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NEW DAY

Tropical Storms Threaten Gulf Coast; Rains Cause Water Levels to Rise Near the Top of Levies in New Orleans; President Trump Backs Off on Demands for Citizenship Question on Census Form; Reporting Indicates President Trump Displeased with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross; Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) is Interviewed About a House Panel Holding Hearing on Treatment of Migrant Children. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired July 12, 2019 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- tropical storm Barry has just been released. We'll bring you that as NEW DAY continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mandatory evacuations as Gulf Coast residents brace for a strong storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to be a major weather event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're told to evacuate, don't question it. Leave. Get out now.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are not backing down on our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not just about citizenship on a questionnaire. It's about telling supporters before an election you have somebody who represents you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has no right to do it. This is data we have a right to know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ICE agents are planning to carry out raids in arresting nearly 2,000 undocumented immigrants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The federal government hasn't given us any information on who they're targeting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This brutal action will tear families apart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: Good morning, and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Friday, July 12th, it's 8:00 in the east. Bianna Golodyrga, in for Alisyn Camerota this morning. BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Happy to be here, thanks for having me.

BERMAN: Great having you here.

This morning, an unprecedented life-threatening weather event, it has millions of people along the Gulf Coast preparing for the worst. Tropical storm Barry is intensifying as we speak in the Gulf of Mexico. It is expected to strengthen into a category one hurricane by the time it makes landfall tomorrow.

GOLODRYGA: The Mississippi River is already at 16 feet, twice as high as normal. And Barry is expected to cause two to three feet of storm surge. Now, if it does the region could experience the kind of flooding that hasn't been seen in nearly 70 years. Meteorologist Chad Myers has the latest update that just came in from the National Hurricane Center. Chad, what do you know?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I know now, Bianna, that the pressure has gone down two millibars. Why is that significant? Because as the pressure goes down, the wind speeds will pick up. So this is still forecast to be a stronger storm. Winds going in this direction right now. I have a couple of oil platforms out here and a couple of buoys with wind gusts of 50 miles per hour, pushing water into the bayou, pushing water up the Mississippi River right now.

So let's get to it. Some rainfall coming in here, not flooding rain, but you see the direction of the wind and the direction of the water coming in. Now I'll put you ahead all the way to 4:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, so somewhere around 21, 20 hours from now, probably making landfall right along the coast of Louisiana landfall. And then finally up the north with very heavy rain from Baton Rouge and just to the west of New Orleans proper. Some areas will pick up to 20 inches of rain.

Now this is the important update here. This is the Mississippi River at New Orleans. I'm going to zoom this in, because it's very important to see, especially if you live in New Orleans proper. This is the forecast. This is where it is already. It is already above what the areas here have forecast river levels to go for today. If that goes above 19, the top of the levy, John, is 20. I know the governor said it's not going to go over the top, but you get winds at 50, you're going to get waves of three feet, all of a sudden there could be water in places that people don't expect.

GOLODRYGA: That is an important warning, and they should all be prepared for what could be even worse that the governor said that they were anticipating.

Well, devastating flooding has already hit it New Orleans, and with Barry strengthening and bearing down on the city, the worst is yet to come. Let's go live to New Orleans and bring in Natasha Chen. Natasha, good morning

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bianna. I want to show you some of that flooding that you've been talking about. Here's the swollen Mississippi River, already eight to 10 feet higher than it usually is this time of year. And I want to point out where we see the top of a fire hydrant next to the tree right there. So you can tell just how deep this water is. At that point not terribly deep because, again, that's usually where a fire hydrant is, and people are typically able to walk out to the tree line here. Neighbors tell us they usually have concerts in this space. So that's what we're dealing with.

Now add a tropical storm to that. We are already feeling wind gusts here. Of course, not as bad as some other parts of the coast, but, again, everybody is prepping for that. We've met some folks walking along the levy here. Here is Tony Baker who we met yesterday who talks about preparing for this storm compared to how he experienced hurricane Katrina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BAKER, LIVED THROUGH HURRICANE KATRINA: So this brings some unique elements. We've never had the river this high. A storm come in, the levies are saturated. I think after the Katrina situation we had Gustav, and they did a much better job at getting people up and getting people out, securing the city. And I think that was a lesson learned. I'm concerned, however, that they've gotten complacent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[08:05:03] CHEN: And the mayor of New Orleans has told people to prepare to shelter in place. They have all their pumps and ready to go for the worst in the next 24 hours. John, back to you.

BERMAN: Natasha Chen, please stand by there in front of all that water. Again, as Chad Myers describes, really just a foot to spare on the Mississippi River and those levies, so if it's worse than expected things could be very problematic.

Let's turn to politics now. President Trump has backed down, a full retreat from his demand to add a citizenship question to the Census. He has this executive order to push federal agencies to hand over records that will give the administration a citizenship count anyway. The fact of the matter is that was already in place.

Joining us now is Kaitlan Collins, CNN White House correspondent, Nia- Malika Henderson, CNN senior political reporter, and Shan Wu, former federal prosecutor and now a CNN legal analyst. I want to play you one of the more ironic comments we've heard from the Attorney General William Barr at this event yesterday. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you, Mr. President, and congratulations on today's executive order. I applaud the president for recognizing in his executive order that including a question on the census is not the only way to obtain this vital information. Congratulations, again, Mr. President, on taking this effective action.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Now, this is sort of like the Barr summary of the actual series of events. We've seen this movie before, because what happened was it was a full retreat from the president there. There is no more citizenship question.

But the bigger picture here, Kaitlan, may be something different, that what the president wants to be doing is looking like he's fighting on an issue that matters to his base, and the citizenship question absolutely does matter there. On the immigration raids, on Sunday, that's an issue that matters to his base. Is this much more about the fight? Is this about politics, especially with the Mueller hearing just a few days away?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, especially about the census, because you'll remember when the administration said they were going to drop their effort to add this question in the first place, when DOJ lawyers said that in court, it surprised a lot of people because they expected the administration to fight back. And it was just the next day that the president said no, no, we're actually going to try to move forward to still add this question.

The president had been informed that, yes, they were going to drop the effort. They didn't see a legal path forward here where they could do this in a timely manner. But then over the next 24 hours or so the president heard from some of his supporters, some of his allies outside of the White House, and that's what led to the president changing his mind there.

So certainly this is something the president wanted to put up this fight over, because we should note that they went through this fight, the legal effort, the shifting legal strategies, essentially chaos for the last several weeks, even though the route that he took yesterday, signing this executive order to compile data that already exists in the federal government, that was something that was initially suggested to the president by career officials at the Census Bureau back in a January, 2018, memo.

GOLODRYGA: And Shan, is that ultimately what this was, the president finally coming to terms that there were no other legal options for him?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's right, Bianna. Basically his actions and Barr's actions reveal an extraordinary disconnect within the Justice Department. You recall that scene in the Maryland federal courtroom where the Justice attorney seemed completely taken off-guard by the president's tweet, and he was contradicted by his superior. Barr's remarks about the fact he understands why career people might not want to work on this, it's really unbelievable to hear the attorney general saying that. He wants to switch out his legal team, courts aren't allowing him to do that. And it really just shows that he's running a rogue operation not really connected or listening to the career people at the Justice Department.

BERMAN: All right, Nia-Malika Henderson, boy, am I happy to see you. Why? (LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Because over the last few weeks I think you've perfectly predicted what might happen in the Democratic primary race. We've got this new series of polls out this morning. Let me just put a couple of them up. First from NBC News and "The Wall Street Journal" where you see the former Vice President Joe Biden still in first place, his lead slipping a little bit. Elizabeth Warren has vaulted into second place in this poll, really in this second tier along with Senator Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders.

But what I think is fascinating, Nia, is if you look at South Carolina, this new FOX News poll that came out, and in this poll Joe Biden is at 35 percent, Bernie Sanders way back at 14 percent, and Kamala Harris right nearby there at 12 percent. And then the African- American vote, Joe Biden still just crushing it with African-Americans in South Carolina. After those debates everyone wanted to know what would happen with the black vote and black support of Joe Biden. And you said you would be watching South Carolina very, very closely and how voters there responded. So what do you see in these numbers out this morning?

[08:10:00] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: They're sticking with Joe Biden. And talking to African-American voters right after this debate, a lot of them were angry at Kamala Harris, thought that she sort of made a desperate and unfair move in that debate and felt like Joe Biden was still their person. These are voters who like Joe Biden, like the fact he was loyal to the first African-American president, Barack Obama, and like the fact that they feel he can win, he can get those voters not only in a place like New York and California, a typical liberal enclaves, but also dig into Trump voters, right?

The thing I heard over and over again about Kamala Harris from African-American voters is they like Kamala Harris but they feel like she can't get white voters. And we see that I think reflected in those poll numbers. Joe Biden of course went down to South Carolina to make sure that he was still on firm ground with those African- American voters, essentially apologizing for seeming to praise segregationists recently.

So, yes, this isn't really a surprise to me. I think it probably is a little troubling to the Kamala Harris campaign that they made this big play for African-American voters, also they're making a play for liberal white voters who are increasingly liberal on racial issues. And so you see some movement in some polls in her direction among some voters. But that's got to be disappointing to them it still hadn't caught on in South Carolina among African-American voters.

GOLODRYGA: And that apology from Joe Biden in South Carolina really causing a round of applause there from the audience. They liked what they heard from him.

Let me ask you, Kaitlan, because the president clearly, as we know from his Twitter account, has been following this primary race closely. Specifically when it comes to people like Elizabeth Warren coming out with policy after policy, now the latest on immigration, many of them are left of center to say the least, very progressive. Is this something that the White House believes they can run on and benefit from in a larger general election?

COLLINS: Yes, and they're not necessarily worried right now about someone like Elizabeth Warren with these detailed policy proposals. But what they're hoping that when she comes out with proposals like this is that it pushes everyone else in this field to the left because they think it's going to make it easier for the president to run against them, whoever it is that's going to be the candidate.

They're looking at people like Joe Biden, a Kamala Harris, maybe a Pete Buttigieg, hoping those people get pushed more to the left so that when it does come to that the president can use his argument that he's been making about how they're all socialists in his mind, whatever essentially he's been tweeting about that, and they think that is going to be a successful strategy for them.

But what's interesting to watch is of course we know Joe Biden has been at the top of the president's mind, someone he sees him as a direct threat to his presidency. But another thing they're looking at inside the Trump campaign and the White House is how to effectively message against people like Khashoggi and Pete Buttigieg. The president doesn't have an obvious strategy against them yet, and that's still something that they're trying to determine right now.

BERMAN: All right, guys, stand by for a second, because somehow while Kaitlan has been talking she has also been breaking news.

GOLODRYGA: Magic.

BERMAN: This is the magic of television. Kaitlan, I understand you have some new reporting on Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The headline here could be Ross on the Rocks?

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: That's the question right now. So when you saw the president come out in the Rose Garden yesterday, flanked by his side were the Attorney General Bill Barr and his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. The president made his remarks, and then Bill Barr, as you noted there, got up, he had a tone of defiance about him. And then the three of them turned around, went back into the Oval Office and took no questions from reporters. The one person who's remained silent is the person who has been at the center of this Census Fight, and that's the Commerce secretary right there, standing to the president's right, Wilbur Ross.

We're told essentially that what is happening inside the West Wing is there is a sense of widespread frustration over how Ross handled the Census matter. We know the president had been frustrated, feeling that he folded too easily, but officials feel the same way, that essentially he bungled his process early on, because they still think they could have gotten that question on the Census, but they simply ran out of time to do so because of what had been going on over the last several weeks. Now, whether or not this means Ross' job is in question is still

something else, because the president will shift from criticizing him to speaking favorably about his old friend from Palm Beach, someone he knew from New York and on Wall Street for the last several decades.

GOLODRYGA: And Maggie's reporting, Maggie Haberman's reporting has suggested the same, that there was a lot of ire and frustration directed towards Ross. The question is, as Kaitlan just pointed out, they do have a long and lengthy history going back. Maybe that will in fact save him.

BERMAN: True, although maybe friends from Palm Beach isn't a category you want to be in this week. Nia, Shan, Kaitlan, great to have you on with us this morning.

We're just hours away from this House hearing on the Trump administration's child separation policy. Our next guest is set to testify. We're going to speak to her about what she has seen at the detention facilities in her district next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:19:07] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: In just a few hours, the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on the president's child separation policy. Among the witnesses, a group of Democratic lawmakers who recently toured facilities on the southern border.

Joining me now one of those lawmakers, Texas Democrat, Representative Veronica Escobar.

Congresswoman, thank you very much for being with us.

An unusual position you'll be in, you'll be a witness in front of Congress today instead of the one asking the questions. What story do you want to tell at this hearing?

REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR (D-TX): Well, good morning. And thank you so much for having me on. I'm very grateful.

Now, I'm grateful to the committee for allowing me the opportunity to testify.

As you know, El Paso has been ground zero for the Trump administration's cruel and inhumane policies. And the American public has been shocked and horrified by what we have learned either through the office of inspector general report, through firsthand testimony by members of Congress who have been able to get in and talk to folks in our custody, what we've learned through lawyers and what we've learned through journalists.

[08:20:08] What we have learned is that when people are in our care, vulnerable migrants, they have been subjected to some very vulnerable conditions. The group that is most vulnerable is children. And we've seen six deaths of children in American custody. We've seen children literally ripped from the arms of their parents. Family separation, this horrible, abhorrent policy, a cruel policy, is

still occurring today, and so, it's up to us in Congress to lift the veil on everything that is happening. And the Oversight Committee is doing that today with that hearing.

BERMAN: One of the things you said, and this is taking place, mind you, two days before raids that were being told by the administration that will be conducted on Sunday, which will target some 2,000 undocumented migrants in the country. You have said in El Paso: I've seen single adults held outdoors sleeping under the heat under tarps. What's now clear is that ICE is able to conduct these raids because they've been keeping beds open for the planned raids. The inhumane conditions in El Paso were a choice by ICE.

What proof do you have that ICE has emptied out these beds for these raids this weekend?

ESCOBAR: Well, we know that there are empty beds and empty facilities in other parts of the country. And what we've asked over and over again from border officials when I've gone in with my staff or myself or when I brought in members of Congress, we've had ten congressional delegation visits to El Paso. We're going to keep doing them until things change.

But when we've seen hundreds of people -- just a month ago, I saw about 250 mostly men Cubans outside under these tarps in the conditions I described in that tweet you just read. And I asked border patrol why aren't you all moving them? This should be a temporary processing facility. Why are they being held?

They will tell me point blank we're waiting for ICE. We can't move them until ICE accepts them. And ICE is telling us they're not enough beds.

Yet we know there are empty facilities. Dilley, for example, is empty. I mean, it's -- I'm not an advocate for detention, long-term detention or for treating migrants like criminals, but my god, get them out from these conditions and indoors.

I'll give you another example. I mean, there's the shell game that we all have to kind of figure out as members of Congress try to understand what's going on. The week before we went to Clint, the congressional delegation went to Clint last week, my staff was at one of the facilities there were over 200 women outdoors. When we visited the facility as a delegation, they had all been moved.

There is an ability to move folks. It's a choice. ICE really has a lot of control right now, but I believe the reason they're keeping many of their facilities empty is to make room for the interior raids.

So, keeping people in inhumane conditions such as what I've witnessed, it has been a choice by ICE.

BERMAN: There was an article about you in "The New York Times" that published overnight that profiled your work on the border and your efforts to witness what is going on and tell people about it. And there's one quote I want to ask you about.

It says: Ms. Escobar and her husband who's a federal immigration judge, were at the minor league El Paso Chihuahua baseball game, an annual ritual to celebrate their anniversary when tears began to roll down the congresswoman's cheeks as triumphant fireworks burst overhead.

Why were you crying?

ESCOBAR: We are living through a really, really dark time right now in American history. What we have witnessed, what I have witnessed, the stories we've heard from women, from children, from families paints a very I would say horrifying picture of American immigration policy in this moment. I think this moment will document cruelty unlikely we've seen at least in my generation.

And we will be judged by the way we treat people. We will be judged by the way that we've acted in this moment and the way that we choose to go forward. And I think watching the fireworks that night and listening to the patriotic music and feeling so fortunate to be an American but not proud at all of the policies by this administration, in fact, feeling very hopeless at times.

But we can't lose hope. We've got to continue to push good legislation. We've got to continue to make sure that the voiceless have a voice.

America is better than this. It does not have to be this way. We've got a lot of work to do.

BERMAN: You've got a full plate, Congresswoman.

[08:25:00] Not just this issue but also you're on the House Judiciary Committee, which you'll be questioning former special counsel Robert Mueller next week. Now, you're one of the more junior members on the committee. You might not get to ask a lot of questions to the former special counsel.

How do you feel about that?

ESCOBAR: Well, I'll tell you. Negotiations are still in flux. So, I think we'll have to wait and see what the final deal is between the committee and Mr. Mueller.

Obviously, we would hope -- I would hope we'd have them as long as necessary not just so that every member can get to ask a question but in order, more importantly, to get the information we need to get out. Again, lifting the veil on what happened when Russia attacked us and the cover-up that happened subsequent to that.

BERMAN: But, yes, you do want to get to ask questions on Wednesday?

ESCOBAR: Of course I do, yes.

BERMAN: All right. Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, thank you for being with us today. ESCOBAR: Thank you.

BERMAN: I appreciate it. Please come back next week during the hearings.

ESCOBAR: I will. Thank you.

BERMAN: Bianna?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Smerconish has some thoughts about that, right?

BERMAN: Yes.

GOLODRYGA: Whether people like her who are a bit more juniors should be asking questions.

BERMAN: If you watch these hearings before, you know, she asked very, very direct questions.

GOLODRYGA: Great.

Well, coming up, Pete Buttigieg has a warning for Democrats, and it seemed to be aimed largely at front-runner, you guessed it, Joe Biden. David Axelrod is here with his new interview. That's coming up next.

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