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White House Responds to Taylor Swift: We Oppose Discrimination but Do Not Support "Equality" Bill in Current Form; Brazil's President on Rejecting $20 Million in G-7 Aid for Amazon Fires: "Did I Say That?"; Potential Trump Challenger Mark Sanford Heckled at S.C. GOP Event; U.S. Deports Palestinian Harvard Freshman After Visa Revoked. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 27, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: All right, and this just in. The White House is now responding to pop star, Taylor Swift. The singer, last night, called out the administration during the MTV video music awards saying that they owe the American people a response to her petition in support of the House-passed Equality Act. Listen.


TAYLOR SWIFT, SINGER: I want to thank everyone who signed that petition because it now has half a million signatures, which --


SWIFT: -- which is five times the amount that it would need to warrant a response from the White House.



MARQUARDT: Taylor Swift there asking for a response.

Our Sarah Westwood is at the White House.

Sarah, what was that response?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, the White House responding to Taylor Swift there referring to her petition, saying they're all for the idea of equality but they're still not for the Equality Act, which passed the Democratically controlled House in May.

Here's what the White House had to say: "The Trump administration absolutely opposes discrimination of any kind and supports the equal treatment of all. However, the House-passed bill in its current form is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights."

Now, the Equality Act would extend federal protections specifically on the basis of gender orientation, sexual orientation. Some of those protections already exist for race or for religion.

But the White House and Republicans have argued that this would violate religious freedom, conscience rights, raise parental issues.

Of course, this is widely supported by Democrats. And 2020 Democrats candidates have expressed their support for the Equality Act.

But you heard here in the statement from the White House, the White House isn't budging off the specific objections that they had to the Equality Act, which, Alex, has yet to be put to a vote in the Senate.

MARQUARDT: All right, we'll see what Taylor Swift has to say. She has quite the platform.

Sarah Westwood, on the North Lawn of the White House, thanks very much.

Up next, President Trump defending Brazil's president as the controversial leader appears to set an unusual condition for accepting over $20 million to help fight fires in the Amazon Rainforest.

Plus, a refugee on his way to becoming a Harvard freshman was denied entry into the United States reportedly for something his friends said.


[13:36:50] MARQUARDT: The Amazon Rainforest, the lungs of the world, producer of 20 percent of our oxygen, is burning at a record rate. Yet, there are now confusing messages from Brazil's government on whether or not it will accept an offer of $20 million from the international community to help fight those fires.

An hour after his office confirmed that Brazil would reject the funding by the G-7 countries, President Jair Bolsonaro cast some doubt on that, saying he hasn't responded to the offer personally. Adding he would only apply to the offer once French President Emmanuel Macron withdrew some previous insults of him.

Meanwhile, this offer of $20 million, my next guest says that is a ridiculously small amount.

So let's go straight to him, "Daily Beast" columnist, Jay Michaelson. He's been writing about climate change for over 20 years.

Jay, thanks for joining me today.

In your latest op-ed, you write that the money pledged is symbolic rather than meaningful. Wouldn't $20 million have some sort of impact?

JAY MICHAELSON, COLUMNIST, "THE DAILY BEAST": Well, it's better than nothing. But if you compare it to what it takes to fight even a modest wildfire -- for example, California is spending close to half a billion dollars at the end of the day fighting its own wildfires -- you can see this is a really small amount. It also fails to take into account that one reason these wildfires are

happening is to feed European and the world's demand for Brazilian beef. If we didn't have that demand, there wouldn't be the supply that's driving this exploitation.

MARQUARDT: Yes, I want to get more into that. You also wrote in this very strongly worded op-ed that, "While it is tempting to blame Bolsonaro for everything, he's an odious, racist, homophobic, toxic masculine populist who rode to power on the grievances of incels and extremists -- the fact is that Western appetites for Brazilian beef and, to a lesser extent, soy, are the economic engines for Amazonian deforestation."

So, Jay, if you could a little bit further, tie what we see on our plate with what we are seeing on our screens in terms of what we're in terms of those fires.

MICHAELSON: Sure. Obviously, as that quote indicates, I'm not a fan of the Bolsonaro regime, definitely not trying to give him a pass.

He did say to Brazilian agri-business, go ahead and defy the law, burn the forest and we'll look the other way. That's exactly what they did. That's why there's been a 79 percent increase in Brazilian forest fires this year as compared to the same time last year.

But it isn't -- you know, it's not quite right to make him the sole bad guy either. These forest fires are happening for a specific reason. It's clearing land for agriculture.

As I point out in the piece, a lot of the forest fires are being set on land that was already cleared at least once, so it's not necessarily virgin forest.

But essentially these are being set for agriculture, for agri-business actually. A couple of very large agri-business concerns in Brazil, who not coincidentally are tied to some of the bribery scandals involving Brazilian politicians. Eventually, this beef is going to plates in Asia, primarily, as well as the Middle East and here in North America and Europe.

So this is not a situation where we can only just point the finger at the other guy. This is a situation where, if Europe took a look, for example, at its half-a-billion-dollar annual beef imports from Brazil, that's just the European Union alone, instead of throwing a $20 million Band-Aid at the problem, then we might actually see some movement.

[13:40:17] MARQUARDT: And it's no secret that President Trump and President Bolsonaro are good friends, or at least are aligned. And in fact, Bolsonaro has been called Tropical Trump.

Today, we've seen Twitter messages between the two. President Trump tweeting about Bolsonaro: "He is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil. Not easy." Then the Brazilian president responded, in part, saying, "We're

fighting the wildfires with great success. The fake news campaign built against our sovereignty will not work."

So Bolsonaro there adopting the president's favorite phrase, fake news.

But beyond that, Jay, are they actually having great success? We know the Brazilians have sent 43,000 troops to fight the fires. What success have we seen, if any?

MICHAELSON: It's a charming bromance between two demagogues, tweeting back and forth like lovers in a high school musical but the reality is of course very, very different.

It's funny to call something fake news when you have satellite photos to prove the fact this is not fake.

All of the local officials under Bolsonaro and his regime, people who are actually responsible for doing this work, have said, we're understaffed, under-resourced, we don't have enough equipment, we don't have enough money.

The budget for the ministry of the environment in Brazil was slashed last year under Bolsonaro's directive. He fired the guy whose job it was to measure Brazilian deforestation just a couple of months ago.

So, no, the reality tells a very different story from the Twitter romance between Trump and Bolsonaro. The reality is that there are not enough resources to fight this fire. And even though $20 million is a small drop in the bucket, that would be one drop more than Brazil has.

MARQUARDT: Jay Michaelson, thanks so much for putting all that in context for us.

MICHAELSON: My pleasure.

MARQUARDT: Well, a manhunt is under way after a brazen jewelry heist is caught on tape inside a store for the stars.

Plus, he's thinking about a primary challenge against President Trump, but Mark Sanford, of South Carolina, got an earful at a recent Republican event. I'll be speaking with him live.


MARK SANFORD, (R), FORMER CONGRESSMAN & FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: I don't think I'm going to be called to the podium, I will say that.


SANFORD: I admit it.



[13:47:20] MARQUARDT: Former Illinois congressman, Joe Walsh, is officially in the Republican race for president. And he may not be the only Republican challenger to President Trump.

Former South Carolina congressman and governor, Mark Sanford, is still mulling it over. But as he dips his toe, he hasn't been getting a very warm reception in his home state.





MARQUARDT: Governor Mark Sanford joins me now.

Governor, thanks for joining me.

There in that small clip that we just played we heard chants of "Trump" and "Take a hike." To be fair, that was a pro-Trump event. We know Vice President Mike Pence had also appeared earlier as the headliner.

But if that kind of reception was expected, why did you want to go?

SANFORD: Because I think we've stopped listening to each other in American politics. I think it's a real problem. And so I was not unaware of the fact that it was walking into the devil's den, so to speak.

If you're thinking about running against the president and you're walking into a Trump rally or the equivalent of a Trump rally, probably not the greatest of spots to go.

But I think it's important just out of respect to go and hear the other viewpoint. So I went to that rally in the upstate last night because I wanted to hear their perspectives on go versus no go.

These are folks that, in some cases, knew me for a long time, wherein, I had run two years in the campaign for governor, I had been eight years, two terms as governor. So I thought just out of respect I would go.

What was telling, not when the cameras were there, because everybody got riled up with the cameras there. Everybody sees it as a chance to wave a sign and make some noise. But what was telling are all the conversations I had throughout the evening when the cameras weren't there.

And I thought most interesting were the number of young people that came up to me and said, please run, we need to have a debate at the national level about debt and deficits and spending because it's going to impact my life, it's going to impact my ability to achieve the American dream.

MARQUARDT: And that issue of government spending is among the biggest ones that you are speaking about and one of the main reasons that you say you might get into the race.

Meanwhile, when you look at the Republican electorate, President Trump has an approval rating, according to our latest CNN poll among Republicans, around 85 percent, just shy of that. What makes you think that Republicans actually want to listen to what you have to say?

SANFORD: Because, in fact, if you look at the latest poll that was held on that front, it showed about the same number, 80 percent, 85 percent kind of re-elect numbers within Republicans.

But the same people in the very poll that was held in New Hampshire said that, well, about half of them would like to see the president primaried because they would like to have a robust discussion on what it means to be a Republican today.

[13:50:01] You know, on the Democratic side, folks are having a robust conversation about what it means to be a Democrat, hopes, dreams and values.

We're not having a current conversation on that front as Republicans. And it's my hunch, and I suspect the hunch of Bill Weld and Joe Walsh, that we need to have a robust conversation on that side. Because if we don't, you're going to simply end up with some version of more versus more, which is what you hear on the Democratic side.

MARQUARDT: Last month, Governor, you said you were going to take a month, 30 days to decide whether you were going to run. It's now been more than a month, 42 days to be exact. Are you running for president of the United States?

SANFORD: Well, what I said was -- there was a conversation with Caitlin Byrd, of the "Post and Courier" -- was around a month. So I said from the start I'd make a decision about Labor Day. Come back to me after Labor Day, either a few days before or a few days after, and I'll be able to give you the answer to that.

I'm in the final throes of making the decision. And I'm going to go to Iowa tomorrow and spend a couple days there, come back and make the decision over the weekend..

MARQUARDT: Labor Day is a few days away, less than a week. What are those final determinations you need to make in those six days?

SANFORD: Again, hearing different perspectives. I mean, I want to gather as much information as possible on a project so daunting. It's herculean. It's impossible at many different levels for the numbers that you just described. Therefore, I think it's important not to just get perspectives from

the coast of South Carolina, where I come from, but that's why I went to the upstate of South Carolina last night. That's why I went to New Hampshire the week before last. That's why I'm going to Iowa in two days. Just to gather different perspectives and, again, make the call.

I view it as, again, the due diligence you'd see in a business deal. Be very thorough in your analysis.

MARQUARDT: Mark Sanford, thanks very much. And if you have any sort of announcement to make in the coming days, you're welcome back on CNN any time.

SANFORD: I appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

MARQUARDT: Governor Mark Sanford, of South Carolina.

Any moment, Actress Lori Loughlin appears in court over that massive college cheating scandal.

Plus, the president's banks will soon reveal whether they have his tax returns.

And a Palestinian Harvard freshman has been deported by the United States after he visa is revoked. That story next.


[13:56:59] MARQUARDT: As Harvard freshmen settle into their dorms today, there is one student who isn't there. Seventeen-year-old Ismail Ajjawi is a Palestinian from Lebanon. He was deported on Friday night shortly after he landed at Boston Logan Airport.

The "Harvard Crimson" quotes Ajjawi as saying that immigration officers subjected him to hours of questioning, searched his phone and computer, and canceled his visa.

Customs and Border Patrol put out a statement telling CNN and others, "This individual was deemed inadmissible to the United States, based on information discovered during the CBP inspection."

Shera Avi-Yonah and Delano Franklin have been reporting on the story for the "Harvard Crimson" and join us now.

Shera, first to you.

We understand that Ajjawi spent eight hours at Boston Logan Airport. What happened while he was there?

SHERA AVI-YONAH, STAFF WRITER, HARVARD CRIMSON: So what he is alleged happened is that Customs and Border Patrol officials took his laptop and his phone and asked him to unlock them. And then based on information they found there, decided not to let him into the country.

Specifically, what he's saying is that they saw people on his friends list on social media that harbored anti-American sentiments and that he comes from a region in southern Lebanon that includes a lot of individuals who harbor similar sentiments.

MARQUARDT: You would think that's something that immigration officials would have seen or picked up on earlier and deemed it OK.

Delano, to you, what has the response by from Harvard University about working with immigration and getting Ajjawi to the states so he can enroll in Harvard.

DELANO FRANKLIN, STAFF WRITER, HARVARD CRIMSON: Sure. So the university is saying that they're doing everything that they can do to get him here this week before classes start next Tuesday. The university both has lawyers who are trained in immigration law, who are used to working on cases like this for international students, and also a director of immigration services who's been in touch with ICE now. So they're working on getting them here before classes start next week.

MARQUARDT: Do you know if there are other groups working on this as well? I understand he got a visa through a group called AMIDEAST?

FRANKLIN: Yes. So he received a scholarship through this group called AMIDEAST. They're a nonprofit that's based on a few countries in the Middle East. They have also lawyers who are working with him and who are also trying to work things out.

MARQUARDT: All right. Delano Franklin, Shera Avi-Yonah, from the "Harvard Crimson," we know you'll stay on this story. Thanks so much for joining me today.

AVI-YONAH: Thank you.

FRANKLIN: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: Well, that's it for me. I'm Alex Marquardt.

"NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

[14:00:03] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you so much for being with me.

We are covering three major court cases today involving big names.