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Vice President's Office to Okay Public Health Press Appearances; Twenty-Eight Native American Women Missing or Killed in Montana; South Carolina Primary Tomorrow. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 28, 2020 - 10:30   ET


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: -- is that people like him and other public health officials have to get sign-off from the vice president's office before they can go on TV. So the process is going through their office.

Like you said, you can understand that there is a coordination, you know, measure that is, you know, understandable. But when you're talking about a potential public -- a real public health crisis, and you want to get as many people out there, informing the public, as you can, it leaves a question, why do that in this situation?


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Cillizza, one thing that I think is important -- because there have been a lot of numbers out there, and we've reported some of them that are factual in terms of this White House, requesting in their yearly budgets, budget cuts for NIH or CDC, et cetera.

But what is also true and just as important, is that a number of those -- most of those haven't actually happened, right?


TEXT: Trump Administration Cuts to Health Programs; 2021 Budget Request: $25 million reduction to the CDC budget; $18 million cut to Dept. of Health and Human Services hospital preparedness program. 2020 Budget Proposal: Called for an approx. 13 percent cut to National Institutes of Health. 2018 Proposal: Nearly 40 percent cut to number of commissioned corps officers of U.S. Public Health Service

HARLOW: They haven't actually been approved by Congress. So I just want people to understand actually what we're looking at in terms of any reduced aid or not reduced aid?

CILLIZZA: Yes, and I think it's important, Poppy, too because ultimately, this shouldn't be a partisan --

HARLOW: Right.

CILLIZZA: -- political issue. I mean, we're all kind of on the same side, that we want to protect ourselves and the people we love and the country from this. I think the worry is, you know, I went through Donald Trump's transcript of the press conference he gave Wednesday night, going through the coronavirus and what was happening with the people in the United States, and what's happening around the country.

And the thing that you're left with there, is that Donald Trump is essentially patting himself on the back over and over again for having handled it so well, number one. And number two, really minimizing a couple things, number one which is the possible spread of it, which experts, including those at the CDC, have said is real. And, two, continuing to emphasize the soon arrival of a vaccine that, again, experts including Dr. Fauci have said is, you know, at best 12 to 18 months away.

So I think facts are really important here --


CILLIZZA: -- because that's what helps us know what's facing us, why we shouldn't panic, right? A lot of the facts here, I think, help people feel more calm. But when you have a president who is talking in ways that are divorced from the facts at times, I think that's when we get in trouble.


BASH: And there's also --

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, if there's a time you need facts, it's when it impacts the health of you and your children --


BASH: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: -- that's all you want to hear.

Dana, so sorry, didn't want to -- didn't want to interrupt you there.

BASH: No, you're good. I mean, I was just going to say, there's also the politics of perception, which is something that the president is obviously keenly aware of, given everything that Chris just talked about.

But then he puts his vice president in charge of this, and the vice president is going to a previously scheduled fundraiser in Florida. Now, the vice president's office insists that he can do both, that he is also going to be leading a task force this afternoon, he is also going to be heavily involved and that there is a balance between being in charge of this crisis and not making it look like there should be extra panic.

But we all remember what has happened in recent history with presidents and politicians who have kind of gone about their business, and it's come back to bite them. And, again, it's not necessarily saying he's not doing his job, it's the perception of it, which matters a lot in these cases --


BASH: -- particularly since he was just appointed.

HARLOW: Do you --

SCIUTTO: Well (ph) --

HARLOW: -- oh, sorry, go ahead, Jim.

SCIUTTO: No, I was just going to say, the president welcomed actors who were doing a dramatic reading of the Strzok-Page texts to the White House yesterday. Anyway, in the midst of this. But, Poppy --


SCIUTTO: -- to your point --

HARLOW: That's true. I mean, I didn't even realize that. Just, Cillizza, before we go, the vice president, as Dana said, is in charge. And he did go on "Sean Hannity" last night and at least there was a question about his handling of the health crisis, HIV health crisis just a few years ago in Indiana when he was governor. But was his answer there sufficient to assure people that he is the best person to lead in a public health crisis?

CILLIZZA: Well, I mean, I think -- the short answer is probably no. I think the best way anyone can prove they're the best person to do this is to show and prove it, right? To push out facts, to get away from partisanship, to not worry too much about what this means for Donald Trump's political future.

I do think it is a little odd, Donald Trump introduced Mike Pence as the head of this and said he's an expert, he's an expert in this field. No. You can many things about Mike Pence, but Mike Pence is not an expert in the field of infectious disease, he's just not. Neither am I.

That doesn't mean he can't do a good job. But, again --

HARLOW: Right.

CILLIZZA: -- facts, facts, facts, right?


CILLIZZA: The more we know, the more we can -- most importantly, I think, deal with this on a factual not panic-based level, and that's really, really important.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, one thing the president has set up, that the stock market is a measure of his performance throughout his administration. And in terms of handling, to the extent that that is a barometer of the way millions of investors see it, it's not a positive one at this point. [10:35:02]


SCIUTTO: Chris Cillizza, Dana Bash, thanks to both of you.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, guys.

SCIUTTO: Questions are growing in the state of Montana after more than two dozen -- I mean, the numbers are just remarkable here -- two dozen Native American women have died or disappeared over the past two years. Their families, of course, understandably now demanding action.


SCIUTTO: Just a disturbing story, really a sad story from Montana. Several Native American families, frustrated, frightened, just searching for answers. More than two dozen young women and girls are missing or have been found dead in rural Montana over the last two years.


HARLOW: Well, now, three task forces may finally be able to give those families some much-overdue answers. Our Sara Sidner reports.


SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Paula Castro Stops just found the exact spot where her daughter's body was discovered on this Cheyenne reservation.

PAULA CASTRO STOPS, MOTHER OF HENNY SCOTT: And I remember seeing that in the picture.

SIDNOR (voice-over): All the sorrow, and questions flood her mind. Why did her daughter walk away from a remote house party in the dead of winter wearing no jacket? Why did it take so long to find her body, which was discovered just a couple hundred meters from that same home?

SIDNER: You do not believe this was sheer accident?

CASTRO STOPS: No, I don't.

SIDNER (voice-over): When she reported her daughter missing, there was no Amber Alert and no immediate official search. In the end, it was community members, not reservation police or FBI, who found Henny Scott, weeks later. The medical examiner determined she had died of exposure, aided by alcohol found in her body.

CASTRO STOPS: She was only 14. Because she was that young and they didn't make it a priority.

SIDNER (voice-over): Eight months later, another teenager from the same reservation disappeared, 18-year-old Kaysera Stops Pretty Places went missing in August 2019. Her family says the Big Horn County Sheriff's Office made things worse, not better.

SIDNER: How hard was it to get them to act?

YOLANDA FRASER, GRANDMOTHER OF KAYSERA STOPS PRETTY PLACES: They really didn't act on it. They said she's probably just out with her friends or --

SIDNER (voice-over): Kaysera had gone missing more than a half dozen times before, trying to cope with a broken family and a difficult life on the reservation.

As her grandmother and legal guardian, Yolanda Fraser wants answers.

SIDNER: What disturbs you about the investigation into Kaysera's case?

FRASER: Really, lack of investigation.

SIDNER: (voice-over): The sheriff's office did not return multiple e- mails and calls for comment.

Unbeknownst to the family, her body was found just days later. Still, six months on, Kaysera's cause of death is listed as undetermined but suspicious.

Kaysera was one of 28 indigenous women or girls to go missing or be murdered in Big Horn County in recent years.

ANNITA LUCCHESI, RESEARCHER: Montana has the highest number of MMIW cases by state nationally, based on our data.

SIDNER (voice-over): Researcher Annita Lucchesi says the best numbers she has show a terrible trend. The government doesn't even have a proper count of all of their cases.

LUCCHESI: There's a lot of coverage of this issue that describes it as a mystery. Like, we don't know what's happening, we don't know what's going on. As if Native women are kind of like a rabbit in a magic act, like we just mysteriously disappear. And that's not real.

SIDNER (voice-over): Native Americans make up 6.7 percent of Montana's population. But according to state data, between 2016 and 2018, they accounted for more than a quarter of the missing person reports.

Montana's U.S. attorney, Kurt Alme, was the only government official involved in some of these cases who spoke with us on the record.

KURT ALME, MONTANA U.S. ATTORNEY: There is a serious problem with missing Native Americans, particularly Native American women.

SIDNER (voice-over): Now, the families working together with activists may be having an impact. Three task forces are now being set up: a county, state, and the latest, a federal task force, ordered by President Trump. ALME: I think one of the real positive things being done by the White

House task force is going to be to try to provide some standardization, like the rapid deployment teams that can be brought anywhere, quickly.

SIDNER (voice-over): Six months after Kaysera Stops Pretty Places was found dead, a 16-year-old Native American girl was reported missing. A van she was riding in left her behind after breaking down.

SIDNER: Authorities say Selena Not Afraid was last seen alive here at this rest stop on January 1st. It took nearly three weeks to find her body, which was three-quarters of a mile to a mile away from here. And in a place like this, authorities say one of their biggest issues in trying to find missing indigenous people is the sheer vastness of the place, and the limited manpower.

SIDNER (voice-over): But in Selena's case, the initial response was totally different.

CHERYL HORN, AUNT OF SELENA NOT AFRAID: BLM flew their big high- powered drone over here, we had a helicopter fly over, we had people walking. This is all day one.

SIDNER (voice-over): The coroner determined Selena died of hypothermia. And sheriff's officials intimated the case was over. But then the county attorney sent out a scathing rebuke, saying the investigation was open and active. Selena's family found themselves, like the others, mired in confusion created by officials.


In all these cases, the families have taken to the streets to express their frustration with local authorities. Horn says she's hoping President Trump's task force will finally simplify all that.

HORN: I would say you're on the right track, sir. You're on the right track.

SIDNER (voice-over): Sara Sidner, CNN, Big Horn County, Montana.


HARLOW: Wow, what a piece. Our thanks to Sara for that.

Vice President Joe Biden, big day for him and all the 2020 Democratic candidates tomorrow. He is hoping South Carolina will help him regain momentum. Would a win there be enough, though, to boost his campaign to where it needs to be?



HARLOW: Less than 24 hours away from polls opening in the all- important South Carolina primary, Democrats making their final push, hoping to -- well, his competitors, hoping to stop Bernie Sanders from running away with this thing, but we'll see what happens. He's been gaining ground in that state.

Joining me now, Trav Robertson, the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. He also directed President Obama's 2008 campaign in the state in the general election. Good to have you here.

TRAV ROBERTSON, CHAIRMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: It's a pleasure to be with you this morning.

HARLOW: So turnout is a big, big question because it was so high in 2008 in the primary, and then about half of that in 2016. Give us a sense of what you are predicting for tomorrow.

ROBERTSON: Well, right now, we've already superseded or gone over the number of absentees or in-person absentee balloting. My guess is, we'll hit between 70 and 75,000 absentee ballots that will be cast, it's about 20,000, 25,000 more than 2016.

My guess is, is that we will see turnout -- and this is going to be a very broad range -- in between 289, 300,000 and 450,000. It was 161,000-vote drop-off from 2008 to 2016, but there is a lot of activity on the ground today in South Carolina.

HARLOW: All right, let me ask you something -- about something you said with -- about Joe Biden. Just, you know, less than two weeks ago, you were quoted in "The Wall Street Journal" as saying, quote, "Joe Biden has some work to do in order to close the deal and win South Carolina." Did he do that work?

ROBERTSON: Right. Well, I think that Tom Steyer's campaign and Bernie Sanders' campaign, along with some ground that Buttigieg is making in South Carolina, that they have forced Joe Biden to come in. And there's no question that Congressman Clyburn's endorsement, considering that he has almost 18 or part of 18 of the 46 counties in his congressional district, has helped.

But there's no question that you can feel a palpable momentum shift towards his campaign over the last several days. And that he and Bernie Sanders are duking it out, and then you've got Tom Steyer coming up the middle there.

HARLOW: OK. The momentum toward Biden's --

ROBERTSON: So I think the answer is his --

HARLOW: -- campaign -- OK.

ROBERTSON: Yes, yes.


ROBERTSON: I think that there has been a definite shift of momentum towards the former vice president in South Carolina.

HARLOW: Help me understand why it looks like, from the polling and the reporting on the ground there, that Bernie Sanders is going to have such a better day tomorrow in the primary, especially among African-American voters, especially younger ones, than he did in 2016 when I think he lost to Clinton there by more than 40 points?

ROBERTSON: Right. Well, I think that Bernie Sanders and his campaign have learned from their loss here in 2016, and they decided, instead of just going to get large groups of people to come to his events, that they've started going to smaller venues and into communities of color.

You know, Senator Nina Turner, Representative Ivory Thigpen, Krystle Matthews and Representative Gilliard and Terry Alexander have really put together a cohesive team, and they have actually been working in communities of color instead of expecting communities of color to come to them. And he really adapted his campaign and changed and learned from his loss, and I think that's made a significant difference here in the state.

HARLOW: You cannot overstate how crucial African-American voters are for tomorrow.


HARLOW: I mean in 2008, you had 55 percent of the turnout, African- American. Last time around, 2016, I believe it was 61 percent. Mayor Buttigieg has been struggling to get any market support from the African-American community. What do you think a win for Mayor Buttigieg would be tomorrow in terms of the percentage of African- American voters that he can walk away with?

ROBERTSON: I don't know that I can specifically state as to what the percentage is going to be. However, I do think that you're going to see a larger number of white voters, as Peter Hamby indicated in his "Variety" piece, and Lovegrove indicated previously. But I think that you're going to see a significant number of white participants in this primary, as well as people of color.

And I don't know, I think that there is a clear divide. The African- American community is no longer a monolithic voting bloc --

HARLOW: But it never was.

ROBERTSON: -- Biden has a strong support -- well, that exactly -- well, a lot of people think it was. And you're exactly right, and they treat the African-American community as a monolithic voting bloc, which is insulting.

But you're seeing a clear divide with older African-American voters supporting the former vice president, and younger African-American voters, like Congressman Clyburn's grandson, who's working for Pete Buttigieg --



ROBERTSON: -- and Biden and Tom Steyer.

So there's a clear divide here, and it's going to be an interesting day tomorrow, I think.

HARLOW: Very quick answer on Tom Steyer, his money there and being there has paid off in the polling. But there are some serious questions about investments he's made, specifically as a hedge fund manager in terms of the private prison system. And why he made that investment at the time.

And I wonder if you are -- you have the sense that that is going to weigh on him, tomorrow, when it comes to African-American voters?

ROBERTSON: No, I don't think so. I think it's an understatement about the work he's doing with communities of color in South Carolina and the banking industry.

HARLOW: Understood. Trav Robertson, good luck tomorrow. See you soon. Thank you.

ROBERTSON: Thank you.

HARLOW: Thanks for joining us today. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right after the break.