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Israel Reports a Gaza Rocket Intercepted over Southern Israel; Democratic Candidates Court Black Voters at Church Forum; Parents, Senator Team Up After Veteran's Suicide; Arts Center Creates Safe Haven for Kids in New Mexico. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired August 16, 2019 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Just into CNN, Israeli Defense Forces say they have intercepted a rocket over southern Israel that was fired from Gaza. It comes after a day of protests along the Gaza border fence. And after two separate attacks in the West Bank. So as soon as we get updates, we'll pass them along.

To the 2020 campaign trail and today the spotlight is on Atlanta. Three Democratic contenders are making their case to people attending these Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta.

[15:35:00] Which its website says they focus on ministry and media and the marketplace. Both Cory Booker and Julian Castro were able to rouse the crowd when they were asked about stopping white nationalism and fighting black voter suppression.


JULIAN CASTRO (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the first thing we need is get the white nationalist that is currently in the Oval Office out of the Oval Office.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We do not need one President that comes in and says, I'm the savior, I got my savior y'all. And I'm telling you right now, we have to bring about our salvation. That is what this moment is.

And so I want to end with a call to this. That this is about what we do right now. It's not about what they do. This is about us taking responsibility in this moral moment to bringing forward the force because they've tried to subvert African American voting power before.


BALDWIN: We should point out Senators Warren and Sanders will speak tomorrow. CNN business and politics reporter. Vanessa Yurkevich is with me. And Vanessa, I know you talked to Mayor Pete Buttigieg. We saw a healthy response from the audience for both Castro and Booker. How did the mayor do?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS REPORTER: Hi there, Brooke. Well, yes, all three of these candidates had the opportunity to make their pitch to church goers and black millennial voters here in Atlanta. It was Cory Booker who got the sort of warmest response here. He talked about his time as mayor of Newark. A predominantly black city.

Mayor Buttigieg not so much. We know that he has a lot of work to do with black voters. He talked about his Douglass Plan here aimed at black America. But I asked him right before he took the stage what he thought the reason was for his low polling? He's about zero percent with black voters, I asked him why?


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm relatively new on the scene, and not from a community of color. That means I have to work that much harder, to make sure the voters have heard our message, understand how the values and policies connect up.

But we're getting a fantastic reception especially in recent weeks, as we go out and communicate what we're seeking to do. I think my challenge is to communicate that to millions of Americans who really haven't followed me up until recently when we've come on the scene.

YURKEVICH: But I have heard you say that a couple months ago too, that you're still introducing yourself to voters, to African American voters. I mean, don't you think that people know who you are at this point?

BUTTIGIEG: There's a long way between people being aware you exist, and people understanding your vision.


YURKEVICH: So Mayor Buttigieg there saying, OK, maybe people know who I am right now, but maybe they don't know what I'm about. So this weekend he's heading to South Carolina to try to spread his vision as he calls it. And tomorrow Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are coming to day two of this conference here.

They are among some of the highest polling candidates with African American voters. That they will be here to make their pitch to voters, trying to secure this really critical electorate, Brooke, of black voters that is absolutely needed to secure the Democratic nomination -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: We'll be watching tomorrow then. Vanessa Yurkevich in Atlanta, thanks Vanessa.

Coming up next, the family of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he's doing well after this frightening plane crash in Tennessee. We'll have the latest on the investigation there.

And the parents of a veteran who died by suicide, join me live to discuss the bill they are trying to get passed in Congress to help other returning service members like their son.

[15:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) BALDWIN: A freshman Senator calls it America's deadliest war, not Vietnam, not Afghanistan, but here at home. Where 20 veterans take their own lives every single day. But when Congress returns next month, they have a tangible solution to bring to the President's desk. But this progress was born out of tragedy.

Daniel Somers, an Iraq war veteran, took his own life in June of 2013. He had served 400 combat missions and was only 30 years old. Daniel left behind a suicide note that made headlines for being as one journalist put it, devastating in its eloquence.

Daniel's parents chose to share their son's letter to expose in his own words the many times the VA failed him and his attempts to seek help. And so Daniel's father, Howard, shared some of that letter with me on this show back in 2014.


DR. HOWARD SOMERS, FATHER OF VETERAN WHO KILLED HIMSELF: The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull and there is no cure. All day every day a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body. It is nothing short of torture.

My mind is a wasteland filled with visions of incredible horror, increasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all the medications the doctors dare give. Simple things everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I cannot laugh or cry, I can barely leave the house.

[15:45:00] I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again. Now to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing.


BALDWIN: I will never forget him reading that on this show. For Howard and Jean the pain of losing Daniel ignited an urgent life mission. They met with other veteran groups. They testified on Capitol Hill. And in June of this year, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema introduced the Daniel Somers Network of Support Act.


SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-AZ): Our legislation requires each new service member be asked for the names of loved ones that he or she considers to be part of his or her network of support. In return, the Department of Defense and the Red Cross will provide information about benefits and services available to military members.

By engaging loved ones and families from the beginning, the Department of Defense can better prepare and equip our military families and friends to better understand military life.


BALDWIN: And Senator Sinema and Daniel's parents, Howard and Jean, are with me now. It is an honor to have you back on this show. And Senator, nice to meet you, welcome.

SINEMA: Thank you.

JEAN SOMERS: Thank you.

HOWARD SOMERS: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Howard, let me just start with you, because it's been six years now since Daniel took his own life. And the solutions in this bill seem to be born out of -- stemming from the frustration that Daniel encountered when he was seeking help. So can you just first remind people who aren't as familiar with your story of some of the obstacles he faced and how this bill would mitigate them for others?

HOWARD SOMERS: Thank you, Brooke. Daniel's obstacles started when he first came home and tried to approach the VA and get help. He was in a situation where he was National Guard. He was told because he was in active ready reserve though he was still deployable. That he would have to DOD hospital. DOD told him he had to go to VA hospital. That was eventually resolved and VA is now taking people as they present at the door.

Other issues were lack of psychological treatment at the Phoenix VA. Senator Sinema has actually called Daniel the first whistle blower in Phoenix, because with his experiences, with the letter, everything came out about Phoenix VA and the issues they were having at that time.


HOWARD SOMERS: So we did not know, I'm sorry.

BALDWIN: No, no, go ahead, go ahead.

HOWARD SOMERS: We did not know how to help Daniel. We did not know how to approach Daniel. He didn't know where to get help except at VA. We didn't know where we ourselves could get help or we could send Daniel for help, and that has what has been our initiative, has been our driving force with this legislation.

BALDWIN: For years, I mean, I've been in touch with you two since that interview, and I am so grateful for that I know you talked about Kyrsten Sinema for years, and so here, Senator. I know much was made about your Senate victory for all kinds of political reasons. And so here you are now and there's this whole host of issues, right, that you can take on from Arizona. So you tell me, what was it about these two phenomenal people sitting to your left? What was it about Daniel's story that made you decide this will be my first mission, my very first Senate floor speech?

SINEMA: Well, Brooke, I was really honored to meet Howard and Jean shortly after we lost Daniel. He was my constituent when I was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Within days of losing Daniel, I met Howard and Jean and they immediately turned their grief into action. To make sure that other veterans didn't face the same crippling circumstances and feeling of hopelessness that Daniel faced. And -- well, you know this, Brooke -- as soon as you meet Howard and

Jean, their mission becomes your mission. And I promised them that I would not look away, that I would continue to work on this issue until we solve this crisis in our country. So that no veteran feels like he or she has nowhere to turn.

And I have to say, Brooke, Howard and Jean have been phenomenal over the last more than 6 years have been dedicating their life to helping other veterans, and my big brother is a veteran. My little brother is on active duty today. And I think about how grateful I am that Howard and Jean are fighting this fight for them and for other members of the military and other veterans. I couldn't be more grateful.

BALDWIN: They are, and we should all be. We should all be grateful. Jean to you. Then Congresswoman Sinema in 2016, she mentioned, you know, introduced and the President signed the Daniel Somers Classified Veterans Access to Care Act. Can you just tell me how that law? She talks about the gratitude. Tell me about the action.

[15:50:00] How that's helped veterans who had such strict clearances like Daniel?

JEAN SOMERS: Well, with that bill did was allow them to have individual therapy at the VA regardless of whether or not they had the staff. They to figure out a way to make sure that members of the Armed Services, if they served in classified missions, were given the option to have individual therapy and not have to go to group therapy where they could not really talk about their experiences.

HOWARD SOMERS: And that was one of the barriers that Daniel had faced. He was told we don't have enough people in Phoenix.


HOWARD SOMERS: You have to have group and he said I can't do group.

BALDWIN: Right. Right. So this moves those barriers away. Senator, the current bill is part of the National Defense Authorization Act. So when you return from recess next month and conference committee will work through the number of contentious issues here, how do you ensure that your piece does not get lost?

SINEMA: Brooke, I feel 100 percent confident that our piece of legislation that is currently part of the NDA will stay in the legislation, will get passed up to the President and I feel completely confident he will sign it into law. There is shared bipartisan support for this effort in the Senate and in the House.

And that is partly due to Howard and Jean's tenacious work over the years of building relationships and building trust with people and being willing to continuously share Daniel's story. It's also because there is bipartisan recognition that this is a crisis in our country. That we let the men and women of our country down when we don't do our best to help prevent veteran suicide.

So this will get through. It will get passed and it will be signed into law. I feel very confident of that.

BALDWIN: And we'll talk again when that happens. Howard and Jean, I just want to end with the two of you. If there is a parent of a military man or women who is preparing for their homecoming or worried about that transition back to civilian life, what is your message to them today?


HOWARD SOMERS: that is a tough question, Brooke. I think what you have to do is you have to educate yourself. What our legislature is going to do is going to educate folks. But what you have to do now is educate yourself as to what transition issues, what transition programs are available and what the VA has to offer as well.

And don't stop -- don't stop, just keep looking, just keep searching. Ask anybody you can. Approach people who have been through it and don't be afraid to ask questions and to approach your elected representatives because it is ultimately their responsibility to make sure --

JEAN SOMERS; That's right.

HOWARD SOMERS: -- that this information gets disseminated.

SINEMA: One of the things I'm proud of about this legislation, Brooke, is that it will help teach the loved ones of our armed service members to recognize the signs when something might be wrong or to help understand when they might need help, so we could offer that help to them when they are struggling or facing a difficult day because we know those days are coming for many of our men and women who served.

BALDWIN: I so appreciate each and every one of you and let's do this again when this passes. All right. Senator Sinema, and Jean and Howard Somers. I'm so honored to have you back on and best of luck. Thank you.

SINEMA: Thank you.

JEAN SOMERS: Thank you.

HOWARD SOMERS: Thank you, Brooke, really appreciate it.

BALDWIN: Still ahead here on CNN, a scare in New York City this morning. After several rice cookers were found throughout the city. Now police are trying to figure out who did it and why.

And more on our breaking news. A source tells CNN Jeffrey Epstein's autopsy results will be released soon.


BALDWIN: Want to take a moment to honor this week's CNN Hero, Roger Montoya lives in a county in northern New Mexico that has been ravaged by the opioid crisis. Overdose deaths are four times the national average there, and almost a third of the area lives in poverty but Roger created a community arts center to gives thousands of young people ta safe haven to explore talents and to eat meals and receive tutoring.


ROGER MONTOYA, FOUNDER. MOVING ARTS ESPANOLA: Many of our kids come to us traumatized. We create a healthy environment where young people can discover themselves and a way to contribute.

Long neck. Just find the length.

When I see a child's face and spirit come to life, I don't need any more evidence. I know that that kind of joy is what will save them.


BALDWIN: And you could see much more of Roger's program at work, go to right now.

Retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family are doing well after a fiery plane crash in Tennessee. Earnhardt was on a private jet with his wife and daughter when the plane bounced on the runway and skidded off of it and burst into flames. Miraculously all three and the two pilots were able to escape.

By the time the fire department made it to the scene, the fire chief said the aircraft is pretty much destroyed. Earnhardt Jr. and his family were evaluated at the hospital and released just a couple hours later and the NTSB is investigating the cause.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me. Have wonderful weekends. Keep it right here. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.

If President Trump really wants to buy Greenland, he better act fast before it all melts. "THE LEAD" starts right now.

After being disinvited and then re-invited essentially, Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is saying she will not --