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Migrant Surge; Interview With Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL); Will Republicans Shut Government Down?; Volodymyr Zelenskyy Meets With U.S. Lawmakers. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 21, 2023 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Making his case. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's mission on the Hill today, win over Republicans who are ready to shut off funding for the war, this as Russia unleashes a wave of attacks across his country.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: And: "They're trying to burn the place down."

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy accusing fellow Republicans of political arson, as he suffers another setback in trying to prevent a government shutdown now just nine days away. We will take you live to Capitol Hill.

Plus, a surge at the Southern border, as the Biden administration sends more troops to deal with an influx of migrants. Will it be enough to ease the strain?

We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

KEILAR: The brutal war in Ukraine now complicated by political battles in Washington.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spent the morning meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as his country reels from the latest onslaught of Russian strikes. But the last time that he was in that building a year-and-a-half ago, he had broad support from Congress and the American public. That is no longer the case.

Now polling shows that Americans are split on spending more on Ukraine. Speaker McCarthy won't commit to even holding a vote on Ukraine aid. And some Republicans are willing to shut down the federal government if any makes it into the latest budget.

Let's go to the Hill now, where we have CNN's Lauren Fox.

Lauren, tell us about Zelenskyy's meetings and if he was able to change any minds.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, this was such an important meeting for President Zelenskyy, in part because he was going to be sitting down in the same room with the House speaker, the man who will make the decision as to whether or not more Ukraine aid will come to the floor.

But after that meeting, I pressed Kevin McCarthy repeatedly on whether or not he would commit to putting $24 billion in Ukraine assistance on the floor before the end of the calendar year. And time after time, he would not say, would not commit to making that vote happen on the floor of the House.

He also was absent as Zelenskyy walked away into the meeting. He was joined with Hakeem Jeffries. You saw McCarthy that was in the meeting. He met with Zelenskyy, but he did not want an official photographer in the room. Our colleague Annie Grayer did get pictures from inside of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy with Zelenskyy.

But, obviously, this is a very sensitive issue for the speaker, because he is racing trying to get this government funding bill passed. Meanwhile, he has hard-liners on his right who are arguing that, if Ukraine funding was included, it could be problematic for the speaker's future.

So you see there why this is such a sensitive issue for the speaker of the House. You also see over in the Senate side a very different picture with the leader of the Republicans over there, Mitch McConnell, saying that it is essential for U.S. security to keep funding the war effort in Ukraine. Here's what he said.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): American support for Ukraine is not charity. It's an investment in our own direct interest. Degrading Russia's military power helps to deter our primary strategic adversary, China.


FOX: And a few minutes ago, Republicans were trying to pass a rule of procedural steps to pass their one-year spending bill on the Defense Department. They failed to do so.

So, right now, leaders are actually talking about removing about $300 million in Ukraine assistance money that the U.S. has been giving to that country since 2014 as part of that bill. But it comes just hours after McCarthy was in the same room with Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

KEILAR: Very interesting.

Lauren Fox live for us on the Hill, thank you.

Let's get the view now from the ground in Ukraine, which is where CNN's Fred Pleitgen is.

Fred, these latest Russian strikes on major cities, including Kyiv, the timing obviously pretty conspicuous here.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely conspicuous, as Volodymyr Zelenskyy, obviously, there visiting Washington, D.C., both the Hill and the White House, the Russians unleashing a massive amount of aerial barrages throughout the early morning hours of today.


And it really involved a lot of things. They had artillery going, also ballistic missiles. But, first and foremost, it was cruise missiles. And, Brianna, the Ukrainians are saying that the Russians used 10 strategic bombers that took off from an air base in the West of Russia, firing 43 cruise missiles at various areas of Ukraine.

The Ukrainians say, thanks to their air defenses, they were actually able to take down 36 of those cruise missiles. Nevertheless, some of them did come through. There was one really horrible incident that took place in the center of the country, where a hotel in the town of Cherkasy was hit, injuring a lot of people.

But the Ukrainians say what's different about this one than what they have seen in the past six months is that a lot of the energy infrastructure was hit as well, especially in the west of the country and also in the center of the country.

And they say that led to power outages for an extended period of time. In fact, some of their crews are still working on that. But, of course, if we look back to the past winter, the Russians at that point essentially prosecuted a large-scale campaign to attack Ukraine's energy infrastructure to essentially force the Ukrainians into submissions by freezing them.

And that's something that the Ukrainians believe could be happening once again with these strikes that took place. It is almost the beginning of heating seasons, where the temperatures really drop here in this country.

And that's one of the reasons, possibly, why the Ukrainian president, the first thing that he did this morning in Washington, D.C., was, he tweeted out saying that Ukraine needs more Western air defense systems. One of the things that we keep hearing from the Ukrainians here on the ground is they tell us, especially those Patriot systems are extremely valued to them, but the NASAMS as well.

They say that the ratio of those, the hits of those, the kills of those that those are making are almost 100 percent for the NASAMS. And so they say, absolutely valuable, something they need more of on the ground here, as they believe the Russians are only going to expand that aerial campaign against the infrastructure here.

KEILAR: That is what they're experiencing at home, as no doubt Ukrainians are watching President Zelenskyy on this trip here in America.

Fred Pleitgen live for us from Zaporizhzhia, thank you -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Congress is running out of time and the government is running out of money. There are just nine days left to avoid a potential government shutdown.

And for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the threats are coming from inside the House. Just a short time ago, a visibly frustrated McCarthy spoke to reporters about how members of his own party blocked a key rule on defense spending. Listen.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): It's frustrating, in the sense that I don't understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea up and having the debate.

And then you have got all the amendments if you don't like the bill. This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down. It doesn't work. I know it's an obstacle, but I find it as a challenge, and we're going to solve it.


SANCHEZ: So what's this latest roadblock mean for a potential vote on a spending bill?

Let's take you live to Capitol Hill with CNN's Melanie Zanona.

So, Melanie, bring us up to speed with what's happening.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well Boris, the House is paralyzed right now.

This latest defeat was a huge embarrassment for Kevin McCarthy and his leadership team. It is the second time that a procedural vote on a defense bill has failed on the floor. And this one today stung even more for leadership, because they were not expecting it, after they spent hours yesterday behind closed doors with their members trying to work out their differences.

So it is back to the drawing board. Now, I am told by multiple sources, including with my colleague Lauren Fox -- she helped me report the story -- that GOP leaders are weighing cutting Ukraine assistance from their defense bill in order to win over hard-line conservatives.

Now, in this bill, it has $300 million for a Ukraine security assistance initiative, but this is money that has been appropriated to Ukraine since 2014. It is not the same thing as the $24 billion that the White House is requesting for additional aid in Ukraine.

But even if they make that change, it's unclear if the moderates and the defense hawks in the party would go along with that change. So it's very unclear how they move forward at this point on that defense bill. And if they can't even support a defense bill in the Republican Party, Boris, it's very unclear if they would be able to solve an even stickier situation, which is avoiding a government shutdown.

I want you to take a listen to Dan Bishop, one of those hard-line Republicans who voted against the rule today. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DAN BISHOP (R-NC): There are those who don't think we should make a change to anything that happens up here. I came here to change it, and it's going -- and I'm going to cast every single vote to see to it that the direction changes.

We're going to change the way this institution functions, so far as I have any control of it.


ZANONA: So Kevin McCarthy has a decision to make.

Does he keep catering to his right flank, which could be a dead end anyway? Because anything that they are able to pass in the House is dead on arrival in the Senate. So that wouldn't solve the problem of avoiding a government shutdown. Or does Kevin McCarthy start to reach across the aisle and start working with Democrats to try to get out of this jam?


The problem there, of course, is that it could put his speakership at risk, so just an incredibly messy and chaotic situation in the House of Representatives right now, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yes, Melanie Zanona, thanks so much for keeping an eye on it for us.

Let's dig deeper on these issues with Republican Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar from South Florida. We should note she's also a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Congresswoman, great to see you. Thanks for sharing part of your afternoon with us.


SANCHEZ: What's your message to fellow Republicans who, according to McCarthy, want to burn the place down?

SALAZAR: Well, I don't see it that way. I see that democracy -- and thank you for having me. Wonderful to be talking to you, another Miami fellow.


SALAZAR: And democracy is messy, is not pretty. And we are a pretty democratic conference. Republicans, we do have a voice in front of the speaker of the House, and that's why you see what's happening with my good friend Mr. Bishop.

But I think that we should look at it, from a journalistic point of view, is that this is democracy, it's messy, and we have a major problem in Washington, which is spending. We're spending $4 million a minute. That is $6 billion a day. That's $70,000 a second. We cannot sustain that trend. We have an addiction problem of spending

in Washington. We know that. We do not want to shut down the government. We want to improve the economy, but we need to rein in the spending. And that is the bickering in the party. Is it more, is it less that we're going to be sending to the Senate?

The Senate needs to also do its job, because the Senate has put through committee or approved through committee bills that are full of pet projects and that are requiring more spending. The Dems, why aren't they voting with us? Don't they want to improve the economy, lower inflation?

So, it's -- this is a blame that is shared among many people. But I repeat, it's democracy. I would take this anytime versus what's happening in Cuba or Venezuela. And that's why the Venezuelans are trying to cross the border to come to America. So we're doing something right, but we need to fix it for the American people.

SANCHEZ: On the conundrum that McCarthy is facing, if he doesn't sway some of these hard-liners in your party, there are Democrats out there that are having discussions about potentially cutting a deal with the speaker.

Of course, the threat is that members like your Republican colleague Matt Gaetz see that as a political death warrant. So would McCarthy making a deal with Democrats really lead to him losing his job as speaker?

SALAZAR: Listen, Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, they had a very good relationship. This country is bipartisan. There are only two parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. We have got to work with them.

I am a very good example. I went across the aisle. I put together an immigration landmark called the Dignity Act with Veronica Escobar, a liberal from the other side. That's the way we need to work.

This thing about just trying to do everything within our conference, whether it's a Democrat or Republican, that doesn't work, because America is by -- it's moderate and it's bipartisan.

So I'm not sure what he's negotiating, but whatever thing he does, as long as we move the economy forward, we are serving the American people and we do not shut down the government,I mean, anything is good if it's within Congress.

SANCHEZ: You said that democracy is messy and it's OK for there to be disagreements even within parties.

One point of contention where it seems as though members of your party are far apart is Ukraine funding. Should it be included in a spending bill? Should it be part of a separate bill? And what's your message to people like Congressman Byron Donalds, who says there's no money there's no money in the House for Ukraine right now?

SALAZAR: Well, look I represent the city of Miami, full of Cuban Americans, people that we know what socialism means, right? We know what Vladimir Putin is willing to do.

If we don't help the Ukrainians, continue helping them, mind you, with guardrails, we need to have transparency, we know where the money is going, we need to know exactly what they're doing with our dough -- but if we abandon them, then what are our allies going to say? That the United States of America is not a reliable partner, number one.

Number two, Vladimir Putin could say, OK, look, Biden is pretty weak and Congress abandoned the Ukrainians. Now why don't we try Poland?

And then we will have a major, monstrous problem. So sending the message to Vladimir Putin that we're going to abandon Ukraine at this hour is not good. We should have done it back then, back when, when we were -- when the Biden administration did not prove force and sent a very strong and monumental message to Vladimir Putin, don't dare to go in, like it happened during the Trump administration.


Everything is measuring force. And, unfortunately, the Biden administration did not send the right message, and look what the mess we're in right now.

SANCHEZ: Congressman Maria Elvira Salazar, unfortunately, we have to leave the conversation there. Would love to continue it at some point in the future, though.

SALAZAR: Sure. Thank you, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course. Thank you so much.


KEILAR: Pushed to the brink, officials at the Southern border struggling to handle the influx of migrants in Texas. And now the White House is taking action, but is it enough?

Plus, cue the "Succession" memes. Rupert Murdoch says he's stepping down as chairman of his conservative media empire. What this means for the industry.

And hope in Hollywood. Key talks under way today between major studios and striking writers. We are on top of those negotiations.


KEILAR: The White House is trying to address a surge of migrants entering the United States, the Biden administration opening up work permits to some 470,000 Venezuelan nationals after persistent pressure from leaders in New York.


They say that their facilities are beyond capacity there. The White House is also sending another 800 troops to the Southern border after the town of Eagle Pass, Texas, issued a state of emergency. That's where we are going to begin today.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live for us in Eagle Pass.

Ed, tell us what you're seeing.


Well, we are on the banks of the river here in Eagle Pass, and this is what's unfolding. Despite all of the concertina wire that is along the riverbank here, this is an area where just at the bottom of that bank -- it's difficult to see from this particular vantage point, but there's been a group of about 50 or so migrants who've been waiting for hours.

And they have now just started crossing through the concertina wire, literally dragging each other underneath it and turning themselves into authorities. Now, many of the state troopers, state authorities that are here, Border Patrol authorities haven't really been engaged with the migrants.

It's been on their own to kind of figure out how to get through that. We saw a number of toddler-aged children that were first brought through. And now what will happen to them is that they will turn themselves into authorities and then they will be processed.

And we keep asking many of these migrants why they're doing this at this particular time, because the penalties for crossing like this is deportation, much more severe penalties for crossing through this. And they send, many of them, what we hear over and over from them is that they have been waiting for months and months trying to get through what is known as the CBP-1 application process.

And that is supposed to create an orderly way of people waiting in Mexico, applying and getting an appointment to apply for an asylum case. But many of the people we have spoken to say they have been waiting for months, and this sense of desperation is now setting in.

So they're willing to risk being deported, instead of waiting on the other side. And that is what's causing (INAUDIBLE). We're also talking to local authorities, who also say that they think that one of the reasons why you're seeing this surge here in the last few days is because of cartel human smuggling operations on the southern side of the border.

But, right now, all of that is kind of set aside, because this is the scene that is unfolding here in Eagle Pass, as, up and down the river, we have seen large groups of people crossing, and right now these people literally dragging each other, pulling each other through the concertina wire.

And there's two levels of that just on the bank of the river here, and many people and the authorities here just watching them do that and then waiting for them to get through. And, eventually, they will turn themselves in. They will be taken away by Border Patrol authorities here on the ground and processed. And we are told by DHS officials that the penalties for doing this

will be very strict. But, for whatever reason, many people say they insist on still doing it this way, because, from what we have gathered from speaking with migrants, it's that sense of desperation and tired of waiting on that other side, but some obviously very dramatic scenes unfolding here this afternoon once again in Eagle Pass -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, incredibly dramatic, Ed.

And so how long have you been there and how long has this been the scene in this area?

LAVANDERA: Well, we have been here on this particular scene all morning long.

I think we can probably get you a little bit closer here so you can see what it's looked like down here. At the bottom, actually, many of these people have already started to clear out, but all of this, this area down here just at the bank of the river was filled with people.

You can see the clothes kind of hanging on the concertina wire. And if we look back over here in the distance, you can see this was the group that has been waiting down here in the river, waiting in waist-high water for hours and hours this morning. And now, as they have come through here, they're essentially turning themselves in.

I see mostly state authorities down here at this point. I think there's some Border Patrol officials down there as well, but the processing center out here in the field is just over this way. But I don't want to give anyone the impression that these people are crossing and then scattering wherever they might want to go.

It's all very controlled and they're all kind of grouped up down there at the end of this road, which is extending into private property here on the banks of the Rio Grande.

KEILAR: All right, Ed Lavandera, an incredible scene there on the border. Thank you for showing us that.

I want to go now to Washington and to our CNN White House reporter Priscilla Alvarez.

Priscilla, before you give us some more details on the president expanding who's going to be under temporary protected status, I know that you're getting some new numbers on how many people are trying to cross into the U.S.


A homeland security official tells me that, over the last 24 hours across the Southwest border, Border Patrol arrested more than 8,600 people. Now, compare that number to late May post-Title 42 lifting, when it was about 3,500, so a marked increase happening this week and straining federal resources.

[13:25:09] Now, as you saw in those images from Ed, people are crossing despite knowing that there are consequences because they're crossing unlawfully. But we should also note that we don't know the nationalities of those people we saw there.

Venezuelans pose a unique challenge to this administration. The United States has frosty relations with Venezuela, which makes it very difficult to deport them back to Venezuela. That means that they are often processed and released into the U.S. as they go through their immigration proceedings.

And so that is a unique challenge to this administration. One of the steps that they also took yesterday was expanding temporary protected status, allows people to work and gives them deportation protections, to an additional 472,000 people. That is a big number. It is the largest expansion of this type of status.

And it addresses a major political sticking point between the -- New York City and the White House. If you recall, Mayor Adams had called for more work on work authorizations for migrants as they came into his city. And that was a back-and-forth between the White House and the mayor, now the administration, taking this big step to provide work permits to more Venezuelans.

Now, they have had to be living in the United States on or before July 31. This does not apply to recent border crossers, but all of this just part of what the administration is doing.

KEILAR: Priscilla, and to answer your question, we just checked in with Ed, and we learned that those people that we saw crossing in through that concertina wire, they did say that they were coming from Venezuela, which is significant, because, as he was saying, the penalties very high, very strict for what they're doing, but, to your point, difficult to deport them back to Venezuela because of frosty relationships between the U.S. and that country.

ALVAREZ: Exactly, Brianna.

That's really what this all boils down to. There are millions of Venezuelans who have left that country because of political and economic turmoil. They have been moving across South and Central America for months, crossing that Darien Gap, that jungle between Panama and Colombia.

Officials have been watching that gap. They have known people are on the move. What we are seeing now is those people arriving at the U.S. Southern border, this unique challenge really to this administration, Brianna.

KEILAR: We are watching something stunning unfold here.

And, Priscilla, thank you so much for bringing us that information as you're covering the White House angle of this. We appreciate it -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: So,could your favorite shows and movies soon be making a comeback? The writers and studio heads left their latest talks feeling encouraged. We're going to have an update on where negotiations stand.

And Rupert Murdoch has been involved in everything from movies to politics to news, but now he is stepping down. Up next, what this means for the future of his vast media empire.