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Appeals Court Blocks Texas Immigration Law; Lina Hidalgo is Interviewed about the Texas Immigration Fight; Biden Courts Latino Voters; House Holds Impeachment Hearing; Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is Interviewed about Presidential Immunity and Trump's Jewish Comments. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 20, 2024 - 09:00   ET



SEAN LYNGAAS, CNN CYBERSECURITY REPORTER: Away from that, but they're trying to avoid having to scramble in that moment of conflict, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Sean Lyngaas, thank you so much. A sobering report.

The best hour of CNN NEWS CENTRAL starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, in the fight over immigration and the border, a controversial law blocked right after it was given the green light in Texas. An appeals court will hear new arguments over this in just hours.

Hunter Biden hearing without Hunter Biden. The president's son declining the invitation to today's impeachment proceedings on Capitol Hill. What spectacle is about to unfold.

And exposed to lead. Nearly 70 percent of children under the age of six in one major U.S. city had been drinking contaminated water.

I'm Kate Bolduan, with John Berman. Sara is out today. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

BERMAN: All right, brand new this morning, the controversial Texas immigration law is not in effect. I say new because last night it was in effect. Yesterday morning it was not. So, this head-spinning series of events is all for a law that would allow Texas officials to arrest and deport people they suspect enter the U.S. illegally. The Supreme Court, for a moment yesterday, literally for like a few hours, cleared the way for the law to take effect. But around midnight an appeals court blocked it again. Now this same court will hear arguments about it soon.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is in El paso, Texas, at a migrant shelter, at the people with - some of the people who would be affected by this law, presumably, if the law were to go into effect, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this legal whiplash has left many people here scrambling in Texas to figure out exactly what the future of this law known as Senate Bill 4, or SB-4, what that future entails.

And at least yesterday we kind of got a brief glimpse of what the reality might look like. And it's a confusing reality to make this story even - even more confusing for people. But essentially, just to get people up to speed, what this Texas law does is that it gives local law enforcement agents the ability to arrest people suspected of entering Texas illegally, and it also gives judges the ability to deport migrants to Mexico if they are here illegally.

Obviously, critics of this law say that immigration enforcement is the sole responsibility of the federal government. Texas officials were briefing hailing the Supreme Court order that allowed SB-4 to go into effect for several hours yesterday. The attorney general called it a huge victory. The governor of Texas, who signed the law in December, says it was a positive development. But all of this, again, on hold.

But, John, in speaking with a number of law enforcement agencies yesterday, you could get the sense that they were all kind of scrambling to figure out exactly how they would carry out this law on a day-to-day basis. And this is where the real difference comes in. It's the - you know, in theory, what this law looks like on paper seemed to be very different from what it would be like on the ground, where law enforcement agents were trying to make sense of it, exactly how it would be implemented day-to-day. Many officers we spoke with yesterday were telling us that these law enforcement agencies either don't have the manpower or the jail space, or there's just a lot of confusion as to exactly how it could be implemented. And some agencies very concerned about a possible liability for racial profiling and that sort of things. So, really just kind of lends to the chaotic nature of what this law has kind of created, at least for the time being, as so many different people across the state of Texas wait and see how this plays out in the courts.


BERMAN: Ed Lavandera in El Paso.

Ed, that was a great job of explaining the state of play here and what it all means. Thank you very much.


BOLDUAN: Let's talk about that state of play right now.

Joining us now is Harris County, Texas, Judge Lina Hidalgo, highest ranking elected official in the county, which includes Houston, of course.

Judge, thanks for being here.


BOLDUAN: So, in a matter of just hours, you know, you had this law going -- allowed to go into effect and then once again put on hold. Short of an actual decision, does the confusion have an impact in your county? HIDALGO: Absolutely. Look, I'm an immigrant myself. I immigrated to

the United States almost 20 years ago as a teenager. And I lead a massive county where almost 25 percent of population are immigrants. And it's making people nervous. It makes me nervous. I think, you know, because the law is focused on whether you are suspected of being an immigrant, it is just so extreme because it allows state police to say, you know, you look brown, you look Hispanic, and therefore you can be arrested and possibly deported.


So, the possibility of that and the confusion, I think, even legal experts are calling this judicial whiplash.

BOLDUAN: You've spoken out against the law even before this latest overnight back-and-forth. I've seen you call it a political stunt from the governor. If it takes effect, what are your plans, as the county's top official, to work within these new enforcement rules?

HIDALGO: I'm very proud of our local law enforcement and serious law enforcement agencies who have said, you know, we are not going to implement this. But, of course, the issue is, and what's beyond me and beyond our local law enforcement officials is, you could imagine a scenario where Lina Hidalgo is Hispanic, looks Hispanic, goes for a run somewhere, what is - and this is just to put things into context - what stops local police from saying, you look like you it might be here on an undocumented basis, let me deport you. And so what we would be able to do is say, law enforcement will not be implementing this.

But I can tell you, for immigrants and just people of Hispanic descent who know that racial profiling is an issue, that is too much of a concern.

And the other point is, this is just a terrible precedent. What Texas is doing on immigration would be akin to them declaring their own wars, would create massive confusion across, not just Texas, but other states. Iowa just passed something similar. No reason why Iowa needs to be worried about undocumented migrants crossing their border.

But that just tells you this is about politics. It is about making sure that the Republicans can keep immigration as an issue for this presidential election.

BOLDUAN: I will say, I mean there are Democratic governors in Democratic states that are nowhere near the border with Mexico who have also said that this crisis has made it to their doorstep. They would like to see the Biden administration do more. That is different than saying they'd like their own states to step in and take over for where the federal government traditionally has been and is mandated to do.

Would you feel differently about this law if the state provided more funding for the county to help with law enforcement to handle this? I ask this because I've seen some statements from the president of the Houston Police Officers Union saying, we don't have the manpower or the time to be able to do any of this. Would funding change any of this for you?

HIDALGO: Well, the unfunded mandate is also part of the problem. One of the issues on the list. But it is by no means the primary one.

Let me acknowledge what you said. There is a crisis when it comes to immigration policy. And, yes, it is an issue in Texas. And it's an issue in states where migrants have been sent by the governor in order to make a point. And that's why President Biden partnered with Republicans in Congress to try to get a bill passed that was going to make the border safer and provide some sort of pass to immigration that was going to put over 1,000 more officers on the border. So, that's really what we have to work on is, as someone who's been through the immigration system myself, we need a real solution, but this simply is providing an opening for people to discriminate against folks that look Hispanic and it's also creating confusion. It's putting a burden on our law enforcement. It's not keeping people from crossing the border. It is going after the people, like me, who simply are Hispanic.

BOLDUAN: Judge, I want to ask you, because Mexico has also - the Mexican government has also responded, which is an important element of this, because the law says that migrants are ordered to leave or to be sent to ports of entry along the border with Mexico, even if they're not Mexican citizens. And Mexico's government said Tuesday it would not accept the return of any migrants to its territory from the state of Texas.

What does that do to the enforcement of this law?

HIDALGO: I think it - well, it underlines the fact that there is a reason why the Supreme Court has said it is unconstitutional for states to take immigration policy on their own hands because you can have neighboring countries, foreign countries, dealing with 50 states worth of immigration policy, worth of a military policy. These are national issues that affect our relationships with other nations.


And as a Texan, somebody in a county that has grown by leaps and bounds, we're very proud of our economy. And so much of that is about trade and Texas trade with Mexico, the relationship with Mexico. And so the fallout from this political stunt, again, is harming those relationships. There's no telling where this would go.

But I can understand why Mexico, why law enforcement, why immigrants feel that they don't need to be used as political pawns. And to be clear, we need immigration reform. We need a safer border, but this does neither. It simply makes headlines.

Judge Lina Hidalgo, thank you so much for coming on this morning.


BERMAN: All right, Present Biden is waking up in Phoenix this morning as he courts Latino voters in battleground states. He's trying to draw a direct contrast with Donald Trump. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's what he said about immigrants, poisoning the blood of the country. He separated kids and parents at the border. This guy despises Latinos. And I understand Latino values."


BERMAN: And President Biden will also fund raise in Texas tomorrow.

With us now, CNN's Priscilla Alvarez.


PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you heard from the president there directly, he is drawing a stark contrast from former President Donald Trump as he tries to court these Latino voters who make up a sizable portion of voters in Arizona and Nevada. And last night he also launched an initiative, that by his campaign, to mobilize and galvanize Latino voters because what polls have shown up until this point is that there is waning support. And some are leading Republican and leading toward former President Donald Trump. So, the president is aware that this is a challenge for him and his campaign. And he said so pretty bluntly during an event just yesterday where he noted how Latinos came out to vote for him in 2020. And he said he needs them badly in 2024.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I need you badly. I need the help. Kamala and I desperately need your help. Because look, there's only about six or seven states that are going to determine the outcome of this election. And they're toss-up states. This is one of them.


ALVAREZ: More broadly, though, John, this swing has also been, for the president, to try to have his economic message resonate with voters. Polls have shown too that his approval ratings are low and that voters are still very skeptical about the direction of the economy.

So, while he was on the road, he was talking about lowering housing costs, lowering health care costs. And today at an event, he'll also be talking about the single biggest chips grant, that's a way to promote job growth as well, in Arizona.

So, the president trying to hit on all of these themes as he also heads to Texas for fundraising. And we should note, of course, that the president is going to be in Texas, just as you were talking about, with that battle playing out in the state over border policy. He will be in the middle of it later today.

BERMAN: An important note.

Priscilla Alvarez, thank you very much for that.


BOLDUAN: House Republicans are holding another impeachment hearing today as they continue to investigate President Biden. The witness who promises to not attend and the surprise witness that Democrats are hoping to call.

Why one of the victims of the so-called "Goon Squad" now says that he forgives the officers who pleaded guilty to torturing him. And more officers are set to be sentenced today.

We are also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Will the S&P 500 hit yet another record high after the Federal Reserve's announcement on interest rates today?



BOLDUAN: In less than an hour House Republicans will be kicking off another impeachment hearing as they continue to investigate President Biden. And it is shaping up to be a spectacle. Here's why.

Hunter Biden was invited to be a witness. He says he will not be in attendance. And Republicans are going to make sure to make that point. Planning to have a labeled empty seat there for him. Democrats now have invited the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, to be one of their witnesses. What could go wrong?

CNN's Melanie Zanona is on The Hill following this for us.

What are - what is going to happen? What is this about?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, initially Republicans had billed this hearing as a way to highlight discrepancies in Hunter Biden's closed-door testimony. You'll remember, this is only the second public hearing that the House Oversight Committee has had related to its impeachment inquiry. And Hunter Biden has been a central focus of their probe. But since Hunter decided not to show up, Republicans are now instead turning their focus to a pair of Hunter Biden business associates who have claimed that President Joe Biden was deeply involved in his son's overseas business deals. But those claims have yet to be verified. And, in fact, many of them have been directly undercut by other witnesses.

So, Kate, there are signs that this hearing is shaping up to be far more spectacle than substance. For starters, as you mentioned, there is going to be an empty seat with Hunter Biden's name on it. And we should also point out that one of the Republican witnesses is going to be appearing remotely from federal prison.

Meanwhile, Democrats have decided to select Lev Parnas as their witness. He is a former Rudy Giuliani associate who was tasked with digging up dirt on the Bidens, but has since called those claims nonsense. So, not an ideal situation for House Oversight Chair James Comer, who is under growing pressure to answer questions about where his impeachment inquiry goes from here.

BOLDUAN: Well, and that's the question is if they haven't turned - if they have not turned up the evidence, they haven't really shown their work to show any evidence that this inquiry has really borne fruit, if you will, where is this headed next?


ZANONA: Yes, well there's actually a serious debate inside the GOP right now about how and when to wrap up their probe. James Comer has said that there are going to be criminal referrals and a final report at some point. But we are told that the votes are just not there for Republicans to actually advance impeachment articles for President Biden. So, some Republicans want to just wrap this up quickly and turn their attention to trying to deliver other wins for the American people ahead of November, while some Republicans say they should just drag this investigation out until November and try to do as much as possible to politically damage the president ahead of November.


BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Melanie. Thank you so much.


BERMAN: All right, this morning we're waiting for word from Jack Smith. How will he respond to Donald Trump's immunity argument. In a new filing to the Supreme Court, Trump's legal team claims, quote, "a denial of criminal immunity would incapacitate every future president with de facto blackmail and extortion while in office, and condemn him to years of post-office trauma at the hands of political opponents."

With us now, California Congressman Adam Schiff. He is currently a member of the House Judiciary Committee and is running for Senate in California.

Congressman, how would the prosecution of Donald Trump incapacitate every future president?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, it wouldn't. In fact, it would reinforce the principle that no one is above the law. It would tell future presidents, if you engage in criminality, let alone try to subvert the peaceful transfer of power, you will be held accountable. And, frankly, if the result were any different, that would be the end of the republic.

But I think what Trump is really arguing here is less on the merits because I think the Trump lawyers understand how weak their argument is, and more they're arguing, hey, Supreme Court, nod, nod, wink, wink, what we really want is a delay. Send this back to the lower court, make them go through factual findings. We will appeal whatever their decision is right back to you. Help us push this off after the election. And if we're successful, we'll make the whole thing go away and you won't even take responsibility for it.

That's, I think, really what the Trump team is looking for. We saw the Supreme Court act with great speed when it came to dismissing these efforts by states to disqualify Trump. They can move quickly when they want to. They can also delay what they want when they want to. And I think that's what Trump is really after here.

BERMAN: Do you think they'll bite on his arguments?

SCHIFF: You know, it will be very revealing of the court. That is, is this now just a partisan institution that is essentially in the thrall of Donald Trump, like so many of the other Republican appointees. Because the - on the merits, this is not a difficult decision for the court. They should not have even accepted cert on this case. It would be absurd to say that the only check - the only really meaningful check of presidential power, that is the ability of voters to vote you out, is essentially nullified by this immunity argument. That is, voters can vote you out and a president can ignore it and stay in power and you can't hold them accountable.

So, the merits are week, but they've already essentially given Trump some delay by pushing the hearing until April. And it wouldn't be difficult for them to push this beyond the election.

BERMAN: On the subject of consequences, you were a member of the January 6th committee. Peter Navarro, who defied a subpoena from that committee and was subsequently prosecuted and convicted of contempt of Congress, reported to prison just yesterday. I wonder if you have any reaction to that.

SCHIFF: I think this is an important affirmation of the idea that, hey, congressional subpoenas are not optional. They can be enforced. They should be enforced. The Justice Department - we referred several to the department. They didn't take up every referral we made. But here they did. They prosecuted the case. I think it's - it's good for our democracy. It's good for congressional oversight. If people begin to feel they can simply ignore Congress and a subpoena, then I think it means that essentially the balance of power between our branches of government is fundamentally altered. Congress is no longer empowered to truly get answers to questions and do its oversight.

So, Peter Navarro going to prison is a strong message to others who would ignore congressional process. You do it at your own peril.

BERMAN: Congressman, you're a Jewish American. Donald Trump weighed in on Jews who vote for Democrats. He said, they hate their religion and should be ashamed of themselves. Donald Trump, who is not Jewish, telling Jewish people how to be Jewish. What's your reaction to that?

SCHIFF: Well, only to someone who has no appreciation for really any religion, any religious group, or any religious belief could make a statement like that.


He's the last person in the world I would certainly turn to for instruction about what it means to be Jewish.

But it's a - it's a bigoted statement. It's a stupid statement. It is, you know, all, at the same time, so par for the course for Donald Trump. But he probably doesn't realize and doesn't care how deeply offensive it is to Jewish people.

This is just who he is. And, you know, quite antithetical to, you know, my own Jewish faith, which is centered around doing things to try to mend and bring the world together, he is all about division and hate. And that is certainly nothing to do with the Jewish religion.

BERMAN: So, you just emerged from the California primary, Senate primary. You won that primary. It's a jungle primary, so it means something a little bit different going forward.

One of your competitors was Democratic Congressman Katie Porter, Congresswoman Katie Porter, who after she did not advance in the election, put out a tweet where she had said that the election was rigged.

Well, just this week, she's gone on a podcast and basically apologize for that statement. I want to listen to that. Let's listen.


REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): So, obviously, I wish I had chosen a different word because what happened with the controversy was it took away from two really important truths. One, our California election officials do a terrific job.

The second truth that is really important that got lost in all of that is that big money does influence our elections. Outcomes are manipulated and distorted when you have people coming in spending millions and millions of dollars at the last minute.


BERMAN: How do you feel about the little bit of an effort to clean that up?

SCHIFF: You know, I - look, I'm glad that she has expressed her regret. That is not a word that we should be using a connection with elections. It has now a very charged meaning in the era of Trump. It suggests fraud and ballot-stuffing and election irregularities. So, it's not a word that is to be used in the context that she did.

She called and congratulated me. It was a very gracious message she left for me.

But - but, look, we need to focus forward on the challenges facing the country. The campaign that I ran was very much focused on getting things done, addressing real problems like housing prices, like food prices, really trying to meet the voters where they are. And this is where we need to keep the focus.

BERMAN: Congressman Adam Schiff, we appreciate your time this morning. Thank you very much.

Kate. BOLDUAN: Why one victim of the so-called "Goon Squad" says that he had to forgive the officers who pleaded guilty to torturing him as sentencing four more of those officers continues today in Mississippi.

And a bill in Alabama targeting diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public schools and universities is stirring up controversy and now headed to the governor's desk.