Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Sen. Britt Faces Criticism For GOP's Rebuttal To Biden's SOTU Speech; Sen. Britt Clarifies Anecdote About Sex-Trafficking Victim; Health Care Providers "Hemorrhaging Money" After Cyberattack; Gas Hits Four-Month High At $3.40 Per Gallon. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 11, 2024 - 14:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We are standing by for the start of a worldwide threat assessment hearing on Capitol Hill. This is an important hearing that happens every year when the nation's top intelligence officials brief Congress on what they believe to be the most critical threats to global stability.

Leaders from the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, and more will all be testifying. We are keeping an eye on that, as you can see right there. We'll let you know when it begins.

First though, new fallout from the GOP's rebuttal to President Biden's State of the Union address. Alabama's junior Senator Katie Britt is facing criticism after appearing to suggest President Biden's border policies led to a woman being sex trafficked as a child.

That survivor is now speaking out after Senator Britt said this.


SEN. KATIE BRITT (R-AL): I traveled to the Del Rio Sector of Texas. That's where I spoke to a woman who shared her story with me. She had been sex trafficked by the cartels starting at the age of 12.


We wouldn't be OK with this happening in a third-world country. This is the United States of America. And it is past time, in my opinion, that we start acting like it. President Biden's border policies are a disgrace.


KEILAR: CNN's Rafael Romo is with us now.

And, Rafael, you spoke to the woman that Senator Britt appeared to be referring to. What did she tell you?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, she told me she's upset, she's concerned, and she's also worried about her story being used, once again, because this happened in Mexico before, without her permission for political purposes.

This is someone I have known since 2014. CNN profiled the story Karela Jacinto as part of CNN's "FREEDOM PROJECT," which seeks to raise awareness about modern-day slavery.

Jacinto says she's very careful about who she gives her testimony to, and how and when she does it. So she was very surprised, Brianna, she told me when she found out Saturday that she was involuntarily put in the middle of a social media storm.

This storm was prompted by what appears to be the use of her story, we heard that before, during the Republican response to the State of the Union address by Alabama Senator Katie Britt.

Years ago, Karla Jacinto told me that when she first went public with her story, Mexican politicians took advantage of her for political purposes.

I asked her if she feels it has happened again, but now here in the United States, and this is what she told me when I reached her in Mexico City.


KARLA JACINTO, SEX-TRAFFICKING VICTIM (through translation): Yes. In fact, I hardly ever cooperate with politicians because it seems to me that they only want an image. They only want a photo. And that, to me, is not fair.

I work as a spokesperson for many victims who have no voice. And I really would like them to be empathetic. And I think she should first take into account what really happened before telling a story of that magnitude.


ROMO: Brianna, Karla Jacinto also told me that Senator Britt got many of the facts of her story wrong.

Number one, she was not trafficked by Mexican drug cartels, but by a pimp that operated as part of a family that entrapped vulnerable girls in order to force them into prostitution.

Two, she also said she was never trafficked in the United States as Senator Britt appeared to suggest.

Three, she was kept in captivity from 2004 to 2008 when President George W. Bush, a Republican, was in office, as opposed to the current administration as the Senator implied.

And finally, four, she met the Senator at an event at the border with other government officials and anti-human-trafficking activists, instead of one on one.

Jacinto told me Brianna, finally, no one reached out to her to ask for her permission to use her story as part of a political speech. "Someone using my story," she said, "and distorting it for political

purposes is not fair at all" -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes. So very strange.

Rafael, thank you so much for taking us through that. We appreciate it.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Senator Britt did attempt to clarify her remarks on FOX News over the weekend.

Here's a clip of that.


SHANNON BREAM, FOX NEWS HOST: To be clear, the story that you relate is not something that's happened under the Biden administration, that particular person.

BRITT: Well, I'm very -- I very clearly said I spoke to a woman who told me about when she was trafficked, when she was 12. So I didn't say a teenager. I didn't say a young woman. A grown woman, a woman when she was trafficked when she was 12.


SANCHEZ: CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Alice Stewart, is with us now.

Alice. Senator Britt there is denying the fact that she was misleading talking about the age of the woman that she was talking about.

But she did say, quote, "We wouldn't be OK with this happening in a third-world country." And then she criticized Biden's border policies.

It's clear that she was trying to imply that, to some degree, the White House's immigration policy was at fault, and that this happened in the United States. That's misleading.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No question about that. And we can all agree that Ms. Jacinto's story is heartbreaking. It is gut wrenching. And you have to applaud her dire to speak out about this publicly and call attention to human trafficking, which is devastating.

But no one should tell her story without her permission. And no one should use her -- her story for political purposes. And her story is not a direct result of Joe Biden's policies.

That being said, what Senator Britt did was, just by the implication of that, took away from the real message of this response to the State of the Union.

Look, being loose with the truth is not the way to go about doing this when the truth about Biden's border policies are damning enough.


His border policies are hurting people. His border policies are to blame for the mass migrant surge, for a lot of sex trafficking, for -- large part, for the death of the nursing student at the University of Georgia, Laken Riley.

There are a lot of collateral damage and deaths and harm to this country based on Biden's border policies.

But here's the problem. When Senator Britt got out there and made this statement and using this story without permission from the victim, this was a convenient way for liberals to point out that.

And point out that specific part of the speech and the misleading part of that story to take away from the bigger issue at hand here, which is the consequences of Joe Biden's border policies. And that's unfortunate.

And the bigger part of her story that Joe Biden, as a diminished president and his policies, whether we're talking about at the border, whether we're talking about the economy, whether we're talking about safety in our streets, have led to an American country that is frustrated with his policies.

That goes to show why his -- his unpopularity numbers are at an all- time high. And many people are looking to see him out of office.

SANCHEZ: The White House would refute much of what you're saying as -- as I'm sure, you know.


SANCHEZ: I do want to focus on Senator Britt. Do you think it would help if she apologized to the woman?

STEWART: Look, I think that's for her to have that conversation between she and that woman.

Look, her -- her team is standing by the fact that she was trying to make a reference to the surge of sex trafficking and making sure -- they don't believe that they made a direct connection with regard to the timeline here.

I think that's not exactly true. I think all of those involved in the writing of the speech, I think that could have been buttoned up a lot more and really done a better job of outlining the timeline of when she talked to this woman and when this actually happened.

But to make a direct allegation or claim that this is the result of Joe Biden when this happened years ago really takes away from the issue at hand.

And I think it was an unforced error on the part of this speech. And we're talking about that instead of the real issue at hand, which is the larger implications and consequences of Biden's border policies.

Not just at the border, but we're seeing it as immigrants are sent to other cities, in New York and Chicago and Denver. And this is -- we're not hearing just Republicans, but Democratic leaders in various cities and states saying enough is enough.

Biden sat by and did nothing about this for three years. Now, Democrats are pushing back, saying it's time to address this border crisis. And now we're in an election cycle and he's actually deciding to do something about it.

SANCHEZ: How much does this hurt the Senator's standing in the party. She's obviously seen as a rising star. And I don't think anybody's deciding who they're voting for in a general election based on those State of the Union rebuttal.

But as you said, we're talking about this as opposed to talking about a great performance that she gave and what a bright future she has.

STEWART: Right. We're talking about this. And many in the media are talking about this. But she goes back at the end of the day, she'll go to the Senate and work as a Senator. She will be responsive to her constituents back in Alabama.

And I can assure you, Republicans, writ large, are not dissecting this specific aspect of the speech. They're looking at the fact we had a young female Senator responding to an old male president that is very unpopular and has a real fight on his hands going against Donald Trump in November.

That is what they're talking about. And they're listening to the key points that she made with regard to him and his liberal policies and the impact that has had on a moms and women and families across this country with hurting the economy, national security, our border, education and crime on the streets.

Those are the issues that resonate with the American people and mothers across the country. And this issue right here that we're talking about, being loose with the truth, is not something that American people and Republicans are sitting up and losing sleep over.

SANCHEZ: Alice Stewart, we've got to leave the conversation there. Always appreciate hearing your expertise.

STEWART: Thanks, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

Still plenty to come on CNN NEWS CENTRAL, including a major cyberattack preventing some physicians from being able to bill their patients. Some health care providers are even considering taking out loans in order to keep operating. The details in just moments.


[14:48:50] KEILAR: New today, the federal government taking the extraordinary step of urging insurance companies to make advanced payments to health care providers. This, following a massive cyberattack that disrupted the insurance processing system.

Change Healthcare, which is part of United Healthcare, was targeted by the attack that left U.S. hospitals and pharmacies unable to process bills.

One health care provider telling CNN they're hemorrhaging money because their invoices aren't being processed.

To give you a sense of just how big this company is, they process 15 billion transactions each year, not $15 billion in transactions, 15 billion transactions.

We have CNN cybersecurity reporter, Sean Lyngaas, here with more on this.

Is this even close to being fixed?

SEAN LYNGAAS, CNN CYBERSECURITY REPORTER: Brianna, unfortunately, the answer is no. It's been over two weeks since we've had this -- it is the biggest, most impactful cyberattack on the U.S. health sector in history, according to all available evidence.

And so it's very much an ongoing debacle in terms of the fallout, the direct impact. I've spoken with health care clinics across the country, one cancer clinic that was worried about they might have to close. They treat 16,000 cancer patients a year and they're down to the last funding to stay -- stay open.


And so it's been two weeks. There's been a lot of pressure behind the scenes by the U.S. government to try to get the company to more quickly bring systems back online.

And demands, angry demands from the Medical Association saying, hey, we're running out of money. Our members are running out of money. So there's a lot of pressure.

Now, last week, Change Healthcare announced that it would -- it would get systems back online probably by next week. But again, you're talking about a big gap of multiple weeks and funding for some of these small clinics that really can't afford to be offline.

So it's really exposing, Brianna, a lack of backups and resilience in the sector. It's been an eye-opening moment.

U.S. officials, senior cyber officials, who I talked to say, this is really opening their eyes to how fragile the health system can be to one single attack.

KEILAR: Lack of backups. Should they have known, should they have had a backup here? LYNGAAS: I'll leave it to the experts to analyze whether they should


I mean, I think it's pretty clear that if you're a big company or even your small company, but this big of a company, worth billions of dollars, and as you said, processing 15 billion transactions a year.

They're going to be targeted because they have a lot of money and cyber criminals know to go after the big guys to extort them.

So there's no shortage of warning signs in terms of recent years and cyberattacks on the health sector. I've talked about hospitals getting hit.

But this is different because it's the central nervous system of the payment of health insurance. So when that goes down, one in three, patients in the us, in terms of how they get their prescriptions, has been affected so or potentially affected. That's a huge one.

KEILAR: Yes, huge here.

All right, Sean, thank you so much. We know you'll continue to follow this. We'll see if everything starts to get back up online next week. Sean Lyngaas, thank you.

And ahead, what keeps the nation's top intelligence officials up at night? The annual worldwide threat assessment hearing has just begun on Capitol Hill. We're going to take you there live.


SANCHEZ: Gas prices are on the rise across the country, surging to four-month highs. Though experts are saying, don't panic, at least not yet. Prices typically surge this time of year because of higher demand and a seasonal switch from winter to summer blends.

Let's break this down with CNN's Matt Egan.

So, Matt, just how high are prices surging and where?

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Boris, gas prices have been moving steadily higher. And if that trend continued, there would be significant consequences.


From an economic perspective, the higher gas prices go, the more damage to inflation. And if there's too much damage to inflation, that could actually delay when the Fed starts cutting interest rates.

And politically, we know that drivers hate when prices at the pump go higher. A gas price spike, that might be the last thing that this White House needs.

Now, the national average at $3.40 a gallon, up $0.21 over the past month, $0.33 higher than mid-January. Though we should note, gas prices are a little bit lower than they we're at this point last year.

As far as why this is happening, well, some of this is totally normal. It's no secret that, as the winter ends, demand for gas goes higher, right? People drive more in the nicer weather.

Also supply, it gets more expensive because those gas stations switch over to the more expensive summer fuel.

And then also we have had some refinery problems. That's limited supply. Layer on top of that, oil prices, they're higher though not dramatically so.

Still, you put all of that together and that explains why we've seen gas prices move significantly higher -- Boris?

SANCHEZ: Matt, the key question, how much higher are we anticipating that they're going to go?

EGAN: Well, Boris, I think that's the good news here. The good news is that experts, they don't think that we're going to see a skyrocketing price of gasoline this spring or summer, not going to see a repeat of the unprecedented spikes above $5 a gallon that we saw two years ago.

One of the big reasons for that cautious optimism is the fact that the United States is pumping more oil than any country ever has before. And all that U.S. supply, that is offsetting some of the production cuts out of OPEC.

Now, of course, there's always risks out there. If the war in the Middle East really spreads out, if there's a major hurricane that hits U.S. gulf coast refineries, all bets are off.

Still though, GasBuddy's Patrick De Haan, he tells me that he is still confident that the U.S. will not have $4 a gallon gas nationally for the entire year. And he does expect gas prices are going to be falling this fall just in time for the election -- Boris?

SANCHEZ: Matt Egan, thanks so much for the analysis.

Next, Ramadan has begun without a ceasefire. We're going to break down what Israel is saying about its long-threatened invasion of Rafah as President Biden is warning Prime Minister Netanyahu that he's at risk of losing international support.

We'll be right back.