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13 Million Tons Of Floating Seaweed Drifting In The Atlantic; Mysterious Cluster Of Brain Infections Strikes Kids In Nevada; Chicago's Mayor Urges Texas Governor Not To Send More Migrants. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired May 01, 2023 - 07:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Take a look at this imagery from NASA. It shows the scale of the approximately 13 million-ton floating blob of algae stretching from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. It was record -- it was a record size for March. Newly released data show April matched the record-setting amount previously observed.

Joining us now from Key West, Florida, CNN correspondent Leyla Santiago. I've seen this kind of seaweed in Mexico. Just like it really makes the beaches --


HARLOW: -- not as pretty, that's for sure.

SANTIAGO: Yes, not as pretty and, quite frankly, a bit smelly. I have it ready to go -- ready to show you right here, Poppy. This is sargassum mixed in with a few other things and this is what is inundating Florida's coast. Specifically, they're expecting the east coast.

And remember, last month we talked about this but now we're actually starting to see it come in in those record numbers that scientists predicted -- so much so that take a look over here. The beach rakers on this beach in Key West have already arrived and have already done on run-through on what's hitting the Florida coast right now.

Let's go for a walk so I can kind of show you how all of this stuff just piles up and, again, gets pretty smelly because it decays out here.

And as we mentioned, this is what one scientist told me is just the tip of the iceberg -- more expected. Because when this is out there it is not only right now a 5,000-mile-long body of seaweed, it is still growing while it's out there. So it is increasing in the amount that will be headed this way, as you mentioned, expected to peak in bloom right around that June-July time which, of course, is summer when a lot of tourists come out here and are expecting a great vacation.

We actually caught up with one couple already here hoping to celebrate a 60th birthday and -- well, let's just say the vacation not going as planned. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JASON HYTRECK, FLORIDA RESIDENT: I mean, it's like 75 yards of seaweed out before you even hit clear water. And it's a shame because the Keys -- I mean, we came down here and we've both never been here before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Never been here before, yes.

HYTRECK: I grew up in Florida and, I mean, we -- this is -- this is not what we expected to see when we came in here -- this much seaweed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a big disappointment.


SANTIAGO: Yes. And listen, while we were driving down here from Miami, all the way down to Key West, you could see those patches throughout that about three-hour drive down. So it's not just Key West. Expect it to really impact the east coast and not just folks who are out hoping to get a nice swim out on the beach.

Also, fishermen saying look, we love this stuff because it --

HARLOW: Right.

SANTIAGO: -- brings in the fish and can make for a good catch. But it can also have an impact on the boats if they get stuck in this stuff out there, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, of course. I wish I could smell it -- or maybe I don't wish I could smell it through the T.V.



SANTIAGO: No, you don't -- nope.

HARLOW: Thank you for smelling it for us and for that reporting. We'll see you soon.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I'll pass on that one.

Also this morning, disease detectives with the CDC -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- are investigating a cluster of these rare but serious brain abscesses that are happening in children in and around the Las Vegas area.

In 2022, last year, the number of brain abscesses in kids tripled in Nevada, rising from an average of four to five a year to 18. The good news is that none of the patients died. But doctors from other parts of the country say they may also be seeing a similar rise in cases.

Joining us now is the doctor who noticed this pattern in southern Nevada, Dr. Taryn Bragg. She's an associate professor at the University of Utah and pediatric neurosurgeon at Intermountain Health at Sunrise Children's Hospital in Nevada.

And Doctor, we're so grateful for your time this morning and the fact that you were the one who noticed this and actually alerted public health authorities. What did you see? What were you seeing and what did you tell them?


I started noticing in late March a significant rise in patients presenting to the emergency room with high fevers and altered mental status and weakness. And those patients were diagnosed with brain abscesses. We saw approximately 11 cases in the first four months, which is what prompted my communication with the CDC.

COLLINS: And so what did the CDC say when you reached out? Had they been hearing it from other pediatricians? What was the concern there?

BRAGG: So the CDC had investigated in 2021 and early 2022 and determined that the rates that were nationally noted were consistent with prior fluctuations. However, I had urged them to reconsider continued surveillance throughout 2022 and 2023 as our numbers were significantly higher than expected.

COLLINS: And you haven't seen as many cases this year, in 2023. Does that mean that there's a link to the pandemic? What's your sense of that?

BRAGG: So, we're hoping that whatever the cause -- we're not quite certain what that cause -- of why we're seeing an increase in infections, but we're hoping that the seasonal fluctuations go back to baseline, and that's certainly what I've seen here in southern Nevada.

COLLINS: I think this is so alarming for any parent who is watching this. They want to know what should they be looking out for in their children if there is something similar happening.


BRAGG: So the patients that presented were significantly ill at the time that they came to the emergency room. So this is very different than a common cold. But things that they can look for would be persistent high fevers. Perhaps, persistent drainage from the nose. Puffiness in the face or eyes. And anything that was not responding to a normal course or short course of treatment should bring parents to their pediatricians or their local emergency room.

COLLINS: Yes. OK, that's really good advice.

Dr. Taryn Bragg, again, one of the first officials to spot this and alert public health authorities. Thank you so much for your time this morning.

BRAGG: Thank you.

HARLOW: In the final weeks as Chicago's mayor, Lori Lightfoot has quite a message for her party -- listen.


MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT, (D) CHICAGO: As Democrats, if we do not speak the truth about violent crime in our city we will be the worse for it.


HARLOW: She's going to talk with us about that and a lot more -- what's ahead. Mayor Lightfoot is in studio.




LIGHTFOOT: As Democrats, if we do not speak the truth about violent crime in our city we will be the worse for it. The police department is spending all this time and resources to arrest, put a case on, and then the judges and the prosecutors say you know what? We're going to let you out on electronic monitoring to wreak havoc again.


HARLOW: That warning from outgoing Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot -- a warning to her own party to get tough on crime. And while she didn't use the words cash bail it's pretty clear what she was talking about. She, of course, is a former prosecutor.

And Democrats are acting on that message -- some of them. Last week, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced judges will have more authority to set bail and detain dangerous defendants. This move comes after New York Democrats in the midterms were hit hard on violent crime and faced calls for the state to change the bail reform laws.

For Lightfoot, Chicago's first Black woman mayor and its first openly gay mayor, she lost her bid for reelection in February in a race where the city's high crime rate was largely in focus. Her final days in office are now. She's done in two weeks.

And we're really happy to have here in studio this morning. Good morning.

LIGHTFOOT: Good morning. Happy to be here.

HARLOW: So you've got two weeks left.


HARLOW: As we -- we're going to get into sort of your experience, but just your thoughts on what New York has done because that was listening to the advice that you gave.

LIGHTFOOT: Look, I think the thing that's been challenging in these conversations around criminal justice reform, police reform is the voices of the victims have been lost. And my point is that as Democrats we've got to straddle those various divides but importantly, if we put victims' voices front and center in any discussions about public safety we will be the winners. Because it's the victims -- the people in the neighborhoods, the people on the block that are affected every single day by violent, dangerous, and habitual offenders that are wreaking havoc. And we can't coddle those kinds of people. We've got to be tough on them.

HARLOW: Let me present the other side of this argument to you -- someone who disagrees, for example, with what New York has just done here changing its cash bail reform laws giving judges more power.

That's the family of Kalief Browder. You obviously know who Kalief Browder is, but to remind our viewers he spent three years at Rikers Island for stealing a backpack because his family couldn't afford $3,000 to get him out on bail. And they -- he ultimately took his own life. And they decry changes like this.

What do you say to them?

LIGHTFOOT: Well look, I don't think anybody, and certainly not Democrats, believe that local jails should be debtors' prisons for people who just can't afford to pay --


LIGHTFOOT: -- a modest cash bail. That's not what this has to be about. It's got to be about making sure that judges are asking the question when the defendant comes in front of them, are they a flight risk or are they a danger to the community? And what's gotten lost in those discussions is the danger to the community element.

We fought hard in Illinois to put that back into --


LIGHTFOOT: -- our state laws so that our communities could be safe.

HARLOW: All right. Let me ask you about what the Chicago Tribune wrote after the day you lost the election.


HARLOW: "Lightfoot struggled through a storm of skyrocketing crime, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a series of personality conflicts that left her labeled as a divisive leader who was unable to build political coalitions." I would assume you take a little bit of issue with that.

LIGHTFOOT: I take -- I take a lot of issue with that.

HARLOW: So, tell us.

LIGHTFOOT: Here's the thing. Oftentimes in the narrative the focus on women -- in particular, Black women -- is about our personalities and how we govern and how we present ourselves. What I would say to you and challenge anybody who says well, she was so divisive she couldn't lead.

How did we close budget deficits two years in a row? How did we build and restitch together the social safety net with an historic amount of $1.2 billion in investment? How did we push $2.2 billion into areas of our community that haven't seen a dime of investment in decades?

When you look at the body of work and what we were able to accomplish in coalition with local elected officials, with local stakeholders, this nonsense around well, she was mean and she wasn't nice, it's just crazy. And frankly, you know this -- every woman in leadership -- every woman who dares to say I have something to say, I want to lead, I want to contribute back faces the same thing. And we've got to just put that to the side and look at the facts and the substance of what has been accomplished.

HARLOW: One of the things that I found really interesting that you've been saying in these sort of final weeks in office is you talk about something you describe as an anger bubble.



HARLOW: And you talk about not being able to break through an anger bubble. What is that?

LIGHTFOOT: Look, I think people are angry, they're frustrated, they're fearful because COVID-19 really pulled the rug out from everybody and upended our assumptions about what our daily life was going to be. The future is still not clear and so a lot of people have manifested that anxiety as anger.

And I think for any elected official at every level we've got to break through that. We've got to demonstrate to people why they should have confidence in us -- but importantly, what we've done to change their lives.

I'm in the first wave of mayors coming through COVID that's run for reelection. And I'm talking to my fellow mayors all across the country to let them know about my experience --


LIGHTFOOT: -- but to say you've got to take on this challenge.

HARLOW: You talk about taking on -- you really went head-to-head with the teachers union --


HARLOW: -- in Chicago. And now we're starting to see the evidence. I'm seeing it as a parent. I -- we are seeing the data come out about the learning loss --


HARLOW: -- from these schools being shut for so long.

The union called conditions for in-person schooling, for a long time there in Chicago, unsafe, right? They were representing teachers that didn't feel safe. You disagreed.

Wasn't the union just doing its job and advocating for teachers that didn't feel safe, or do you think that their moves harmed our children?

LIGHTFOOT: Look, obviously, every union should advocate for its members but it's got to be in the context of an organization. Schools are about children.

We demonstrated over and over again that our schools were safe. We put $100 million into retrofitting classrooms, making sure that they had the PPE. Making sure that every single classroom had filters to make sure that the air was safe. Deep cleaning of every single building.

But fundamentally, we know that where children learn the best and where they are safest is in the classroom and in-person learning. And none of our parents signed up to be homeschoolers. And the learning loss is real. We're making big steps in that direction but the union needed to work with us and they never did that.

HARLOW: Here's what Randi Weingarten, who heads that union, said. Let's play it.


RANDI WEINGARTEN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERAL OF TEACHERS: We spent every day from February on trying to get schools open. We knew that remote education was not a substitute for opening schools.


HARLOW: The former education secretary Betsy DeVos responded to that, accusing her of revisionist history. Do you agree with DeVos?

LIGHTFOOT: Well, what I will say is this. That may have been what Randi Weingarten was saying at the national level and I believe that to be true. I had conversations with her at the time that lead me to believe that's what she wanted to do. That's not the reality that was happening on the ground in cities like Chicago, like Los Angeles, and other places.


LIGHTFOOT: We needed to get our kids back in school. And I'm unapologetic about the fight to make sure that we put our kids and our parents first.

HARLOW: Quickly, advice to your successor, Brandon Johnson, who takes over May 15?

LIGHTFOOT: Be humble, listen, and rise above the fray and be the mayor for the entire city. HARLOW: Mayor Lightfoot, thank you, and thanks for the work you did for Chicago.

LIGHTFOOT: A pleasure.

HARLOW: Stay with us, OK?

LIGHTFOOT: Yes, I will.

HARLOW: We're going to have a broader conversation. We're going to the table and talk about the letter you recently sent to Gov. Greg Abbott asking him to stop sending migrants to Chicago. A lot more with you and Adam Kinzinger ahead -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes, we do have more on that.

Also, the other top headlines this morning as more than 200 law enforcement officers are now involved in the search for that gunman accused of killing five people -- his neighbors -- including a 9-year- old boy. We have the latest in the search ahead.




REP. TONY GONZALES (R-TX): The numbers are getting worse. The agents are beyond an exhausting point. And it's not just at the border. Now what you're seeing is places 100-150 miles from the border that are just as overwhelmed as if they were on the Rio Grande themselves.


COLLINS: That's Texas Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales describing a -- describing a worsening situation at the border as Title 42 is set to expire next week. That's that COVID-era policy that allowed the border authorities to quickly expel certain migrants.

Gonzales' comments come as Chicago's outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who you just heard from, is now urging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to stop sending busloads of migrants to her city of Chicago.

Lightfoot, yesterday, wrote in a letter to him saying, quote, "Your lack of consideration or coordination in an attempt to cause chaos and score political points has resulted in a critical tipping point in our ability to receive individuals and families in a safe, orderly, and dignified way."

Mayor Lightfoot is back here at the table with us. Also joining our conversation on immigration and other key issues, CNN senior political commentator and former Republican congressman from Illinois, Adam Kinzinger. Thank you both.

Two questions for you on this letter. One, have you heard anything? LIGHTFOOT: No, we have not heard anything back and frankly, I didn't expect to hear anything back. But I felt like it was important to once again try to engage the governor but also let him know what his policies and practices are doing in cities like Chicago. We are completely tapped out, we have no more space and no more resources, and frankly, we're already in a surge.

We've been seeing over the last week two to three -- 200-plus people coming to Chicago every single day. We call them walk-ins because they're not coming on buses, but they are coming on planes from San Antonio. And we're very concerned because they don't seem like they're getting screened at the border. We've seen people coming with serious medical issues.

COLLINS: Well, I imagine his response though would be a defense of what they're doing. Obviously, he's continued to do this. And what he -- Gov. Abbott has said in the past is that this is a way for other states and other cities to see what Texas and Arizona deal with, saying that they are bearing the brunt of this issue and they're basically just showing other people what it's like.

LIGHTFOOT: But what's getting lost in what the governor is doing is the fact that these are human beings. In any other emergency you would be coordinating. You'd be collaborating. You'd be talking about specifically what the needs of the people are.

We've seen people come off of these buses that he has sent who are victims of sexual assault. Who have serious medical conditions that can't be dealt with by the paramedics that we have on site. They've got to be rushed to the hospital. Women who are in such an advanced stage of labor that they literally get off the bus and give birth within one of our facilities. That doesn't make any sense.

So if we don't put the humanity of these migrants front and center -- I understand and I'm solely compassionate to the fact that the borders are, themselves, really overwhelmed but you don't solve that problem by simply sticking people on buses to a city that they didn't ask to come to for an uncertain future and now, where we are literally full.

HARLOW: Congressman, the only solution -- actually, lasting solution to this problem is from your former employer -- it's Congress. And so only --


HARLOW: -- executive orders get challenged in the courts. Look at -- look at DACA. It continues to be challenged, et cetera. You've got mayors pleading for help in New York City. He saying the same thing -- from Mayor Adams.

Is Congress going to do anything?

KINZINGER: Yes -- no. Because --

HARLOW: Yes, no. KINZINGER: -- this is the easiest --

HARLOW: No, right?

KINZINGER: Right. No is the answer. Because this is actually the easiest thing to solve. I mean, I can give you an 80 percent issue, which is serious border security. Take care of the folks that are here illegally and give them a pathway at the back of the line to citizenship or legalization. And you can go down that -- pay a fine. And 80 percent of Americans say that's a good solution.

The problem is Republicans hold onto border security; Democrats hold onto the issue of those that are here illegally, and nothing gets done.

I have worked the border as a member of the National Guard and I'll tell you the human trafficking issue on the border is very serious. We'd find people -- we'd find bodies in the desert in Arizona. We'd find young girls that had been raped by coyotes bringing them over.

This is a -- this is a human issue. And I agree with the mayor on you cannot just start shipping people around the country to make political points. Yes, Texas and Arizona have a huge problem and they need extra resources to deal with it. But you don't deal with it by further dividing this country on the issue of immigration and that's what, frankly, people like Gov. Abbott are trying to do.

COLLINS: Title 42 is set to expire though and there are major questions for the administration on how they're prepared to handle this. We've seen them out talking about it, from Sec. Mayorkas, Sec. Blinken.

What's your sense of whether or not the Biden administration is prepared to handle Title 42 going away?

LIGHTFOOT: Look, I know that they are focused on this issue. They've been focused on it for months and months and months. But the reality is in the cities is that we are already seeing the surge and we need immediate federal help.

Two things. One, we need FEMA to issue the monies that the Congress has already appropriated to them. We got $5.5 million last fall. We've not seen a nickel yet this year.

There are two programs that Congress set up. FEMA needs to speed up --

COLLINS: Why aren't you getting that money?

LIGHTFOOT: We have no idea. We have been talking, talking, talking. We need FEMA to step up and do the right thing.

The other thing is we need work permits for these people that are coming in. If they're here in our country legally they should be able to work. I could put every single able-bodied adult in my city to work yesterday --

HARLOW: Right.

LIGHTFOOT: -- if they had legal work permits.

HARLOW: I mean, there's like 10 million open jobs. We've seen the real impact of labor shortages across sectors.

I want to change the topic to abortion and your perspective on how your party -- the Republican Party is handling these questions about abortion now. It is what every presidential candidate in your party needs to answer, and these answers have been sort of all over the map.

Is it a winning issue for them? They've already got Dodds -- overturning Roe versus Wade.

KINZINGER: Yes, it's not. So here's the -- how abortion politics worked up until Dobbs was overturned, which was the pro-choice group wasn't really super motivated because to them it was always going to be legal. It's not the thing that drives you to the polls.

HARLOW: Right.

KINZINGER: Pro-life was.

Now that has switched you see the pro-choice crowd being driven to the polls and the pro-life crowd is unable to have a coherent message here.

I say -- as a pro-lifer myself, I say look, we should move to a position of promoting a culture of life.

How do we encourage adoption in this country? How do we make sure that those that are born in an unwanted environment can be adopted?

And also, let's be realistic about things like rape, incest, life and health of the mother, and let's set a reasonable timeframe not at six weeks for abortion -- something a little further down the line.

And I think that could have been a big win, frankly, for the pro-life movement. And the pro-choice movement probably wouldn't agree with all of it but it wouldn't be as cruel as what you're seeing out of my party now, and it's going to be bad politics.

COLLINS: I want your perspective on this but quickly, was it a mistake for DeSantis to sign that six-week bill?

KINZINGER: Oh, I think so. I think so, yes.

COLLINS: He hasn't been talking about it very much.


COLLINS: What do you make of what's happening? Because look at what's happening in Nebraska, South Carolina --

HARLOW: Yes. COLLINS: -- where these state legislatures are coming up with really strict things. But you're seeing -- and in certain states we're seeing a lawmaker -- an 80-year-old man who is saying he thought it was way too soon when it came to six weeks because a lot of people don't even know they're pregnant by then.


Look, I think the Republican Party is going to rue the day that they launched onto this and these draconian laws that are being passed -- and state legislature, particularly across the south.

I think that this is not only going to become a social issues motivating pro-choice women, but it's going to be an economic issue.