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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Donald Trump's Dangerous Rhetoric During His Campaign; Trump Defends Former Racist Influencer; Record Low Approval Rating For Biden; Gov. Greg Abbott Signs Bill Making Illegal Immigration A State Crime; Pope Francis Approves Blessings For Same-Sex Couples; Lawsuit Seeking Housing For Homeless LA Veterans Moves Forward. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired December 18, 2023 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: By former president and current Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump whose thoughts on immigrants were made shockingly crystal clear over the weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: They're poisoning the blood of our country. That's what they've done. They poisoned mental institutions and prisons all over the world. Not just in South America, not just the three or four countries that we think about, but all over the world they're coming into our country from Africa, from Asia, all over the world. They're pouring into our country. Nobody's even looking at them. They just come in. The crime is going to be tremendous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: South America, Africa, Asia. No mention of Europe in Mr. Trump's list. And he uses the term poisoning the blood of our country. Poisoning the blood of our country. If you were to open up a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf, you would find the Nazi leader describing the mixing of non-Germans with Germans as poisoning. The Jew, Hitler wrote, quote, "poisons the blood of others."
This, according to Hitler, posed an existential threat to Germany because, quote, "all great cultures of the past perished only because the originally creative race died out from blood poisoning," unquote. There's really no other way to say it. Donald Trump's language mirrors this directly. And this wasn't a one-off.
Trump then went to Nevada on Sunday and used the same scare tactic with zero evidence that migrants are largely coming to the United States from prisons and from mental institutions. He made the campaign promise to begin the largest deportation of undocumented immigrants in American history.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We must use any and all resources needed to stop the invasion of our country, including moving thousands of troops currently stationed overseas in countries that don't like us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Strengthening the border is one thing. This is entirely another. Mr. Trump said he would remove migrants from the country by invoking part of the Alien and Sedition Acts. That's a set of quite constitutionally questionable laws from 1798 passed under the John Adams administration, three of the four acts expired when Thomas Jefferson became president except for a modified version of one, the Alien Enemies Act which authorizes the president to detain, relocate or deport non-citizens in times of war.
And yes, this has been used and abused in modern times including during World War II. The public reactions to Trump's latest words on immigration have, not surprisingly, been mostly muted, aside from former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who told me that those words were, quote, "disgusting." Sitting Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who used to be quite active in trying to push immigration reform, he doesn't seem overly concerned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): We're talking about language. I could care less what language people use as long as we get it right. I believe in legal immigration. I have no animosity toward people trying to come to our country. I have animosity against terrorists and against drug dealers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Graham is dismissing words from Donald Trump as inconsequential. And you know, maybe they are to you, maybe they are to me, but we have seen Mr. Trump's words become calls to action on January 6, 2021, of course. But don't forget the climate of the 2018 midterm elections. The Donald Trump Fox warnings about this caravan of migrants, terrifying migrants, funded by George Soros, they said.
It was rhetoric. Mere words, but it dovetailed nicely with a very racist, great replacement theory that Jews are funding migrants to come to the United States to replace the white people of the United States. It's a sick, twisted conspiracy theory. But they're just words, right? A conspiracy theory, just words. But they become, to some sick minds, calls to action and right in the middle of that campaign.
October 27th, 2018. the Tree of Life synagogue massacre. Eleven Jews killed. The deadliest, deadliest attack on Jewish Americans in the United States history. But even that shooting did not stop Trump from continuing to fuel these deranged rumors. Just days later, he suggested that wealthy financier George Soros, who is Jewish, may have been actually paying for the migrant caravan. No record of this. No proof of this. But he said it anyway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I wouldn't be surprised. I wouldn't be surprised. I wouldn't.
UNKNOWN: George Soros.
TRUMP: I don't know who, but I wouldn't be surprised. A lot of people say yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: A lot of people say yes. Rhetoric inspired bloodshed meanwhile continued. So that was 2018. Flash forward, August 3rd, 2019. The El Paso Walmart shooting, 23 people killed. And this sick white replacement theory continues. May 14th, 2022, the supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York, 10 killed. All of those murders were inspired by these mere words.
As my friend and colleague Van Jones points out, presidents have a way of calling the American people to act. John F. Kennedy called us to serve. Ask not what your country can do for you. Called us to serve. He formed the Peace Corps. Ronald Reagan ushered in an era of national pride and patriotism. What exactly is Donald Trump calling us to do?
Amidst all of this comes a MAGA-caused celeb that is stunning but also fits in nicely with all this. Donald Trump and his son Don Jr. have recently come to the defense of this guy. For those of you on Twitter some time ago, you might recall an account called Ricky Vaughn. It offered anti-Semitic, racist, anti-Muslim, misogynistic filth every day.
Now, Ricky Vaughn was unmasked in 2018. His vile posts ended after that. His real name is Doug Mackey. He has since been convicted of election interference for putting out false voting information. Andrew Kaczynski is here. He's a senior editor and founding member of K-File, a CNN investigative team. Andrew, why is Donald Trump defending this guy?
ANDREW KACZYNSKI, CNN KFILE SENIOR EDITOR: Well, that's right. So, Mackey was convicted in March of intervening in the 2016 election. Now he posted this meme here that prosecutors say was meant to trick voters into thinking that they could vote for Hillary Clinton by text, which they say 4,900 people actually did. Now, Mackey and the Trumps, they claim this was just satire. It was a joke that no reasonable person could fall for. But prosecutors allege this was part of a much more sinister plot to deprive people of their right to vote.
Flash forward to today. Mackey was sentenced in October, now he's out waiting an appeal, and Donald Trump is using him as an example of what he says is Joe Biden's Justice Department going after his own supporters. Take a listen to this clip of him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Crooked Joe and his henchmen have tried to shut down free speech with a massive government censorship operation to silence their critics. They're putting Douglass Mackey in jail for sharing a joking meme about Hillary Clinton seven years ago. Nobody ever heard of anything like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KACZYNSKI: So, what's interesting about this too, Jake, is that he was investigated by Trump's own Department of Justice. He was charged just one week into Biden's new administration.
TAPPER: And Andrew, there's obviously more to it than just this text- to-vote scheme, right? I mean, Donald Trump and his son are choosing to rally behind a horrible guy, notorious for posting, you know, blatantly anti-Semitic, blatantly racist, blatantly anti-immigrant, blatantly sexist memes over and over. They're -- it's, I mean, they're choosing who they are supporting.
They could get behind any perceived injustice out there in the United States. There's no shortage of them. They're choosing to get behind this guy.
KACZYNSKI: Well, that's right, and they've sort of portrayed him somewhat sympathetically as just a regular Trump supporter. But as you said, if people who were on Twitter in 2016, remember the Ricky Vaughn pseudonym account, it shared some of the most vile, racist, and anti- Semitic content that we've ever seen. We can't even really show any of it on air because it's so offensive.
He regularly used the N-word, where he referred to black people as feral. He shared anti-Semitic propaganda that was reminiscent of Nazi Germany, racist cartoons. In this one post right here, take a look at it, he says that the Jews fear that Donald Trump is Hitler because they know that they have done great evil in America. They fear justice will be done.
There was a post where he joked about making a cake that talked about gassing the Jews using a slur for Jews, which with a symbol for hail Hitler. And it's not like this stuff was, you know, just sort of here or there. This was essentially on his feed. This is why he was popular on Twitter.
And now that you've looked at that, take a listen to what Donald Trump Jr. said about him when he hosted him -- so, well, Donald Trump Jr. had him on his podcast and he praised this guy. Essentially, he said it was maybe his favorite Twitter account of all time.
TAPPER: So, I mean, we should also note this isn't just like some fringe guy, as you know. Like, this was, I mean, there were studies during that period of 2016 of the biggest influencers on Twitter, and he was one. I mean, his account was more influential. I think I remember seeing more influential than some big people like Bill Maher.
I mean, his stuff was seen. It was filthy, disgusting, racist, white supremacist propaganda. So now he's been sentenced because he committed a crime and was found guilty. And what does Mackey have to say about this all? KACZYNSKI: So, we did reach out to his attorney. We asked about all of
this. They gave us a statement where they said that he regrets the tone and substance of these posts. They do not reflect his current views or the person that he's been the last several years, but they also add that he's grateful that former President Trump, his son, and thousands across the political spectrum can see through these smears and distractions and recognize that his case is about protecting the First Amendment rights of all Americans.
KACZYNSKI: All right, Andrew Kaczynski, thanks so much. Let's bring in CNN's senior national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and the woman who taught me the word stochastic in terms of stochastic terrorism. The idea, well, first of all, why don't you just explain it?
Explain what stochastic terrorism is in the context of Donald Trump continuing to spew, not just, I want stronger borders rhetoric, not just, you know, we need to take control of who comes into this country, reasonable conservative positions, but calling immigrants from Africa, Asia, and South America poison in the bloodstream of the United States. What does that potentially do for unbalanced people out there?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL ANALYST: So stochastic terrorism is just a technique that Trump has perfected in many ways, and we talked about it over the years, and it's a way of using language that is clearly meant to incite some percentage of the people listening for a violent purpose or for as noxious purposes as the case may be, but it's not directed. I mean, in other words, Trump is good at sort of creating this atmosphere so that he can say, I didn't mean for people to go into the synagogue and kill or to go into the in Buffalo and kill a bunch of African-Americans. I didn't mean it. I never said to do that.
But the language itself is creating an environment where he knows that his listeners are -- some of his listeners, I should be clear here, will get incited (ph) from it, but let's just be clear. That's why he's doing it. I mean we can no longer say that Trump is doing this as a means to an end. This is the end. This is why he's doing it. There's no, you know, this Lindsey Graham, it's just words, but we like the immigration policy. No, it's the end. I mean when he says things like the noxiousness and the poisoning of the blood that's not to simply just win an election. That is in fact what his theory is.
And I just want to make clear to viewers who might support Trump's draconian immigration policies. I come from the world of Homeland Security. The data is in, even with the most draconian, most noxious, most disgusting immigration enforcement efforts that we saw in the Trump administration, the Muslim ban, the separation of children from their parents. Immigration illegal -- illegal immigration increased by 14 percent over his four years.
And so even the -- so he's not doing it to be tough on immigration. He's doing it as an end to create the kind of incitement that we are bound to see in this election period, and if he wins, we'll be unleashed during his presidency.
TAPPER: Right. And his support and his son's support of Doug Mackey, as if they're just like, he's just like a harmless guy posting memes and not like a notorious anti-Semitic racist --
TAPPER: -- is part of this. And today, "The Atlantic," you write that a second Trump term would validate the ideologies of far-right extremists, saying, quote, "a president with firm control of the Justice Department, who wields a core of supporters willing to use intimidation and political ends, and who has maintained a considerable following among police, could overwhelm the ability of state institutions to uphold the law." How -- I mean, this is theoretical, obviously, but what are some examples of how you envision he might do this?
KAYYEM: So, one thing is that simply you wouldn't bring federal law enforcement challenges against the very people who are organizing in the way that we saw them organize January 6.
So, January 6, you have sort of the benefit of a new presidency in which the legal apparatus is then allowed to be independent of any politics and then prosecute cases as they see fit. And people either like it or they don't like it, but it is not -- it is at least alive and active.
What you will see in a Trump second presidency, and I can say this because he's telling us, I mean, it's not like I'm guessing here, he's telling us is that these kinds of people are victims, the racist, the anti-Semites, others, that you don't use the federal law enforcement apparatus.
And look, he's gonna have support amongst state governors, prosecutors, and certainly sheriffs. So, this is what we should anticipate because he's telling us to anticipate it.
TAPPER: All right, Juliette Kayyem, thank you so much. For weeks now, poll after poll has shown pathetic polling numbers for President Biden and now new reporting on just how much those polls might be actually getting to him and have him worried about a possible 2024 loss to Donald Trump. Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our "2024 Lead," President Biden's job approval rating is at an all-time low.
A brand-new Monmouth University poll out today shows Joe Biden's approval rating at 34 percent. That's a four-point drop just from September when he was at 38 percent. The same poll also shows that a majority of Americans disagree with Biden's handling of five key policy areas. Infrastructure, jobs, climate change, inflation and immigration. CNN political analyst Jonah Goldberg is with me along with Democratic strategist Alencia Johnson.
And Jonah, I guess here's the question I have. Would these numbers be as bad with a different Democratic president? In other words, empirically the economy is improving. I don't know what people are complaining about with climate change, like he's done more than any other president, unless you want the world to end, like he's done more than any other president has done.
If Gretchen Whitmer were the president right now, if Pete Buttigieg, if Gavin Newsom, if someone else were there and able to more aggressively get out there, sell it, et cetera, do you think it's possible the numbers would be better?
JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's almost guaranteed the numbers would be better. Fair or not, you look at Biden's approval across all these sorts of issues and also Israel and other things, people just in a grumpy mood, they're dissatisfied with things, and they associate the president as being responsible for it, as a symbol for it.
It's very reminiscent to me of George H.W. Bush in 1992. The economy was getting better, but there was just this general grumpiness. Bush seemed out of touch. Bush seemed like he didn't know how to communicate with people. And whether it's fair or not to Biden, people are projecting a lot of that stuff on Biden and they just feel like he's not up to the job and they want someone different and they somehow have this monarchical notion that the president is somehow connected to the animal spirits of the economy and the society and if he had more energy and he was more compelling, I think he'd be in much better shape.
TAPPER: Well, see, I mean, there are a lot of Democrats who agree with Jonah, as you know. I'm not saying you do, but I'm sure you hear from them. And one of the points is, the irony is, in 2020 the argument was, Joe Biden is the only one that could beat Trump because he's the only one that can unite the party, all the different groups, the moderates, African-Americans, Latinos, young people, et cetera, et cetera. And that argument proved correct. It might be the opposite argument now. He's really having a trouble, trouble holding onto all these groups.
ALENCIA JOHNSON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, BIDEN CAMPAIGN: Yeah. You know, look, I think to the point that you were making, Jonah, that people are feeling frustrated there, feeling whether it's the economy, whether it's what's happening, foreign affairs, whatever it may be. But Joe Biden has done a lot of work with his coalitions. I think these polls are indicators of what people are feeling right now. We are just seeing that the Biden campaign re-election is ramping up and going state to state, voter to voter and having those engagements so the conversation might shift in a few months.
But I get the frustration that some people have because scale back a little bit, yes, I support President Biden, his reelection, but Democrats, our base typically wants something young and fresh at times. And the disconnect here is that President Biden is the one that beat Donald Trump.
JOHNSON: He does have -- he is at the top of the ticket of an agenda that is galvanizing folks, and not only galvanizing folks, but it's actually working. The economy is working, right? He's done -- he's had great policies on climate change. He's on the right side of issues when it comes to abortion rights. And so, the Biden agenda is the agenda for this coalition. And I think we've got about a year for the campaign to close that gap.
TAPPER: So, Jonah, there's some new reporting from "The Washington Post" detailing Biden's frustration with his poll numbers. The reporting details of meaning between Biden and his advisors were, quote, "Biden does delivered some stern words. His poll numbers were unacceptably low. He wanted to know what his team and his campaign were doing about it. He complained that his economic message had done little to move the ball even as the economy was growing and unemployment was falling."
It's always a comms problem, right. It's always (inaudible). Here's the thing, you saw he had bad marks on infrastructure. Again, whether you like them or hate them, he's done more for infrastructure than any -- I mean, it was a joke during the Trump-era infrastructure week because it never appeared and there was always a distraction. He actually, not him, but Democrats and Republicans actually worked together and Biden signed a bill that is spending billions of dollars.
I don't know that it's a comms problem. I don't know what it is, but you know, is it just he's the wrong messenger?
GOLDBERG: Look, I mean, we can make it more complicated, but I don't think it's much more difficult than much more complex than that. I also think, look, we have this tendency to sort of view the Democrats and the Republicans as operating in different universes with different logic and all that. This is the same problem that the Republican candidates have in the Republican primaries.
They want to talk about issues, right? They're talking about their policies on this, that, or the other thing and how to be better on this policy or that policy than Donald Trump or their opponents. Voters are just not really plugged in to policy fights right now or issues of any kind. They're in a bad mood. It's a lot of culture war stuff. And that culture war stuff isn't just right left. It's also internal to the Democrats and internal to the Republicans. And it's a moment about vibes.
TAPPER: Yeah. Nikki Haley showing some strength in New Hampshire poll, having her at 29 percent among likely Republican primary voters. Donald Trump's still far and away in the lead with 44 percent.
And yet, you know, that's -- she's showing momentum. Anything could happen. Who knows? I want to show you a brand-new campaign ad where she is focused on Biden, but there's kind of like an implicit Trump message. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll just say it. Biden's too old and Congress is the most exclusive nursing home in America. Washington keeps failing because politicians from yesterday can't lead us into tomorrow. We need term limits, mental competency tests, and a real plan to defeat China and restore our economy.
(EDN VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What do you think?
JOHNSON: I mean, look at the restoring our economy and the China line. Those, to your point, are actually conversations towards Donald Trump. She didn't name him explicitly, but she has to do this in order to drive a wedge between his base and her base to hopefully do even better in New Hampshire.
TAPPER: All right, Jonah Goldberg and Alencia Johnson, good to see both of you. Thank you so much this hour.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott is going big on a brand-new law that tries to do something, anything about the migrant crisis in his state. Why this legislation is so controversial, that's next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREG ABBOTT, GOVERNOR OF TEXAS: Senate Bill 4 is now law in the state of Texas.
TAPPER: In our national lead migrant crossings from Mexico into the United States are so bad right now the numbers that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is temporarily suspending rail operations here.
This comes on the very same day that Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican signed a new border bill into law. This law makes crossing illegally into Texas, a state crime meaning as of now, police in Texas are empowered to arrest migrants coming into or being in the Lone Star State.
CNN's Rosa Flores has more on the new law that will not only test Texas his power, but the country's strained immigration system.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R) TEXAS: Inaction has decimated America.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the stroke of a pen, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law with the ACLU dubs one of the most radical anti-immigrant bills ever passed by any state.
ABBOTT: Senate Bill four is now law in the state of Texas.
FLORES (voice-over): SB4 creates a new state crime for illegal entry into Texas gives local police the power to arrest and judges the power to remove violators.
ABBOTT: But the problem is far more than just numbers.
FLORES (voice-over): After multiple attempts, the controversial measure passed a Republican led legislature.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's un-American.
FLORES (voice-over): But not without a fight by the Democratic minority that erupted into this on the House floor.
STATE REP. ARMANDO WALLE (D) TEXAS: Y'all don't understand the shit that y'all do hurts our community.
FLORES (voice-over): After Republicans cut debate short.
WALLE: And y'all don't understand that you don't live in our skin.
FLORES (voice-over): That is Texas State Representative Armando Walle from Houston. An American with Mexican roots. He says he fears SB4 will lead to the racial profiling of Latinos across Texas.
WALLE: Why do we and those of us that look like me? Why do we have to carry our passports around?
FLORES: So you think that U.S. citizens could be arrested under SB4?
FLORES (voice-over): The Republican authors of the bill said there was no need to safeguard the measure against racial profiling.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Racial profiling is against the law anyway.
FLORES (voice-over): Texas has not determined to the cost of SB4, some county governments fear it's an unfunded mandate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't agree with the cost of being shifted over to our local tax.
FLORES (voice-over): There was a former immigration judges issued a statement saying the measure is not lawful because immigration is playing the federal function. Texas Republican Senator Brian Birdwell voted against the measure saying it's unconstitutional.
STATE SEN. BRIAN BIRDWELL (R) TEXAS: And we are setting a terrible precedent for the future by invalidating our obedience and faithfulness to our Constitution.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe SB4 is completely unconstitutional.
FLORES (voice-over): For Americans outside of Texas -- FLORES: Representative Walle.
FLORES (voice-over): -- Walle warns, SB4 could be used to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Arizona's 2012 so called Show Your Papers law, which upheld that immigration is a federal function.
WALLE: This is their roadmap now, now that they have a much favorable Supreme Court.
UNDENTIFIED MALE: Is not in conflict with the precedent set in Arizona versus US.
WALLE: They always judge a Mexican restaurant by their tortillas.
FLORES (voice-over): As for Walle who lost the fight against the law, but was one of the strongest voices against it.
WALLE: It fills me with pride because I've had elderly people today tell me that they were proud that somebody stood up for them and stood up for somebody who didn't have a voice.
FLORES: And you can see that Governor Abbott is behind me. He just signed SB4. Now this law goes into effect in March. The ACLU has threatened to sue and Mexico rejects this law which, Jake, it will be interesting to see how this works because according to the law, Texas would be able to deport migrants back to Mexico. Unclear how that will work since Mexico is a sovereign country.
TAPPER: All right, Rosa Flores in Brownsville, Texas. Thanks so much. Let's bring in Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas. He represents the 28th district, which covers a sizable portion of the border stretches into the San Antonio.
Congressman Cuellar, whether this new Texas border law passes constitutional muster or not. What do you make of it? Are you worried about Latinos, Americans just being stopped and asked to present their papers by Texas police?
REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D) TEXAS: Well, you know, first of all, I think the Supreme Court has started this back in 2010 on the Arizona case, where they said that immigration belongs to the federal government, not the state. I think the state wants to test it because they feel that they have a better majority of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The problem is that local law enforcement don't have the training to enforce immigration law.
So of course, there could be some errors that could be done, because they just don't get that training. This belongs to the U.S. Border Patrol, doesn't belong to the military. It belongs only to the U.S. Border Patrol. TAPPER: And I guess the argument being made by Governor Abbott would be, hey, the federal government is not doing enough. I need to do something. He also signed a bill today giving more than a billion dollars for border barrier construction. Some Texas state lawmakers argue that taxpayers will foot most of the bill.
But I guess my question is, what's your response to that? Because I know you've been critical in the past if the Biden administration not doing enough to protect the border to, I mean, countries are allowed to have borders. What's your response to the Governor Abbott argument? Hey, I'm doing something and Biden's not doing enough.
CUELLAR: Well, you know, surely he can do something, but he can work with the federal government. There's so many ways that they can work with this. Doing something unconstitutional is not the right thing.
I do understand his frustration, because even I'm frustrated by the lack of activity or more work that can be done by the federal government. Look, we did have Title VIII under President Obama. Secretary Jay Johnson use that very, very well. So there are ways that we can do this. But again, doing something down unconstitutional, doesn't make it right.
TAPPER: So there are the Senate negotiations, as you know, tying immigration policies to aid for Ukraine and Israel, Senate Minority Leader John Thune just told our Manu Raju, there's no way that this border provision is going to get a vote this week. Some of the sticking points in negotiations include Republican desires to enact stricter requirements for individuals to come into this country and want to claim asylum.
Limits on what's called humanitarian parole that allows individuals such as Afghans or Ukrainians to come into the U.S., and also a new way to expel migrants more quickly. Now, at least one Democratic strategist says, these are similar to Trump era policies. What do you think? Do you have a problem with any of those three I just mentioned?
CUELLAR: Well, again, I don't see -- I haven't seen the details. I have any communications with some of the negotiators and I do support stricter policies, but at the same time, not to the extreme where you don't allow the rights of the immigrants to to claim asylum. But do I believe in stricter?
Yes. And again, I think we can still have stricter policies, without changing the law. It's called Title VIII. So we got to make sure that we're able to do that. But unfortunately that, you know, they were looking at some changes to asylum.
Keep in mind, Jake, that when you look at the asylum law, the asylum law is very clear. It's state persecution based on five things, five things only. And that is nationality, race, political beliefs, religious, social class. And those are the five things.
If you're coming here because you're hungry, it doesn't allow you to come in. If you're coming here, because you want a job it doesn't allow you. You want to get away from crime, it doesn't allow you under asylum.
But most of those people at the end of the day, which is at the end of four or five years, maybe six years in the future, 90 percent of them are going to be rejected by the by immigration judge.
So my question is, why are we allowing so many people in when at the end of the day, they're not supposed to be here, according to immigration law?
TAPPER: Did you hear the language that Donald Trump used over the weekend several times. So I'm talking about immigrants coming from South America, Africa, and Asia, poisoning the bloodstream of the United States?
He's used it before, but he's using it more. And I know there are a lot of people that have concerns about potential violence, as we saw in El Paso at the Walmart in 2019.
CUELLAR: You know, what do you use in those words do not belong in a immigration fight. Unfortunately, when you look at the history of the United States, there are some things have been said very ugly things, ugly things. Things like those words should definitely not be part of the civil discourse on immigration changes.
TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas, thank you so much for your time, sir. Appreciate it.
Coming up next, the notable announcement today from the Catholic Church that affects blessings for same sex couples. Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our faith lead, Pope Francis has authorized priests to be able to informally bless same sex couples and individuals. This is not the same as a liturgical blessing or a blessing of same sex marriages. But it is being seen as a symbolic shift in the way LGBTQ couples are treated by the Catholic Church. CNN's Vatican correspondent Christopher Lamb is here. Christopher, how exactly can these blessings be given according to the Vatican?
CHRISTOPHER LAMB, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I think this is really the most significant development under the Francis pontificate in terms of the church's ministry and offer of welcome to LGBTQ Catholics and same sex couples.
Now, the Vatican document today said that these blessings can take place in informal settings, they suggested that they could happen during pilgrimages or at Catholic shrines, or even on the street. It was very much emphasized that they should be informal and not in church services.
But the really significant thing is that the Vatican in the past has totally ruled out the possibility of blessings for same sex couples. In 2021, the Vatican said that -- a document said that the church cannot offer blessings of same sex couples because the church cannot bless sin. Whereas today, the Vatican documents said that people who requested blessing should not be subjected to some exhaustive moral analysis but there should be ways found to welcome them and to recognize their requests for a blessing.
So really a very significant and important development. Jake.
TAPPER: Obviously not everyone within the Catholic Church shares -- is a fan of this pope, or shares his view of same sex individuals. Are Catholic priests still able to if they want to deny blessings for same sex individuals or same sex couples?
LAMB: Yes, they are. And the document is quite clear that it is up to the discretion or the judgment of the priest as to whether a blessing is offered. As you say there is a significant minority of Catholics, particularly those in high positions of the clergy who do not share Pope Francis's vision and we're already seeing some pushback to this ruling.
But there will of course, be others who will welcome it and think it is well overdue, we are certainly going to see a big discussion and debate about this very important development, but standby for some significant pushback. Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Christopher Lamb at the Vatican. Oh, no, you're in London. OK. But our new Vatican correspondent, thank you so much.
Coming up. But one advocate calls the greatest legal victory for veterans in American history, offering hope to try to end homelessness for thousands of vets in one major American city and perhaps, perhaps the United States. Stay with us.
TAPPER: We have an update now to a story that we've been closely following on the lead for years a group of veterans in Los Angeles County has won a major legal victory. They're asking the federal government to provide veterans with housing on land that since 1888. Yes, you heard that correctly. 1888 is supposed to be theirs. Even though the Veterans Affairs Department has leased it to a number of other organizations. CNN's Nick Watt reports on the ruling that allows the veterans lawsuit to move forward.
NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This sprawling V.A. campus in West Los Angeles was once home to 4,000 veterans, the land was given to vets way back in 1888. But now, many buildings live dilapidated, unused while around 4,000 veterans are homeless in LA.
There is a V.A. hospital here but also UCLA is beautiful baseball field and the exclusive Brentwood schools, splendid sports facilities. A federal judge now says he wants thousands of veterans experiencing homelessness to live here once more and fast and he wants the V.A. to quit leasing some of the land.
ROB REYNOLDS, IRAQ WAR VETERAN AND ADVOCATE: I think all of us are losing patience. This should not have been going on as long as it has this has been a problem for decades.
WATT (voice-over): After campaigning by Reynolds and others as well as CNN shining a light on decades of mismanagement.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For years I believe it was stolen.
WATT (voice-over): 14 veterans filed suit against their government demanding more housing here for needy vets, better access to the care they need, and an end to the leases for the likes of Brentwood school.
The government filed motions to dismiss this week Judge David Carter himself a Vietnam War veteran and a purple heart recipient denied those motions in a ruling the case goes ahead.
MARK ROSENBAUM, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: So great victory is the greatest legal victory on behalf of veterans in the history of the country. It's the beginning of the end of veteran homelessness in Los Angeles and really throughout the nation.
WATT (voice-over): After a previous lawsuit, construction of units for homeless vets is underway on this land more than 800 units should be opened by now. But only 233 are actually finished. Red tape is slowing construction and preventing some disabled vets like Josh Erickson from moving in. How did you lose your leg?
JOSH ERICKSON, AFGHAN WAR VETERAN: I stepped on an IED in Afghanistan.
WATT (voice-over): The government says his disability allowance means he earns too much to qualify. So he's still homeless.
WATT: with your own bathroom, your own, you know your own place to live on that campus. What would that mean to you?
ERICKSON: Ah, that'd mean the world to me. That's all everyone.
WATT (voice-over): Josh Petitt it recently managed to move in. He says housing helps a lot.
JOSH PETITT, PLAINTIFF AND IRAQ WAR VETERAN: It can mean everything. It can mean stability, stability started with the start of stability, you can start to fix other problems. But if you're out in the streets, and you know, your only opportunity is to self-medicate to get through your problems. And, you know, that's no way to -- that's not the answer.
WATT (voice-over): Judge Carter wants government departments to stop pointing fingers at each other over what's happened here. He wants a quick settlement. He flashed up this picture of the VA Secretary Denis McDonough on the land for the opening of housing units and said if he can fly out here for a ribbon cutting, he can fly out here to work on a settlement plan do has many more homeless vets.
ROSENBAUM: This case should not see the inside of a courtroom. The administration and Congress on its own should end veteran homelessness and stop fighting the veterans who fought for this nation.
WATT: Now, we've been covering this story for a couple of years now our latest installment a few months ago was actually about congressional involvement. There was a bill before the Veterans Affairs Committee that would have essentially legalized Brentwood schools lease on the lambda school it spent a lot of money lobbying on the issue.
After our report, that wording, that clause was quietly removed from the bill. Now, the V.A. says it can't comment on this current litigation but they say that they are committed to ending veteran homelessness and we'll prioritize it, are prioritizing it at the highest level.
Worth noting that veteran homelessness judging by the latest numbers just came out last week is actually rising up 7 percent between 2022 and 2023. The judge in this case is clearly not going to stand for any more delays. He wants homeless vets off the streets as soon as possible. He said he'll take this to trial next summer, but he wants a settlement way sooner than that. Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Important accountability journalism from Nick Watt. Thank you so much for reporting this for so many years.
You'll appreciate this next story if you have plans to fly. How the Biden administration is using Southwest Airlines as an example to other airlines have what not to do in the middle of the chaotic holiday travel stretch. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Do you remember the chaos that Southwest Airlines caused during last year's holiday travel it stretched over 10 days led to the cancellation of nearly 17,000 flights, stranded more than 2 million travelers. Well today, the U.S. Department of Transportation slapped Southwest Airlines with a historic $140 million fine, $140 million fine as millions of people expected to fly in the coming days.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tells CNN that he hopes other airlines are paying attention to the penalty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: This sends a message that every airline has to make the proper investments in having a good enough system and good enough customers.