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CNN NEWSROOM

Nearly 50,000 General Motors Workers Go On Strike; Trump Implies Iran May Be Responsible For Saudi Oil Attack; Oil Prices Spike After Saudi Attack, U.S. Blames Iran; Multiple People Hurt In Explosion In Farmington, Maine; Purdue Pharma Files For Bankruptcy As Part Of Settlement; 2020 Democrats Call For Kavanaugh Impeachment Amid New Allegations. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


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[10:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: All right, good morning, everyone, top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

From the assemble line to the picket line. This hour, General Motors is meeting with union members to try to work out a deal, this after nearly 50,000 workers walked off their jobs this morning, starting a strike that could cost the company millions and very quickly.

HARLOW: Yes. 31 factories, nearly two dozen other G.M. facilities all completely halted this morning. It is the largest strike by any union against any American business since the last UAW strike that was in 2007.

Our Business and Politics Reporter Vanessa Yurkevich joins us again this hour live from Detroit. Vanessa, I mean, this is intense and it is significant that these workers have all come together to take this move.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. Good morning to you, Poppy. Just as UAW and G.M. are meeting behind closed doors this hour, we are seeing tens of thousands of G.M. workers out on the picket lines this morning, about 50,000 across nine different states.

Now, this issue is really because of a contract negotiation that they cannot come to an agreement on. G.M. saying that they have provided a fair and strong contract, but UAW saying this does not go far enough. They want better health benefits, they want a better starting salary for their employees and they want job security.

Now, this plan is particularly interesting because this is one of a couple that are slated to close at the end of 2020. Part of this contract negotiation is trying to get another vehicle inside this plant for workers to work on. We have also heard from a lot of the people you see walking just over here that this is a generational career. A lot of their fathers and grandfathers have worked here. Some of their children are now working here. And they're particularly concerned about this contract negotiation and whether or not there will be a job for the future.

Take a listen to one gentleman we spoke to just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BURSON, CADILLAC BODY SHOP EMPLOYEES: Once you get in here, it's pretty hard to leave. I mean, it is a good paying job and good benefits and we'd like to keep it that way.

And I think that one of the main reasons is if you pay the people good money, this is what's going to grow an economy. It's not paying the rich guy and making the big companies richer. That's not going to grow the economy. You have to pay the people. Pay them decent. That's all, decent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YURKEVICH: Now, that gentleman has a daughter working in the Flint facility. Those individuals there are also on strike. But, Jim and Poppy, as this contract negotiation gets under way, we're seeing that both sides are still really far apart. So it will be interesting to see whether or not anything comes out of these talks today. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Vanessa, I read some analysis from the Center for Automotive Research that said it costs $1.3 million an hour for a strike like this. So let's hope that they come to the table, both sides, very quickly. Thank you for the great reporting.

With us now, our Chief Business Correspondent, Christine Romans, and, Romans, I love your take on this. In the wake of G.M. coming out last night and publicly putting out there what they are offering the workers, which never happened.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Never.

HARLOW: They're like $7 billion, higher pay, new jobs.

ROMAN: They're trying to really own the message, I think, here, that they understand that people are very angry that those plants are going to close, it will be unallocated and the terrible management speak of the auto industry, but unallocating these plants. And they're saying, we are making concessions here. We're going to say we want to invest $7 billion. We want to get people back into some of these facilities and we want to gear towards the future.

The point here for this company, I think, is so fascinating is, over the past decade, it has changed so much. And the next decade will probably be more challenging than any other period in American automotive history. They have to spend a lot of money to go to electric vehicles, electric trucks in particular, self-driving technology, battery cell research. I mean, these are things that cost a lot of money. And so they are trying to wring money out of their current structure so they can pay for it so they can survive.

SCIUTTO: And they have to make a lot of bets, right, to survive because they're not quite sure where these trends are going to land, on electric vehicles, on autonomous vehicles.

Let me ask you about the political implications of this because we have a little election coming up next year.

ROMANS: Oh, that's right.

SCIUTTO: Auto industry, enormous effect on the economy, this shutdown and any of the carry-on effects, right, the auto suppliers, et cetera, that kind of radiate out from there. How long does the strike have to last to have an economic impact in GDP numbers?

ROMANS: I think it's interesting because I think the political impact is going to be larger. And that's because everybody knows how important the auto industry for the 20th century was for the American economy, right? So I think, politically, it will have a bigger impact than it will economically.

I know the workers, they do have a strike fund.

[10:05:01]

They will be paid at some point, I think, $250 a week, but it's hard. I mean, it's really hard if you're on striker's pay. And that's why it's so rare --

SCIUTTO: That is not close to their --

HARLOW: No, not at all.

ROMANS: No. And Julian Castro, the presidential candidate, last night was making a point about the company, the people, the union has been saying, look, we should share your profits with us, you should be -- you made $2 billion last quarter.

And pointing out that the CEO of G.M. made $22 million last year, 281 times the median G.M. worker, so going after Mary Barra, Someone who, by any accounts, has steered this company through some treacherous, treacherous times. But you're starting to see sort of that populous play there that, hey, these are real workers, pay real workers, don't pay fat cats, don't pay executives and don't pay --

HARLOW: It's bigger than G.M. I mean, that -- Julian Castro's tweet is to the point of why we're seeing more Democrats favor socialism versus capitalism in the Gallup polling, whether they actually know what that will mean in practical terms. But it's this issue of what is a fair and just capitalist system, so we'll keep following it.

ROMANS: Yes, it's all fascinating stuff.

SCIUTTO: I think it's those multiples with the CEO makes versus the assembly line worker has been growing for decades, and that's another broader issue.

ROMANS: these are some of the highest paid assembly line workers in the world and this is a global marketplace. They've also got trade policies. They're raising costs for the parts and for their raw materials. So you have got an auto industry that's facing declining global car purchases and that's probably going to continue.

They're focusing heavily on SUVs and trucks. We have gas prices go up because of what's happening in the Middle East, then you find yourself in a tough situation there too. And all this spending on investment of these new technologies, it's really kind of a treacherous moment for the auto industry.

SCIUTTO: Christine Romans, great to have you.

HARLOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: A story we're going to follow this morning.

President Trump implying that Iran may indeed be responsible for this weekend's shocking attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. In a tweet just in the last hour, the president stopped short of directly blaming Iran. Iran has denied any involvement in the attack.

HARLOW: About 6 million barrels per day, half of the Saudi's oil capacity, were knocked out in that coordinated attack.

Boris Sanchez this morning. And, Boris, the mixed messages of the White House here are really significant because the word choice, locked and loaded from the president carries a lot of weight, and then to hear Nark Short this morning and say, well, well, well, you know, it's not exactly what it means. Do you know what it means?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't, Poppy and Jim. But you are right. President Trump over the weekend tweeting that the United States is locked and loaded, ready to respond to this attack on Saudi Arabia. The president using a firearm metaphor to relay that the United States is prepared to respond.

You're right. He also did not specifically mention Iran in that tweet. He alluded to Iran potentially being responsible this morning saying we'll see if Iran is behind this attack. No such apprehension from his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who squarely placed the blame on Iran nor from that close aide to Vice President Mike Pence, Mark Short. Short saying this morning that he believes Pompeo is ready to present significant evidence that Iran is responsible for this attack in Saudi Arabia.

Also, as you said, downplaying that locked and loaded statement, saying that the president was speaking broadly about the United States' ability to respond to any potential shortage in world oil markets.

We should also point out, there are mixed messages when it comes to whether the United States would sit down with Iranian leadership with or without preconditions. In June, President Trump said that he would with meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without preconditions. Just last week, Mike Pompeo said the same thing over the week. And President Trump tweeted that that information was actually incorrect.

So mixed messaging coming from the White House on a sensitive issue, Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Boris Sanchez at the White House on this story.

Let's go now to CNN Senior International Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh. He is in Tehran this morning.

Nick, the president's tweets one day seeming to threaten action, perhaps pulling if you listen the White House this morning. How is Iran responding to that? Are they taking these threats seriously?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We have not had a response to these latest tweets referencing the drone and we'll see at the end of it. But this morning, the foreign ministry spokesperson here said that nothing Trump really says holds for much more than about 24 hours. And I think that kind of embodies the sort of confusion I think felt amongst Iranians here, generally.

When we came in about 72 hours ago, the talk was the Iran hawk, National Security Adviser John Bolton is out, maybe this now heralds an era of diplomacy. Well, Mike Pompeo stepped very quickly into the shoes of the chief Iran hawk of the Trump administration Saturday morning and laid his accusations before it seemed they had evidence they were willing to share.

Now, the question obviously is, what is the detail that makes them so sure somehow Iran is involved? Iran said that they have nothing to do with this, called it baseless, called it irresponsible to accuse them of this. And the foreign minister have gone on to say, Javad Zarif, that he believes it's max deceit following the max pressure campaign of ratcheting up sanctions.

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The issue, of course, being, what potentially actually comes next. Here we are talking about this as a sort of nebulous matter of who might do what. There is a very serious issue here of retaliation potentially by the Saudis for this tackle on sovereign territory and the fact that Iran is being accused. And so we have to wait for those details and quite what might follow next here in a region that's had months of tension of which is a whole new chapter, Jim.

HARLOW: Before you go, Nick, no meeting planned this week between President Trump and Rouhani at the U.N G.A. The administration as recently as yesterday through Kellyanne Conway at least seemed open to it still, the Iranians saying no. And this after multiple administration members had been willing to have a meeting with no preconditions with the Iranians. Where does this go?

WALSH: Yes. Look, I mean, I'm kind of as lost at this as you are to some degree. We have been quite clear from the Iranians reiterated this today, they don't believe a meeting is on the agenda at this point. The Iranians are being consistent and they want to see sanctions lifted either entirely or perhaps to some degree. And there has been a softening of that perhaps that Rouhani, the Iranian president, might meet in the event that he thought it was in the benefit of the Iranian people.

But at this stage, no meeting planned and I think many in Iran look at the U.S. policy towards them, see it digest itself, change in form overnight, come back as something and possibly fear the consequences as a result.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for this, for being in Tehran in the middle of this. It is very significant. We'll stay on it.

Meantime, we do have breaking news just developing out of Farmington, Maine. That is where a major explosion has taken place. We are hearing of multiple injuries.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Alexandra Field following the story for us. So it started with a propane smell, is that right, at a facility there?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim and Poppy, that was the report that came in this morning. Someone in the facility, a facility that provides services for people with disabilities, did detect that propane smell. We do know that they called officials. The officials were responding at the time of this explosion. Not at all clear at this point how many people could have been inside that building between those seeking services, the staff and the officials who have responded or which departments they had come from, but there you see it on the screen. We are getting our first look at the initial pictures of the devastation.

At this point, the sheriff's office in Franklin County is confirming there are multiple injuries. We don't know the extent of those injuries. But, really, Poppy and Jim, if you get a look at those pictures, you can see that there's certainly devastation. We're going to be following this closely throughout the morning, working to bring you more details as quickly as we can.

SCIUTTO: Goodness, thoughts to those who responded and the injured now. We're going to bring you news as we have it. Alexandra Field, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right. Still to come, a company accused of pushing pills for profit at the height of the opioid crisis, well, this morning, they file for bankruptcy. What is next for Purdue Pharma? And most importantly, what does this mean for all of the victims?

SCIUTTO: Plus, The New York Times detailing new allegations against the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Several Democratic 2020 candidates are calling for his impeachment while President Trump very aggressively coming to his defense.

And the governor of New York says that he is taking action to curb the vaping epidemic. Does it go far enough? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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SCIUTTO: New this morning, Purdue Pharma, the maker of the powerful painkiller, OxyContin, is now filing for bankruptcy.

HARLOW: This is the next step in a plan to pay out billions of dollars in restitution over the accusations that the company just helped fuel the opioid epidemic.

I should note, Purdue in the settlement agreement is not admitting any culpability, any responsibility here for the crisis.

Jean Casarez has been all over the story for months and joins us with more. And another question, Jean, is, okay, can they still sell OxyContin?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a very big question because a lot of people do rely on the drug and possibly. But now, everything changes, because now, it's in bankruptcy court, a bankruptcy judge. All of this negotiation before the October national trial is not in vain because there is plan in place and that would go before the bankruptcy judge. But we're understanding Purdue, the Sacklers, will be personally responsible for $3 billion.

Beyond that, they will sell Purdue Pharma. They will sell 30 to 40 of their international companies, 90 percent of the revenue will go to the communities, 10 percent to the Sacklers. They are currently developing a drug for the addicted to opioids. They will take no profit from that. $4 billion, they say it's worth. It will be distributed throughout this country.

But the question as to whether they can continue to sell OxyContin will be in the hands of the bankruptcy judge. The legal test is will it benefit the creditors. The answer would be, yes, because they would be getting some of the moneys from that. But there are communities in this country that believe morally based on everything that it is not right, that they should not be able to. So we don't know. It could go either way.

As far as allocation to the communities with these moneys, that will be determined by the bankruptcy court.

And another question, you talked about not having responsibility, that is so standard in all of this, as Jim, you said last hour, it's just a part of this.

SCIUTTO: Yes, financial penalties, no admission of responsibility.

Okay.

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New York Attorney General's Office has found evidence of wiring of money to Sackler family overseas prior to all this. CASAREZ: Right.

SCIUTTO: Bankruptcy is a way to protect assets, of course, to some or at least limit your liabilities. Is there substance to that allegation? And how do Sacklers respond?

CASAREZ: We will see. It is $1 billion. And what the New York attorney general found was that the Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers worked with entities who work with financial institutions that established a Swiss bank account.

Now, the Sacklers responded saying this was a long time ago. It was legal. It was above board. And the attorney general is trying to throw a wrench into the settlement negotiations. This was late Friday this came out. So we will see.

New York attorney general is serious about this. They are pursuing all avenues.

HARLOW: Okay. Let us know, Jean. Thank you so much for this reporting. We appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: A powerful story. We're going to stay on the story at every opportunity.

HARLOW: Absolutely.

This morning, a new accusation, new accusations against the Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh. It's leading for a number of Democratic presidential hopefuls to call for his impeachment as the president rushes to his defense.

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HARLOW: All right. After a highly controversial confirmation hearing this morning, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is back in the political crosshairs. A growing number of 2020 Democratic hopefuls are demanding that he'd be impeached, this is after a new reporting from The New York Times. They published a part of a new book laying out some new allegations of sexual misconduct against the justice.

I should note, CNN is not reporting the details of those new claims because we have not independently corroborated them.

SCIUTTO: President Trump is aggressively defending the man that he handpicked for the Supreme Court, calling the accusations lies and even suggesting the Justice Department should rescue Kavanaugh.

Meanwhile, we should also note, The Times put out an editor's note last night saying the female victim in the original story declined to talk and that her friends say she does not recall the incident.

Joining us now to discuss, Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, and Toluse Olorunnipa, he's White House Reporter for The Washington Post. Thanks to both of you.

Susan, if I could begin with you, you easy for democratic candidates call for a judge's impeachment even though you are far from a Democratic majority in the Senate where it would be necessary to convict and remove. Is this more about 2020 base politics than it is about the actual process here?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Well, to be clear, the chances that Justice Kavanaugh is going to be impeached, removed from the Supreme Court by impeachment, are very, very small. The chances that this will be an issue in the 2020 election, I think, are pretty large. It underscores for these candidates the importance of the presidency in terms of shaping the Supreme Court.

It energizes Democrats, probably also energizes Republicans though who say that Justice Kavanaugh is getting a raw deal here.

HARLOW: Toluse, you say this is a fight that the president relishes. And I think that's pretty clear from his tweets this morning. I mean, he even goes so far to say that Kavanaugh is the one being assaulted.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. We have seen the president and the entire Me Too moment really come to defend the men who are being accused of misconduct and say that the movement has gone too far and that actually the men are the victims. And he's tried to appeal to his base. This issue both touches on the members of the president's base who agree with him on that but also that it animates the Republicans who see the courts and see the Supreme Court as a reason to vote for President Trump, a reason to vote for him even if they don't like him.

The president realizes that he has been able to reshape much of the judiciary. That's something that's very important to conservative voters. And because this issue touches on the Supreme Court, an issue he can take to his voters and not only get support from his very strong base but also from moderate Republicans and the wide swath of the Republican Party, the president likes the idea that they're talking about the Supreme Court, that people are talking about Justice Kavanaugh who he thinks got a raw deal and have been falsely accused.

SCIUTTO: So the president saying the Justice Department should rescue Kavanaugh. Unclear what he means there. But as you know, Susan, there's precedent for the president pressuring the Department of Justice to take action against his political opponents. You look at, for instance, the Time Warner/AT&T deal, right, or even this discussion of now responding to automakers coming together on auto emission standards.

You said that this fuels concerns about the attorney general's independence from the White House. Explain what that means.

PAGE: Well, the traditional role of the Justice Department and the FBI is not to rescue an administration's nominations. It is to investigate them, it's to vet them, to find out if there are things that we don't know about them that would be relevant to the senators who are voting on their confirmation. So the idea of the president's suggestion that the Justice Department would rescue Justice Kavanaugh is one that traditionally would be seen as entirely inappropriate. And this is just the latest in a string of incidents and events and commentary that have raised questions about whether the Attorney General, Barr, has taken to heart that traditional role of the attorney general.

We don't -- most administrations, we don't look to the attorney general to be a friend to the president. We look to the attorney general to be an independent voice that is having the interest of the country at heart when issues like this come up.

HARLOW: Guys, let's turn the page and talk about guns. Because over the weekend, it was a very important phone call between Nancy --

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