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CNN This Morning

Protests, Outrage Grow Over Jordan Neely Killing in NYC; Interview with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA); Gunman Commits Mass Shooting at Texas Mall; First Responder Discusses His Experience Arriving at Texas Mall During Mass Shooting; Man Plows SUV into Group of People Near Migrant Shelter. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 08, 2023 - 08:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And the Republican governor of Texas is about to speak as his state braces for Title 42 to expire.

This hour of CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

And that is where we begin. The tragedy in Texas this weekend putting a spotlight on two of America's most divisive issues and our nation's failure to do much about that, the border crisis and mass shootings. Eight people are now confirmed dead after an SUV plowed into those people near a shelter for migrants Sunday in the border city of Brownsville. And the day before, eight people were killed in a mass shooting at an outlet mall on the other side of the state. Investigators are looking into whether the gunman was motivated by far-right extremism.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: An image of the shooter's body shows him wearing all black tactical gear. A source tells CNN he had a patch on his clothing with the letters "RWDS" which police believe stands for "Right Wing Death Squad." He also apparently had a lot of neo-Nazi and white supremacist social media posts. We're now hearing from a survivor who hid inside a bathroom closet with 12 other people.


RACQUEL LEE, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: And the gunshots, just, it sounded like a war zone. If it was horrifying, and it felt like you were in a dream, like, just shock. But we were in a bathroom closet, and we were just in the closet trying not to be heard, crying, praying, people were trying to call 911. We couldn't dial out. I just remembered thinking, oh, God, he's coming in here next. And when I was crouching down, I hope we don't get hit by a bullet. And then the store associate saved our lives. I can't talk about that part. I want to find her.


MATTINGLY: That's horrifying. CNN's senior national correspondent Ed Lavandera is live at the scene. And Ed, we've heard the stories. What more are we learning at this point? ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have been

reporting that the suspect in this case is 33-year-old Mauricio Garcia. A senior law enforcement source has now been confirmed by the lead agency investigating this attack. The Texas Department of Public Safety says that he lived in Dallas and came here. And as you mentioned off the top there, they are investigating this part of his life where these connections to rightwing extremism. They had found on his body an insignia with the initials RWDS, which stands for Right Wing Death Squad.

How that plays into a motive in this case, and why it meant that he picked this place to carry out this horrifying attack is not clear right now. Right now, at this moment, the governor of Texas is joined with the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety at a press conference or a press event in Austin, Texas, having nothing to do with this. It has to do with Title 42 and immigration issues.

What is astounding in all of this since the shooting happened, investigators have not taken any questions about what transpired here at this outlet mall in Allen, Texas. Eight people were killed. We do note two of the victims, one of them is 20-year-old Christian LaCour who worked here at the mall as a security guard. And CNN affiliate WFAA here in Dallas reports that another young woman by the name of Aishwarya Thatikonda is also one of the victims. But we don't know much else beyond that.

But here in this community, as you can see, the memorial that has been put up over the weekend, many people searching for answers, trying to figure out how all of this could unfold -- all of this could have unfolded here. And the stories, as you heard from that one witness, have really been harrowing. And we're watching in real time and have watched over the last couple of days so many of the witnesses who were close to this, the survivors, really processing the magnitude of the ordeal that they experienced here on Saturday afternoon. It is actually heartbreaking to watch so many of these people deal with that as they talk about what they witnessed and the pain and the horror that we experienced here at this outlet mall.

There was one witness, Phil and Poppy, that we spoke with who described some of the initial moments after the gunfire erupted, and as we've been able to piece together some of the movements of this gunman as he made his way through the parking lot, essentially moving around a central building in the parking lot of this outlet mall. One witness describes seeing the gunman pass by the store that he was hiding in, walking deliberately and quickly to another end of the building but shooting downrange, as the person described.


And we know that in that area where this witness described shooting, there were several victims. And then that witness described the police officer following behind, and then shooting and killing him just a few moments after.

MATTINGLY: Ed Lavandera, stick close by. We are currently monitoring the remarks from Governor Greg Abbott in Austin, those remarks about Title 42. If we get any new information or details about the two tragedies that occurred over the course of the last 48 hours down in Texas, in Governor Abbott's state, we'll certainly bring that to you. The governor is speaking now. We're going to keep monitoring that. Ed will stick by as well. Poppy?

HARLOW: One of the first responders on the scene on Saturday in Texas in that tragic mass shooting was a former Army and police officer. His name is Steven Spainhouer and he was rushing to the mall after he got a call from his son who worked at the H&M there when the gunman opened fire. Thankfully, his son, Freddy (ph), who is 25 years old, was not harmed. Steven joins us now. Steve, good morning.


HARLOW: Really a terrible morning for you, for your family, for your entire state, and this country. As you understand it, you found a child alive with a mother dead, protecting that child. Is that right?

SPAINHOUER: Yes, I did. It's pretty horrific, what I saw. I didn't go with the intent of being a first responder or helping anybody. I went to find my son. I was surprised when I drove into the mall that it was -- the parking lot was empty. People were still sheltering in their cars. People were running away from the mall. And there was one man at the scene that had a connection to 911 and he was having trouble describing to them where he was at and what he was doing.

So I just kind of jumped in there, gave some directions on where the shooter went. He gave me a description. And then I started trying to take care of victims. And sadly, the first individual I went to was -- and I don't want to be too graphic, but she was not able to be saved. I couldn't save the second guy. The third guy actually expired while I was trying to do chest compressions.

The child came out from under, what I believe was the mother, it might have been a relative, I don't know how the relation is, but started to wander around asking for help, saying mom, mom, mama, mama. So I just scooped the child up and took him about 15 feet away so she couldn't tell what was going on. There was so much blood on the child, I couldn't tell the sex. I just asked are you OK, checked for wound. The first Allen police officer pulled up and said, good God almighty. I take the child. Is he hurt? I said, I don't know if he's hurt or not, take him, because he doesn't need to be here. So thankfully, the Allen police department, this was a Uvalde situation. The first responders in Allen, Texas, the paramedics, the police officers, are truly the heroes.

HARLOW: Yes, wow. What you just described, it's unfathomable, someone dying as you're trying to save them, and a child so covered in blood, that you don't know if it's a boy or a girl at first. Also, the worst nightmare for a parent is to get a call like you got from your son, Freddy (ph). What was that like?

SPAINHOUER: Well, we talked after Uvalde, he had excellent active shooter training. I can't say enough about what they've done to prepare their staff. He's truly the hero because he was in the break room. He said, if I would have been by the window that was shot out by the gunman, I wouldn't be here. He got his staff and his employees into the break room. They took up with of the victims shot outside into the store and took care of that victim while they were waiting to be extricated by the S.W.A.T. team. So those store employees did what they were supposed to do by locking their doors and having an active shooter plan in place, something I have discussed with them many times, absolutely worked.

And I know people were concerned about the response time, but when you're a 911 operator, and I've been there and you get all of these calls, that's not an easy thing to do to find out where you need to send your help.

WHITFIELD: I would like to know from you what you want to be done in your state and on a national level. And I preface this question just by letting everyone know you've said that you are a big spotter of the second amendment, you're a gun owner, but at this point, in your words, thoughts and prayers have to be followed by action. What specific action?

SPAINHOUER: Absolutely.

HARLOW: What needs to change?

SPAINHOUER: Absolutely. Absolutely. We used to have an assault weapons ban nationally. We can do that at the state level. We can put red flag laws in place. We can limit high-capacity rounds like I found a live round next to one of the deceased victims. We can stop putting some of these weapons like M-4s and AR-15s in the hands of people that don't need them.

And I hear our governor talking about mental health issues. We're always going to have mental health issues. But if we don't do something about the guns, the people-killing guns, then we're going to continue to have the same thing happen.


It could happen to your family. It could happen to anybody that's watching in any state, in any small town or big city. And until we take some definite actions, with changing the narrative about it being just mental health issue, and start doing something about the guns.

HARLOW: And you don't think, for example, an assault weapons ban, like we had in this country, by the way, up until 2004, you wouldn't see that as a violation of your Second Amendment rights, or universal background checks or red flag laws, is that right, sir?

SPAINHOUER: Not in the least. We have put limits on speech that prohibit certain types of speech. We can put limits on our Second Amendment rights just as well. We've got to protect our communities and make sure that they're safe. And I am a big supporter of making sure that we protect our Second Amendment rights, but we can't do so at the jeopardy of our public safety and our health and our families.

HARLOW: Steven Spainhouer, thank you so much for joining us. And I'm so sorry for what you had to witness. And we're all grateful for what you did for those people.

SPAINHOUER: Thank you -- thank very much. I appreciate the storytelling and getting the narrative out there that we've got to make some change and now's the time to do it.

HARLOW: Thank you, thank you.

MATTINGLY: That's incredibly powerful.

Governor Greg Abbott is holding a news conference right now in Austin separate of the two tragedies this weekend. It comes as the COVID-era policy Title 42 is set to expire on Thursday. And that allows border authorities to quickly expel certain migrants.

Meantime, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the FBI are working to identify the eight people killed when a driver plowed into a crowd outside a shelter in Brownsville, Texas. CNN has obtained surveillance footage of the incident. We want to warn you, it is disturbing.

Now, we have frozen the video just before the most graphic moment when the SUV slams into the people waiting at this bus stop. It's unclear at this point if this was an accident or deliberate.

Let's bring in CNN's Rosa Flores in El Paso, Texas. Rosa, have we learned anything at all about the driver of this vehicle?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Phil, the driver is not cooperating. That's according to Brownsville police. But let me start with the facts here, because the director of the shelter says that all of this incident was captured on his surveillance video as well, and he says that what it shows is about 20 to 25 migrants who were sitting on a curb waiting for the bus. And then an SUV that was driving at a very high rate of speed ran a red light, hit the curb about 30 feet from where those migrants were, and then plowed through the crowd.

According to this director, he said that some of the witnesses say that this was an intentional act. I asked the director, based on what he witnessed in this tape, was it an intentional act? And he said "no."

back to the driver. Police say he's not cooperating. They say he has been arrested and is being held on reckless driving charges and that police are ordering a blood test for toxicology. Here in El Paso, where I am, as you know, Phil, we've been covering this. There are several thousand migrants on the street. And here's what city officials are doing. They're closing streets because of public safety.

MATTINGLY: And as you know, Rosa, Texas Governor Greg Abbott is speaking right now on the issue that you've been covering so closely the last several weeks, Title 42. How is his speech going to be received on the ground there in El Paso given the current dynamics?

FLORES: Phil, here in El Paso in a lot of border communities, I've talked to a lot of people. They're usually in one of two camps. They either say that Governor Abbott is militarizing the border. And as you look around, there are thousands of migrants here that are already in the United States, so they pointed that and say, look, Abbott is spending billions of Texas taxpayer dollars and nothing is working. And then the other camp of individuals that I talked to say, you know what, at least he's doing something, at least he's trying something. Phil?

MATTINGLY: There's no easy answer on this one. We're going to see a lot of this this week. Rosa Flores will be there every step of the way. Thanks so much.

HARLOW: Here in New York, protests over the death of Jordan Neely are intensifying. They are even flowing on some subway tracks. The homeless street artist died Monday after he was put in a chokehold on the subway. He reportedly had been shouting at passengers beforehand. We've also learned the identity of the man who held Neely in that chokehold. His attorneys identify him as a 24-year-old marine vet named Daniel Penny. Omar Jimenez joins us live from an upper east side subway station where literally these protests have spilled onto the tracks.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, 13 people have been arrested after the protests over the killing of Jordan Neely spilled onto the subway tracks at the station behind me over the weekend. They are protests we have seen not in huge size, but pretty consistently and scattered over the course of the city since this happened last week. Neely was known as a Michael Jackson impersonator but had fallen on hard times in recent years. A law enforcement source told CNN he had been arrested over 40 times for things like jumping the turnstile, but also in at least in a few cases, assault as well though. It is unlikely that anyone knew any of that history in the moments leading up to when this chokehold actually happened on the subway car again last week.


But of course, all of that is what is driving a lot of the public opinion here and trying to figure out whether charges will actually be filed in this case -- Poppy.

HARLOW: And that's one of the questions is what will they decide to do with Penny? Are they going to -- will they bring it to a grand jury? That's a big question here. If he were charged, what would the charge be? Any word on any of that?

JIMENEZ: So we're still waiting to find out. The district attorney's office has said they're looking through photos, videos, doing witnesses with -- interviews with witnesses to try and piece together, likely as much as they can to potentially bring charges in any one of those manners that you mentioned.

Now, the attorneys for Daniel Penny, the 24-year-old identified as the man who did the chokehold said that when Mr. Neely -- they claimed -- when Mr. Neely began aggressively threatening Daniel Penny and the other passengers, Daniel, with the help of others acted to protect themselves until help arrived. Daniel never intended to harm Mr. Neely, and could not have foreseen his untimely death. While we haven't been able to confirm what happened beforehand, a

witness did say that Neely was acting erratically, but that statement about what those intents were, about not knowing that this could have ended in death is the crux of what has driven protest, because many have called this murder, but his defense, of course, is saying that he needed to do this and was not aware of how this would have ended.

HARLOW: And I don't -- we don't have cameras in every subway car, right, Omar? So, we don't know.

JIMENEZ: Yes. So interview -- the witnesses with interviews are going -- witness interviews, excuse me, are going to play a huge part in trying to figure out what were the circumstances leading up to this and how were passengers feeling leading up to this.

HARLOW: Okay. Omar Jimenez, appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: We have two big deadlines looming over Washington this week on immigration and on the debt ceiling.

The Treasury secretary trying to send a message to Republicans on that debt ceiling.


JANET YELLEN, US TREASURY SECRETARY: It simply is unacceptable for Congress to threaten economic calamity for American households and the global financial system.


MATTINGLY: That statement coming about 12 hours after 43 Senate Republicans wrote a letter this weekend vowing to oppose any bill that raises the debt ceiling without significant spending reforms. One of those Republicans, Louisiana's senior senator, Bill Cassidy joins us live next.




YELLEN: It simply is unacceptable for Congress to threaten economic calamity for American households and the global financial system.


MATTINGLY: That was Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen accusing Republicans of threatening the economy over the debt limit as President Biden is set for a pivotal meeting tomorrow with four top congressional leaders. That clock, it is ticking towards a potential default. It could come as soon as June 1st.

Now, over the weekend, 43 Senate Republicans wrote a letter vowing to oppose "any bill that raises the debt ceiling without substantive spending and budget reforms," very clearly backing up House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's position.

Joining us now at the table is one of those Republicans who signed the letter, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. He serves on the Finance Committee. He started chuckling when I mentioned that Secretary Yellen was trying to deliver you guys a message.

But you delivered a message to the administration this weekend with that letter, and for those who maybe aren't totally sure how this all works. You boxed the administration in with that letter. You essentially took an off ramp off the table in terms of the idea that perhaps the administration can make a deal with Senate Republicans.

You're saying absolutely not, and not only is a clean debt ceiling increase off the table, so too is the idea of something small. This has to be significant budget reforms.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): I would phrase it very differently, Phil.


CASSIDY: Because the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans -- excuse me, the Senate and - the Senate was never going to be a part of this. People would come to the Senate and say, oh, can you all work out a bipartisan deal?

MATTINGLY: As you've done in the past.

CASSIDY: As we've done in the past.


CASSIDY: The president has refused to negotiate with McCarthy. It is a total House Republican White House deal, and we had to send a signal.

Mr. President, engage. We cannot help you here. It is between the two of you. So if you need a wake-up call that Senate Republicans and Democrats cannot pull these chestnuts out of the fire, this is your wake up call.

We're trying to catalyze his engagement.

MATTINGLY: But they are saying you won't engage, this is a deal between those two parties, and then they are saying, no debt ceiling increase without significant budget and spending reforms.

CASSIDY: So we're trying to -- so, we are saying, listen, this is what McCarthy's calling card is.


CASSIDY: Now, let's just put it on the table.

Whatever you think, the House Republicans have a certain position. McCarthy is on - is riding an elephant. He has got to manage that crew. Let's just be pragmatic.

HARLOW: All of them.

CASSIDY: All of them.

HARLOW: Because one has the power to --

CASSIDY: Almost.


CASSIDY: And so if you don't send a signal, listen, the game is really between you and a speaker who's got to bring all of these Republicans on board, which is very factitious mount, then you're not understanding the political dynamic.

This letter is about understanding -- Mr. President, show leadership -- understand the political dynamic, not as you wish it to be, but as it is, and let's make something happen.

HARLOW: Do you worry, perhaps that McCarthy's position, the position of those House Republicans is out of step with the position of the majority of the American people?

I mean, Phil and I were talking earlier about the new poll over the weekend, it shows 58 percent -- Washington Post -- 58 percent of Americans say the debt limit and federal spending should be handled as separate issues, and that's what the White House is saying.

CASSIDY: Well, one, it is the House we have. But secondly, I think if you rephrase that, if you said American people, every month that we continue a student loan pause, that adds $5 billion to our nation's debt and moves the kind of expiration date of borrowing authority a little bit closer.

Now, the president's policies are actively making this worse. So if you phrase that question to the American people, the president's policies are actively making this worse, do you think the president should stop those policies?

HARLOW: You could also phrase it as -

CASSIDY: Totally, Poppy (ph).

HARLOW: -- you know, cutting taxes on the wealthy also contributed to this, but --

CASSIDY: So my -- my point is, how you phrase that question is important. I will also say, though, that the president's policies are actively making it worse.


CASSIDY: And so, wouldn't you (ph) have a point of leverage to get the president to back down?

HARLOW: We are now hearing people talk about the 14th Amendment, Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, I think a lot more people are Googling it.


And you know, part of it, the validity of the public debt --

MATTINGLY: Hopefully, the Treasury Department has done a little bit more research than that, but yes.

HARLOW: You know, average folks Googling it. "The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned." Let's listen to the administration talking about whether it would be unconstitutional not to raise it. Here it is.


STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC: Are you prepared to invoke the 14th Amendment and blow through the debt ceiling?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have not gotten there yet.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Is that a hard and fast position that the president will under no circumstances invoke the 14th Amendment?

YELLEN: Look, all I want to say is that it's Congress' job to do this. If they fail to do it, we will have an economic and financial catastrophe.

What to do if Congress fails to meet its responsibility? There is simply no good options, and the ones that you've listed are among the not good options.


HARLOW: That is the Treasury secretary and the president not taking invoking 14th Amendment off the table. Do you think it's unconstitutional to not raise it?

CASSIDY: I am not a constitutional attorney. I read Laurence Tribe's article over the weekend.

HARLOW: Me, too. Yeah.

CASSIDY: But he's got a perspective on it. But let's just take what Yellen said, that this is going to be a fiscal disaster.

It has been a fiscal disaster for families, not for people on Wall Street, God bless them, but for families, there has been the inflation that is (ph) just eating up their buying power.

Now, you can look at the inflation rate when the president took office, which was extremely, low and you can look at the inflation rate now, six to seven percent per month, year-over-year. This is just emptying out people's pockets. We're asking the president, think about those families. Pull back on

some of the spending that you seem hell bent to do and then we can negotiate -- I'm speaking for McCarthy right now.

I actually think for the sake of those families, that's a pretty good place to be.

MATTINGLY: But the kind of other side of it is, that's your position with the leverage being, if you decide not to come to the table, all of those people who've been dealing with inflation, now their credit card interest rates are going to spike, their auto loans and mortgages.

And I think that's kind of the --

HARLOW: And they might lose their job.

MATTINGLY: That's the disconnect to some degree between the administration and House Republicans. The administration is saying this shouldn't be something to be used as leverage. This is the US economy, which is bigger than just Wall Street, it's people.

CASSIDY: So, I'd actually agree with you totally. That's why the president needs to engage. The president shouldn't be convening the four leaders because Mitch McConnell would say there's nothing he can do. He should have been engaged three weeks ago, he should have been talking to McCarthy, not with the House that the president wishes that he had, but with the House that he has, and trying to come to an agreement.

I'm not diminishing the risk of this. I'm saying because of that risk, Mr. President, show up.

HARLOW: Okay. And look, Democrats could have done this when Democrats had control.


HARLOW: Hindsight is often helpful.

While we have you, we want to talk about guns and this tragedy, just the latest tragedy, mass shooting. How many families, how many times have I taken my family to the mall on a Saturday, right? And look what happens. Eight people murdered.

You're a physician, you're a medical doctor. Do you think that the gun violence in America now is a public health crisis? Is it an epidemic?

CASSIDY: It depends on how you define an epidemic but one --

HARLOW: Well, do you feel it is?

CASSIDY: One death is too many deaths, and this shooting - (inaudible) just heartbreak. Now, we don't know the details of it, but that's why I was part of the group that, after the shooting in Uvalde, came together on a bipartisan basis to attempt to address the three kinds of root causes of mass shootings -- gang violence, domestic violence, and someone who is mentally ill.

The gentleman that spoke from Texas, what an incredible testimony. But as it turns out, those are the three things that it typically is.

So you have to look at root causes, and the Uvalde response bill addresses those root causes, it has yet to be fully implemented. We need it fully implemented.

MATTINGLY: Do you think that there's any -- with the caveat that we don't know all of the details as to the why -- what you guys were able to accomplish in the bipartisan deal is something that hadn't happened in decades, it was significant. You make the point, it is still being implemented. Is there any appetite for doing more on guns in this Congress?

CASSIDY: You know, in medicine we have a saying, don't just do something, think. I think you have to first look and see, what was the circumstance? Could it have been prevented?

By the way, the federal legislation enables states to pass laws on their own. So, I think it may be that it is actually the state action that has been set up by the federal. I don't know the circumstances, but that's part of it.

And the response to the Nashville shooting, the governor of Tennessee is calling for state action.

HARLOW: That's right. And look what Rick Scott did in Florida after the Parkland -

MATTINGLY: Parkland shooting, yeah.

HARLOW: -- shootings there.

I would just -- you talked about state, so let's end on your state. The CDC data shows that Louisiana had the second highest firearm mortality rate by state. This is 2021, twenty-nine point one percent, over 1,300 firearm deaths in your state. Do you want to see more done on this in your state?

CASSIDY: Absolutely. In the Uvalde response bill, we actually created funds for the states such as mine to have more resources to enforce restraining orders, for example.