Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Sources: Five Americans Being Transported To Qatari Jet In Tehran; Interview with Rep. Pat Ryan (D-NY); Zelenskyy Set To Visit Lawmakers In Washington This Week; Strikes Stage Comeback As Thousands Of Workers Voice Demands. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 18, 2023 - 07:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Back to our breaking news this morning.

Five American prisoners in Iran are now, as we speak, being transported to a jet in Tehran. That is according to a CNN source. And right now, that jet is on standby. It will bring them from Iran to Qatar, then eventually on to the United States. Under this agreement, the U.S. has unfrozen $6 billion in Iranian funds meant to only be used for humanitarian purposes.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: And the U.S. is also releasing five Iranians from U.S. prison. Two of them are apparently planning to stay in the U.S.

Joining us now, CNN's chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour. And CNN political and national security analyst, and New York Times White House and national security correspondent, David Sanger. Guys, thank you so much.

Christiane, I want to start with you given the fact your interview with one of the individuals that is apparently on his way, according to sources, to the airport -- it has been a little bit longer than we expected at this point. Why do you think that is?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, I think it's probably because of the bureaucracy and the exact timing of giving the wire transfers and all of that detail. I'm sure Dave and others will have a lot more details about that.

Look, imagine these people who have been there eight years nearly -- Siamak Namazi, who I interviewed in March, and the others who have been there, and they're just waiting and every minute there's a delay. It's another torture for them. So if they are, indeed, on the way to the airport that's fantastic.

And then, as we know, they'll get onto this Qatari plane, leave Iranian airspace, get onto the tarmac in Doha and be transferred after about an hour of quick medical check onto a U.S. government plane, and then arrive here at a U.S. military base. We don't know exactly which one. We assume it's Andrews but we don't know -- later tonight.

And then their particular ordeal, hopefully -- this phase of it will be over, although there will be a lot of counseling and getting reacquainted with free life and family that's going to have to happen, obviously.

HARLOW: Let's listen to part of your interview with Siamak Namazi who, in October, would have been in that prison for eight years.

AMANPOUR: Eight years.

HARLOW: And he even wrote, remember, that op-ed in The New York Times --

AMANPOUR: Yes, he did.

HARLOW: -- saying why have I been left to rot -- his words.

AMANPOUR: And the longest, even since the --


AMANPOUR: -- famous hostage crisis --

HARLOW: That's right.

AMANPOUR: -- at the embassy in '79-'80.

HARLOW: That's right.

AMANPOUR: Longer. Three times longer.

HARLOW: That's what -- which he points out.

So let's let --


HARLOW: -- everyone listen to this.


SIAMAK NAMAZI, AMERICAN DETAINED IN IRANIAN PRISON: I think the very fact that I've chosen to take this risk and appear on CNN from Evin prison, it should just tell you how dire my situation has become by this point. I've been a hostage of 7 1/2 years now. That's six times the duration of the hostage crisis. I keep getting told that I'm going to be rescued and deals fall apart or I get left abandoned.

Honestly, the other hostages and I desperately need President Biden to finally hear us out -- to finally hear our cry for help and bring us home. And I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures. So this is a desperate measure.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: David, as Christiane pointed out last hour, why is it that the Obama administration and the Trump administration was not able to bring him home? And why now, given the context with Iran and this moment with U.S.-Iranian relations is he coming home?


So, first, the Iranian economy is in really tough shape right now, so the $6 billion means something to them. But if you believe the American account -- and I have no reason to doubt it -- it's going to be severely restricted. The money is actually going to sit in a bank in Doha and it will only be administered for a series of humanitarian events.


And, in fact, the U.S. has exceptions in its existing sanctions for humanitarian work.

HARLOW: Um-hm.

SANGER: But assuming they stick with that, then the U.S. has not given up that much. The five -- of the five Iranians who are going out, one of them -- two of them are in jail. One actually was about to be released anyway. And some are awaiting trial.

But I think the bigger mystery out here is if you are the Iranians and you were doing this you'd think you'd do it as a confidence-building measure to try to get onto something bigger. Get the nuclear deal back in pieces. Do something that would really open up money over time.

MATTINGLY: You don't think there's been any movement towards a better relationship?

SANGER: It -- you know, I've asked this question of American officials over the past couple of weeks as it's become clear this deal is going to come together. That isn't happening.

And, in fact, over the weekend, the Iranians announced that they were barring a third of the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors -- the inspectors who know the Iranian nuclear program the best. So, if anything, they're kind of ramping up.


HARLOW: But -- we both want to ask the same thing.

MATTINGLY: Go ahead.

HARLOW: Mike McCaul, really critical Republican. A number of Republicans really critical of this money and think it is a specious claim by the administration that it will only be used for humanitarian aid. Here he is, and then I want your response.



MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS HOST: And John Kirby at the Defense Department, the other day, said oh, no -- there are conditions. They can only spend it where we told them to spend it on humanitarian efforts. Really?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Maria, they are so naive. We all know money is fungible. And then, the president of Iran just came out and said I'm going to spend it however I want to. And, of course, he is.

And guess where it's going to go? It's going to into terror proxy operations. It's going to go into building their nuclear -- their nuclear -- not defense system, but offensive system for a nuclear war.


AMANPOUR: You know, Mike -- he can say all of that stuff. That's a very political statement. Obviously, the critics always use those kind of arguments. But you have to keep coming back to the facts, and the facts are that the Trump administration entered the same kind of deals. And before that, Obama. And before that, all the other administrations.

This is Iranian money. It's not U.S. taxpayer money. The U.S. Treasury Department has eyes on the expenditures and the disbursements from this account in Doha.

So look, you know, I'm not a fortune teller. I don't know how, but this has happened many, many times. And it's important to say that every administration has had to face this dilemma since the Islamic Revolution when Iran the sort of practice of taking Americans illegally, and many others, from other Western nations, by the way. Many other countries have to go into these kinds of deals until there's a grown-up joined-up U.S. and Western policy to on which there hasn't been since 1979.

HARLOW: Christiane, thank you very much, as we wait again for this plane to take off. David, thank you -- appreciate it.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is in Washington this week. He will meet with not only congressional lawmakers but others as they debate whether to send more aid to Ukraine.

MATTINGLY: And three moderate House Republicans have struck a short- term funding deal with three party hardliners, but that deal unlikely to pass with time running out -- you're looking at it right there -- before the government shuts down. We're going to discuss all of this with New York Democratic Congressman Pay Ryan. Stay with us.



HARLOW: All right. I want to update you on a story we brought you last hour. This just in. Nine teenagers who had escaped from that Pennsylvania juvenile detention center -- they've been captured. We just heard from police in the area. We'll have a live report ahead.

MATTINGLY: Well, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is set to meet with lawmakers in Washington this week. It marks his second trip to the United States since the start of Russia's invasion amid deep divisions, though -- this time in Congress -- about providing additional aid to Ukraine.

Joining us now is Congressman Pat Ryan. He's a Democrat from New York. You're on the relevant committee. Sir, thank you for being here and on set with us as well.

I want to start there because we are looking at kind of the broader devolution of the government spending process when it comes to Capitol Hill. But on this issue, specifically, Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his sort of top Republican allies have said Ukrainian funding will not be in any stopgap spending bill.

What's the solution here?

REP. PAT RYAN (D-NY): Look, I served in combat. When you are in the heat of the battle is the absolute worst time to turn your back on your allies. And yet, that is what the far-right that's hijacked the Republican Party is doing.

We are America. We are for freedom and democracy and against authoritarianism. And anything else, in my opinion, is just sort of political theater. We've got to -- we've got to come back together and hold that strong. And I think the vast majority of the American people -- certainly, in my district -- agree with that. So we need leaders that will bring us back together on these fundamental issues.

MATTINGLY: Has the administration given you any sense how much time they have left? How much money they have left before they absolutely have to have more?

RYAN: Uh, well -- I mean, I think they've done a good job. I mean, the administration has done a great job across the board I believe on Ukraine. When it comes to thinking ahead, planning ahead, and frankly, recognizing some of the paralysis in Congress right now, they feel that they're able to continue to provide the support that our Ukrainian allies need but have been clear that we're getting into that window, particularly with the counteroffensive right now, where we need to be doubling down in support, not showing this ambivalence and this hesitance.

MATTINGLY: We've been covering all morning the breaking news. It looks like six Americans are on their way to an airport in Tehran to be freed -- five Americans, I believe. The -- what we heard from Republicans in the lead-up to this agreement, which we knew was in process, was the $6 billion that would be unfrozen and administration officials say would be used for humanitarian aid only, is the equivalent of ransom payment.

[07:45:07] What's your response to that?

RYAN: I think we have to look at the history with -- of bad faith with the regime. I don't look at this with a Democrat or a Republican lens. I look at it with the lens of my experience and service -- my view of what's good for national security.

And you saw the comments from the Iranian president over the last week or two of we're going to use this money however we want. Sure, we can say that we have some ability to have oversight over that. But I have real concerns about this deal. I understand and I understand the human side of it and the tragedy, but we are -- I am concerned that we're rewarding bad behavior here -- decades of bad behavior by the Iranian regime. So I think we have to look more closely at this.

MATTINGLY: But it's underway right now. Is this something you raised to the administration or will raise to the administration in terms of tracking that money and seeing where it goes?

RYAN: Of course. I mean, I think in a partisan way, we've seen calls that, especially in the face of what the president -- the Iranian president has said, we have to follow this very closely.

And we've just seen them decade after decade break -- we come in good faith, as we should. We should always be working towards diplomacy. But we come in good faith. They break that good faith. And yet, we continue in the same pattern.

So not only for this deal which, as you said, is largely being executed I think today actually, but going forward we need to tighten the ratchets and tighten the oversight when it comes to the Iranian regime. I mean, I faced these guys directly in Iraq where they were killing my fellow soldiers. I have very little tolerance for their continued behavior.

MATTINGLY: Another area where there has been some dispute between you and the administration is on immigration, and it's a huge issue in New York State right now. You have called for months now not only for the declaration of a state of emergency but also for an expansion of the temporary protected status to allow people to work. There has been no movement on either, at least that I have seen. Why not?

RYAN: This is decades of failure of our political system. You -- the closest we were to passing immigration reform in 2007, you saw the far-right swoop in and blow up what would have been a very good deal for the American people -- for my district, for farmers, for business owners who are desperate for workers, and for the people coming from -- fleeing tremendous violence and strife who want to make a better living for their family.

So this is a -- we have to always see this as what it is -- a humanitarian crisis. Keep in mind both the humanitarian aspects but the crisis aspects.

That's why, as you said, I've called from the beginning for the Biden administration to declare this a national emergency. To really mobilize the resources necessary. And then, of course, we have to get people to work.

The fact that we can't pass bipartisan legislation in Congress to allow people who want to come here to work when we desperately need workers throughout our economy, shows how extreme the Republicans have become on this issue. So we need to hold the Biden administration accountable for doing a better job. We also need to hold McCarthy and the far-right accountable for holding up the progress.

MATTINGLY: Can I ask you a big-picture question? I remember when you kind of shocked the world a little bit with your special election win that a lot of people, I think in hindsight, would point to that and say that was the first sign that there was a misunderstanding of the dynamics heading into the midterm elections in terms of where the country was and in terms of where the electorate would be.

Do you think that's happening again when you look at the polling, when you look at kind of where President Biden stands, particularly head- to-head with the former president, or are there real concerns right now inside your party?

RYAN: The American people are smart. The American people understand what's happening. There are grave threats to our democracy -- to our foundational values. The attack on reproductive freedom in the Dobbs decision showed that so viscerally and it woke up everyone across the country from Kansas to my race, to recent elections that we've seen.

That trend of undercutting our democracy -- trying to take away fundamental freedoms continues and has actually only grown more extreme. We're seeing this in the Republican presidential debate where they're trying to out-MAGA each other further and further and further to the right when the American people just actually want government to work and to deliver thoughtful, practical results.

So that will play out in 2024. That's what's happening on the ground. We have to actually listen to that show that we as Democrats have always and will continue to stand and fight for freedom and for democracy. And if we do that we will absolutely win the day when it comes to 2024.

MATTINGLY: Congressman Pat Ryan, I appreciate it. I know you're the vice-chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. You guys are trying to make a move on that in terms of the discharge petition. We definitely want to talk about that heading forward, but I know it's a very busy morning for everybody. I appreciate your time, sir.

RYAN: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: All right. Negotiations set to resume today as auto workers continue this historic strike against all three of the big automakers. They join several other unions on strike in America. We'll break down the broader trend here coming up.


(COMMERCIAL) HARLOW: All right. From auto workers to Hollywood's writers and actors, nurses, Starbucks baristas, thousands of workers have gone on strike this year. But even with the recent uptick in union activity, the numbers still are not what they once were. What are we seeing big- picture with unions in America?

Our business reporter Nathaniel Meyersohn is here. I've been thinking a lot about sort of the big picture and sort of this resurgence of union power. It is resurging but it is not where it was, right?


All right, so why are we seeing all of these strikes right now? It's really in responses to decades of wage stagnation, income inequality. So you look at from 1979 to 2021. Worker productivity increased 65 percent but wages didn't keep up, increasing just 17 percent.

And we're also seeing an increase in strikes right now because of the tight labor market. Workers feel like they have a lot of leverage right now. Look at the number of job openings -- about nine million job openings. And so workers feel like they have power.

HARLOW: So where does this go from here?


MEYERSOHN: So, OK, unions still have not returned to their historical levels. Three hundred thousand workers on strike -- excludes the UAW strike -- but that's still nowhere close to the number of strikes we --

HARLOW: Decades ago.

MEYERSOHN: -- used to see. You know, we're heading towards 2018 levels. But look, 1.5 million workers on strike in the '70s and '80s. When Reagan, in 1981, fired the air traffic controllers union, that's really when we start to see the number of strikes decrease.

Union rates --


MEYERSOHN: -- 1950. Thirty percent of workers --

HARLOW: Of workers.

MEYERSOHN: -- were unionized.

HARLOW: In America?

MEYERSOHN: In America. Ten percent today.

HARLOW: Fascinating.

MEYERSOHN: A steady decline. So more strikes right now but not at the level that they were and certainly, not at the union rates we used to see.

HARLOW: But do we know if they're more effective now, though, in getting what they want?

MEYERSOHN: I think we're going to wait to see this play out -- UAW strike. That's going to have a long-term --


MEYERSOHN: -- impact.

HARLOW: For sure.

Nathaniel, thank you for the perspective -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: We have more on our breaking news this morning. Five Americans are expected to be freed from Iran and will head back to the U.S. CNN is live on the ground. We'll take you there next.