something else. Why are you comfortable now with this president taking executive action on this?

BARRASSO: Well, I'm of a view that additional legal arguments are going to be made. But if you're asking me, is it important to have this in the census, I believe it is. I have, from the beginning, and I continue to support including it in -- in the way that the president wants it to be done.

HARLOW: It's -- OK, I hear you. That's not -- fair enough. So, fair enough. That's your view.

What I'm asking you is, are you comfortable with the route? Are you comfortable with the president doing it on his own through executive action, not waiting for this to play out through the courts?

[09:40:00] BARRASSO: Yes, I'm -- I'm comfortable with what the president is doing. I think they are going to continue to pursue the legal arguments along those lines. And we'll wait to see exactly what the president has to say this afternoon.

HARLOW: OK. All right, we've got to go, but I have to get this in very quickly.

Your fellow members of Congress, you've got two bills that came out this week to try to force equal way for women athletes following the U.S. women's amazing win at the World Cup. Joe Manchin has one. You've got Democratic female senators with another.

Do you -- do you support that legislation?

BARRASSO: Yes, I -- I haven't seen it yet, but congratulations to the soccer team. They were absolutely amazing. As I was flying back from the Persian Gulf, I was trying to follow it, you know, on my iPhone, and great, great victory for America and the American women.

HARLOW: OK. So in a -- in a simpler way, should the women's soccer team make as much as the men?

BARRASSO: Well, I would think so. Certainly they play better.

HARLOW: There you go. Thank you, Senator John Barrasso, we appreciate it.


HARLOW: All right, ahead, this story is incredibly troubling and confusing. An American scientist found dead in a former Nazi war bunker in Greece nearly a week after she disappeared. We'll have a live report on the investigation into her mysterious death.


[09:45:39] HARLOW: This morning a manhunt is underway in Greece after an American scientist was found dead in a former Nazi war bunker. This happened nearly a week after she was reported missing. Authorities have opened a homicide investigation into the death of Suzanne Eaton, citing a criminal act as the cause.

Our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is in Crete. She is following the developments.

You are outside of this former Nazi bunker where she -- where she was found dead. Any leads?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we are, Poppy. And if you look around, you can tell that the forensics teams have very clearly been here.

Now, according to the chief of police, her body was found by two locals who were exploring this very extensive bunker system. We did go and venture inside, and it really just veers off in a lot of different directions.

Now, this is one of the entrances to it. It's quite tucked away. Of course, it is very, very dark inside there. And what the chief of police is telling us is that when they found Suzanne's body, he said that it had minor stab wounds on it. But what they're ruling as being cause of death is affiliation. And there's so much mystery surrounding the horrific killing of this American scientist.


DAMON (voice over): Those who knew her described 59-year-old Suzanne Eaton as an inspiring scientist, an athlete, a loving spouse, and mother of two. Now they are looking for answers after Eaton's remains were discovered on Greece's largest island on Monday. Police ruled her cause of death homicide by asphyxiation.

Eaton was last seen attending a conference at the Orthodox Academy in Crete on July 2nd. That same day, colleagues believe Eaton went out for her daily jog on the island when she went missing. Six days later, local police say Eaton's remains were discovered in a cave near her running path.

After her disappearance, family members set up a FaceBook account called "Searching for Suzanne," raising more than $40,000 to help with the search. Police are continuing to investigate. According to a statement from the institute in Germany where Eaton worked as a microbiologist, her loss is unbearable, the institute said.

The California native was the wife of British scientist Tony Hyman and mother of two sons, Max and Luke. CNN has reached out to the family but they have not yet responded.

We will remember forever the extraordinary scientist so caring and devoted to her family and friends, her employer said in a statement. We remain in disbelief of this shocking and awful tragedy.


DAMON: And, Poppy, the locals here that we've been talking to are shocked. Everyone says that this is one of the safest islands in all of Greece. The chief of police himself said that in the four years that he's held his position, he has never come across anything like this.

HARLOW: My goodness.

Arwa Damon, let's hope they get some answers soon. Our thoughts with her husband and her two sons. Thank you for that reporting.

All right, outright disrespectful. That is how Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is explaining comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Will this rift between the two affect the broader party? We'll talk about the division next.


[09:53:43] HARLOW: This morning, weeks of growing tension among some House Democrats is reaching maybe a tipping point. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of repeatedly singling out newly elected women of color in the House, telling "The Washington Post" that Pelosi's criticism has become, quote, outright disrespectful.

OK, here's the backstory. This comes after Pelosi reportedly admonished progressives during a closed door meeting, telling them to stop attacking their moderate colleagues on Twitter.

Let's talk about this with White House correspondent for "The Guardian," Sabrina Siddiqui.

Good morning to you.

All right, so Pelosi not calling out anyone by name, though four freshmen congresswomen who call themselves "the squad," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Representative Ilhan Omar, Representative Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley claim that she's trying to isolate them and that they are targets. And AOC is talking about race now and saying that this is part of the conversation.

How significant do you think this is?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's certainly significant insofar as the potential for the rift to continue to grow. I think Nancy Pelosi is a very shrewd politician. She has decades of experience. And she's really mastered how to play the game inside of Washington in terms of getting the best deal or holding her caucus in line. But that's the exact construct that some of these freshmen lawmakers came into Congress to challenge. And I think that when you see also a freshman class that is also increasingly diverse, some of these freshmen lawmakers who happen to be women of color, they're also trying to represent some of the voices that feel that they weren't being reflected in the Democratic Party. And so that means that they not only are pushing the party in a more progressive direction, but they also talk about the issues in a very different way. And that's what Pelosi and Democratic leadership is grappling with right now.

[09:55:37] HARLOW: And I think -- you make a good point. I think part of their feeling sort of written off in this is when Nancy Pelosi, in multiple interviews, has used terms like, oh it's just four of them, oh, or just five, right, and like -- and sort of downplaying that.

Let me read to you from "The Washington Post." This is from one of the opinion writers there, Paul Waldman this morning, quote, for the life of me, I can't understand why Pelosi can't just say, I get where they're coming from, but we just happen to disagree on this and that's fine and leave it at that. She seems unable to keep herself from showing contempt for the fact that younger members of Congress, such as Ocasio-Cortez, have large social media followings, as though she doesn't understand this new-fangled technology and therefore it must be stupid and irrelevant.

I give Nancy Pelosi far more credit than that. I think she's very bright. I think she totally gets the impact of Twitter. But to his first point in that, do you think it has merit?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I think that she's grappling with lawmakers who simply want to do things a different way. And so that means instead of coming to leadership when they disagree with their colleagues, they're willing to air those grievances on Twitter. And Nancy Pelosi is ultimately trying to think about how she's going to preserve -- not just preserve but expand a majority in the House. And some of these freshmen lawmakers have shown a willingness to potentially endorse candidates to the left, as some of their moderate colleagues, and challenges to sitting incumbents. So this is a very real problem, of course, for Democratic leaders who are worried about what that might mean politically.

HARLOW: Right.

SIDDIQUI: But, yes, these are people who ultimately are representing communities who haven't previously been representing Congress. And so I do think Democratic leaders have to be very careful in how they talk about their concerns and they particularly don't want to seem dismissive --


SIDDIQUI: Because the Democratic base is ultimately powered by women and people of color.

HARLOW: So let's just turn the corner here for a moment. We're just days away from what I think a few people might watch on television. That is the testimony of Bob Mueller, the special counsel. I'm just guessing here. But they're trying to sort out, the Democrats that lead these committees in the House, the Judiciary and the Intel Committee, how do we do this questioning? Like, what will Mueller agree to? And right now it's looking like two hours of questioning essentially from 22 members of the Judiciary and the Intelligence Committee. And there's concern among some of them, we're hearing, that it's not going to be enough time, et cetera. And we know that Mueller has said, if he testified, he wouldn't say anything outside of what was in the report.

How -- how important is this for -- for Democrats?

SIDDIQUI: I think it's very important, especially when you look back at just over a month ago when there was a growing number of Democrats embracing the idea of impeachment. And that was after Mueller made what has so far been his first and only public statement on the findings within his report.

Now, at the same time, he said in that statement that his report is his testimony, because he was reluctant to come before members of Congress in what could be a hyper partisan environment, particularly if you think about the dramatic nature of these hearings. And so I don't really expect him to deviate from simply a repetition of what is outlined in the report. And I think Democrats really want to try and get beyond that because they're trying to really build this case that the president did, in fact, obstruct justice so that they can take, of course, more meaningful action in the House.

HARLOW: OK, Sabrina Siddiqui, thank you for being here on both of those front. I appreciate it.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right, so, speaking of Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, she is getting praise this morning from quite an interesting place. The White House. The president's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, speaking about Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's testimony before her committee on the House yesterday complimented AOC saying hats off. Watch this.


LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: And I want to note, in the hearings last -- yesterday with Fed Chairman J. Powell, it was Ms. AOC who asked him about the (INAUDIBLE) curve. Why -- why is rising growth and employment and low unemployment bad? Why does that cause inflation and higher interest rates? And J. Powell says, well, you're right, that thing hasn't worked in decades. Now, I've got to give her high marks for that.

Nobody in life is all good or all bad and I've got to give hats off, Ms. AOC kind of nailed that.


HARLOW: Well, there -- that's something I didn't expect to hear this morning. There you go.

[09:59:56] All right, so Jerome Powell's back on The Hill today. Right now he's testifying before the Senate Banking Committee. Of course we're monitoring it.