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White House Rebuffed Attempts By DHS To Make Combating Domestic Terrorism A Higher Priority; Trump In El Paso Amid Protests Of His Visit After Anti-Latino Shooting Massacre; Trump Visiting Emergency Operations Center In El Paso To Meet Law Enforcement Officials; Biden Says Trump Fanning Flames of White Supremacy; Interview With Former U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 7, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news in El Paso. President Trump's visit to a city rocked by gun violence is under way. And some protesters say he's not welcome after the brutal anti-Latino attack.

CNN is on the scene, as the president's attempts to offer comfort stir controversy.

Frustration in Dayton. After Mr. Trump's meeting with victims of the shooting massacre in Ohio, Democratic officials vent about the inaction on gun control, but say the president's hospital visit was well-received. Why did that prompt a new Twitter tirade aboard Air Force One?

Blistering speech. Joe Biden draws a link between the president's hate filled rhetoric and the El Paso attack, the leading 2020 Democrat accusing the commander in chief of fanning the flames of white supremacy.

And raw racism. That's how former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice is describing the president's views, warning of dire consequences for the country and the world. She joins us live this hour.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on President Trump's visit to El Paso, Texas, this hour, where the pain and anger are raw, after one of the worst attacks on Latinos in U.S. history.

He's been visiting wounded shooting survivors at a local hospital, just as he did earlier during his visit to Dayton, Ohio, the other city reeling from a gun massacre.

As this president attempts to fill the traditional role of comforter in chief, he's been undermining his own call for unity by tweeting political attacks as he flew from one grief-stricken community to another.

I will get reaction from Texas State Representatives Cesar Blanco, who serves the El Paso area. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by, including CNN teams covering every leg of the president's trip.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president has been meeting with shooting victims behind closed doors. What's the latest?


President Trump just arrived in El Paso, Texas, about an hour ago to meet with law enforcement officials and some of the survivors from last weekend's massacre. He is at the hospital in El Paso right now. We're waiting to find out whether he will come to the cameras in just a few moments and make a few comments.

But for now, he is behind closed doors.

But the president did spend much of the afternoon blasting away at his critics on Twitter while flying on Air Force One. Even when those cities of El Paso and Dayton are grieving and mourning their dead, the president is airing his grievances.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Facing what is shaping to be a critical moment in his administration, President Trump arrived in El Paso, Texas, to try to comfort another U.S. city traumatized by a mass shooting.

Earlier in the day, he spent time with massacre victims in Dayton, Ohio, where he was pressed by lawmakers to do something about gun violence.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): We can't get anything done in the Senate because Mitch McConnell and the president of the United States are in bed with the gun lobby.

ACOSTA: As the president was flying from Ohio to Texas, he was live- tweeting a speech from former Vice President Joe Biden as he ripped into Mr. Trump.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How far is it from Trump saying this is an invasion to the shooter in El Paso declaring -- quote -- "This attack is a response to Hispanic invasion of Texas?"

How far apart are those comments?

ACOSTA: The president tweeted he was watching and said Biden was so boring. The White House insisted the president would play the role of consoler in chief.

But Mr. Trump sounded at times as though he was consoling himself.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, my critics are political people. They're trying to make points.

ACOSTA: Dodging questions about his incendiary rhetoric and making the head-scratching claim that his language has somehow unified the country.

TRUMP: No, I don't think my rhetoric has at all. I think my rhetoric is a very -- it brings people together.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump was pressed on the El Paso gunman's manifesto, which appeared to be inspired in part by the president's use of the term invasion to describe migrants. He sidestepped that one too.

QUESTION: You and the shooter in El Paso used that same language. Do you regret that?

TRUMP: I think that illegal immigration -- you're talking about illegal immigration, huh? I think illegal immigration is a terrible thing for this country. I think you have to come in legally.

ACOSTA: The president then proceeded to spread the blame around for the outbreak of violence under his watch.

TRUMP: I don't like it. Any group of hate, I am -- whether it's white supremacy, whether it's any other kind of supremacy, whether it's Antifa, whether it's any group.

ACOSTA: Just as he did after Charlottesville.

TRUMP: And you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.


ACOSTA: Despite striking a tone of unity earlier in the week, the president lashed out at Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, tweeting: "Beto phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage O'Rourke should respect the victims and law enforcement and be quiet."

O'Rourke fired back: "Twenty-two people in my hometown are dead after an act of terror inspired by your racism. El Paso will not be quiet and neither will I."

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will proudly stand together for one another and for this country. And that's what I'm doing with my community right now.

ACOSTA: After some elected leaders in El Paso urged the president to stay in the White House, the city's main newspaper published an open letter to Mr. Trump that reads, "Mr. President, the hatred of the El Paso shooting didn't come from our city."

Residents in El Paso remember the president's visit to the city in February, when he painted migrants as criminals.

TRUMP: Murders, murders, murders, killings, murders.


CROWD: Build the wall! Build the wall! Build the wall!

TRUMP: We will. We will.


ACOSTA: The president, as well as White House officials over here and on the ground with the president in Texas, lashed out at Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and the mayor of Dayton earlier this afternoon, accusing those two elected leaders of -- quote -- "disgusting behavior" for not acknowledging the reception Mr. Trump received at a hospital in Ohio.

But Senator Brown told reporters the president was -- quote -- "received well" and did the right thing at the hospital in comforting the survivors there.

As for whether the president will take action on gun violence, a source tells CNN Mr. Trump is looking at some kind of executive action at some point to tighten up the nation's background check system.

But getting back to the president and the White House criticizing Senator Brown and the mayor of Dayton, Wolf, it seems as though their beef is that those officials weren't praising the president enough -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting for us, thank you.

As the president visits Texas, we're learning more about the man charged in the El Paso shooting attack and why he's being held in a very tight lockdown.

CNN's Brian Todd is on the scene for us. He's been digging into all of that.

What are you hearing, Brian, from law enforcement officials?


Piecing together new information tonight on investigators' efforts to track the shooter's actions and the hours and days before the massacre here at this spot and on the precautions officials are taking to keep the suspect isolated in jail.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, law enforcement officials tell CNN suspected shooter 21-year-old Patrick Crusius is being held on lockdown in isolation inside this detention center in downtown El Paso.

A sheriff's department official says he's being held in a single 7-by- 11-foot cell away from other inmates. Law enforcement veterans tell us his possible interaction with other inmates is a major concern.

CARLOS LEON, FORMER EL PASO POLICE CHIEF: In just moving him from his area to another area just to make sure that he's not attacked. There's all sorts of things. When he's transferred, they have got to ensure that that person makes it to trial. So, as I understand, he's been held in an area where he will be safe from other inmates and safe from himself.

TODD: But a sheriff's department official tells CNN the suspect is not on suicide watch. The El Paso police lieutenant leading the team which tracked down what they believe is the shooter's racist manifesto tells CNN affiliate WOI police had to sift through a lot of false information and panic to find that clue.

LT. DUSTIN LISTON, EL PASO FUSION CENTER DIRECTOR: We were able to uncover this manifesto relatively quickly, but we weren't able to attribute it to the suspect until later.

TODD: Tonight, investigators are piecing together information on the shooter's alleged planning, including his 10-to-11-hour journey to El Paso.

Key questions they're looking at?

LEON: Did he talk to anybody? Did he indicate anything at all? Do you have tape on that?

DANIEL Z. LIEBERMAN, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: You never know who it is, is going to see the signs. And people who see the signs might assume, well, I don't know this person very well, someone else is going to report it. That's not a great idea. If there's a problem, anyone who sees it should get involved and report it.

TODD: Former El Paso Police Chief Carlos Leon is confident this resilient community will recover. But he says residents will have serious security concerns going forward.

LEON: There will be a fear factor in all of us as we go to these larger stores, large events. Of course, we're going to be thinking in the back of our mind, hey, am I safe here? And you start looking around.


TODD: And, tonight, Walmart is coming under scrutiny for some of those security concerns. The retail chain is having to address the complaints about the fact that it didn't have any security guards here at all on Saturday and for its sale policy on guns.

The manufacturer here, they have sold guns consistently for a number of years. They did stop selling assault-style weapons about four years ago, but they are coming under scrutiny for their gun sales. Walmart officials telling us tonight, Wolf, they are going to review the security protocols at all of their stores, and they're going to be very thoughtful and deliberate about their gun sale policy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us.

Good reporting, Brian. Thanks very much. Let's go to Dayton, Ohio, right now for more on the president's visit



Randi Kaye is on the scene for us.

Randi, what are you learning about the president's visit?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, before the president even arrived here, protesters were lining the streets. Some were welcoming the president, some not so welcoming.

There were protesters here at the scene of the shooting, where we are. They thought the president was going to come here. He did not. He went straight to the hospital to visit with patients and families and first responders and police officers there and doctors. That was a closed visit. The press pool actually never even saw him. The president didn't make any remarks.

But he did spend about three hours on the ground here in Dayton before heading off to El Paso. When he left the hospital, this is where things get interesting. He spoke with the mayor of Dayton and he spoke with Senator Brown. And he said that he was going to come up with some kind of special award for the police officers who were able to take down the suspect within 30 seconds here.

And they suggested to him: Don't do this award. Why don't you work on some legislation to get these powerful weapons and these assault weapons off the streets here?

CNN spoke to the mayor about that conversation. And here's what she had to say about the president's reaction to that.


NAN WHALEY (D), MAYOR OF DAYTON, OHIO: He was kind of intimating that President Obama didn't get the assault weapon passed. He said, well, why didn't Obama get this done?

And Senator Brown said, look, he didn't have the votes. And I said, but Governor DeWine voted for the assault weapon ban when he was a senator. And the governor was there and said, yes.

And I said, maybe you can get the votes, President -- Mr. President. You can do something that Obama couldn't do. How about you get the votes for the assault weapon ban?


KAYE: And now the president is accusing the mayor of Dayton and Senator Brown of misrepresenting his visit here.

He was tweeting, as you know, that this was a warm and wonderful visit he had at the hospital. His social media director called him a rock star at the hospital. And this is all sort of a head-scratcher, because the mayor and the

center both said that he was welcomed here, that he was received well, that has visit at the hospital was comforting to some of the people. Certainly, Senator Brown did say that there were some who are not great admirers of the president, but they still treated him with respect.

So, certainly a little back and forth, Wolf, following the president's visit here and a little bit of a he said/she said going on.

BLITZER: Yes, very strange.

Randi, I understand you have some new information about the Dayton gunman?

KAYE: Yes, we do.

CNN has been able to talk to somebody who used to hang out with him, a friend of his, has known him for about 10 years. And he's told CNN that this is not the first time that this Dayton shooter had a weapon in his hands.

In fact, he told us that he had been going to this local firing range here called the Shoot Point Blank range, that he owns about three or four weapons, including an AR-15 pistol. He said, also, when they were together, they would play basketball, they would drink, they would smoke pot together, but he never imagined that he was capable of something like this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Randi, thanks very much, Randi Kaye in Dayton for.

Joining us now, the former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice. She also served as the United States ambassador to the United Nations.

She has a new book coming out fairly soon entitled -- there you see the cover -- "Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For."

Susan, thanks so for joining us.

You have also just written a very powerful opinion piece in "The New York Times." And let me read a sentence or two from the article that you wrote.

"It's hard to calculate the damage that President Trump's overt racism and almost daily attacks on black and brown people are having on the fabric of our nation."

In light of the president's rhetoric, what's the impact of the president's trip, for example, today to El Paso?

SUSAN RICE, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Wolf, it's good to be with you.

The president's trip to El Paso is a sort of normal thing for a normal president to do. The problem is, we don't have a normal president. In normal times, as Vice President Biden reminded us today, the president would be comforting and healing and unifying the nation.

Instead, he goes to visit victims in Dayton and in El Paso, and then comes out and attacks the mayor and the senators from the states that he visited.

He continues to divide us, most profoundly along racial lines, and to suggest that those who come to this country as immigrants, those who have skin that looks like mine are somehow less than human. He has likened us to an invasion, an infestation, uses terms that they liken us to rodents.

This is horrific language. In fact, Wolf, it's the language that I recall, as national security adviser and then early in my career, as the kind of language that dictators and people who incite violence and genocide have used.

So this is really quite dangerous. And a trip to visit towns that have been deeply impacted by this kind of violence that has been stoked by hateful rhetoric don't solve the fundamental problem, which is that we are a divided society and we need healing and unification from the president of the United States, not pitting us against one another.


BLITZER: You mentioned former Vice President Biden's very strong speech today.

Let me play a little clip of that. Listen to this.


BIDEN: How far apart are those comments? How far is it from white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Trump's very fine people chanting, "You will replace us," to the shooter at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh saying, we're committing genocide -- Jews are committing genocide on his people?

I don't think it's that far at all. It's both clear language and in code. This president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation.


BLITZER: You agree with that assessment?

RICE: Absolutely.

It's a horrible thing to have to say about the man who is leading the United States and is our current president, but it's absolutely true.

BLITZER: Our Jake Tapper has been reporting that the White House actually rebuffed efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to make domestic terror threats a greater priority, one source saying the White House had major ideological blinders on.

How concerning is that, as someone who used to deal with these kinds of issues when you were President Obama's national security adviser?

RICE: It's deeply concerning, Wolf.

We have had the FBI director repeatedly testify that the white supremacist, white nationalist threat is now much more frequent and likely to occur in this country and manifest itself in the form of terrorism than any other form of extremism.

And yet the president of the United States and his administration are cutting resources to deal with that threat. It's very telling that -- I worked in an administration that fought and put ISIS on the path to defeat.

We now face a similar kind of threat that, left untended, could have enormous implications. It's already resulted in the deaths of people in various parts of this country, from Pittsburgh to Gilroy, and now to El Paso.

And what we need is the president of the United States and an administration in Washington that is prepared to use all of the elements of our power to defeat this threat, just as we have worked to defeat the threat from ISIS and the threat from al Qaeda.

Now, they are not eradicated completely. We have to remain vigilant. But what we're doing is leaving our home front, our primary flank, completely untended, because we have a president and people in his administration who don't seem to care.

BLITZER: So, Susan, what should the president, the White House, the administration be doing now to deal with this terror threat emanating from white supremacists?

RICE: Well, in the first instance, you have got to stop throwing fuel on the fire.

The president is daily throwing fuel on this fire. He can't even for 24 hours after a speech yesterday in which he tried to pretend that he's against hatred and bigotry, hold his fire and act dignified long enough to visit the scenes of these terrible tragedies.

We need leadership and steadfastness in the White House of the sort that I'm not even sure this president knows how to deliver.

But, beyond that, we need the Justice Department and the FBI and our intelligence community and our local law enforcement all fixated on this as an emergingly serious threat to our national security.

And we don't have that. And just as we work to combat terrorism abroad where it threatens our interests, we need to be even more vigilant on the home front, where Americans with increasing frequency are at risk.

BLITZER: In your article in "The New York Times" you say the ramifications internationally of what's happening in the United States right now are enormous, and they're not good.

Tell us what you have in mind.

RICE: Well, Wolf, the problem is that, as bad as it is inside America's shores at the present, it also has international ramifications.

Our allies, from Britain to Canada to Germany, are questioning and condemning the president's rhetoric when he attacks members of Congress who happen to be women of color. We have dictators around the world who find comfort in Washington, who see a fellow trafficker in the repression of minorities in President Trump, and gives them license and cover to do the same in their own countries.

How can we credibly condemn violence and oppression against the Uyghurs in China or Christians in the Middle East when we have a president who's demeaning and denigrating and targeting minorities in this country?


We have a fundamental threat, Wolf, that Americans, I hope, by now are well aware of, which is that Russia is trying to divide us internally and pit Americans against each other, undermine our democracy.

And when we have a divided society, and the president who traffics in exacerbating those divisions, he is doing the Russians' bidding for them. And it's a very dangerous thing. Our domestic political divisions, Wolf, are arguably our greatest national security challenge at the moment.

And what we have in the White House is a president that preys on those divisions, throws salt in the wounds of our most painful historical rifts, and does so to the benefit of our adversaries, who want nothing more than to see us divided and weakened from within.

BLITZER: I don't know if you know this, but the FOX News personality Tucker Carlson says the idea that the country has a problem with white supremacy, in his words, is a hoax, just like the Russia hoax.

What are the ramifications of talk like that?

RICE: He's a disgrace. And so let's move on.

BLITZER: You don't even want to discuss that, because there are people who believe -- there are people out there who believe those kinds of lies.

RICE: I'm not going to -- well, Wolf, let's talk about the lies. Let's not talk about Tucker Carlson.

The mentality that thinks that we have no problem in this country with white nationalism and white supremacy is completely ahistorical and missing the moment that we are living in.

And we see it manifest with extraordinary frequency. Just look at what the killer in El Paso wrote and look at what the killer in Pittsburgh wrote. One attacked Jews. The other attacked immigrant communities.

This kind of hate is very real. And it has got very long and deep historical roots in this country. We deny it at our peril. And I think most Americans are much, much more witting of what is going on. They dismiss that kind of blinders that we see from commentators who think that this is not a threat.

All they have to do, sadly, is turn on their television sets and see that this is a very real and, in fact, growing problem.

BLITZER: Or listen to the secretary of homeland security, the current one , appointed by the president, or Christopher Wray, the FBI director, who says this white supremacy terror threat is a huge threat to the country right now that's got to be dealt with in a very serious way.

Before I let you go, Susan, give us a preview a little bit about your new book that's coming out.

RICE: Thank you, Wolf.

"Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For," it's a very personal story that goes back to my family history, my parents and grandparents, the way I was raised.

But it tells the story of how I became who I am and the issues that I worked on, both in the Clinton and the Obama administrations. It's, at its root, a story of resilience and of fighting for the values that we share as Americans.

BLITZER: I have an advance copy of that book. And it's a powerful memoir, and I know our viewers will certainly enjoy it.

Susan Rice, thanks so much for joining us.

RICE: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: CNN is investigating the explosion of white supremacy, by the way, in a special report, "State of Hate."

Be sure to join our Fareed Zakaria for that this Friday, Friday, 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

And more breaking news just ahead on the president's trip and the shooting massacres that rocked two cities over the weekend.

And we have exclusive new information about the White House's response to domestic terrorism.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We have more breaking news right now on the Trump administration's response to domestic terrorism, which is being investigated in the attacks in El Paso and Dayton.

Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is joining us right now.

Jessica, I understand you have some new exclusive CNN reporting. What are you learning?


So we're learning that the White House has actually rebuffed efforts for more than a year from Department of Homeland Security officials, their own colleagues within the administration, those colleagues telling the White House that they want to make combating domestic terror threats really a greater priority, and the White House rebuffing those efforts.

That is information coming from multiple current and former senior administration officials to our own Jake Tapper. And we have learned that DHS officials have really been battling the White House for more than a year to get them to focus on domestic terrorism.

And when the administration released a report, it was really scantily mentioned in this 20-plus-page report. It was put out by the administration last fall. It's called the National Counterterrorism Strategy.

Now, this is a strategy document where, in it, it says that radical Islamic terrorists remain the prime threat to the U.S. and that domestic terrorism in that document is only mentioned twice, without much detail -- now, this despite the fact that even FBI Director Chris Wray recently testified last month that almost as many domestic terror arrests occurred in the first three-quarters of this fiscal year as there have been arrests connected to international terrorism, the number domestic terrorist arrests about 100.


And Christopher Wray also said that the majority of domestic terrorism cases were motivated by some version of white supremacist violence.

Now, importantly, the strategy document that was issued by the White House where it mentions domestic terrorism twice, it does not mention white supremacy.

So, DHS officials, we have learned, have really been pushing for the White House to make this more of a concern to make this a greater priority for the administration to focus in on domestic terrorism.

But tonight, a senior administration official from the White House defending the final strategy report, saying that it was the first ever to include domestic terrorism in the report and that senior administration official put it this way, saying, this issue continues to be a priority for this administration and the National Security Council has launched an interagency process focused on combating domestic terrorism in support of the president's counterterrorism strategy. But, wolf, tonight, that really doesn't seem to be enough for those former and current senior administration officials who are speaking out, telling our Jake Tapper that DHS has been pushing the White House to make domestic terrorism more of a priority for more than a year, and, really, the White House only mentioning it twice in that strategy report that was issued a year ago, and according to these officials, just really not making it enough of a priority. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: It should be. Jessica Schneider, thanks for that report.

Now, back to the breaking news on President Trump's trip to Texas underway right now. Joining us, the Texas State Representative, Cesar Blanco. He serves the El Paso area. Cesar, thanks so much for joining us

And I know these are difficult times for you, everyone in El Paso. But when we spoke on Monday, you said the president should not visit El Paso, that he would be a distraction as the city tries to heal. So what do you make of the President's visit that's underway right now?

STATE REP. CESAR BLANCO (D-EL PASO, TEXAS): Well, Wolf, clearly, this president has not heard the calls of elected officials here in El Paso, letting them know it would be a huge distraction to come. Just driving over here was a mess because of traffic. The streets are blocked off.

We still have police officers trying to get around, first responders working. We have a lot of folks coming to the memorial. And this only bogs everything down. So once again, our president disregards the requests of local officials and does his own thing.

BLITZER: While the president, by the way, was flying from Dayton to El Paso today, he Tweeted out an attack on Ohio officials who handled the response to the Dayton mass shooting last night. He Tweeted, attacking Beto O'Rourke, the Former U.S. Congressman from El Paso, a Democratic Presidential Candidate. So what message does that say?

BLANCO: Well, we heard the president yesterday discuss things about unity, making sure that our country is united. Then later on in the evening, he sends out these Tweets, getting into an argument basically over Twitter with our former Congressmen and Presidential Candidate, Beto O'Rourke, so much for the unity. But we've got a president who has consistently made speeches that divide our communities, that divide the country, and it looks like he continues to do so.

We were hoping that if he came, that he would provide words of unity, provide our families that are victims and some words of encouragement. But, unfortunately, he continues with a lot of the same.

BLITZER: You've been critical of the president for the way he's spoken about your city, El Paso, about the Latino community. Do you believe he owes your city an apology?

BLANCO: Not only does he owe our city apology but he owes us funding for his campaign event that he spent. He took almost $400,000 that he has failed to pay for all the services provided.

So, you know, once again, he comes to our community. He says negative things and disregards local elected officials and individuals who are here at the memorial that we heard testimony from, saying we don't want President Trump here.

BLITZER: What's their excuse? So why hasn't either his campaign or the government for that matter repaid the city of El Paso the $400,000, or $450,000 that you say they owe your community?

BLANCO: Well, we don't know why his campaign has failed to pay it.


There is a huge amount of cost involved with making sure that our law enforcement is around and securing that area. First responders are always on call to make sure that in a dangerous event that the president is protected. Our level one trauma central is always on standby when the president comes to our community.

So there's a huge logistical and financial expense that our community makes -- in any community makes, really, when the president visits their community. And, once again, he has been back and, of course, using words of division instead of uniting.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, Cesar, what do you want the country to know about El Paso?

BLANCO: You know, El Paso is one of the safest cities in the country. El Paso is a multi -- binational, multicultural community. It is predominantly Latino but we accept folks from all over the world here. We have a strong military base here so we're a community of veterans and active duty service members.

But more importantly, Wolf, this community has its arms open to the immigrant community that are seeking refuge from all over the world, and we're proud of that. We're proud to be the modern Ellis Island of our country.

So we're going to continue to be that despite this tragic situation, despite the white nationals that come in and attack our community. We're going to continue to be open to immigrants.

BLITZER: State Representative Cesar Blanco, thanks so much for joining us.

BLANCO: You bet. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, we'll have more on what the president is doing right now and saying in El Paso and how it's playing in that grieving community.


[18:40:00] BLITZER: The president and First Lady, we are now told, have just arrived at what's being described as the emergency operations center in El Paso to meet, in fact, law enforcement officials. We expect to get more details on this earlier. He was visiting the University Medical Center to meet with survivors, family members, medical personnel and others there. We expect to see the president at some point.

Let's discuss what's going on. Bianna Golodryga, what do you think? The president was told by a lot of the Democratic officials, leaders in El Paso, don't come. He is there. How do you think this is going to play out?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he didn't really prove them wrong thus far, Wolf, unfortunately, after what we saw in Dayton. As we heard from Sherrod Brown, and then Whaley, the mayor there at Dayton, saying that they were well received, the president and the First Lady, and that the victims in the hospital -- I watched this press conference. They said the victims in the hospital were happy and appreciative that they came to visit.

And yet what did the president do when he got on the plane to El Paso? He Tweeted attacks against the two of them earlier this morning. He Tweeted, attacks against Beto O'Rourke. He Tweeted about Joe Biden. So you think about what he's walking into in El Paso and the victims that he is meeting in there, I have no doubt that it's emotional and many of them probably happy to see him.

We don't see that side of it because, unfortunately, he can't resist picking up his phone and Tweeting. And the division -- the country is no more unified today than it was yesterday. And if this is what today is all about, trying to heal the nation, that doesn't seem to be happening.

And I can't help but go back to what Susan Rice said, because I also agree that this is music to Vladimir Putin's ears. And you think about what he did to sow division in the country, meddling in the 2016 race. And think about the fake Facebook pages that tried to insight riots and divisions.

Well, there's nothing fake about what we're seeing now. You see people that are on the Trump side and people that don't want him to come. And all of this is so unnecessary and it's exactly what so many of our adversaries were wanting to do and putting salt on open wounds in this country.

It's not healing and it's unfortunate given the circumstances that we're facing that the country is grieving now about.

BLITZER: Over the years, Jeffrey, we're so used to American presidents offering comfort, moral support at painful, difficult times like this. This is not though a normal trip that the president is engaged in today.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's very normal. I think this is how President Trump behaves. I mean, you know, since 2015, you know, we've been sitting here saying, oh, well, you know, maybe he's going to be presidential or maybe he's going to be empathetic. I mean, when are we going to learn? This is who he is. He's incapable of acting any other way. And why should he change? He was elected president of the United States behaving without empathy, attacking his people, he believes, are his enemies, inventing adversaries even, as he did today.

I mean, this is who he is. He is not going to change. Every time we say, oh, maybe he'll be the healer in chief. Who are we kidding except ourselves?

BLITZER: Jackie Kucinich, what does it say that the president in the middle of these two visits, to Dayton, El Paso, he is flying from Dayton to El Paso? He's Tweeting political insults.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So at the beginning of this day, the president stood outside of the White House and said he was going to stand -- stay above the political fray today. Well, we've seen, yes, Jeffrey and Bianna said, he doesn't really have the ability to do that. It's impossible whether he is meeting with survivors who might still have shrapnel in their bodies.


It is impossible when he's meeting with doctors who could have saved lives or people who have lost loved ones. He can't -- instead, he goes to his plane and he tries to make himself the victim because he had these perceived slights with local officials.

And, you know, he probably did do a lot of good for folks there in Dayton. They were happy to see him. But it is completely undermined when he chooses to be small and petty. On the trip, from Dayton to El Paso and highlights those spats, rather than where the focus should be, which were on these survivors.

BLITZER: Yes. So far, no public remarks in Dayton. So far, in El Paso, no public remarks either. We'll see if it changes in the coming minutes.

You know, the former Vice President Joe Biden, he delivered a blistering attack against the president today on racism and white supremacy, and all of that. It was a very, very powerful attack.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, that's right. And I think it underscored what everybody else is saying. President Trump, although, yes, it was good that he was in Dayton. The reports out of that meeting or that event were that people were happy to have their president there.

But at the same time, going back to the president's speech on Monday morning, he is at his least convincing when he is playing consoler in chief and at his most under comfortable when he is playing consoler in chief. And what Vice President Biden said today just underscores that. I think that's part of the reason why you saw the president lashing

out on Twitter including at Vice President Biden because everybody knows this. It is not a surprise to anyone. The president knows it. So it is just reminding him of his shortcoming.

BLITZER: Sabrina, what do you think?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, you know, we don't know all the details when it comes to this pair of shootings. What we do know is that the El Paso massacre is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism. Authorities have pointed to a manifesto that was allegedly authored by the gunman, echoing a lot of the anti- immigrant rhetoric that has been used by President Trump. For example, it refers to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. We have seen the president repeatedly at rallies stoke fears about an invasion at the southern border.

If we tried to recap all the statements that he's made about immigrants, particularly Central American migrants who are fleeing the most desperate of conditions, frankly, we would run out of time. And what is being lost in this conversation is that these aren't just political sound bites. These are the words of the president of the United States. They have real consequences.

And what they do is they cause real fear in these immigrant communities and they also embolden people who may have been harboring these anti-American sentiments to feel like they can come out of the fringes of society. And the president is unwilling to address that. He is dismissing all the criticism, as opponents trying to score political points because as Jackie pointed out, the real victims in the eyes of the president is Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We have much more to discuss, much more, on all the breaking news, right after this.


[18:50:37] BLITZER: We're back with our analyst.

Bianna, let me play a clip. This is some of what the president said upon leaving the White House earlier today to fly off to Dayton. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we have toned it down. We've been hitting -- we've been getting hit left and right from everybody.

I think my rhetoric is a very -- it brings people together.

I am concerned about the rise of any group of hate. I don't like it. Any group of hate, I am -- whether it's white supremacy, whether it's any other kind of supremacy.

REPORTER: You and the shooter in El Paso used the same language. Do you regret that?

TRUMP: I think that illegal immigration -- you are talking about illegal immigration, right, yes? I think illegal immigration is a terrible thing for this country. I think open borders are a bad thing for our country.


BLITZER: All right. Bianna, what stands out to you when we hear that?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That he hasn't embraced the Hispanic community in this country at all over these past few days. Look at who this terrorist targeted, and that was Hispanics in this country. And the president has not mentioned that once.

Think about what President George W. Bush did after 9/11. He went to a Muslim mosque to signify that the Muslim -- Islam is a religion of peace. We don't see that from this president, at least do it in the place you're comfortable with.

You want at a talk about the economy. Talk about the fact that Hispanic community in Texas propped up the state's economy. But we have not heard any of that from the president yet.

BLITZER: All right. We are showing our viewers some live pictures now of the president and the first lady. There you see them -- their back. They're at the -- what's called the emergency operations center in El Paso to meet, in fact, law enforcement officials. And we're watching that go on right now.

The White House issuing a statement saying today, President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will meet with and thank law enforcement personnel at the emergency operations center in El Paso. And we are seeing that unfold.

All right. Let's listen in and see if we can hear any of in.

UNIDENTIFEID MALE: Just chaos. A lot of kids --


TRUMP: How long did it take you to say, hey, this is it?


TRUMP: You did good, chief.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You did something that uniform is honoring the United States. He did something he thought he needed to do, risking his own life doing that. Fortunately that wasn't the situation. But stepping up and doing it at a time when other people were running the other direction is indicative of his valor and courage. And.

TRUMP: And everybody knows it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A great example of the United States military, sir.

TRUMP: You did a good job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. I'm very proud.

TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you.



TRUMP: We'll go in the other room and what I'd like to do, I'd like you come to the Oval Office.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That sounds good. Yes, sir.


TRUMP: Thank you very much.



TRUMP: Fantastic job.


TRUMP: We had an amazing day, as you know we left Ohio, and the love, the respect for the office of the presidency, it was -- I wish you could there to see it. I wish you could have been there. And it was no different here.

We went to the hospital, just came from the hospital. We were there a lot longer than we were anticipated to be. It was supposed to be just a fairly quick -- we met with numerous people. We met with also the doctors, nurses, the medical staff.

[18:55:03] They have done an incredible job, both places just incredible.

And the enthusiasm, the love, the respect and also the telling them, let's see if we can get something done and Republicans want to do it and Democrats want to do it.

And, by the way, here is great hero. This man, the job he did. You all know who it is, everybody the whole world knows who you are now, right? You'll be a movie star the way you look. That will be next, who knows, right?


TRUMP: What a job, what a job you did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir.

TRUMP: There were a lot of heroes. A lot of heroes did incredible work. Now we are going in, Keith, and say hello to some of your folks.

This is one of the most respected men in law enforcement. And I want to thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you very much.

REPORTER: President Trump, (INAUDIBLE) Vice President Biden, Senator Brown, they are waiting as well as various members of the media --

TRUMP: Well, they shouldn't be politicking -- they shouldn't be politicking today. I had it with Sherrod Brown, he and the mayor, Nan Whaley, they asked to go in, could we possibly go in and make the tour with you, I said, yes, let's do it.

They couldn't believe what they saw. And they said it to people. They've never seen anything like it. The entire hospital, no different than what we had in El Paso. The entire hospital was -- I mean, everybody was so proud of the job they did, because they did a great job. They did a great job here.

And then I say goodbye. I took them in at their request, we made the tour. They couldn't believe it. She said it to people. He said to people. I get on Air Force where they have a lot of television.

I turn on the television and there they are saying, well, I don't know if it was appropriate for the president to be here, et cetera, et cetera, the same old line. They're very dishonest people and that's probably why he got I think about zero percent and he failed as a presidential candidate.

We are going to see some great people. And I wanted to meet this hero before I did anything. And we appreciate it.



BLITZER: All right. So, there is the president -- that's the first time we have heard from him directly since he was in Dayton earlier in the day, now in El Paso, said it's been an amazing day. He said there was an enormous love and respect shone for the office of the president but he said some of the political leaders, Senator Sherrod Brown in Ohio, the mayor in Dayton, Ohio, shouldn't have said what they said. Even though they praised what he was doing at the hospital.

You know, Jackie -- you've been listening very closely to what the president just said. What do you think?

KUCINICH: The fact that he talked about the love and respect for the presidency with him at the hospital right out of the gate, without -- and then mentioned some of the heroes and didn't mention anyone that he visited with really by -- any sort of specificity tells you all you need to know about what today was about.

BLITZER: What did you think, David?

SWERDLICK: Yes, and he didn't mention the name that was I believe Army Private Glenn Oakley who had ran from one store into the Walmart to grab some kids and get them out. It was nice the president congratulated, but probably should have known.

BLITZER: He was with the chief of police of El Paso, Greg Allen, who was escorting him around as well, Sabrina.

SIDDIQUI: Well, look, let's not operate under illusion that Trump's predecessors, whether it's President Obama or President George W. Bush, didn't face criticism from their political opponents even in times of tragedy, even when they were going to meet with victims. But you know what they didn't do? They didn't engage. They didn't fight back, because they knew it wasn't appropriate. And that wasn't the time. The political debate can continue any other day.

BLITZER: Earlier in the day, Jeffrey, we heard the sound clip. The president said at the White House, I think my rhetoric it brings people together. What do you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he may -- you know, look, we hasn't changed at alls since he came down the escalator in 2015. He is exactly the same. And you know what? He won the election in 2016. And he may win the election in 2020.

So, this idea that we are some day going to see a different Donald Trump, it's just never going to happen and I don't know why we keep waiting for one.

BLITZER: Bianna?

GOLODRYGA: Look, I think in many respects and in terms of times of crisis when people debate whether or not a president should go for the scene it's always about diversion of resources and diverting resources away from those who are in need attention. It's never that I can recall been about political divisions, and adding more tension to the situation. So, that's where this is a unique situation we're in.

BLITZER: The president just said let's see what can be done as far as legislation is concerned.

Our special coverage continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUFRONT".