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Interview with Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA); Stimulus Checks Are Paying Off Debt; New York Times Reports Cuomo Smear Attempt. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 18, 2021 - 10:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans are raising concerns as Democrats today are trying to move two bills through the House, H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021; and H.R. 1603, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The bills together stand to make up to 4.5 million so-called Dreamers eligible for permanent residence in the United States -- that's according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Let me bring in now the Democratic congresswoman in the House leading on that end, the comprehensive immigration reform bill. Congresswoman Linda Sanchez of California, good morning.

REP. LINDA SANCHEZ (D-CA): Good morning, Poppy.

HARLOW: So just to be clear, these two bills that are making their way through today are not yours, yours is the big one, the one that President Biden is pushing. I wonder if you think that Democrats moving sort of piecemeal legislation through is actually going to upend your hope of getting the big Kahuna through. And I say this because republicans can then claim -- if you do get one or two of these through -- that they have done something on immigration.

SANCHEZ: So you need to understand that from day one, we have said that options will be on the table, and we are going to push for as robust relief as we can get. But we wanted to flood the zone and build momentum for the bigger bill.

While the Farm Work Modernization Act and the Dreamer TPS bill are important pieces of legislation, which I support --

HARLOW: Right.

SANCHEZ: -- the deal with legalization of discrete groups, whereas the big bill does an overhaul of our immigration system, and seeks to get at the root causes of migration, to stop those migration patterns. So we think that there is room for support in our caucus and in the Senate for all of these bills --

HARLOW: Well --

SANCHEZ: -- and we will be pushing all of them. HARLOW: The second-most powerful Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin,

doesn't think so. I mean, he said explicitly to CNN this week that there is not the support in either chamber for your bill. Do you think he's wrong?

SANCHEZ: Well, I think that Senator Durbin probably is feeding off of the negative energy that Republicans have towards immigration. They're more focused on using the border as a backdrop than they are at sitting down at the table to talk about a solution to these problems.

And you know, we can create the momentum, I believe, to push Republicans in the Senate to support this bill. And if you speak with Majority Leader Schumer, he's very committed to using every legislative tool at his disposal to getting this through the Senate. We have a president and administration that fully are going to push to get this bill across the finish line.

And it's a unique set of circumstances --


SANCHEZ: -- where I believe we can get it done.

HARLOW: -- let's talk about two things that maybe would help you achieve that, two of the biggest concerns that your Republican colleagues in both chambers have.

You saw Representative Maria Salazar of Florida with her immigration bill, just yesterday. It does provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, but it calls for enhanced physical barriers.

I mean, the big thing that your comprehensive bill does not include -- that was included, you know, back in the Gang of Eight talks in 2013 -- is one, E-Verify, right? Using that, mandating that for employment verification. And, two, broad provisions on border security. There is some money there to increasing technology on the border, but not the broad strokes that were in 2013. Are you open to including those things to getting Republican support?

TEXT: House GOP's Immigration Plan: Boost border security funds; Protects Dreamers; Path to legal status for non-violent immigrants; Expand visas for agricultural workers; Implement mandatory E-Verify

SANCHEZ: Well, I will just say this. We spend billions of dollars at our southern border, and that has increased year over year over year, and it hasn't solved the problem. The U.S. Citizenship Act gets at the root of these migration patterns because you're going to have that continuous flow so long as people are fleeing violence and poverty and corruption.

So throwing money at physical borders? We know physical borders don't work. We've had the last four years of the Trump administration, the cruelest, most restrictive policy. This, you know, intention to invest in barriers? Barriers don't work, that's a Medieval solution to modern-day problem --


HARLOW: OK, but what's happening --

SANCHEZ: -- working smarter, working smarter with technology at the border, and modernizing our ports of entry and investing in infrastructure, that's a much better investment. Investing in the Central American countries that send the most migrants north so that they can be processed in-country and don't show up on the southern border, that's a smarter investment.

And as anybody will tell you, when a bill is introduced, it's seldom is it the case that when it reaches the floor for final vote that it's exactly the same bill. We are in the process of educating members about what's in the bill, taking into consideration any issues or concerns that they have, and trying to make the bill better.


We'll have an opportunity to do that when we mark up the bill, but you know, it's very premature to say that there's no path for this bill. I think there's a large appetite to get this bill done and to fix our broken immigration system once and for all because we've been kicking the can down the road for the last 20 years. We need to get this done.

HARLOW: OK, well that's not a no, so it sounds like you are open to some changes. So we'll see where that goes.

I have one minute left, two very quick questions for you. One, given the surge -- we're double where we were on migrants crossing the border from a year ago -- is it time for President Biden to go to the border?

SANCHEZ: President Biden and the administration are doing all that they can under very difficult circumstances. Remember, let's not forget who separated children at the border, let's not forget who dismantled our asylum process. Those were all policies under the Trump administration that we are trying to course-correct.

And there was this pent-up demand because Trump forced people to remain in Mexico, so we are doing what we can to process people in a quick and expeditious way. And again, U.S. Citizenship Act would be a way to fix the problems that we see at the border now.

HARLOW: OK, I was asking if you thought it'd be helpful if he went to the border.

But I guess my last question for you then is on transparency. You just heard our Priscilla Alvarez reporting from the border. All of our reporters down there have been asking nonstop to get into these facilities, where Alejandro Mayorkas just said are not meant for children, the CBP facilities. Are you concerned that the lack of transparency from the administration, not allowing any journalists inside?

SANCHEZ: I will tell you that under the Trump administration, members of Congress were not allowed inside these facilities. So if the press --


HARLOW: So you want to --

SANCHEZ: -- is not allowed inside, it doesn't --

HARLOW: That just doesn't mean anything now, respectfully, Congresswoman. I mean, clearly you were upset about that lack of transparency. Are you concerned about this lack of transparency?

SANCHEZ: Sure. Well, again, when you have numbers in the -- in the numbers that we see, and we have facilities that are appropriate for children, but because of COVID protocols, you can't fill them to capacity. You have to have social distancing. They are trying to process children as quickly as they can.

And no, these detention facilities at the border were not meant for children, children are meant to be in licensed facilities. But because of the numbers and because of the social distancing that's required, they are doing the best that they can.

And I don't necessarily think that it's appropriate for journalists to be inside centers that are not permanent places for children, that children are not placed there permanently. They're processed out of those facilities as quickly as possible, and as quickly as the facilities will allow.

HARLOW: But some of them are being held there longer than they're legally supposed to be.

SANCHEZ: They are doing the best that they can --

HARLOW: We'll have you --

SANCHEZ: -- under COVID protocols. If it were not a pandemic --


SANCHEZ: -- I would totally understand the concern. But we are dealing in a unique set of circumstances that are unprecedented, and you can't fault an administration that is doing everything humanly possible to treat these kids in a humane way, given the limitations that they have because of COVID.

HARLOW: Congresswoman Sanchez, thank you for your time. Obviously you're a leading voice on this, we welcome you back any time. Thanks very much.

SANCHEZ: My pleasure, thank you for your interest.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Important conversation.

[10:38:23] Stimulus checks are hitting bank accounts of many Americans. Will it be enough for those struggling the most? Next we're going to meet a family who even had to sell a wedding ring simply to get by.


HARLOW: There are millions of people that are starting to see those stimulus checks hit their bank accounts. For many of them, it could not some soon enough.

SCIUTTO: So many -- perhaps some of you -- have been barely scraping by, and the latest check is just barely enough to keep the afloat, not clear how long. CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich has more.


ASHLIE ORDONEZ, WAITING FOR STIMULUS CHECK: We've given up so much as a family already, it's just scary to think that we might be losing more.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): It's been a year of sacrifice and uncertainty for Ashlie Ordonez, Kyle Price and their five children in Denver, Colorado.

ORDONEZ: Jay (ph), where are you hiding?

YURKEVICH (voice-over): They drained their savings and sold her wedding ring, all to survive.


ORDONEZ: It's just a piece of material, and it's a means to an end for my business.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Like 100 million other Americans, they're eligible for stimulus checks as part of President Joe Biden's COVID relief package. They could get up to $8,400 for their family, which they say will go straight into their wellness studio that's been surviving month to month. The checks will give them one more.

ORDONEZ: It's keeping our dream alive.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): In Arkansas, Nikki Martin's check arrived just in time.

NIKKI MARTIN, RECEIVED STIMULUS CHECK: It has kept a roof over my head, and kept my lights on.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Martin just finished months of aggressive chemo treatment when the pandemic started.

MARTIN: I didn't get to celebrate being cancer-free for very long before this hit.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Without a job, she filed for disability checks and is still waiting, making her ineligible for unemployment. But when that $1,400 in stimulus hit her bank account, she breathed a sigh of relief.

MARTIN: I just immediately got online and paid every bill I had, and got caught up for the first time in months.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): And Madeline Aguiar, out of work for the last year, has spent much of it here, applying to hundreds of jobs.

MADELINE AGUIAR, RECEIVED STIMULUS CHECK: I've had to move from where I lived before in New Jersey, to my parents' house in the Bronx.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Aguiar said she lost her job in hospitality when the industry was crushed by the pandemic. With work hard to come by, she's found herself in debt and receiving a stimulus check, both for the first time.


YURKEVICH: When you think about $1,400, does that seem like a lot?

AGUIAR: Not in comparison to the debt I've had to incur.

YURKEVICH: Do you see a way out of the debt in the near future?

AGUIAR: I think the only way out really is to get a job.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): For many Americans, stimulus checks will make a difference. But for Ashlie and Kyle, who put their house up for collateral to insure their business, it's simply not enough.

ORDONEZ: Any extra income goes straight to the business so that we don't lose this house. It's kind of the last thing we have, so it's really scary, thinking about me -- there's like --

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Thoughts of the future, too much to bear. Especially one so uncertain.


YURKEVICH: And it is still so uncertain for so many more Americans out there, a year into this pandemic. And, Jim and Poppy, there's no question that these $1,400 checks will help so many Americans.

But what I heard from the Americans I spoke to was that they're actually very hopeful because of the vaccine, they believe that if it continues to roll out in the way that it has been, that will help open businesses, people will start eating out more, shopping more. And of course that translates directly into jobs for the millions of Americans still out of work -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, Vanessa, thank you so much for always bringing us these real stories of these people.

We'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: A new allegation is emerging tied to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. That is that people close to him sought to damage the credibility of the first woman to accuse him of sexual harassment.

HARLOW: This is according to "The New York Times," that the Cuomo team started circulating an open letter that they hoped former staff members would sign, disparaging her. Let's go to Dan Merica, he joins us with the latest.

I was struck by the fact that the Times reports, Dan, that Cuomo, the governor, knew about this letter being sent around, fully aware.

DAN MERICA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. This dates back to December, when Lindsey Boylan, the first accuser against Governor Cuomo to allege sexual harassment, went on Twitter and tweeted some of her allegations. And what "The New York Times" is reporting is at that time, people close to Cuomo began to circulate this open letter. And as you note, they report that Cuomo was involved in the letter process.

Now, the letter was meant to be, you know, a venue for former aides to sign and stand with Cuomo, but it also got into some attacks on Boylan herself. It linked her to President Trump, got into her personnel file and it alleged that the allegations were politically motivated because she's running for Manhattan borough president.

Now, the letter was never released, and the "Times" gave no comment to the -- sorry, Cuomo gave no comment to the "Times." But what this is showing us is that there's a private side of how Cuomo is fighting these allegations, and then there's the public side.

And the public side is somewhat twofold. It's Cuomo is largely not answering questions about the allegations against him, he was asked twice on Wednesday during a press call about specific allegations against him, and he said he could not answer either question because of the investigations into the allegations.

And then there's the side of things where he is going on with his business. He went to a mass vaccination site on Monday, he went to a pop-up vaccination site on Wednesday in Harlem. And we're told this is all very intentional, it's meant to show New Yorkers that the governor is continuing to work, even in the face of these allegations. And it's worth noting, he's working on something that made him so popular just a year ago.

One more piece of news, Poppy and Jim, Ana Liss, the third accuser -- Cuomo accuser is set to meet with New York attorney general investigators today. Again, she'll be the third accuser to meet with the attorney general's office.

SCIUTTO: Dan Merica in Albany, thank you.

Well, Republicans in Georgia are making another broad push to restrict voting across the state. HARLOW: Yes, this came as a bit of a surprise move, a key state

committee is now working on a very big 93-page bill that would give the state new, broad powers in their elections. Our national correspondent Dianne Gallagher joins us now.

That is different than the other bills that we were talking about. What stands out in this one?

DIANNE GALLGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Poppy, it's different but it's also the same, and that's because we're seeing almost copy-paste of some of those other bills, shoved into this one. It's a really wide-ranging substitute bill that was dropped just about one hour before the hearing yesterday.

So Senate Bill 202 was originally a two-page bill that would have stopped outside groups from sending absentee ballot request forms to people who have, well, already requested them. But when the committee arrived yesterday, instead, in front of them was a 93-page behemoth of a bill that had 50 new sections and would greatly impact the way that Georgians vote.

TEXT: GA Republicans Push New Bill to Restrict Voting: Would give state broad powers over local election officials; Would set limits on weekend early voting; Would add voter ID requirements for absentee ballots

GALLAGHER: The preamble of the new bill says that the reason why they need these changes to address the, quote, "lack of elector confidence in the election system." So once again, that big lie is showing up in this legislation.

But just a sampling of what's inside the bill, we're talking broad powers over election officials, limits to weekend early voting, ID for absentee ballots. And if it sounds like you've heard all of those before, well, that's because they're just sort of shoved in there from those other election overhaul bills that we've been reporting on, H.B 531 and S.B. 241, that have already passed the House and Senate.

Of course, they're leading activists to believe, Poppy and Jim, that maybe this is a new vehicle to push them through. Not a lot of debate on it yesterday because it was by surprise. They're going to be discussing and debating in committee again this afternoon.



HARLOW: Dianne, you know them inside and out and there are a lot of these bills and people need to know what they mean for their ability to vote. Thank you very, very much.

And thanks to all of you for joining us today, we'll see you tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. NEWSROOM with Kate Bolduan starts right after a short break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)