Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Biden Visits TX As Court Battle Over Border Law Plays Out; House Holds Hearing As Probe Into Biden Family Stalls; Trump Signals Support For 15-Week Federal Abortion Ban; Melania Trump On Return To Campaign Trail: "Stay Tuned". Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 20, 2024 - 15:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Waiting on a decision. A federal appeals court could soon decide whether to allow Texas to temporarily enforce its controversial immigration law just hours after it was blocked again. And an attorney for Texas making a stunning admission in court saying he isn't exactly sure how the law would even work in practice.

And signaling support, after appointing three Supreme Court justices who helped end Roe v. Wade, former President Trump is now voicing support for a 15-week national abortion ban.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: And evacuating Americans, the U.S. government using planes and now helicopters to get U.S. citizens out of Haiti, a nation under siege.

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

KEILAR: This hour, President Biden heads to Texas as his Justice Department clashes with the state over a controversial immigration law. Today, an appeals court heard arguments on SB 4, the law that gives Texas authorities the power to arrest and even deport migrants suspected of entering the country illegally. SB 4 has pinballed through the court system here in the past 24 hours and adding to the uncertainty, some gray areas in the law have emerged. They were on full display during this morning's arguments.

Here's an exchange between one judge and the Texas solicitor arguing in favor of the law.


JUDGE PRISCILLA RICHMAN, U.S. COURT OF APPEALS, FIFTH CIRCUIT: I was just trying to envision how this law plays out. A couple of things, just because I'm not sure I understand the law totally.

So what if someone enters in, let's say, from Mexico into Arizona and lives there for five years, then moves to Texas. Are they covered?


KEILAR: We could get a ruling any time. We do have reporters on the ground. Ed Lavandera is in El Paso, Texas. Arlette Saenz is trailing the President in Arizona. Ed, what are you hearing from Texas officials and residents?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the - we've been mainly talking to law enforcement departments across the state trying to figure out how they would handle the implementation of this law if it was allowed to go into effect. And we've talked to many from El Paso down to South Texas and into the major cities of Texas as well.

And what we're hearing, the broader theme is that there doesn't really appear to be this desire to send officers and sheriff's deputies out into communities looking for people who don't have proper documentation. They don't feel like that is their responsibility, that that is something that should be left up to Border Patrol and federal law enforcement officials to handle that aspect of immigration law and immigration enforcement.

There's a concern about manpower, jail space and that sort of thing. You can hear from one of the deputies here with the El Paso Sheriff's Department who spoke a little while ago explaining why they're so concerned about the implementation of this law.


COMMANDER RYAN URRUTIA, EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: We really would want them to do their job. We want them to step forward and handle that portion of which they're responsible for. And throwing local law enforcement into this is problematic. We're seeing a federal agency stretch to its limits and they have far greater resources and greater manpower than we do. We have about 270 police officers and this issue could quickly exhaust those resources for our community.



LAVANDERA: So, Brianna, while the lawyers hammer out the details in court and you heard that confusion there, exactly what are the nitty- gritty details of the reality of this law and what it would mean for day to day life for migrants here and residents of Texas as well as law enforcement officials, you can sense that confusion and that anxiety among law enforcement departments all across the state as well. Brianna?

KEILAR: Ed, thank you so much for that report. Obviously, a lot of confusion.

And let's turn to Arlette now.

Arlette, this is a ruling in Texas that could have serious repercussions constitutionally, but also politically, as the president is facing pretty low marks on immigration and a dip in support among Latino voters.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. And part of President Biden's trip out here to the West, including in Arizona, has been trying to shore up support among Latino voters. Yesterday, he visited with Latino voters saying that they will be critical to his re-election coming in 2020.

It comes at a time when former President Trump has tried to make some inroads within the Latino community. But the President has been trying to argue that he and his policies are quite different from the approach that Trump has taken to Latinos and immigrants in this country.

But this latest legal back and forth over that Texas immigration law really has brought the issue of immigration and border security once again front and center in the 2024 campaign. We have yet to hear directly from the President about the legal back and forth, but the White House yesterday did push back on this Texas law.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement: "SB 4 will not only make communities in Texas less safe, it will also burden law enforcement, and sow chaos and confusion at our southern border. SB 4 is just another example of Republican officials politicizing the border while blocking real solutions."

You have seen the President try to show that he's trying to take some actions when it comes to border security, considering executive actions, supporting that bipartisan deal that was ultimately scuttled due to former President Trump expressing his opposition to it. The President has tried to turn the tables on Republicans on the issue of border security, which has increasingly emerged as a political liability for Biden heading into 2024.

After he's done here in Arizona, he sets heads right to the state of Texas. A coincidence as this debate is playing out in the courts down there, the President will be there on hand to raise money for his presidential campaign.

KEILAR: All right. We'll be looking to see what he says.

Arlette Saenz, thank you for the report from Chandler, Arizona. Boris?

SANCHEZ: We want to discuss with someone dealing directly with the uncertainty over SB 4. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar is with us now. His jurisdiction includes San Antonio.

Sheriff, thank you so much for sharing part of your afternoon with us. I want to get to a dispute that I've heard from officials in Texas. Some more inland Texas law enforcement officials don't think that SB 4 is going to change much for them, that they believe that this is much more for border jurisdictions. What's your view of that opinion?

SHERIFF JAVIER SALAZAR, BEXAR COUNTY, TEXAS: Well, look, I can just give you the view of - from my county. We're a couple, maybe 120-, 150 miles inland from the border in any given direction. And I think that this is going to just create more problems than what it's worth. It's certainly not creating any solutions for us.

SANCHEZ: I am curious when you say that it would create more problems about how it works practically, because it seemed, as we heard in a sound bite moments ago, that even the folks that are defending SB 4 in court are confused by some very basic hypotheticals. Like, let's say you arrest somebody. It turns out they're undocumented. They're convicted. They serve their time. It's unclear what happens next, because it's not obvious that your office would remove them or some other office within the state would. Like what if Mexico or whatever country the migrant is from doesn't accept them, what happens?

SALAZAR: Well, I - there's a reason that it's unclear what happens next, because I'm willing to bet that the people that crafted this ill-thought out law haven't created that process yet. And so it wasn't - look, I think that this whole thing is just a talking point on future campaign literature for the governor. And in reality, I think that this is a law that's not going to work for the vast majority of Texas sheriffs, certainly not for me in my county. Other sheriffs may beg to differ and that's okay.

But certainly in my county, it's hard to tell from here. It's - as matter of fact, it's virtually impossible to tell from here if somebody crossed the border illegally, that's 120-, 150 miles away. And unfortunately, what I feel that this law might do is it might put us in danger of first responders thinking they have authorities and protections under the law that they really don't.

And so my fear here is that our deputies and the agency will be put in the way - by way of liability in harm's way.


SANCHEZ: Yes. And that liability could get very costly very quickly. I'm wondering, Sheriff, I've heard from law enforcement folks at the state, at local level who have said that they believe that additional training and additional resources will resolve some of the issues that critics have raised with SB 4, specifically, when it comes to a potential discrimination and racial profiling. It doesn't sound like you believe that that would be the case.

SALAZAR: I don't think so. I think that we should probably just do away with this law and just enforce the laws that are currently on the books. I'm not saying give everybody a free pass that happens to be undocumented. If they're undocumented and they break a law like assault, murder, possession of drugs, absolutely we need to hold that person accountable within the confines of the law.

But with that being said, we're an overwhelmingly minority county and I don't need our deputies being accused of just approaching people that look undocumented and asking for papers and then putting us in harm's way that way.

SANCHEZ: I'm assuming you haven't heard anything from Gov. Abbott's office on additional resources for your community. It doesn't sound like they've reached out about additional training or facilities. SALAZAR: Well, I don't I don't think that I'm on Gov. Abbott's speed dial for sure. But no, he hasn't called me to ask or tell anything about this. I think - obviously, I think we're on two different ends of this of this topic, and that's understandable for understandable reasons. But from my perspective, it's just creating a lot more problems than solutions. We've got a population here - look, the undocumented population here in Bexar County, they're far more likely to be victims of a crime than perpetrators of a crime.

So all you're really doing is taking a population that's far more likely to become a victim and making them more afraid of law enforcement than the people that may be victimizing them. That's a dangerous situation.

SANCHEZ: Sheriff, I do want to ask you one more thing. You mentioned enforcing the laws that are on the books when it comes to federal immigration law, it seems that that hasn't really worked at curbing these record numbers of crossings that we've seen over the last year or so. What's your message to Congress when it comes to passing comprehensive immigration reform that ultimately is effective at creating a better system for everyone?

SALAZAR: Well, a couple weeks ago, I was privileged that the White House reached out to me personally and asking me for my support with regard to the proposed legislation. I came out in support of it. I thought it was a good medium ground, and obviously some folks from the Republican side of the aisle worked on this piece of legislation. I thought it was good legislation.

Was it perfect? No. No piece of legislation is ever perfect for everybody, but I thought it was a pretty good effort. The fact that it got canned for no reason other than political pandering I think is a tragedy, and I think that the folks in D.C. would do better to just continue to work at that thing and get it hammered out. That's a true solution, SB 4 is not.

SANCHEZ: Sheriff Javier Salazar, thank you so much for the time.

SALAZAR: Thank you, sir. Be blessed.

SANCHEZ: Of course, you too. Brianna?

KEILAR: Back here in Washington, Republicans are moving forward with their impeachment inquiry into President Biden despite failing to provide any evidence that the president benefited from his son's business dealings in Ukraine. This is the House Oversight Committee's second hearing in just six months, and it was not without its antics, to be sure.

Democratic Congressman Jared Moskowitz showing up wearing a mask of Vladimir Putin, as you see here. And Republicans keeping a nameplate out for the empty seat meant for Hunter Biden, who declined to appear.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is joining us now from Capitol Hill with more details on this.

Melanie, are Republicans getting what they want from this hearing?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, there certainly have been fireworks and some points of contention and a lot of theatrics inside the hearing room. But so far, Republicans have failed to produce any evidence that advanced their central claims about President Biden. Now, some of the witnesses did fill in more details about Joe Biden's interactions with some of Hunter Biden's business associates, but those are mostly described as pleasantries, not direct involvement, not financial profiting and not evidence of wrongdoing.

And when Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pressed one of the witnesses, Tony Bobulinski, about what crime specifically he saw Biden commit, it led to a rather testy exchange. Take a listen.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Did you witness the president commit a crime? Is it your testimony today?


OCASIO-CORTEZ: And what crime do you - have you witnessed?

BOBULINSKI: How much time do I have to go through it?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: It is simple, you name the crime. Did you watch him steal something?

BOBULINSKI: Corruption statutes, RICO and conspiracy.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: What is it?


OCASIO-CORTEZ: What is the crime, sir?


OCASIO-CORTEZ: Specifically.

BOBULINSKI: You just - you keep - you ask me to answer the question. I answered the question.


BOBULINSKI: RICO, you're obviously not familiar with. Corruption statutes ...

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Excuse me, sir. Excuse me, sir.



OCASIO-CORTEZ: Excuse me, sir. RICO is not a crime. It is a category. What is the crime? BOBULINSKI: It is a category of crimes that you're then charged under ...

OCASIO-CORTEZ: You have charges.

BOBULINSKI: ... of (inaudible) ...

OCASIO-CORTEZ: You have charges. Sir, please name ...

BOBULINSKI: You want me to name the exact statute on RICO.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: ... sir - yes.

BOBULINSKI: I'll - well, it's funny. In this committee room, everyone's not here, there's over 18 lawyers ...

OCASIO-CORTEZ: All right, sir, I reclaim my time.

BOBULINSKI: ... that went to law school.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I reclaim my time. I reclaim my time.

BOBULINSKI: I'll leave it up to you ...


ZANONA: And so it looks unlikely that this hearing is going to change the calculus inside the GOP, where many Republicans still remain skeptical of impeaching President Biden. So this is raising serious questions about the future of this probe.

At this point, James Comer, the House Oversight chair, said there will be a final report with criminal referrals. But many Republicans anxious to wrap this up and move on. Brianna?

KEILAR: Anyone revisit that? Did he give a specific answer of the crime, Mel?

ZANONA: He didn't. He wasn't able to answer that specifically, which is something that Democrats are seizing on to point out that even some of the Republicans' own witnesses can't articulate exactly what crime Biden committed.

KEILAR: Yes. No, that would be certainly helpful.

Melanie Zanona, thank you very much for that report.

Still ahead, Democrats hope that it'll be a headline issue in the election. And former President Trump just put it in bold. What he's now saying about a potential nationwide ban on abortion.

And hundreds of Americans desperate to escape the chaos in Haiti. I'm going to talk to a man who's on the ground helping organize their evacuation.


SANCHEZ: Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump is clarifying his vision for a potentially critical issue in the 2024 election, abortion.

During a radio interview on Tuesday, Trump revealed that he's considering a federal ban in the realm of 15 weeks.

CNN's Kristen Holmes joins us now with more details.

Kristen, did Trump explain why he's eyeing 15 weeks?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, first of all, I think we're going to have to go back a little bit because I'm not quite sure I would use the word clarifying. Because every time Donald Trump goes to talk about abortion, he ends up saying some kind of vague, convoluted remarks that don't really agree to something, but also kind of say that he supports something.

Now, when you're talking about 15 weeks, he essentially said that that's what most people are starting to agree to. The thing to point out there is that most people, if you look at polling, do not agree on a national abortion ban. And in fact, particularly those voting groups like suburban voters and independent voters that Donald Trump will need in November to win an election against President Joe Biden do not agree with this.

But this was the farthest that we've heard him go on this topic. Take a listen to what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The number of weeks now people are agreeing on 15 and I'm thinking in terms of that and it'll come out to something that's very reasonable. But people are really even hardliners are agreeing. Seems to be 15 weeks, seems to be a number that people are agreeing at, but I'll make that announcement at the appropriate time.


HOLMES: So two things to note here, one, this is dramatically different from anything we heard during the primaries. When behind closed doors, Donald Trump was telling people he did not want to talk about abortion, he did not want to talk about a national ban, that he thought it was a political loser. In fact, he's actually said that publicly, too, to Republicans, saying you need to know how to talk about the topic of abortion.

Here clearly, though, he is going further, saying he might at some point consider backing this 15-week ban. But I will also tell you, Boris, I have spoken to a number of his campaign advisors and allies who say that they do not have anything planned to roll out some kind of national ban. But they aren't ruling out the fact that Donald Trump himself might just make an announcement that that's something he supports.

SANCHEZ: I stand corrected, Kristen. Perhaps attempting to clarify his position would have been more accurate.

HOLMES: Perfect.

SANCHEZ: Kristen Holmes ...

HOLMES: Attempting to clarify.

SANCHEZ: Kristen Holmes, thank you so much.

Melania Trump has largely stayed out of the public eye since her husband left the White House. But now that he's the apparent Republican nominee, many are wondering how she's going to be involved. Is she going to be that involved in his reelection campaign?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mrs. Trump, are you going to return to the campaign trail with your husband?



SANCHEZ: If you couldn't catch that quick sound bite, she said, stay tuned.

Her comment came after voting in yesterday's Florida presidential primary. Let's discuss with White House correspondent for The New York Times, Katie Rogers, who's also the author of the new book, "American Woman: The Transformation of the Modern First Lady, from Hillary Clinton to Jill Biden."

Katie, thank you so much for being with us.

Stay tuned is not exactly a commitment to campaigning, but it is more than we've heard from Melania recently.

KATIE ROGERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. I think one of the interesting things about her response is that it was a reply, but not an answer. You can think of somebody like Jill Biden asked a similar question would have a much more definitive answer. Melania Trump is somebody who doesn't really enjoy the campaign trail. There were a couple of missteps she made in 2016, including with her RNC speech that had a lot of scrutiny for being plagiarized.

What she does do or has done in the past is take - speaking fees to speak at fundraisers or as the guest of Republican groups like Log Cabin Republicans. Right before the 2016 election, she also spoke to women voters in Pennsylvania.


So there are things that she has done and that would be in line with the kind of presence that she has kept on the trail before.

KEILAR: Yes. And she took notably as first lady forever to launch her initiative. You write very notably in your book that she hardly used her office. It was actually turned into a gift wrapping room. And that by the end of Trump's term, as he was trying to stay in office, she was staying in her bathrobe in the residence and was really very ready to leave. Not the model of a first lady approaching the role with zest.

And so with that context in mind, it makes you wonder how she would be approaching it for a potential second time.

ROGERS: Yes. So people who know her, who have worked for her, who know her now all say - I asked the question for my book, would she do this again, would she be willing to go through this again, given the reporting you just mentioned. And the answer from them is, yes, she liked the title. She liked being first lady, but she liked a lot less the scrutiny that came with it.

The attacks that she felt were unjustified on her family, warranted or not, her response to some of those and his. So there's sort of a dichotomy of liking the pomp that comes with the role and not liking the actual role, the expectations around it.

SANCHEZ: Katie, there's some concern in Trump World about his potential weakness with suburban women specifically. Do they see Melania as a figure that could potentially bridge that gap if she decides to become more involved in the campaign?

ROGERS: Yes, people involved in the campaign and people who have been working for the Trumps or with them for a long time know that she is a popular surrogate and it is a much requested surrogate. But she has not always answered those requests and appeared on the trail. Now, if it becomes more dire for Donald Trump with women voters, we might see her emerge, as she did, I think, five days before the 2016 election to talk to women and put sort of a softer focus on her husband's comments and about women and about other different groups in the country. So that could happen, but she certainly, at this point in the campaign, has not exhibited a desire to do that.

SANCHEZ: Katie Rogers, appreciate your reporting and the new book, and appreciate your perspective. Thanks for being with us.

ROGERS: Thanks.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

Still ahead, another group of Americans has been rescued from Haiti. What we're learning about that mission as U.S. officials race to get so many others out. Details in just moments.