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Interview with Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH); San Francisco to Ban E- Cigarette Sales; Chernobyl Tourism Increases Following Release of HBO Miniseries. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 25, 2019 - 10:30   ET



[10:30:07] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. Welcome back. Last-minute preps are under way for the first round of presidential debates in this week in Miami, Florida. Some candidates reviewing old debates, watching old tape to pick up on tips.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, studying his own record so that he is ready for attacks. Senator Elizabeth Warren, boiling down her policy proposals so she can fit them in that one-minute time constraint.

Senator Bernie Sanders, taking a unique approach. Instead of holding the standard mock debates, his campaign has been attempting to maybe influence the topics by putting out a number of proposals.

Let's talk about all of this with Congressman Tim Ryan. He will be taking the debate stage on Wednesday.

Good morning, sir, and thank you for being with us.


HARLOW: So that's what they are doing. What are you doing to get ready for Wednesday night?

RYAN: All of the above. I think everybody's doing a little bit. For me, it's really trying to condense everything, as you said about Senator Warren, into one minute. I mean, it's literally going to be speed dating with the American people.

And so within one minute, you've got to leave some impression with them about who you are, where you come from and what you stand for. And trying to get that into a minute is probably the biggest challenge.

HARLOW: Speed dating with the American people. There's your headline. All right. So give me -- give me your sell to the American people. Why are you not so similar to the frontrunner Joe Biden?

Joe Biden from Scranton. You're a son of Ohio. You're a moderate in this party right now. I know you don't love that label, I know you don't love labels. But why are you different than Joe Biden for the voter? RYAN: Well, I've spent the last 45 years of my life living at the

epicenter of forgotten communities, of the industrialization, of the opiate epidemic, of the health care challenges, infant mortality issues. And so I best understand, of all the candidates, exactly what the American people are going through, every single day.

And I think the next president of the United States must understand, Poppy, exactly their challenges, their suffering, their heartache. And I will be pulling the levers of power on their behalf, and that's a distinguishing feature for me.

HARLOW: Are you worried at all that you are not progressive enough for the Democratic Party right now? I'll just give you two examples, right? You were an NRA member. You had an A rating. Now you don't, of course. But you were pro-life, now you're pro-choice. I mean, how do you convince the Democratic voter that you're progressive enough for them in a primary?

RYAN: Well, my positions evolved over my 17 years in Congress based on evidence and information and experience around the school shootings, around actually meeting women who I talked with and sat with and heard their stories about abortions that they've had and complicated pregnancies that they've had. And that's what influenced my decision to change on those really, really important issues.

And I think Democrats, and especially progressive Democrats, appreciate someone who takes in new information, who has new experiences and then evaluates their position based on those -- that new information, new experiences.

HARLOW: So let's talk about one of the key issues this week, that two of your competitors, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have brought up. And that is eliminating or forgiving a big chunk of student loan debt.

You've got Senator Sanders this week, proposing a $1.6 trillion plan to totally wipe out student loan debt if this legislation were to pass. Senator Warren is forgiving -- or proposing forgiving -- $50,000 in student loan debt for those earning under $100,000 a year, that's about 42 million people.

I know you have said you're supportive of a way to renegotiate student loan debt, to try to ease the burden. But do you think that the American people can afford either Senator Warren or Senator Sanders' plan on this?

RYAN: Well, I have to look at them in detail. And I'll probably do that here in the next day or so, because I don't know all the details of it. But I think doing something along those lines is going to put significant amounts of money into the pockets of working-class people and I'm supportive of that. It's also --

HARLOW: Here's --

RYAN: -- going to be good for the economy.

HARLOW: Here's the only issue on that. I hear what you're saying --

RYAN: Yes.

HARLOW: -- but a former Treasury official in the Obama administration, Adam Looney, was quoted in "The Washington Post" just yesterday, saying he took a look at the details of Warren's plan, for example, and his belief is that the top 40 percent of earners would receive about two-thirds of the benefit of her plan. Does that concern you?

RYAN: Right. Well, that's what I want to look at. Because, again, I come from a place like in northeast Ohio, the industrial Midwest. And we've got a lot of working-class people that didn't go to college.

HARLOW: Right.

RYAN: We've got a lot of people who have other issues as well. And so that particular issue needs to be balanced in the context of all the other things that we have to do. Also having a trillion-dollar annual deficit.

[10:35:03] And we do want to ask the wealthy to pay more, and then we've got to figure out, OK, what are those strategic investments that we have to make that are going to yield the biggest return for us. And so all of this has to be taken into context.

Of course, we want to relive some of the pressure, all the money that the banks have made. And I'm going to do that. So the question really is, who's going to be in the White House that's going to pull the levers of power for you on their behalf, as all of these negotiations are going on.

And I think a lot of people --

HARLOW: Are you --

RYAN: -- recognize that I'm going to have those people in mind.

HARLOW: Before I get to immigration, just quickly to follow up on that, you mentioned the banks. Are you supportive of some of the plans out there, for example from Sanders, that would essentially put a tax on stock trades, et cetera, a Wall Street tax to pay for some of this stuff? Is that a good idea for America?

RYAN: Well, I do support some kind of transaction tax. I mean, I think that's important. Look, there's been a concentration of wealth. The top one percent of the people in the country have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. That's a problem.

And so I really -- I have no sympathy for somebody who's making $50 or 100 million a year, to say they're going to pay a little bit more in taxes. Our job is to make sure what they're paying taxes into is a system that's reformed and growing and moving forward. That's what I'm advocating for, Poppy.

And people who want to learn more about that can go to and look at my ideas about how we're going to push that forward for the forgotten communities of the country.

HARLOW: How many times are -- I think all of you are going to be mentioning your websites on that debate stage. That is one certainty for Wednesday night.


Congressman Ryan, before you go, on a very serious note. That is, the children that are caught in the middle --


HARLOW: -- of this crisis at the southern border in these detention facilities. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi held what was said to be a very contentious meeting last night with your caucus. I know you weren't there, but you've read about it, trying to get enough of the caucus to yes on about a $4.5 billion funding bill that would largely go to improving these facilities where these children -- many of them are children -- are being held. Not all of it, but a lot of the money would go there.

Democrats have not been willing to take this to the floor. Have not been willing to vote on this. Last week, "The New York Times"' editorial board actually called on Democrats to stop, quote, "dithering" and pass this emergency funding. Will you vote for that if it makes it to the floor?

RYAN: I am inclined to be supportive of it. We've got to see exactly what it looks like. But, yes, we've got to get something done here and it's not going to be perfect and it's got to get through the Senate and I know that's a frustrating thing for a lot of people, but that's the reality of it. There's, you know, two parts of this process and then signed by the president.

Those kids, what's happening down there, literally, you know, laying down in the flu (ph), laying in their own snot, not having showers for weeks. I mean, this is inhumane. And it's unacceptable for a country that is as powerful as us.

Are we strong enough, Poppy? Are we strong enough to be able to take care of these kids. Are we strong enough to cut through the politics and all the fear that the president tries to promote, to turn these kids into something other than human beings, and the people coming over.

The president needs to pick up his daily briefing. He needs to figure out a strategy in Central America, where these families and kids are coming from, and solve the problem. He wants this to be a political issue. This is what he wants.

Every single day, he's in the news about being tough on immigrants. Well, go fix the damn problem in Central America, where these families are coming from. What would you do, Poppy? What would I do? We would do the exact same thing that these parents are doing.

If someone comes to your house, points a gun in your face and says, "We're going to take your son and put him in the gang," or "We're going to take your daughter in the sex trade," and you hear that's happening in your community, what do you do? You get the hell out of there.

And where are you going to go? Of course you're going to come to the United States for sanctuary. Of course you are. That's what I would do, that's what you would do. So let's show a little bit of humanity here and take care of these kids and process this in the right way.

But the leader of the country should be a leader, and that means go fix the problem. Get to the root of the problem in Central America, and the president's not doing that because he's not a leader. He's not a leader at all. He is a TV host, you know? He's running "The Apprentice" out of the White House and kids are suffering. And it's unacceptable and we should pass something to take care of these kids. Period, end of story.

HARLOW: So if that makes it -- you say it's not perfect, but it will have your vote. Let's see what happens in the coming hours within your party on this one. Congressman Tim Ryan, thank you.

We'll be right back.

[10:39:32] RYAN: Thanks, Poppy.


HARLOW: All right. Something really big could happen tonight in San Francisco. It could become the first city in the United States to effectively ban the sale of e-cigarettes. The measure, if approved, would make it illegal to sell any vaping products unless they have undergone a review by the FDA. Scott McLean is on this story. He joins us now.

So, city leaders say the measure is meant to spur government action on regulating these things. And I mean, I remember reporting on this five, six years ago and going to the FDA to talk to them about it. And it just doesn't seem like they've gotten in front of this. So the city is at this point.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And to your point, Poppy, the FDA still has not reviewed and approved any e-cigarette products at all. There are two stated goals here by San Francisco. One is to get the FDA's attention to try to speed up that review process.

The second is to try to reduce teen vaping rates, or the rates that young people are using it. According to the latest CDC survey, more than 3.5 million high school and middle school students use e- cigarettes regularly. In response, many states have tried to raise the age to 21. San Francisco, they're going in a different direction, trying to ban e-cigarette sales in the city altogether.

Now, in -- excuse me -- one of the most popular brands, JUUL, is actually located here in San Francisco. It says that it actually advocates for tighter restrictions, raising the minimum age. It says that that will make an impact on youth usage, not an outright ban. Other critics say people will just use normal cigarettes, or you might

even end up with a black market. I asked one of the members of the Board of Supervisors here in the city to respond to that. And he said, "Look, Cuban cigars, you can't buy those in the city and you don't see a black market for those."

One area where it will undoubtedly have an impact, though, is on small businesses who sell vaping products. We spoke to one smoke shop owner yesterday. Listen.


ADAM FARAH, SMOKE AND GIFT SHOP OWNER: It's going to be a lot of -- big loss because we just lost all the hookah tobacco, the sales of the hookah tobacco. The flavored cigars, and now it's going to be against the vapes, which is -- it's going to take a lot of sales, maybe like 30 percent if not more.


MCLEAN: Now, Poppy, tobacco companies, traditional tobacco companies are already barred from setting up shop in the city of San Francisco. And there is one other ordinance on the docket today, which would expand that to e-cigarette companies.

JUUL, though, which is located less than three miles from here, would not be affected because they're already here. In fact, they just bought a 29-story office tower and they plan to expand -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Wow. Let's not forget that it is some of the biggest big tobacco companies that own a lot of these e-cigarette makers now. And by the way, if they don't want kids using them, then why were a lot of them offered in different flavors like bubble gum, et cetera? All important questions for them to answer. Thanks, Scott.

Wait until you see this story. Forget palm trees and beaches, tourists flocking to a disaster zone? We will take you to Chernobyl.


[10:52:05] HARLOW: Welcome back. An HBO miniseries about the world's worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl has been a hit for the network, but it's also causing a swell in the number of tourists visiting the abandoned power plant site and the ghost town around it. Our Matthew Chance went there and has this story.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It used to be a nursery school for the children of Chernobyl. Now it's one of the morbid attractions for the tourist hordes exploring this nuclear exclusion zone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But here, the ground is contaminated, so --

CHANCE (voice-over): Their beeping radiation alarms, part of the creepy experience.

This entire area, complete with a Ferris wheel that was never used, was evacuated back in 1986 after the then-Soviet Union acknowledged the catastrophic release of radiation from Chernobyl reactor number four. You can still see it looming on the horizon.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will need to move quickly and you will need to move carefully.

CHANCE (voice-over): It's also the dramatic backdrop to the recent HBO drama, which paints a terrifying picture of the soviet regime in denial --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In terms of radiation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm told it's the equivalent of a chest x-ray.


CHANCE (voice-over): -- leaving its own citizens in harm's way. "Chernobyl," the miniseries, has been viewed so widely, it's credited with raising global awareness of the dangers of our nuclear age.

EDGARS BOITMANIS, TOURIST: What I liked about how real it was and how intense it was.


BOITMANS: So, like, it, like kept in suspense. And then you realize it's actually how it happened in real life. And then after the show, I was watching a lot of documentaries, wanted to find out more about this.


BOITMANS: And I found out that there's tours there. And that you can come over.

CHANCE: You're not worried about the radiation? I mean, you saw the show. What it might (inaudible) --


BOITMANS: Well, the way -- the way I understand, is the risk of being here one day is, like, same as smoking three cigarettes. And I'm a nonsmoker.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. That facility is the arts school.

CHANCE (voice-over): Tour operators say visitor numbers are expected to double this year as caution toward Chernobyl turns to curiosity.

CHANCE: We're walking through this nuclear ghost town. You get a strong sense of the catastrophic dangers of nuclear power. I mean, how could you avoid it.

But there's something much broader too, an idea that Chernobyl is a warning from the past about what can happen when governments try to hide the truth, and how even innocent people can be sacrificed to protect those in power.

CHANCE (voice-over): For some Chernobyl visitors like Ed from Texas, it's a message still relevant today.

ED CHARLESWORTH, TOURIST: I think it symbolizes a very strong need for not prevaricating about information --

CHANCE: Not lying.

CHARLESWORTH: -- not lying about information, but being forthright. And a lot could have happened differently, had the lying not taken place. Although, I mean, it still --

[10:55:09] CHANCE: And of course, Chernobyl is the ultimate consequence, isn't it? Of what happens when governments fail to acknowledge reality, the truth.

CHARLESWORTH: Exactly. Exactly.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're approaching the power plant (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What have they done.

CHANCE (voice-over): But there are concerns. The horrors portrayed so graphically in the HBO series, especially of the so-called liquidators sacrificed to clean up the radioactive mess, have been trivialized by Chernobyl's tourism boom.

One Instagrammer recently posted these racy images of herself apparently near the reactor. She later apologized and said she wasn't really at Chernobyl at all.

But perhaps a few tasteless selfies are a low price to pay for relearning the terrible lessons of the world's worst nuclear disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One more time. Say "Radiation!" Yes, thank you.


HARLOW: Wow. That is eerie. All right. Matthew Chance, great reporting.

Thank you all for joining us. Jim and I will see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" is up next.