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Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) is Interviewed about Background Check Bills; Tracking a World in Turmoil; Climate Crisis Threatens World Food Supply. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired August 8, 2019 - 08:30   ET



[08:30:05] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Frustration is growing on Capitol Hill and, frankly around the country, over Congresses lack of action for back to back mass shootings. More than 200 House Democrats sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday, urging him to bring the Senate back from August recess to pass a bill expanding background checks for gun purchases.

And they're not the only ones weighing in. "The Washington Post" reporting the NRA is already warning President Trump against supporting that type of legislation.

Joining me now, one of the lawmakers who signed that letter, Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri.

Sir, good to have you with us this morning.

Mitch McConnell also, in a statement we should point out Monday, said he's prepared to do his part. He's serious about having bipartisan, bicameral legislation and having this discussion.

Who do you -- I mean, have you -- a, have you heard from Mitch McConnell, and, b, does any of that matter when we're hearing that Wayne LaPierre seems to really have the president's ear?

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D-MO): Well, I think the Senate majority leader is also listening to the NRA. And I don't think that he is going to respond to the letter, in a positive way at least. And it's sad because if you think about this, we -- we're a nation over 300 million people, most of whom support background checks, most of whom support getting rid of war weapons by -- held by American citizens. And yet one person is going against almost 300 million people and refusing to do something that is a modest reform of guns. And it's so tragic because it's frustrating the public.

I had an event here last night where we had a packed house and individuals are expressing their frustrations with what is going on, or maybe more accurately what's not going on. And I don't think that the majority leader cares. I think he plays to an audience of one.

HILL: So, in terms of that event that you held last night in Kansas City, I'm curious, with the discussions that you have with folks there, local leaders were there as well I know, there was so much talk urging action on gun violence, on gun control. Did the folks that you spoke with last night feel that there was a chance of something getting done in Washington, or are they putting their hope and their efforts into what is happening at a more local level?

CLEAVER: Well, I think there is. I did hear people saying that they thought we needed to do something on a local level. And I agree with that. In fact, one of the local TV stations asked the question last night if I would support some kind of state legislation or getting permission for states to do something about the federal government, about Congress. And that's a good idea. And it's better than doing nothing.

But in most states in particular, like Missouri and Kansas, you could walk across the street from Missouri and be in Kansas. And so if you don't have some kind of national umbrella under which all of the states are functioning, I don't really think it's going to be feasible to get general assemblies around the nation to do anything.

HILL: I know you would like to --


HILL: Go ahead.

CLEAVER: Oh, go ahead, I'm sorry.

HILL: Well, I was just going to say, I knew you --

CLEAVER: No, I was just going to say and --

HILL: Go ahead.

CLEAVER: And I think we -- it's very important that people have a chance to at least feel like their voice is being heard. And so, you know, there may be not be as impactful. I think the public would like to feel like something is being done and that maybe there's a better chance of doing something on a local level.

HILL: I think that is certainly frustration. Definitely one I've heard from folks this week as we've been reporting on these two mass shootings, both in El Paso and Dayton.

I know you wanted an assault weapons ban. When you were mayor in Kansas City, I believe it was in 1994, that you had this buyback program.

What do you think the appetite is for something of that nature in 2019?

CLEAVER: Well, you know, we've had the federal government to intervene years ago, which they put some blockades in the way of municipalities holding gun buybacks. We -- we took a lot of guns off the street in Kansas City. We paid individuals $100, no questions asked, and people brought their guns. And we took it to Armco (ph) Steel and they had to melt it. But that -- that is not going to solve the problem. We -- we probably need to do a hundred and some projects, and that ought to be one of them to --

HILL: Right.

CLEAVER: The people who may have stolen the gun, we're better off if that gun is melted than having somebody who stole it use it for some kind of criminal activity.

HILL: Sir, before I let you go, you also serve, of course, on Homeland Security. And CNN has this new reporting from Jake Tapper about DHS and the White House essentially rebuffing efforts to make domestic terrorism more of a focus. In fact, Homeland Security, from our reporting here, noting, in fact, that the White House wanted to focus only on the jihadist threat, which, while serious, ignored the reality that racial supremacist violence was rising fast here at home, saying they had major ideological blinders on.

[08:35:25] What do you think of that?

CLEAVER: The FBI -- well, the FBI director has been very clear that we have a greater threat from domestic terrorism than jihadist terrorism. And nobody likes to believe that we are stirring up hatred in our own country, but we are. And until the president of the United States begins to speak on that issue, we're not going to get a lot done.

Now, the FBI director was appointed by this president. The National Security director said the same thing and yet the White House is refusing to listen to the people they appointed and to begin to talk about domestic terrorism. It is a -- we have more Americans killed by domestic terrorism than what people would like to believe -- some people would like to believe, some kind of jihadist movement inside the nation --

HILL: Congressman --

CLEAVER: And it's just not the case.

HILL: Congressman Cleaver, appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you.

CLEAVER: Good to be with you.

HILL: Just ahead, what about all of the news you haven't heard? There are major events happening around the world. We're going to run you through all of them -- or, well, as many as we can get to, I should say, ahead in our "Reality Check."


[08:40:36] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: There's been so much focus on the tragedy here in El Paso and also Dayton, but there have been so many other huge stories that have happened in the United States and all around the world. Just look at your 401(k).

Our John Avlon has been looking at all this and has our "Reality Check."



What you don't know could hurt you because with mass shootings and political food fights here at home, you might have missed the fact that the world's on fire, folks.

Not only was July the hottest month ever record, but on Sunday China allowed the value of its currency to plummet, spurring a nearly 800 point Dow sell-off. Now, Trump responded by branding China a currency manipulator, which, while true and overdue, is unlikely to cool trade talk temperatures. It turns out that trade wars are neither good nor easy to win.

Now Goldman Sachs is advising this could drag on past the 2020 elections. What's worse is that China holds more than $1 trillion in U.S. Treasury bills. If it dumps those, well, what happens next is anybody's guess.

Now, if that's got you feeling a bit nervous, did you hear the one about the two nuclear neighbors divided by religion fighting over a long contested border state? That's right. India and Pakistan are at it again. Their now 70-year dispute over Kashmir just hit another boiling point. Now, parts of Kashmir are under a total communications blackout. But never fear, last month Trump told the prime minister of Pakistan that the prime minister of India had asked him to come in and fit it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago. And we talked about this subject. And he actually said, would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator. I said, where? He said Kashmir.


AVLON: Yes, not so much. India's government has flatly denied that happened, not once but twice.

Meanwhile, over in the U.K., newly minted Prime Minister Boris Johnson, charming but not exactly detail oriented, seems to be careening towards a catastrophic no deal Brexit with the European Union. Johnson, who was elected by just 0.2 percent of the country and now holds a one seat majority in parliament, didn't worry (ph).


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Do you look daunted? Do you feel daunted?


AVLON: Appreciate the confidence but that just doesn't fit the facts.

Now on to Iran, where President Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal. A move a former British ambassador called an act of diplomatic vandalism done solely to spite President Obama. Since then, Iran has seized three oil tanks, threatened to shut down the shipping in the Strait of Hormuz and is back to enriching uranium. Now president's -- Iran's president is warning the U.S. of, quote, the mother of all wars. So, that's going well.

And let's not forget, North Korea, the country President Trump said he'd reduce to ashes before saying this about murderous Dictator Kim Jong-un.




AVLON: Well, they'd better get to couples counseling because not only has Kim tested four missiles over two weeks, he called the last one a direct warning to the U.S. But not unlike someone in an abusive relationship, Trump is standing by his man, tweeting that Chairman Kim does not want to disappoint his friend, President Trump.

Finally, there's Russia, where Vladimir Putin is celebrating 20 years in power this week by building up his ties with China, while keeping Assad in power in Syria and cracking down on protesters at home. But as Richard Haass and the Council on Foreign Relations warns, much of the unraveling in the world is the result of the U.S. abdicating its leadership in the international community. And, he adds, a post American world will be less safe, free and prosperous.

And that's your "Reality Check."


HILL: And an important one.

John, thank you.

A major new U.N. report out today warns the climate crisis is threatening the world's food supply and that humans must drastically alter their food production to prevent the catastrophic effects of global warming.

CNN's Bill Weir is in -- live in Iowa for us this morning with a look at how farmers are trying to help alleviate this crisis.

Bill, good morning.


As we know, farmers are incredibly tough people, but these are such tough times. The annual meeting of the American Corn Growers Association included a seminar on suicide prevention this year. And on top of all this stress comes this new sweeping science that looks at the land, the state of the land around the world and says things are only going to get worse. But of all the sectors out there, farmers could be the key ally in the fight against this climate crisis.


JUSTIN JORDAN, IOWA FARMER: We had a very, very wet spring and --

WEIR: Too much rain to plant.

JORDAN: Too much rain to plant.

WEIR: Yes.

WEIR (voice over): Justin Jordan is among the millions of American farmers living on an emotional roller coaster that only seems to go down.

[08:45:00] JORDAN: So this corn is -- is almost two feet shorter than it normally is.

WEIR: Thanks to a bizarre spring, he's look at a 30 percent drop in yield.

JORDAN: It's kind of a feeling of helplessness and stress is what it kind of feels like.

WEIR (on camera): Yes.

JORDAN: So -- but you just do what you can with what you have to work with.

WEIR (voice over): At least he has a crop. Too many farmers lost everything to epic floods and even the lucky ones are losing sleep over fear of an early frost, and trade wars, and the highest farm debt in a generation.

And on top of it all comes the latest alarming report from the IPCC, which finds that growing food from Indiana to Iowa will only get harder as the climate gets harsher.

DR. EUGENE TAKLE, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, IOW STATE DEPARTMENT OF AGRONOMY: So we're going to see by current -- mid-century, by current projections, that our number of days above 90 degrees is going to rise from about 17 days per year above 90 degrees in De Moines. That will be up more like 50 to 70.

WEIR: The report finds that about three quarters of the earth's ice- free surface has been paved, plowed or deforested. Great for economies, horrible for nature's cycles.

And with all the diesel and fertilizer used to grow the modern meal, they say agriculture is to blame for nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

WEIR: But here's the good news. Right now every corn plant in this field is pulling carbon out of the sky and pulling it in the ground. And with the right amount of innovation and financial motivation, a smart farmer can leave it there and still feed the world. Iowa could be one giant carbon sink. And unlike minors and drillers and frackers, they don't have to change careers in order to help save life as we know it.

JORDAN: Just listen to all the birds, too. Something you don't hear when you walk out in a cornfield. I mean there's just so much more, like I said, not only the plant biodiversity, but the wildlife diversity --

WEIR (on camera): Life. Life.

JORDAN: Exactly. Exactly.

WEIR (voice over): Justin takes advantage of a federal program that pays him to let part of his fields go wild, which brings higher yields in the long-term. Over in Nebraska, Brandon Hunnycut (ph) is trying out cutting edge science funded by Bill Gates that uses bacteria instead of synthetic fertilizer, the stuff that creates ocean dead zones and red tides.

ERNIE SANDERS, VICE PRESIDENT OF PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT, PIVOT BIO: That's all a petroleum-based kind of products industry that we live in. And the more we can move to a more natural, bacteria based, I think that's better for all of us.

WEIR: And even some conservatives like Ray Gaesser are joining this green revolution, even though the Republican refuses to blame a warming planet entirely on human habits.

WEIR (on camera): So how do you feel about big members of your party, even the president, casting doubt and skepticism into whether or not humans can even help stop this?

RAY GAESSER, IOWA FARMER: I think it's more about not having severe regulations, you know. I think a one size fits all regulation really does not fit agriculture anywhere.

WEIR (voice over): But like many Republican neighbors, he still embraces wind energy, cover crops and soil conservation.

GAESSER: Well, as we farm a little bit differently, as we sequester nutrients and carbon, you know, we're all -- you know, we're doing the right thing, you know?

WEIR (on camera): Yes.

GAESSER: And that's what it's about is trying to do the right thing. We all want to do that.

WEIR: Absolutely.

GAESSER: And it shouldn't be political.

WEIR: Amen, brother.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WEIR: But, of course, everything's political these days and Elizabeth Warren dropped her big agriculture plan yesterday, which includes a lot of these new ideas. And after spending a week here with these good folks, Erica, it's obvious that whoever wins Iowa is going to have farmers at the table as they try to craft a new strategy for sort of a green revolution 2.0.

HILL: A great piece, as always, my friend.

Bill, thank you.

Up next, an 11-year-old boy is trying to turn the hate that targeted the El Paso community, the suffering there, trying to turn it all into kindness. "The Good Stuff" is next.


[08:53:13] HILL: Time now for "The Good Stuff," and we could all use a little bit of that this week.

Eleven-year-old Ruben Martinez (ph) was trying to find a way to help his community heal after this weekend's tragedy. His solution, honor the people who died by challenging everyone in El Paso to do 20 random acts of kindness, now 22. His mom shared this photo of her son suggesting several possible options, anything from mowing someone's lawn, to visiting the nursing home, paying for someone's lunch or dinner.

And Ruben's plan has worked. Thousands of people sharing the post, paying it forward, and reminding all of us that amidst all of this, John, there is still so much good in this world and so much good, too, coming from this next generation.

BERMAN: And there's so much good here in El Paso. And in spirit -- Ruben's spirit is infectious. I think everyone in this city is trying to help everyone else. And we see it here at this memorial.

And when you were here, Erica, this was so much smaller. It started out right here just with some candles, and then, of course, these crosses. But now it goes down about 50 yards.

And I just want to show you some of the things here that I found so incredibly moving. Look at this right here. These are license plates, Texas, Ohio, and Mexico, thinking about really the scope of those affected by these mass shootings.

Now, some of the messages here at this memorial have been political and there have been some demonstrations here over the last few days. This message says, dear Mr. President, promise to really listen to the victims and the families.

But more than political, this has just been a place to express feelings and pain. And I think the thing that got me the most was I found this baseball here, and it's a little league baseball. You can't see it, but it's soft, so that's what they use when they're young. And it says it's from the Sanchez family and it says our prayers with you all, El Paso strong, and then it's signed by Aston (ph) and also Derek (ph). But you can see Aston, you know, barely can write his name. So Aston somewhere barely old enough to write his name, but he wanted to sign this baseball, wherever he is, to send his love to the people of this community.

[08:55:25] That's the Walmart back there where the shooting took place. There's no word on when or if it will ever open. But the people here in El Paso, they're going to get through this and they're going to get through it together. And I think this memorial here is a testament to all that.

All right, Erica, our thanks to you --

HILL: And I know, John, you and I were both struck --

BERMAN: Go ahead.

HILL: I was just going to say quickly, you and I have both been struck and talked about what an incredibly warm welcoming community El Paso is and so important to continue introducing people around the country and around the world to El Paso.

BERMAN: So true. And that's what they want America to know, the El Paso that they've all come to love.

All right, CNN's special live coverage of the events continues right after this.