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Democratic Presidential Candidates Campaign in Iowa; Democratic Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren Proposes Medicare for All Plan; Beto O'Rourke Ends Presidential Campaign; Firefighters Continue to Battle Fires Wildfires in Southern California; President Trump Criticizes Impeachment Inquiry at Rally; NSC Lawyer Reportedly Directed for Limited Verbal Readout of President Trump's Call with Ukrainian President; Reports Indicate Mexican Drug Smugglers Sawing Through New Portions of Border Wall; President Appoints Prosperity Preacher to White House Position. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired November 2, 2019 - 10:00   ET




CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning to you. It is Saturday, November 2nd, 2019. Welcome to the weekend. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you. You are in the CNN Newsroom.

PAUL: So right now, several 2020 Democrats are in Des Moines. They're pitch themselves to likely Iowa voters there. This is the state that's going to pick the first winner next year.

BLACKWELL: Missing from Iowa is former Congressman Beto O'Rourke. He called it quits Friday after failing to raise enough money to continue.

PAUL: This morning, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, though, he's the one making headlines after his speech at Iowa's Liberty and Justice Celebration last night.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is in Des Moines. Arlette, good morning to you. The candidates, they had a long night, but very busy day today.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, Victor and Christi, good morning. It was a high-stakes night for Democrats here in Iowa as you had most of the 2020 field descend here onto Des Moines to attend this Liberty and Justice Celebration. And they came here and were pitching their message to Iowa voters about why they should be their choice to be the Democratic nominee. You had Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden, who yesterday a poll was released here that showed that they make up the top tier for choices for Iowa Democrats heading into those caucuses. Take a listen to a little bit of the message each of those candidates had last night at that event.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tonight, all of us, no matter what candidate we are supporting, are in agreement that we must defeat the most dangerous president in the history of our country.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The first thing we have to do is get rid of Donald Trump, get him out of office. And once that happens, the road is clear for significant change.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not running some consultant-driven campaign with some vague ideas that are designed not to offend anyone. I'm running a campaign based on a lifetime of fighting for working families.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And if talking about hope and belonging sounds optimistic to you for a time like this, fine. Call it optimistic, but do not call it naive, because I believe these things not based on my age but based on my experience.


SAENZ: Now, it's not just the message that was important for voters here last night. This event also gave the candidates a chance to show off their organizing stripes, which is going to be so critical heading into these caucuses. You had the campaigns assemble their supporters, trying to be loud with the thunder sticks. Some of the loudest and most enthusiastic were probably Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg's supporters. You had Kamala Harris's team in the yellow t-shirts. You also had Cory Booker's team with these giant light-up signs.

But there was one big surprise just a few hours before that dinner kicked off. And as you mentioned earlier, it was Beto O'Rourke dropping out of the 2020 race. In fact, there were actually lawn signs outside of this event. I remember walking by a concession stand and seeing a Beto O'Rourke digital ad that was still running in the concourse there. But yesterday right before that dinner, he announced that he was going to go ahead and end his campaign.

But the campaign still continues for so many of the other candidates. It's going to be a jam-packed day here in Iowa. There's an NAACP forum here in Des Moines. A little over across the state Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer is hosting an event for the Democratic candidates. Joe Biden is going to be opening an office here. And several of the other candidates are staying here in the state as we are now just 93 days from the Iowa caucuses, and they're trying to make sure that they become the Democratic nominee. Victor and Christi?

PAUL: All right, get your running shoes on. Arlette Saenz, thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: Our political team of experts joins us now, former south regional director for President Obama's 2012 campaign Tharon Johnson, and Republican strategist Brian Robinson with us as well. Good morning to both of you. Let's start here first with comparisons that re being made between Mayor Buttigieg and then Senator Obama. Did you hear that last night?

THARON JOHNSON, FORMER SOUTHERN REGIONAL DIRECTOR, OBAMA 2012: Well, we heard a little bit of that. You've got to remember, Victor, one of the things that the Obama 2008 campaign did very well is they spent an enormous amount of time in really implementing this sort of revolutionary peer-to-peer, household-to-household grassroots strategy. And then we all remember he made that amazing speech at the Democratic dinner right before the Iowa caucuses.

What we saw yesterday from Mayor Buttigieg was a compelling speech. It was enthusiastic, talked a lot about hope, change, bringing people together, also focusing on beating Donald Trump in 2020. You're going to be surprised to hear me say this, but I still think with 93 days it's still early.


But with the recent exit of Beto O'Rourke, I think a lot of those voters are up for grabs now. You're going to see Mayor Pete's campaign make a huge effort to try to garner their support.

BLACKWELL: Brian, let me ask you about this. The New York Times/Siena College poll, you look at the cross tabs, there's a question that's pretty interesting. Of the people who have caucused before in Iowa, they were asked if they only caucused with Democrats or with Democrats and Republicans or Republicans only. Three out of 10 of those who choose Mayor Buttigieg as their first choice have caucused with Republicans in the past. Does that make him a bigger threat to the president?

BRIAN ROBINSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: If he gets to the general, Victor, because you're seeing two lanes open up in the primary, right. You're seeing the left-wing lane that's now being headed by Elizabeth Warren fairly convincingly. She's really pushed Bernie aside. And then there was this fight for the centrist lane, which Senator Harris and Senator Booker could have made a play for to some degree, and Beto theoretically could have made a play for. But it's Buttigieg who has emerged in that centrist lane.

But here's the problem for his pathway to victory, Victor, is those people who have caucused with Republicans in the past are very unlikely to actually show up and caucus with Democrats in the future. It's very tribal, we're very split, partisan. Those sort of voters who go back and forth are much less reliable voters. If I'm Elizabeth Warren, I feel much better about where I am in those early states because it's going to be the most hard-edged liberals, the most socialistic leaning voters that are going to be energized and ready to go vote. So, he's got that challenge. What's going for him is he is beginning to lead in that lane, and he has got the money, even more money than Joe Biden.

BLACKWELL: Several times more cash on hand. Two interesting elements that point to or support what you're saying is that two-thirds of the respondents say that they could still change their mind.

ROBINSON: Yes. BLACKWELL: And also, 100 percent of those who chose Elizabeth Warren

as their first choice for the caucus are concerned that she's too far left to beat President Trump, 100 percent are concerned.

Let's go to Warren here. She finally released the plan to pay for Medicare for all, $52 trillion overall, $20.5 trillion over 10 years in additional federal spending. But Tharon, part of the plan to pay for it is reaching a consensus on comprehensive immigration reform. Like we're going to solve that on the way to get that $400 billion over 10 years so that we can pay for this plan. Also $2.3 trillion over 10 years from cracking down on tax evasion and fraud. Where is this $2.3 trillion that the IRS is not finding now, or how much is it going to cost to get the manpower to find that $2.3 trillion to pay for this huge plan?

JOHNSON: Listen, the Warren campaign, it was a robust plan. And one of the things that Democrats that she's running against have been saying how are you going to pay for this. One of the things that I think the Warren campaign is going to say how you can pay for what you just explained is maybe to decrease the national debt. We know that we are spending trillions and trillions of dollars. This president, President Trump, has spent way more than President Obama.

The second thing is I think you can basically walk and chew gum at the same time. I think what she's saying is while health care is a paramount issue in this country, we've also got to deal with immigration reform, and then we've got to deal with other issues as well.

BLACKWELL: But the idea that you're going to solve immigration reform which for decades they have not been able to do in order to pay for this huge, very expensive plan for Medicare for all, that's questionable. Let me come to you because I see you smiling. What argument do Republicans have? We're back into $1 trillion deficits in good times.

ROBINSON: And I'm outraged about that, and I hope a lot of other --

BLACKWELL: Where is everybody else in Washington who is outraged about that?

ROBINSON: When has anybody in Washington ever been seriously outraged about the deficit and the debt? When they get there, nobody cares. It's a bipartisan problem that has gone over too long, and I'm very worried about it. When it comes to Warren's plan, it is a good thing that the next Democratic debate is going to be at a movie studio because it's going to require a willing suspension of disbelief to swallow this plan that she has put forward. It would almost be -- it's more than the federal budget is today. It's crazy.

And if she's going to go out there and say that we're going to take away private health insurance, she will pave the pathway to victory for President Trump's re-election, I promise. It is a disastrously bad idea and very unpopular.

BLACKWELL: Brian, Tharon, stay with us, we've got a lot more to talk about, and we will see you a little later in the show. Christi?

PAUL: Still ahead, new information in the impeachment inquiry. Who reportedly asked the White House's top Ukraine expert to keep the call between the president and Ukraine's president under wraps?

BLACKWELL: Plus, border barrier breach, "The Washington Post" is reporting that smugglers in Mexico have been sawing their way through the president's border barrier using commercially available tools, $100 saw gets you through it.

PAUL: And 500 firefighters are trying to put out the latest wildfire to hit near Los Angeles. The question is, is the forecast going to do their any favors? Our Athena Jones is there.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Christi. We are in Somis, California, about 50 miles north of Los Angeles at a firefighter staging area for these firefighters who have been battling this blaze day and night. So far as of our latest update, this fire, the Maria fire, zero percent contained. More when we come back.


PAUL: So, California's latest wildfire is moving so fast. Better weather conditions, however, right now could certainly help firefighters make some headway today, we hope for them.

BLACKWELL: So, the Maria Fire is one of the last remaining wildfires still a threat in that area. At last check no containment, zero percent contained, and it burned nearly 11,000 acres. Athena Jones joins us now live from Ventura County. It's a staging area there where she is where fire teams are battling that fire. What are conditions like there today?

JONES: Good morning, Victor. Well, right now the winds are not very strong, and that is the good news. Of course, we have been talking about a situation of fuel. Dry conditions, a lot of kindling that makes trees and brush into kindling, and then you've got extreme winds, that is what has allowed many of these fires to grow so quickly. But today, at least so far, the wind has died down now. Firefighters say they have to be concerned not just about wind speeds but also about winds changing direction. But the good news here today is they expect a breeze off of the sea that will help with humidity levels.


But again, the humidity here is extremely low, in the single digits in terms of relative humidity, and that has been one of the challenges in this area. We're waiting for another update, but as of last night, this fire, which is just over the ridge here, was zero percent contained. In fact, from right here you can see burned-out parts of the hill. You can see ash in the air at times. Firefighters have been using this area as a staging grounding. They come down the hill, refill their tanks, and go back up to fight. We've seen firefighters from as far away as Montana. They've been battling this blaze day and night.

I should mention the red flag warnings. Those are the warnings that are put into effect when you have wind conditions and relative humidity conditions that create a situation rife for fires. Those red flag warnings are extended until 6:00 p.m. Saturday here in this area, so that is something that firefighters are going to be watching. We hope to get more updates shortly on the status of this fight. Victor?

PAUL: All right, Athena Jones, we appreciate it so much. Do stay safe there, you and the crew. Thank you, appreciate it.

And I also want to let you know that there are ways that you can help actually fight those wildfires, at least help the evacuees, in the short and the long term. They need shelter, they need food, they need mental health services. So, you can go to our website, to find ways to do so. And thank you.

BLACKWELL: President Trump claims that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi was whimpering and crying and screaming all the way to his death. We'll tell you why his version of the story may not be the way it actually went down.

PAUL: And at least one person has died in a salmonella outbreak after eating tainted beef. Here's what's alarming. Officials cannot decipher the source.



BLACKWELL: It's 20 minutes after the hour now. A source tells CNN that the White House's top expert on Ukraine, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, was told not to say anything about the president's July phone call with Ukraine's leader. Vindman testified on Capitol Hill this week and says an NSC lawyer told him to keep quiet.

PAUL: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says it's possible the scope of the impeachment inquiry could extend beyond the call with Ukraine. I want to bring in CNN correspondent Kristen Holmes. What are you hearing from President Trump, really, as he calls this impeachment probe a deranged witch hunt, is there any indication that the way that he is spinning this is working?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christi, whether or not it's working, it doesn't seem as though President Trump is going to change his messaging any time soon. We have two keep two things in mind. One, this is what President Trump knows. He knows that if he appeals to his base, if he calls himself a victim, that people tend to listen to his rhetoric.

But on the other side, here, you have to think about what's going on behind the scenes with the Republican Party. We know that they are working tirelessly to create messaging and a strategy. We just learned that two of these Republican congressmen who have been sitting in on these closed-door hearings have been working informally with the White House Counsel to try and help them figure out exactly what these allegations are and just how serious they are. We know on Capitol Hill that leadership is sending out emails, organizing events to try to inform Republican House members to give out talking points so that the House members are all on the same page.

But then again, you have President Trump who clearly is not part of this messaging. He still thinks that he is the number one messenger, and that's what we saw last night in Mississippi. Keep this in mind, this was a campaign rally. This is a setting that we know President Trump feels incredibly comfortable in. And he was in front of his base in a state that he won by a huge margin, and we heard him really taking on a lot of those familiar targets. He talked about the media, he talked about Hillary Clinton and her emails, and he of course talked about the impeachment probe.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So corrupt politician, shifty Adam Schiff, actually stood before Congress and stood before the American people and made up a conversation that he said I had with the Ukrainian president.

It's all a phony deal, this whole impeachment scam.


HOLMES: So, calling it a scam, calling it a witch hunt, and likely again, that is not to stop. And I do want to say one quick thing here. This is all coming as that list of witnesses continues to grow that these congressional committees want to hear from.

BLACKWELL: Kristen Holmes for us at the White House. Kristen, thank you.

PAUL: CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd with us now as well as senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's also a senior editor at "The Atlantic." Thank you both for being here early with us on this Saturday. Samantha, I want to ask you first based on what they were talking about there, and let's get to Alexander Vindman. He testified this week, as we were just talking about, regarding the July 25th phone call that he was concerned about the call, he took it to lawyers at the NSC who told him not to discuss it. We know one of those lawyers, John Eisenberg, is going to be in a closed-door session on Monday. What does Congress need to hear from him?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Let's see if he shows up. But what Congress needs to hear is what he did with these concerns. Typically, after a head of state phone call, the director, in this case Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, would do two things. He would review the written draft readout from the Situation Room, but concurrently, Christi, he would also give a verbal readout of the call to people who had a need to know what happened. That would be people at the State Department, Defense Department, Pentagon, Department of Justice in this case, so that people could follow up on the call. From what we understand, Eisenberg not only directed Vindman to restrict a verbal readout of the call, he also directed the transcript to be moved to this code word server. It looks like Eisenberg was trying to lock down any mention of this call. And the macro takeaway, Christi, this really discounts the president's point that this was a, quote-unquote, beautiful call. If Eisenberg agreed that nothing bad had happened on this call, he would not have told Vindman not to do his job, which in this case was reading out or debriefing members of the inner agency on what happened.


PAUL: Ron, there's a report in "The Washington Post" this morning that a number of GOP senators are considering acknowledgement of quid pro quo but arguing that it wasn't illegal. Senator Ted Cruz saying that it's not illegal unless there's, quote, corrupt intent, and that such conditions are a tool of foreign policy. Is this regular foreign policy communication?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, there's obviously -- Americans -- American foreign policy has always tried to advance the national security goals and the foreign policy goals of the United States. That is not unusual.

What's unusual is conditioning foreign policy, and in this case withholding aid, to try to advance your own personal political goals. The idea that you would equate the U.S. saying that our money should go to promote democracy with the idea that our money should go to promote the re-election prospects of Donald Trump is absurd on it face.

And a couple of things are interesting about this. First, to Sam's previous point, if the Republican senators really do move down this road, they will essentially be contravening what national security -- a wide array of national security officials have testified that they understood to be improper and concerning, that the president was making this kind of leverage -- using this kind of leverage.

And second, although polls have shown that the country is about evenly divide on whether the president should be removed from office, consistently somewhere around 60 percent have said it would be wrong to try to pressure a foreign government to intervene in the American election in this way. And so, Republicans who go out and defend that position that this is basically OK are starting against a pretty good headwind.

PAUL: I know that hearing from Tim Morrison this week, the senior director of the NSC as well, this is a current White House official who spoke behind closed doors. He testified that his concern was that the call was leaked, but he didn't think there was anything wrong with the call. Sam, your thoughts on that?

VINOGRAD: Well, for better or for worse, Christi, it's not up to Tim Morrison as to whether there was anything wrong with the call. He was called to give his account of what happened and to serve as a witness. The jury in this case are the investigators, are members of Congress, and to a certain extent the American people.

But Tim Morrison as a senior director at the White House, his entire job, let's just remember who he is, or was. It's to develop, coordinate, and monitor U.S. policy vis-a-vis countries like Ukraine. We learned last night, for example, that he was spending time trying to fact check ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland. And Sondland's statements that the president did want to establish a quid pro quo and blackmail Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden.

What we learned from all of this, Christi, is that Tim Morrison, a senior director, was not really able to do his actual job, which was policy implementation, coordination, and monitoring. So, at this point the big question is who's actually working on Ukraine policy based upon the fact that President Trump was not using his senior director. And now we have the senior director who has resigned, and we have Lieutenant Colonel Vindman who from other accounts, we understand, has been side-lined from the process entirely.

PAUL: And is there all these decisions that are being made about impeachment and how far this is going to go, Ron. There's one thing that came to mind. You have six senators who are on the campaign trail right now who would be off of it for weeks if this goes into a Senate trial. We're talking about Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Michael Bennet. If they're off of the trail, that's a whole open road for Biden, for Buttigieg, for all of the other people. How might that affect, if at all, the decision about where impeachment goes?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, first of all, I don't think it's going to affect how impeachment plays out, but how it affects how the Democratic presidential race plays out is an interesting question, because, on the one hand, as you point out, they would be trapped in Washington while others would have the opportunity to go door-to-door in New Hampshire and Iowa.

On the other hand, Christi, this is a really nationalized process at this point. Voters are responding to the same national media that they see in every state. And it would be an enormous opportunity for these Democrats in the Senate to kind of show their stuff to the Democratic primary electorate.

What's interesting, of course, is that you're also going to have another group of Republican senators who are up in very tough races in 2020, Cory Gardner in Colorado, Martha McSally in Arizona, Susan Collins in Maine, Tillis in North Carolina. And the question will be, really, how are they going to handle this at a moment where essentially we are at a higher level of support for removal than we ever had under Bill Clinton, and we are at basically the highest level that was reached until the very last poll before Richard Nixon left office. There are some tough decisions ahead for senators in both parties, particularly those Republicans, as these advances.

PAUL: Ron, very good point. Ron Brownstein, Samantha Vinograd, we appreciate both of you. Thank you.


BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

[10:30:02] BLACKWELL: There is a lot going on, a lot of moving parts in this impeachment inquiry. If you want to know the witnesses and understand their testimony and the latest evidence, join Anderson Cooper for a CNN special, "The White House in Crisis, The Impeachment Inquiry." It is tomorrow night starting at 8:00 eastern right here on CNN.

Still ahead, a man in Florida is accused of murdering his wife. He says it was an accident. Well, police now think an Amazon Echo could bring a key piece of evidence.

PAUL: Also, invitation declined. Why a member of the World Series Washington Nationals is skipping out on a trip to the White House.


BLACKWELL: In the hours after ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death, President Trump said that the terrorist was whimpering and crying and screaming all the way to his end. Here's the problem with that -- there's no evidence to support the claim.

PAUL: According to "The New York Times," the officials who oversaw the operation have no idea what the president was talking about. The surveillance drone video President Trump watched in the Situation Room had no live audio.


BLACKWELL: When pressed, the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said this. "Is it not possible to just celebrate that a terrorist, murderer, and rapist has been killed? It's an interesting question for the president, if he made up this additional detail. Why not just celebrate that he had been killed?"

Breaking overnight, hundreds of people were in the streets there in Brooklyn last night protesting what they say is continuous brutality by the New York Police Department. According to CNN affiliate WABC the protests are in response to a video shared on social media showing NYPD officers fighting with teens at a subway station.

The NYPD put out this statement. "The NYPD does not interfere with constitutionally protected activities and works to ensure public safety as New Yorkers exercise their First Amendment rights. Over the last five years, the NYPD has focused on precision policing. Our anti-violence strategies coupled with our neighborhood policing philosophy have allowed our officers to build stronger relationship the with the community and drive crime down to historic lows while successfully bringing the most violent offenders to justice."

PAUL: At least 10 people are sick, and one has died from eating tainted ground beef. The CDC says salmonella has spread across six states at this point. Here's the thing, officials haven't been able to pinpoint who is supplying that meat.

BLACKWELL: The person who died was from California. But cases have also been reported in Colorado and Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa. One of the nine -- rather of the nine who were sickened, eight were hospitalized. We know that the CDC is still investigating.

Police in Florida are looking at a couple's Amazon Echo. They're searching for evidence of a bizarre murder. Sylvia Galva Crespo, she died back in July. Her husband Adam Crespo says the couple was fighting, and he grabbed her by the foot. Then she became impaled by the bed post spear. Crespo was charged with second-degree murder, but he maintains the whole thing was an accident.

PAUL: A friend was apparently there at the time and tried to help by calling 911.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to start CPR right now. I'm not sure what happened or what she got hit with, but I know that there's blood on the floor. She is 100 percent unconscious.


PAUL: Police just got a warrant to look at that Amazon Echo which may have recorded the whole thing. Amazon says it doesn't record conversations or send audio to its cloud until the device hears the wake word, such as "Alexa" or "Echo."

BLACKWELL: She's a televangelist, a prosperity preacher, and now the White House's newest aide. The role President Trump's personal pastor, Paula White, will play as she reportedly joins his administration.

PAUL: First, in this week's Mission Ahead, a bacteria that can help cars run in a more eco-friendly way.


RACHEL CRANE, CNN BUSINESS INNOVATION CORRESPONDENT: The word's industrial sector, places like steel mills, refineries, and chemical plants, contributes over 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Where most people just see pollution, a company called LanzaTech sees opportunity.

JENNIFER HOLMGREN, CEO, LANZATECH: There are a lot of gases in industrial locations. Instead of becoming pollution, they can make a product. I always like to say that what we're trying to do is recycle carbon.

CRANE: Can you explain to me how that works?

HOLMGREN: Instead of letting carbon emissions come out of a steel mill, we capture them. We put them in our bioreactor and ferment, just like making beer, to make ethanol.

CRANE: The key to it all, gas-eating bacteria developed specifically for fermentation. Here in these reactors, LanzaTech says the bacteria act as yeast. But instead of feeding on sugar or corn, they feed on greenhouse gases and produce ethanol.

HOLMGREN: It's a naturally occurring organism. What we've done is we've directed revolution so that we've optimized it.

CRANE: Last year LanzaTech installed its first system at a steel mill in China. The company says it's recycled enough carbon to make 9 million gallons of ethanol, which can be combined with jet fuel to power commercial planes.

HOLMGREN: Last year we powered a flight from Orlando to Gatwick, a Virgin Atlantic plane, to show that you can do it.

CRANE: Now LanzaTech is expanding into industries beyond steel mills and developing new strains of bacteria that can produce ingredients for things like nylon, rubber, and plastic.

HOLMGREN: I would like to be able to in the next three years say we have in place the equivalent carbon reduction of taking a billion cars off the road every year. That's what I want to be able to say.





TRUMP: It's a combination of steel, concrete, and as one of the folks just said, it really is virtually impenetrable.


BLACKWELL: That was President Trump touring a section of his border barrier in September. But "The Washington Post" is reporting that gangs and drugs are getting through. Here's the headline this morning. "Smugglers are sawing through new sections of Trump's border wall." Back with me now to discuss, Tharon Johnson, former south regional director for Obama 2012, Republican strategist Brian Robinson.

Brian, let me start with you. This barrier that the president fought so hard for and shut down the government to extend is penetrable. Let me read the first sentence from the "Post" reporting, "Smuggling gangs in Mexico have repeatedly sawed through new sections of President Trump's border wall in recent months by using commercially available power tools, opening gaps large enough for people and drug loads to pass through, according to U.S. agents and officials with knowledge of the damage." The barrier not living up to the promise.

BRIAN ROBINSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, Victor, the problem for the Democrats to make on this issue is that they have been telling us that we don't need any sort of barrier. We just need to have an open border. We're going to decriminalize border crossings under the next Democratic president.


So, are we now admitting that there is a problem with people bringing guns and humans and guns and all sorts of other illegal products over the border? Now is that a problem?

BLACKWELL: So, Democrats weren't calling for open borders.

ROBINSON: Of course, they are. They are.

BLACKWELL: That's incorrect. What the president said would work would be to build first this big concrete wall, but then this border barrier, the billions of dollars that he wants to invest here obviously are not working. So, should that be something that Republicans should continue to support? It's a $100 saw, according to "The Washington Post" that gets them through.

ROBINSON: And that story goes on to say that there are electronic monitors that aren't yet on all parts of that wall. That's coming. That will give authorities some idea of where a saw is going through. And because of how they have designed this, there's going to be very easily repairable. And look, it's a problem that people are getting through. We want to stop them. But here's the message to Americans. Republicans are trying to stop them, and Democrats aren't.

BLACKWELL: Is this a potent argument for Democrats?

JOHNSON: Listen, the problem is this whole wall gimmick that the president used during his campaign to fire up his crowds was never, ever a viable solution towards national security, immigration reform. And so, what he's basically doing is wasting taxpayers' money to build this wall that he said in your clip that basically no one could penetrate, no one could break through it.

And so I think the thing about open borders, you're exactly right. That's spin. No democrat, no American wants to open our borders. What we do wanting is a president that is going to put forth a viable solution and not use campaign gimmicks like building a wall, which, by the way, Mexico was supposed to pay for, and really get on the issue of really these gangs and these people who are coming into America to bring violence, to bring bad things to our country.

BLACKWELL: Do Democrats have something better? Because the last fight we saw was not a wall. What better do the Democrats offer?

JOHNSON: It's really simple. One, we want a full, comprehensive immigration reform bill that basically focuses on enforcement, making sure that we have got the proper people there to not have to build a wall. Number two, we want to make sure that these folks are identified when they come in to basically be arrested if they're coming over to harm Americans and they're gangs. And then not punish the folks who want to come to America for a better life. And I think that is the viable solution. But no one has ever supported this wall because it never, ever was a manageable solution.

BLACKWELL: Brian, let me come to you. The president quite casually confirmed the next acting Department of Homeland Security secretary head, Chad Wolf. This will be his fifth in about three years, a little under three years, replacing his current acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan. Reports are that he wants to elevate either his acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services or the acting head of Customs and Border Protection. Is it effective to have this many people in flux? Why not just nominate and confirm people? The Senate has been doing a hell of a job with judicial picks.

ROBINSON: Yes, President Trump said earlier this summer that he's fine with acting. He likes acting. Maybe it's a way of getting around some of the Senate confirmation process, because some of those that you mentioned as possibilities, some Republican senators have said I'd be a no on that. So, some of the ones that Trump would want won't get through.

BLACKWELL: Is it good government? Is it good for the department?

ROBINSON: What's going to matter on that, Victor, is if something bad happens, what is the response by Homeland Security? That's what is going to capture the public's attention. If that doesn't happen, no one is going to care. But the day we have an attack, or we fail to respond in the proper way, that's when it's going to be an issue.

BLACKWELL: Let me come to the other side of that, does it matter. The former DHS Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, said that she realized that saying no wasn't enough. That's why she left. McAleenan said that he realized he didn't have control of his department. Does it matter who is at the head of this if the president is going to continue to make the requests and people are going to just execute?

JOHNSON: It absolutely matters. You want someone there that knows that they have the job security to basically make the decisions that are going to affect the American people. When someone is acting, someone is interim, it is clearly shown that this president clearly has intimidated folks, as you just talked about. But we want someone that's actually going to be permanently there, that wakes up every morning knowing they have a job that's going to keep Americans safe.

But the one thing I want to point out is that this president has had a history, Victor, of not being able to make the right decisions. His vetting process has been terrible. And Brian just said exactly what I think he's doing. He's using this acting title to prevent these people from going to the Senate and being approved because they know they won't be approved.

BLACKWELL: We don't have much time left, but I want to get to this because we teased this. "New York Times" reporting that prosperity preacher Paula White is joining the administration as an advisor to the president on faith and opportunity initiatives. She's a controversial choice. I want you to get just a little taste of what she asked her supporters to do. This was January of 2018. Let's watch.


PASTOR PAULA WHITE-CAIN, NEW DESTINY CHRISTIAN CENTER: God has a way of doing things. You see, God himself all throughout his word said, hey, all firsts belong to me. The first root is the whole of.

[10:50:01] Many of us bring one day, some of us bring one week, some of us bring an entire month's salary because we understand the principle of all firsts belong to God. When you present your first fruits offering of any size, I want to get to you my book.


BLACKWELL: Send me your first day, your first week, your first month's salary, and I'll send you a copy of my book. She also suggested opposing Trump is fighting against the hand of God. What role should she have in public policy?

ROBINSON: This is going to be one of those where she's going to be an advisor to the president. She's going to be one of many evangelical voices that are in his ear. I think the prosperity gospel, though I'm a mainline protestant and don't see it as having much Biblical basis, it is something that many evangelical Christians believe in. And it is on brand for Trump because he believes in the prosperity gospel.

BLACKWELL: Well, she's moving from just an advisor and personal pastor to having a title in this administration. Brian Robinson, Tharon Johnson, thank you both. We'll be back.


PAUL: When he was 20 years old Richard Miles was wrongfully convicted and locked up in a Texas prison for 15 years. After a full exoneration, and starting his life, Richard is helping other people transform theirs. Meet one of our top 10 heroes for 2019.



RICHARD MILES, CNN HERO: My mom would always tell me when you look out the window, don't look at the bars, look at the sky. I could change my perception within the place of incarceration.

At the end of the day, be confident in your change.

The idea really started from inside. People get out and they'd come right back in. I said if I ever get out, man, we're going to start a program and we're going to help people.

Acknowledgement, transparency, and forgiveness, these are the three essential things we need when we're coming back home.


PAUL: Richard's program Miles of Freedom has helped approximately 1,000 people restart their lives. Thank you to him.

Go to to vote for your favorite CNN Hero of the Year. We want to hear from you. It matters.

And thank you so much for spending part of your morning with us. We appreciate it and hope you make good memories today.

BLACKWELL: There is much more ahead in the next hour of CNN's Newsroom. Fredricka Whitfield is up next.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It's 11:00 on the east coast. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We are just about three months away from the first in the nation caucus, but this weekend in Iowa, it's do or die in the 2020 race. All of the remaining Democratic candidates are crisscrossing the state, hoping to swing voters and catapult their campaigns to the forefront. But the field is also shrinking.