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Immigration Battle; Hurricane Aftermath; Crisis in Iraq; Fighting for His Right to Read; Growing Up in the White House

Aired July 4, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: East Coasters, we will not judge the odd tan line caused by your life jacket if you decide to enjoy the ocean this Fourth of July.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead, Hurricane Arthur beats up the beaches of North Carolina, knocking out power for thousands. Now the hurricane's heading out to sea, but experts are warning, if you're not careful, you might go with it.

The politics lead.




TAPPER: As a nation of immigrants celebrates July 4, a battle on the border explodes along cultural lines, both sides holding American flags with tens of thousands of children caught in the middle of this fight. Is there any way Washington can solve this crisis?

And in national news, when in the course of human events it becomes necessary to tell some politicians to buy a clue. This Independence Day, we will talk to the 9-year-old Kansas boy fighting his city council for the alleged offense of building this little free library in his yard.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Happy Fourth of July.

We will begin with the national lead. And many living along the shores of North Carolina have really no choice but to throw all the meat from the freezer onto the grill today after Hurricane Arthur left more than 40,000 people without power. Arthur made landfall late last night as a Category 2 hurricane, stronger than most expected earlier in the week, with 100-mile-an-hour winds, and with a force that simply threw the ocean onto the shore, over dunes and roads and into many homes.

Our Rene Marsh braved the storm in Atlantic Beach last night and she joins us now -- Rene.


Well, you know, where we were as the storm was rolling in, you heard it howling, you felt it pushing you. In our particular area, Atlantic Beach, that's where we were last night, we know that the winds, they got as fast as 80 miles per hour in that specific area.

Fast-forward several hours, and now it is a beautiful Fourth of July here in North Carolina, coastal North Carolina. But Arthur did leave behind a bit of a mess to clean up.


MARSH (voice-over): Trees down, power out, and streets flooded. The Category 2 struck North Carolina with winds topping 100 miles per hour, making landfall between Cape Lookout and Beaufort, rattling homes and for some rattling nerves.

VANIA WOODS, NORTH CAROLINA RESIDENT: Oh, it was really scary. I heard a noise, a strong noise. And I said, something happened.

MARSH: That strong noise was this tree crashing onto the home she was in.

WOODS: We put the mattress against the glass in the bedroom and we stayed there.

MARSH: Arthur tossed sailboats, and its storm surge was nearly five feet in some areas.

GOV. PAT MCCRORY (R), NORTH CAROLINA: We're seeing some beach erosion. There are shingles off some houses. We have some dock debris.

MARSH: But for this seasoned coastal community, no stranger to hurricanes, Arthur had more bark than bite.

ANNETTE BOULIN, NORTH CAROLINA RESIDENT: We practically slept right through it.

MARSH: The Coast Guard scanning from above for damage, most of it minimal, Arthur's impact more of a nuisance, knocking out power for about 44,000 people and disrupting July 4 celebrations.

Now it heads north as a Category 1 storm, tracking parallel to New England, bringing rain to the Northeast. But, in North Carolina, where the skies are blue and the sun is shining, Arthur is old news.

WOODS: Today's Fourth of July. Let's celebrate.


MARSH: Even though it turned out to be a gorgeous Fourth of July, there's still one threat that exists, and that is the rip current. So they're warning people that that will be an issue for several days to come.

In the meantime, as far as the cleanup goes, we do know parts of Bonner Bridge as well as Highway 12 still shut down at this point because of sand. Water washed over it. So, they have sand blocking the way, as well as downed power lines. As soon as they get that situated, they will be able to make the necessary repairs and reopen that road -- Jake.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you so much. Looked like a bad assignment last night. Now it doesn't look so bad. But, of course, the storm is not over yet.

It is heading now north and curling east, tropical storm warnings still in effect all the way north to Nantucket and Cape Cod and into Canada and will pose a hidden hazard to the millions of beach-goers up the coast, dangerous undertow and rip currents, as Rene referred to, ones that may keep lifeguards very busy on one of the most popular beach days of the season.


TAPPER: Turning now to our world lead, Iraqi military forces say they have taken back the birthplace of Saddam Hussein from the Islamic terrorist group ISIS. Awja is a northern Iraqi city. It's about 12 miles away from Tikrit, a two-hour drive from Baghdad, if you're so inclined.

It's a win for the Iraqi government, but let's not make any mistakes here. ISIS still controls large swathes of the country and seems to have the momentum, at least to many observers, and this does raise the question of how seriously the Obama administration is considering escalating its military efforts in Iraq.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us now.

Barbara, what is the U.S. military saying about possible next steps, if any?


You know, we had an extraordinary press conference here, where the nation's top military officer made clear if U.S. interests are threatened, the U.S. military still could be called in to action.


STARR (voice-over): General Martin Dempsey, the president's top military adviser, leaving the door open to possible deeper U.S. military involvement in Iraq against Sunni militants.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: We may get to that point if our national interests drive us there, if ISIL becomes such a threat to the homeland that the president of the United States with our advice decides that we have to take direct action. I'm just suggesting to you we're not there yet. STARR: U.S. ground combat forces have been ruled out, according to

senior Pentagon officials.

But intelligence-gathering continues for potential U.S. airstrikes, Dempsey adamant that the U.S. is only assessing Iraqi forces for now.

DEMPSEY: If the assessment comes back and reveals that it would be beneficial to this effort and to our national security interests to put the advisers in a different role, we will provide that option, and we will move ahead.

STARR: The preliminary U.S. assessment? Iraqi units will defend Baghdad. But is it too late for Iraqi forces to recapture lost ground in Northern Iraq?

DEMPSEY: Will the Iraqis at some point be able to go back on the offensive to recapture the part of Iraq that they have lost? Probably not by themselves.

STARR: Dempsey sober on the prospect of Iraq closing the divide between Sunni, Shia, and Kurd.

Now the Kurdish president, Massoud Barzani, wants a referendum on independence from Baghdad. Photos distributed by militants in the north show destruction of Shia and Sunni holy sites, the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's senior Shia cleric, who called for Iraqis to take up arms to oust the Sunni militants jabbed by Dempsey.

DEMPSEY: When Sistani made that proclamation, he talked about an Iraq for all Iraqis. I hope so. We will see.

STARR: If Iraq doesn't end the sectarian crisis:

DEMPSEY: Everything we're talking about makes no difference.


STARR: And Dempsey went on to say, if that sectarian divide, if that crisis really is not solved by Iraq, by the Iraqi government, he called the future bleak -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Could the U.S. have done something differently even after troops left in 2011 to prevent in some way what has happened in Iraq?

For context, let's turn to Ryan Crocker. He was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009. He's now the dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M university. Crocker says it's time for the U.S. tore-engage, and that should include, he says, airstrikes.


TAPPER: You have said that when it comes to Iraq, the U.S. needs to keep its hand on the throttle. Do you think we took our hand off the throttle after 2011?

RYAN CROCKER, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN: Jake, I learned maybe two lessons during almost 40 years in the Middle East. The first is be careful what you get into.

Interventions can have 30th- and 40th-order unintended consequences. The second thing I learned is be even more careful what you get out of, because disengagement can have graver results than engagement in the first place.

I would argue that we didn't do either very well in Iraq. I think we still have time to help the Iraqis get back on a stable course, but we're going to have to move quickly, and we're going to have to move with determination, and we're going to have to move both politically and militarily.

Secretary Kerry's visit, I think, was very, very important, as a signal of reengagement. He met with all of the leadership. He met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. I would imagine that the secretary and other senior officials in Washington are working the phones pretty hard right now.

And once the government formation process is completed, I hope very much the secretary will return to Iraq and the region.

TAPPER: As someone who spent so much time and energy trying to make Iraq work, since 2011, have you been reaching out behind the scenes to the White House and others in the Obama administration, urging them to do more to make sure we did not have the crisis that we have now?

CROCKER: I have been making the case for engagement for some time, both publicly and privately.

I'm sorry it took such a major crisis, one that does threaten our national security, to bring about that engagement. But I'm glad that it's happened.

TAPPER: We're hearing now that militants from ISIS have gained control of what's believed to be the largest oil fields in Syria. This is a group that has a lot of resources, money, stolen weapons.

If they're able to take over oil fields as well, does that require more aggressive action from the U.S. than we're even doing right now?

CROCKER: It's a great point, Jake.

This is what I call al Qaeda version 6.0, far bigger, far better organized, better funded, better equipped than was the al Qaeda of 9/11. So I would argue that while our boots-on-the-ground role should be limited to advising, as General Dempsey points out, I think we have really reached the point where we need to be seriously considering and executing very carefully targeted airstrikes against facilities that they hold, against their command-and-control nodes, and against their leadership if we have got them in our sights.

TAPPER: In Iraq and Syria? CROCKER: In a sense, the Islamic State may have done us a favor by

publicly erasing the Iraqi-Syrian border. If they have, I think we should too and go after their targets wherever they are.

TAPPER: Ambassador Ryan Crocker, thank you so much for your time.

CROCKER: Thank you, Jake.


TAPPER: Coming up, it started as a Mother's Day surprise, a homemade library where local kids could share books. But this 9-year-old did not expect the backlash from the city council in the town where he lives. What's his plan now after being forced to take it down? We will ask him coming up.

Plus, nearly a quarter-million dollars for one speech? How is Hillary Clinton now justifying the price to outraged students?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In other national news today, "We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." So reads the Declaration of Independence declared 238 years ago today.

And that brings us to the story of one 9-year-old boy in Leawood, Kansas, attempting to pursue happiness and finding a challenge to his liberty. Spencer Collins decided to put a little free library in his yard where anyone can donate or take a book from its shelves. To make matters even more adorable, he did it as a Mother's Day president. These libraries are not uncommon. There's in fact a Web site, where you can find one close to you.

But this apparently was too revolutionary for the Leawood City Council, which quickly asserted that the little library violated an ordinance that said, quote, "No detached structure including garages, barns, sheds, greenhouses, above-ground pools or outbuildings shall be permitted unless expressly allowed", unquote.

The council sent Spencer's family a letter and forced him to take his library off his yard.

And we're delighted to have Spencer Collins and his dad Brian joins us now.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Spencer, where did you get the idea for the little free library?

SPENCER COLLINS, FORCED TO SHUT DOWN FREE LIBRARY IN YARD: Well, my mom got the idea for it because we were in Minnesota and she saw one and she really wanted it. TAPPER: And so, you built it on Mother's Day for her?


TAPPER: And how did you find out that there were people -- the city wanted you to take if down from your yard?

S. COLLINS: There was a letter attached to it when we got back from vacation.

BRIAN COLLINS, SPENCER'S FATHER: There was actually a letter in the mail from code enforcement for the City of Leawood advising us that unless we took it down we would receive a citation and have to pay a fine.

TAPPER: And, Spencer, what did you think of that when you heard that?

S. COLLINS: I didn't like it.

TAPPER: So, Brian, you now have a Facebook page up with Spencer's library. It has more than 30,000 likes. What kind of reaction have you gotten from the community of Leawood and also from around the world now that the story's gone viral? My understanding is that this happened because some neighbors complained, right?

B. COLLINS: That's correct. One of our neighbors complained. As near as I can tell, of that 31,000 people there are only two complaints that I'm aware of.

TAPPER: And what's been the reaction that you've gotten from putting this online and the story going viral?

B. COLLINS: It's been unbelievably positive. Lemony Snicket, the children's book author, has come in on our side. Other people have sent just a lot of very positive comments on Facebook. It's just been overwhelming in that regard.

TAPPER: So, the mayor of your town, Peggy Dunn, confirmed that there's going to be a council meeting next week to discuss this. You're going to attend to see if they'll make an exception for your library or whether the ordinance should be amended.

Spencer, are you going to speak? And if so, what are you going to say?

S. COLLINS: Well, I might speak or I might get someone else to speak, and I'm going to say what -- why -- why is the library important? And just --

TAPPER: And, Spencer, tell us, why is the library important?

S. COLLINS: Because, well, my mom said it really benefits the community because you meet new neighbors and it really promotes reading, and I love to read, and I really just like that.

TAPPER: Spencer, I want you to know, I need to disclose that while, of course, I don't have a position on this because it's a dispute and I'm an objective reporter, my children heard about your story and they have erected with their grandfather a little library in solidarity with you. And I was asked to ask you, what is your favorite book right now?

S. COLLINS: Probably a series called "The Ranger's Apprentice."

TAPPER: What's it about?

S. COLLINS: Well, it's about this boy who gets adopted by a king and he gets to be kind of like a spy's apprentice.

TAPPER: That sounds --

S. COLLINS: And he starts learning all the skills.

TAPPER: That sounds very exciting. Well, Spencer, and, Brian, thank you so much. Good luck to you. And happy Independence Day.

S. COLLINS: Thanks.

B. COLLINS: Thanks so much, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up, protesters lined up to stop buses carrying immigrants, including women and children, from entering their city. Why are they so angry? We'll go there live, ahead.

Plus, it's not just the birthday of our nation. It's also a very special day for a member of the first family. Malia Obama turns 16 today. Her parents have not exactly been quiet about it.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The national lead. July 4th at the White House could not be more normal -- barbecue, hopefully some red, white and blue outfits, naturalization ceremony for active duty military members, and the concert on the front lawn later tonight.

All right. So, maybe it's not normal, but the Fourth of July is not the only big birthday on Pennsylvania Avenue today. While the nation is turning 238, first daughter Malia Obama is turning 16.

So, how do you have a sweet 16 party with a gaggle of Secret Service agents crowding around the cake?

CNN White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski joins me now.

Michelle, who do --


TAPPER: Let me ask you, how do the Obamas plan to celebrate this big day? KOSINSKI: Well, that is a closely guarded national secret right now.

They're not giving away any details at this point. But yet they do spend it here. I mean, not a bad way to spend your sweet 16th, living at the White House, on the Fourth of July.

And America's really watched these two first daughters grow up over the years, at least to some extent. I mean, we know how protective the president and first lady are about keeping them out of the public eye. But lately, they too have been openly waxing wistful about how quickly their girls are growing up.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): Malia and Sasha Obama were 10 and 7 years old --

MALIA OBAMA: I love you, daddy.

KOSINSKI: -- just little kids when they first stole America's attention at the 2008 Democratic convention.

SASHA OBAMA: I love, daddy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Love you, sweetie. You're great.

KOSINSKI: Michelle Obama even once led a crowd in singing happy birthday to young Malia on the campaign trail.

And since then quietly, mostly behind the scenes, they have suddenly become young women. Yes, two trend-wearing, gum-chewing, selfie- snapping, joke-sharing, occasionally bored-looking teenagers now at the White House.

As the song goes --


KOSINSKI: Malia now sweet 16. Thinking about colleges, getting her learner's driver's permit, and generally looking to avoid her parents and all the trappings of non-normalcy just like any teenager often would.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: They want nothing to do with us.


MICHELLE OBAMA: I am so serious. I mean, Malia's like, Dad, please, just don't come to my school. Just keep your SWAT team and your -- and you know, they really want normalcy. And the White House isn't normal. So --

FALLON: It's not, no.

MICHELLE OBAMA: So they go other places. So, I'll say don't you want to invite your friends over to watch a movie? She's like no one wants to come here.

KOSINSKI: The president, though, finding those armed Secret Service pretty handy for a dad of teenage girls who are allowed to date if they'd like.

BARACK OBAMA: I trust them to make good decisions. And the second thing is I've got men with guns following them around all the time. So, that kind of makes me a little less nervous about --

STEVE HARVEY, TV/RADIO PERSONALITY: Could I use them? What have I got to do to get some of these Secret Service --

BARACK OBAMA: This is the main reason I ran for re-election.

HARVEY: Because you knew it was coming.

BARACK OBAMA: I knew it was coming. I said let me just project out. I'm going to have them covered for most of high school.

KOSINSKI: President Obama has several times now lamented that his girls go out with their friends, leaving less time for family moments. Here, a dad's angst after trying to buy them some clothes at Gap once.

BARACK OBAMA: Some of you may have seen the very attractive sweaters that I purchased for my daughters. They have not worn them yet. So, if they're listening, make me feel good. Just wear it one time.

KOSINSKI: The family's keeping it private exactly how they'll ring in this milestone with Malia here on Independence Day. But as far as Americans' super sweet 16s go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's a sweet 16 without a huge gift?

KOSINSKI: It will be a lot more normal if elegant Malia gets her wish than many might imagine for this first daughter.


KOSINSKI: This evening, the president and first lady are hosting this big barbecue for military families here at the White House. So I guess we can be reasonably assured that they haven't rented an elephant or a unicorn or whatever the kids are doing these days for over-the-top sweet 16s. In fact, we may even see Malia join them tonight -- Jake.

TAPPER: Our Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much. And happy Independence Day.