Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Oscar Leeser is Interviewed about Biden's Trip to the Border; California Braces for More Bad Weather; Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) is Interviewed about Congress. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired January 09, 2023 - 08:30   ET





Coming up in the next 30 minutes, California already battled by storms is bracing for another round of dangerous and potentially deadly weather with heavy rains, severe flooding and gale-force winds.

Also, the House, with its newly minted speaker, gets down to business today, maybe. We'll see what it looks like. Republicans are trying to pass the rules package for the new congress, which is going to be the first big test for Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

And a nightmare ordeal in Texas where a man has been charged with aggravated kidnapping for allegedly holding a woman that he met on the dating app Bumble captive for days, repeatedly assaulting her after she denied his sexual advances.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, this morning, President Biden is in Mexico to meet with the Mexican president. One of the multiple topics on the agenda will, of course, be border security. Before arriving in Mexico, Biden toured El Paso, Texas. It was his first tour of the border as president. Local Officials and area lawmakers accompanied him as he spoke with officers and migrant aid providers.

So, joining us now, one of those local officials is the El Paso mayor, Oscar Leeser.

We're so happy to have you this morning. Thank you for joining.

When you spoke with the president, it was -- you had a talk with him. I'm wondering what he said and how he received what you had to say.

MAYOR OSCAR LEESER (D), EL PASO, TEXAS: Well, you know, we were very thankful that he came down here to really talk to the people that really -- we've been dealing with it on a day in and day out. And, you know, it - it really makes a difference.

I was telling people that he's very aware of what's going on in the border. He's very aware of what's going on in El Paso. But coming down and seeing it with his own eyes really made a big difference. And what I - what I did, though, I made a book. And this book had 62

pictures of what I've seen through my eyes. Every morning I go down -- and this morning I went down there -- and looked at the, you know, Sacrament Church area. And I - I actually would go down at 4:00 in the morning and take pictures. So, I was able to share these pictures with him because it's something he wouldn't be able to see.

So, for the last 90 days, I've actually shared the pictures that I was able to really compile. And he looked at them. And whether it was at the airport, whether it was at the river. So, it was really very - and I was able to have a little breakout room with him and kind of go over those pictures with him, which were very impactful, so he could see what our city and what challenges we've been going through.

COLLINS: Mayor, one question has been about what the president didn't see because from our reporters on the ground, our reporters who are with them, he didn't actually come face to face with any of the migrants there. And we know that there are hundreds of migrants, of course. We've seen them sleeping on the streets of El Paso. So, did he get a sufficient view of the humanitarian crisis aspect of this?

LEESER: Well, he didn't - you know, he talked to Bishop Sites (ph), who has really been dealing a lot with the migrants. He talked to the Border Patrol. He talked to customs and the people that really are on the street that are hands-on. He talked to the county judge, Congressman Cuellar came down, Congressman Gonzalez, Congresswoman Escobar. So, he really -- he talked to everybody that really has been dealing with this and how we could, you know, get the people off the street. And that was my main concern. How do we work together to get the people off the street and make sure that they're not on the street, they're not sleeping on the street, and they're not susceptible to, you know, the climate out here.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: But the White House -- are reporting from Rosa Flores is that the White House said he went to a migrant center but there weren't any migrants there at the time. But I want to show our viewers and also play for you, our Rosa Flores on the ground there, while the president was visiting El Paso, talking to migrants, and then get your thoughts out of that.


Here it is.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm in the second ward in downtown El Paso. This is a church. And you can see that there are hundreds of migrants who are still living on the streets. There's lines for everything. There's lines for food. Migrants are getting in line for water. They get in line for toys for their kids. This is the reality on the ground right now.


HARLOW: Are you concerned that President Biden didn't see that reality on the ground for himself, that reality?

LEESER: And that was - and that's what the book was. The book -- you couldn't see what I've seen in the last 60 to 90 days. And that book really compiled right there where Rosa was. I had pictures of that. And then a little bit up -- further up the street and down in the river -- on the river crossing and at the airport, people sleeping at the airport. Because that was important that he really had a view of everything that we've been seeing.

So, no, he actually was able to see what was going on, what's been going on in El Paso. And I have gone down there. I was there this morning again. And, obviously, I'm down there at 10:00, 11:00 at night. So, he was able -- I was able to have a one-on-one with him and talk to him about what's been going on in El Paso and our needs. And he was able to talk to the border patrol and ask them what their needs were. And I was very impressed because when he asked then what their needs were, he knew what their needs were. And he knows what the needs are within our community. But it's important that we get the people off the street and we continue to work together as one.

HARLOW: Would you qualify it as a crisis right now in your city?

LEESER: Absolutely. It's still a crisis. And it will continue to be a crisis until we fix the broken immigration system. And the system is broken. It didn't break yesterday. It's not going to fix today.


LEESER: It's really a process that needs to continue. But right now all we have is a band-aid. And we've been getting funding from the federal government. They've been really good at giving us funding. But that can't continue because we need to fix the broken immigration system. But we still, as a city, need to continue to follow the laws of our country.

HARLOW: Mayor Oscar Leeser of El Paso, Texas, thank you for your time.

LEMON: Thank you.

A dangerous situation --

LEESER: Thank you. You all have a great day.

LEMON: Thank you. You as well, Mayor.

A dangerous situation unfolding out west. The threat of mudslides, sinkholes, forcing evacuations in California. We're going to take you there live.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Use your common sense. And you heard that from a number of the speakers here over the course of the last few moments, and that is, don't test fate.


HARLOW: You are - those were live looks at Los Angeles and San Francisco as California's Governor Gavin Newsom warns not to test fate ahead of an intense weather situation this week, all week. President Biden approving an emergency declaration as California reels from what officials call a relentless parade of cyclones. Much of the state is being battered by torrential rain, damaging wind, widespread flooding. More than 400,000 people are without power. Some communities already being ordered to evacuate. Now more storms are coming with hardly any time for cleanup.

Camila Bernal joining us live in San Francisco this morning.

My very good friend lives in San Francisco. She's very, very pregnant. Like, due in a week. And she was messaging me about how concerning this is, what's going on right now.

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Poppy. Yes, it's constant rain. And the problem is that a lot of people in the bay area and in general in California are not used to this type of rain. And the problem is that a lot of people in the bay area, and in general in California, are not used to this type of rain.

It is a storm after another storm with very little time in between. And so officials here saying you need to be prepared for power outages and you need to be prepared for very dangerous driving conditions.

Look, the ground is already saturated. So, when you add more rain, what happens is sinkholes and mudslides, two things that already happened with the last storm. Officials here in San Francisco are also worried about a communications outage.

Here is the director of the emergency management program here in San Francisco and how she explained it.


MARY ELLEN CARROLL, EXEC. DIRECTOR, SAN FRANCISCO DEPT. OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Many of the infrastructure for even communications, that's our cell and internet, is under ground. And as we get more inundation from the rain, we're seeing more failure around those -- what we call lifeline systems.


BERNAL: And we're expecting three to five inches of rain over the next five days. So, again, already the ground is saturated. Already there are people who are having to deal with flooding in their homes.

I've seen communities near the ocean having to put sandbags all along their garages and their doors just to keep that water away. And, of course, anyone like your friend who is pregnant is going to have to think about how a drive to the hospital is going to be or going anywhere really in the bay area and in general in California is going to be dangerous over the next couple of days, Poppy. HARLOW: That's really scary. We're grateful you're there covering it.

Thank you. Camila Bernal for us live in San Francisco this morning.

Well, it took Kevin McCarthy 15 tries, but he did win the speakership. Now it's time to govern. That might be even harder than trying to become speaker. We'll talk to a member of his caucus, next.




REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): The gentlemen from the great state of California, and the next speaker of the 118th congress, Kevin McCarthy.


COLLINS: After a bruising fight to get that gavel he's holding there, Kevin McCarthy is going to face his first test as House speaker today when Republicans try to pass the rules package for the 118th congress. This matters because it governs how they are going to operate this session. It could reveal more about those back room deals that McCarthy made with the hardliners, with his critics, in order to get their vote. At least one Republican said they do plan to vote against it in protest of potential cuts in defense spending. Big questions about that.

So, joining us now this morning is Republican Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis of New York. She supported Kevin McCarthy for speaker. She was there late on the floor on Friday night.

Congresswoman, you know, I think if anything we learned from last week it was that you can't take anything for granted. So, my first question for you is, will you vote for this rules package and do you expect that it will pass today?

REP. NICOLE MALLIOTAKIS (R-NY): Well, first let me say that had it not been for a small group of Republicans from New York, including myself, we would still be here today without a speaker. We refused to adjourn. We stood up to leadership and said, we're just not having this anymore. We need to get this figured out when it was down to just those six members who had been holding out. I'm glad that we kept the rolls open. It gave them the time to figure it out and here we are with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who I did support from the beginning.


With regards to the rules package, look, I'm interested in hearing further debate, but I am inclined to support them. I think a lot of the changes are good government reforms that we had long been advocating for. I think members do not want the House to be run the way Nancy Pelosi ran it where we got bills at the last minute, not having ample time to read them. This would provide us with 72 hours to read legislation, it would provide us with Congressional Budget Office scores on how -- it would impact the cost -- the cost of these bills would impact inflation, it would require that these bills not be so massive with all sorts of stuff that is unrelated to the issue at hand stuffed into them, but instead they're single-subject bills.

And it would also require other things like making sure that there's a super majority to increase taxes and it does set us on a path to start -- start paying down our debt and to balance our budget, which I think is so incredibly important for the future of this country. $31 trillion is just completely unsustainable. This can't continue.

So, look, if we pay for something new, we have to cut it from somewhere and we need to work toward balancing this budget over the next decade.

COLLINS: Well, Congresswoman, you said you're inclined to support them. You did not say you would outright support them. Do you think that you have a clear view of what concessions Kevin McCarthy agreed to, to get the votes of those 20 hardliners?

MALLIOTAKIS: Well, we have the rules before us. We have had the opportunity, because we require now three days to be able to read them, and we have looked them over. And, again, they're all good government reforms. The only thing that actually changed, by the way, these rules were negotiated by the entire conference. Kevin McCarthy was very open and honest, transparent, allowing all members to participate in the process on how to improve the way the House operates. And that should be made clear here. The vast majority, all but maybe one, had been negotiated by the entire conference and approved, I should say, by the entire conference prior to January 3rd, which is why this stalemate that happened last week was unnecessary because it didn't really add anything much more unless there were, as you say, other deals made on the side that we're unaware of.

But I trust Kevin McCarthy. I think that he was doing what was in the best interest of the entire conference. And the bottom line is, we need to move forward. There is just too many issues facing our nation right now that we want to get forward and address.

Look, we plan on passing legislation this week to deal with the border security, to deal with, you know, IRS, to deal with other things that are important.


MALLIOTAKIS: Prosecutors Must Prosecute Act, which is a bill I'm sponsoring, and others things. We just want to move forward and start governing.

COLLINS: But to get to all of those, you've got to pass this rules package first. And, you know, part of this will include the deals that he made last week. We've seen Chip Roy and others who were initially against Kevin McCarthy talk about those changes.

You know, one big thing that people are looking at is, is there going to be a showdown over the debt ceiling and what that looks like. Do you have concerns about cuts to defense spending? MALLIOTAKIS: Sure, and that's not part of the rules, that could be an

area that they're discussing, which would be interesting, right, because this group of members from the Freedom Caucus would then be siding with AOC and members of the squad and President Biden, who have all called for cutting defense spending. So, it's not necessarily saying it has to be defense spending, it's just saying that we want to start reducing spending and moving us on a path to plans a budget in ten years and start paying down our debt, which is the responsible thing to be doing.

COLLINS: Do you think that Kevin McCarthy can make it through this Congress without that motion to vacate being used against him?

MALLIOTAKIS: I do. I do get concerned about one or two members who are more interested in being showmen than actual legislators, using it to weaponize against him and the conference. That is a concern. But if Kevin's OK with it then, you know, we should be moving forward with that. I would say one thing, this will be telling. And it will be telling to see whether this exercise will bring the Republican conference together more, will it unite us, or will it bring bipartisanship to the House of Representatives because there are members, and I would say myself included, that aren't going to tolerate a small handful preventing us from doing the people's business. And so we have to do what's responsible. We need to do what's in the best interest of the nation. And I'm here to work and not to, you know, play games.

COLLINS: Yes, there are big questions about what legislating will get done.

I want to ask you before you leave about Brazil and what we're seeing happen there with these anti-democracy riots. And I wonder if you will -- are willing to condemn them and what you're seeing happening in Brazil this morning?

MALLIOTAKIS: You know, absolutely, I do -- I do condemn it. Look, we can't - we can't support political violence. I understand that these individuals are probably very concerned about, you know, Brazil going down the path of Cuba and Venezuela and Nicaragua and Bolivia, moving more towards a communist dictatorship. As a daughter of a Cuban refugee, I share those concerns. But political violence is never the answer.


And so it must be condemned. And I hope everyone is united on that front.

COLLINS: And should Republican leaders also condemn it?

MALLIOTAKIS: Absolutely. Look, there's no - there's no excuse for this type of political violence.

COLLINS: All right, Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis, you've got a very busy day ahead of you. We'll be seeing how those votes happen later tonight. Thank you so much for joining us. MALLIOTAKIS: Thank you.

HARLOW: Great interview. Very clear in those -- I mean those last two answers are critically important as we go into this week.

COLLINS: Those are really important.


COLLINS: But also what she said about when it comes to the rules, saying that she is inclined to support them.

HARLOW: Defense spending. Yes.

COLLINS: But there are big questions still about the full picture of what it looks like of what Kevin McCarthy offered to those hardliners last week.

LEMON: Well, there's also some questions about -- from the Democrats as well, because she was one of 147 who voted to -- not to certify the election, to overturn the election results in 2020, and she has said she's not an election denier but she did, you know, vote with Republicans in the House not to certify Joe Biden's election. So, it's going to be interesting to see what happens with this Congress and how she -- what she does with the - with the president.

COLLINS: Yes, and they've got a very slim majority. So, we'll be seeing that.

HARLOW: We're glad you're back.


COLLINS: Good to be back.

HARLOW: Welcome back.

LEMON: Thank you.

CNN "NEWSROOM" starts right after this break.