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CNN Joins Agents On Patrol For Migrant Smugglers In Pacific Ocean; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) Joins CNN This Morning; Haley Hammers Trump And Biden As "Grumpy Old Men." Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired February 06, 2024 - 07:30   ET




DAVID CULVER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): -- jet ski turned back.

KURT NAGEL, MARINE INTERDICTION AGENT: There's a lot of them that come so we're constantly busy.

CULVER: What we see at the southern border and the land crossing, people coming right up to border patrol agents wanting to surrender themselves. But you don't see that here. People are trying to get away from you as quickly as possible.

NAGEL: Right. A lot of times we're getting people that don't want to be caught because they carry criminal records. They're members of a gang. And then you get family units, too, that are -- that are -- the smugglers have convinced that this is a safe and easy passage.

CULVER (voice-over): In the past year, the agents say it has become increasingly deadly. But like drug trafficking, migrant smuggling is a business.

NAGEL: They are reckless with their lives. They are reckless with other people's lives.

CULVER: Do we know, Kurt, are they -- are they connected often to cartels? Do we know their background?

NAGEL: At a smaller level, yeah, this is all cartels here.

CULVER (voice-over): They often launch in the dark of night leaving from various points along the Mexican coast. Once they cross the maritime boundary line -- the ocean's border separating the U.S. and Mexico -- the smugglers usually head to the beaches of San Diego County where they drop off the migrants. Though more recently, they've ended up cruising even farther north to places like Malibu.

CULVER: You can actually see the boat right here just sitting on the shore.

CULVER (voice-over): Just before 2:00 a.m. Tuesday, officials say roughly two dozen migrants scattered from this boat as soon as it hit the beach. Border Patrol was able to detain 19 of them. The rest, somewhere in Malibu, more than 130 miles from the southern border.

CULVER: And if you look closely you can see some of the remnants of what was a long journey. I mean, up here you've got a food wrapper left behind and some cracker remnants. You've got orange and banana peels, and you've got trash bags in there. A lot of the times the migrants will wrap themselves in those trash bags to keep warm. Even some leftover fuel canisters.

CULVER (voice-over): Hours later, another beach landing. A videographer in La Jolla captures it from the surf. Watch as this boat runs ashore. You can see several suspected migrants then hop off. They sprint toward the beachside homes. CPB says they're still searching for them and the boat left stranded.

Officials tell us the number of incidents along the southwest coast is up three-fold over the last five years, and they say migrants like these often pay tens of thousands of dollars for a one-way ticket on the open ocean.

CULVER: And you'll have people, Captain, actually try to swim?

CAPT. JIM W. SPITLER, U.S. COAST GUARD, SAN DIEGO SECTOR: They often do it at night and under fog. And sadly, it's tragic. Some of them don't always make it.

CULVER (voice-over): That's where the Coast Guard comes in. We joined them on a deterrence patrol positioned just north of the maritime boundary line with a view of the southern border I'd never seen before.

CULVER: And then right there, that's all Mexico?

SPITLER: Pretty much right in front of us -- yeah, that's Mexico.

CULVER (voice-over): The Coast Guard here focused primarily on keeping folks alive. To do that you need to keep the lines of communication open.

SPITLER: There really are no egos amongst the --


SPITLER: -- different organizations.


SPITLER: We all speak on the same frequency so when you -- when somebody gets notified we're all notified at the same time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Off your 350, 28 nautical miles. That's where he's at -- off you're 350.

CULVER (voice-over): That frequency also shared by the CBP's air assets, watching and tracking from above.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So when we do detect a target, I hook it. So the system is now tracking it and we get everything down here, right? The coordinates, where it's at, how fast it's going.

CULVER (voice-over): That information relayed to crews on land and sea.

BRANDON TUCKER, DIRECTOR, AIR AND MARINE OPERATIONS: We have to be prepared for anything on the water and you're doing that at night, pitch black, six-foot seas. It can be very challenging.

CULVER (voice-over): Moments like these where boats filled with migrants rush towards the shoreline a near nightly occurrence now.

TUCKER: Over the last three years we've seen an exponential increase in maritime smuggling. They don't understand fully the peril that these smugglers are putting them in. It's the callous nature of their operations and how they just don't care about human life.

CULVER (voice-over): We spot another team about to take off just as we touch down. Forecasting the smugglers' schedules and routes impossible, so the agents work all hours.

NAGEL: Living in the dark does kind of wear you out --


NAGEL: -- so now it's kind of nice to get a little sun now and then.

CULVER (voice-over): Physically, emotionally securing our borders -- and especially on the ocean -- takes a toll, but there are perks, like clocking out at sunrise.

NAGEL: Oh, that looks pretty. My favorite time of the day.

CULVER (voice-over): David Culver, CNN, San Diego, California.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: What a report. David, thanks very much for that.

Well, just hours from now, House Republicans will try to impeach the Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas. House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries is here to talk about all of that and a lot more ahead.



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, later today, the House will vote on a resolution that would make Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas just the second cabinet secretary in history to be impeached. The vote is expected to be quite close but Republican leaders believe they will be able to wrangle enough to get it across the finish line.

The White House, last night, forcefully condemning the effort, writing in a statement, quote, "Impeaching Sec. Mayorkas would be an unprecedented and unconstitutional act of political retribution that would do nothing to solve the challenges our nation faces in securing the border."

And CNN has learned Senate Democrats are still weighing how to respond if Mayorkas is impeached and move ahead with a trial or move to dismiss it quickly, given their view that it's blatantly political.

This all comes, of course, as a major bipartisan border deal that includes significant foreign aid appears on track to fail in the Senate this week. Republicans who are opposed to the deal, including Donald Trump, has attacked it as too soft even though it features some of the most stringent border security restrictions Congress has ever considered.

House Speaker Mike Johnson -- well, he outlined why he's against the deal.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): Border patrol agents, officers, longtime veterans of the agency -- and they said you have to fix asylum. You have to fix parole. You have to end the catch-and-release -- the mass release of immigrants around the country -- illegals around the country -- as has been happening, and you have to restore Remain in Mexico. You also need elements of the wall being built.

I just don't believe that the Senate bill, as I've explained in all of our statements, meets the criteria that's necessary to solve the problem.


MATTINGLY: Joining us now is House Democratic Leader Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. Congressman -- Mr. Leader, we appreciate your time this morning.

I want to start there, because I think the question right now, both with what the House Republicans would be willing to do, where Senate Republicans are, is, is there any path forward given the significance of what's in this package? Do you see one right now?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Well, we have a broken immigration system. And common-sense dictates that we should address it in a comprehensive and bipartisan way so we can have a secure, a strong, and humane border.


For months, the extreme MAGA Republicans were demanding that Democrats sit down and have a discussion about ways to address the challenges at the border. Under the leadership of Senator Schumer, that's exactly what has happened.

And now, because the House Republicans have been ordered by Donald Trump not to do anything to fix our broken immigration system, they are walking away from the issue. And in doing so, they're walking away from the American people.

MATTINGLY: If you were able to get this bill on the floor in the House, I think it's notable that Majority Leader Scalise is saying, we're not even going to put it on the floor. They're not saying we're going to put it on the floor and kill it, and vote for it. They're not even going to put it on the floor.

If it got to the floor, do you think it would pass?

JEFFRIES: Well, let's cross that bridge when we get to it. It certainly is the starting point for conversations amongst House Democrats and should be the case for all of us here in the Congress who recognize that we have a broken immigration system and that we need to fix it.

It should be done in a manner consistent with our values as a nation of immigrants and as a nation anchored in the rule of law. But what the extreme MAGA Republicans have done is basically to say, we would rather chaos prevail than exercise the common-sense that should exist. in a period of divided government and sit down with Democrats led by President Biden to have a conversation about the path forward.

MATTINGLY: The reason I ask about potential passage if it ever got to the floor is because you have essentially become kind of a default speaker on some level in the last couple of weeks as many of the bills that have passed have required a suspension of the rules, meaning two- thirds of lawmakers need to vote. Democrats are providing the majority of all of those votes.

And I'm not sure right now, given how far Senate Democrats have gone on this, in terms of restrictive border measures, that all Democrats would be on board. In fact, Senator Padilla was saying this to our colleague, Abby Phillip, last night. Take a listen.


SEN. ALEX PADILLA (D-CA): It's not something that I support, both for reasons of what's in the package like, you know, Trump era policies of regular border closures, lack of due process. But also, for what's not in the bill. You know, historically, we've bound some border enforcement proposals with some legal pathways, for example, not a single DREAMer will benefit or receive relief through this measure.


MATTINGLY: The chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has also announced her opposition to it. What the senator is saying is accurate. I haven't seen Democrats move this far on this issue. It's not comprehensive in how the term was always understood. I think there's questions from some about whether it is humane. You're talking about whether or not it's humane. What are you hearing from the members of your caucus?

JEFFRIES: Well, we're going to sit down over the next few days and have a conversation about the path forward in terms of fixing our broken immigration system and addressing the challenges at the border. Today, of course, we're dealing with a sham political stunt in terms of the impeachment effort of Secretary Mayorkas. An impeachment effort, I should note, that was demanded by Donald Trump and is being led by Marjorie Taylor Greene.

What does this impeachment effort have to do with fixing the challenges at the border? Absolutely nothing. But it's another example of the fact that House Republicans aren't really interested in solving those challenges.

We are ready. We are willing. We are able to sit down with our Republican colleagues and have a conversation about fixing our broken immigration system, addressing the challenges at the border, making sure that the border is strong, it is secure, and it's humane.

MATTINGLY: When you talk about impeachment, a White House official pointed out that in the impeachment report, it says, "The committee, through these articles of impeachment, begins the process of deporting Secretary Mayorkas from his position."

You know, I think it's not subtle, the fact that Secretary Mayorkas is the first immigrant from his family to serve as a DHS secretary. When you hear that, what do you think?

JEFFRIES: Well, it's outrageous, and it's consistent with the type of xenophobic rhetoric that extreme MAGA Republicans in this town have become known for utilizing and deploying, certainly that's been the case since 2015.

Again, what does the impeachment of Secretary Mayorkas have to do with building a healthy economy? Nothing. What does the impeachment of Secretary Mayorkas have to do with addressing the inflationary pressures that have existed on the economy since the shutdown of the economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? Nothing. And it has nothing to do with fixing our broken immigration system.


And so, we, at this point, really need our Republican colleagues to choose to walk away from chaos, which is what they want, and they're purveyors of chaos of dysfunction and extremism and join us in a common-sense approach to meeting the needs of the American people.

MATTINGLY: Was it a mistake for the White House to tie immigration, this extraordinarily volatile and intractable issue, to its national security -- significant national security request with Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific, and Israel?

JEFFRIES: That was a decision that was made by the previous speaker who made clear that he would not -- or Republicans would not provide any support for our democratic ally, Ukraine, in its war against Russia and pushing back against Russian aggression without us dealing with the issue of border security.

That was a decision that was made by Republicans months ago. They've held up our national security priorities based on a decision that they wanted to have a discussion about the border. But then, when Donald Trump stepped into the situation, because for political reasons, the Republicans do not want to address the challenge at this moment, they're walking away from their own idea.

MATTINGLY: Immigration has become such a central issue. I think Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledge that is a significant problem down at the border. There's a special election going on. You talk about the economy. You talk about, you know, the legislative wins of the Biden administration in the House in the first two years of this administration.

People are talking about immigration up in New York 3. Our colleague Manu Raju is usually standing right next to you, churling you with a microphone. Was up there for a piece earlier this week. And Tom Suozzi, your candidate, was talking about it. The Republican was talking about it as well. Does it concern you that that's the problem for your candidate up there?

JEFFRIES: It's certainly a problem for the Republicans at this point in time that there is a bipartisan bill that has been introduced and negotiated over a period of several months, supported by conservative senators like Lankford, and that the Republicans are walking away from it.

Tom Suozzi is running for all the right reasons. Ultimately, the people of the 3rd Congressional District will make the decision as to the best path forward. But we know that Tom Suozzi is someone who wants to come back to Washington to solve problems, to fix the challenges that are confronting the American people, and to work in a bipartisan way.

We need more of that, not less. But unfortunately, the extreme MAGA Republicans have shown no interest in working with House Democrats to address the challenges facing the American people.

MATTINGLY: Do you think voters are as keen observers of the legislative process that they will key on that, right? This has been such a significant issue. Republicans had such an advantage on it. Now, they'll say, well now, they're blocking that bill. Do you think people are paying that close attention to this?

JEFFRIES: I think the American people understand the difference between common-sense and cynicism. And this is a cynical political effort by Republicans. Donald Trump has been very vocal about the fact that he wants the extreme MAGA Republicans in the House to block any effort at fixing our broken immigration system. And I think the American people see that for exactly what it is, a reckless political stunt.

We're going to continue, as Democrats, to put people over politics and to fight for the issues that matter, lower costs, growing the middle- class, safer communities, and getting things done.

MATTINGLY: House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, we appreciate your time sir, thank you.

JEFFRIES: Thank you.

HARLOW: A really important conversation on quite a significant day ahead for them.

All right. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in the Middle East to discuss post-war plans for Gaza.

MATTINGLY: And it's Nikki Haley versus a couple of quote "grumpy old men." That's becoming a campaign rallying cry. Is it working? We're going to discuss.



HARLOW: It is becoming a hallmark of Nikki Haley's campaign strategy lumping Joe Biden and Donald Trump into the quote, in her words, "grumpy old men" category. Haley lets voters know at every turn now that she believes it is time for a youth movement. She has been pounding home that message in her home state, particularly South Carolina, where she still trails Donald Trump by a wide margin in the polling.

Kylie Atwood has been talking to voters on the ground -- watch.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These are people making decisions on our national security. These are people making decisions on the future of our economy. We need to know they're at the top of their game.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nikki Haley not backing away from her argument that the American president shouldn't be in their 80s.

HALEY: Mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.

ATWOOD (voice-over): It has been a critical piece of the 52-year- old's pitch to voters from day one -- one that she both sharpened --

HALEY: Why are we allowing ourselves to have two 80-year-olds who can't serve eight years, who both are diminished, whether it's in their character or in their mental capacity?

ATWOOD (voice-over): -- and played with in recent weeks --


HALEY: Yeah, that's what voters will say if they see you and Joe on the ballot.


ATWOOD: -- often to an audience filled with retirees like this bar in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

MAUREEN BULGER, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I just don't think our country should be with somebody who is going on its way out when we still have so much young blood.

ATWOOD (voice-over): For 69-year-old Maureen Bulger, the idea of moving to a new generation is energizing. South Carolina was the fastest-growing state in 2023 largely because of an influx of almost 40,000 retirees. And Haley is betting that they get her argument.

HALEY: I think older people see it, too. They know that we need a new generational leader.

ATWOOD (voice-over): Sixty-one-year-old Anna Memmo is one of them.

ANNA MEMMO, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: Whether it's the Biden ticket or the Trump ticket, I do feel that it's very important to look at age and consider age and cognitive skills.

ATWOOD (voice-over): But not everyone considering the state's former governor found it to be the best.

RAY MAKALOUS, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I do think that we still have people that are 78 and 80 that can be senators and representatives.

ATWOOD (voice-over): For Edward Spears, currently an undecided GOP voter, it's just a part of the game.

EDWARD SPEARS, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: She wants to be elected. If I was a younger candidate I would do the same thing. That's just a political strategy.

ATWOOD (on camera): You're 82.

SPEARS: Right.


ATWOOD (on camera): Do you find her arguments about age and not wanting an 80-year-old in the White House offensive at all?

SPEARS: No. It's just politics.

ATWOOD (voice-over): And for older Trump supporters, even those interested in Haley, like Carol and Greg Carty who moved full-time to Hilton Head nine years ago --

CAROL CARTY, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I think she's a neat person. We read her book.

ATWOOD (voice-over): -- the tactic of going after Trump's age hasn't been a decisive factor because they are squarely set on voting for the former president.

CARTY: Typecasting the seniors, and that's not right because we're individuals. ATWOOD (on camera): But if she weren't doing these age things it's

not like you would go for her if she left that argument in the past.

CARTY: Well, if Trump were not running, yes, I would. I'm also -- I'm stubborn.


ATWOOD: Now, as you can see, a pretty wide range of responses to Haley's age argument. But her campaign is doubling down, out just this morning in South Carolina with a new ad that says that Trump is old. That he's running to settle old scores. Clearly, doubling down on this message of their age argument as they try and reach as many South Carolinian voters as they can -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yeah. Kylie, so good to hear from the voters. That's what matters, especially in that state right now. Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Well, up ahead, a majority of Americans want Donald Trump's federal election subversion trial decided before the November election. We're going to break it all down. The new CNN polling next.