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North Korea Fires Two Ballistic Missiles; Migrant Children in U.S. Custody; Georgia House Set to Pass Voting Bill; Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) is Interviewed about Gun Legislation. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired March 25, 2021 - 09:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Pentagon this morning. I mean I'm sure Biden will get asked about it today.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think people will be watching to see what President Biden has to say at his news conference later this afternoon. Certainly fair to say the North Koreans are going to be interested in what he has to say because Biden has been very clear he wants to keep the door open for diplomacy with the North Koreans on some kind of denuclearization effort.

Now the question is, are the North Koreans the least bit interested in that with his latest test, two short-range ballistic missiles. Not terribly threatening, but they are ballistic missiles. They were -- they aimed towards Japan, fell into the sea. They are under U.N. resolutions that bar North Korea from conducting these kinds of tests.

And, overnight, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, out in Hawaii, which overseas U.S. interest in the Pacific, issued a statement saying, in part, and let me read it, this activity highlights the threat that North Korea's illicit weapons program poses to its neighbors and the international community. The U.S. commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad.

So a message of support from the Pentagon.

And now the question is, what will North Korea do next? What kind of message are they really trying to send to the U.S. and the Biden administration? That's what everybody's watching for.


HARLOW: Of course. We'll see what the president says about it today.

Thank you, Barbara, at the Pentagon for us.

Now to the surge of migrants at the U.S./Mexico border this morning. The White House is preparing to activate two military sites in Texas as space runs out to house the influx, especially of unaccompanied migrant children. Right now nearly 5,000 children are in CBP facilities. They're not supposed to be there, right? They're supposed to be in these HHS facilities. In those facilities, HHS, there are more than 11,500 children in custody.

Our Priscilla Alvarez joins us again this morning in Dallas, Texas, with the details.

Do we have a sense of what sort of conditions will be like in these new facilities that the Biden administration is putting up?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN IMMIGRATION REPORTER: Poppy, these are the facilities that the administration wants kids to go to. So as you mention, we know that there are nearly 5,000 children in Border Patrol facilities. Those are akin to jail-like conditions. They are intended to process adults, not designed to care for children, but it is where these children have been held up as the administration has scrambled to find shelter space for them.

So these two military sites will be used to accommodate up to more than 5,000 children. And the idea here is that they can provide medical services, sleeping quarters and other support as the administration works with them to relocate them in the United States with families.

So just yesterday the administration opened the doors to some press access at a Health and Human Services facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas. Now, at this facility, very different from the photos that we shared with you earlier in the week. This is an area where they have dormitories, they have areas where they can play soccer, where they can work with case managers, again, to work with relocating with family in the United States. So a very different setting than the Border Patrol facilities.

And, again, these military sites, part of a string of announcements by this administration as they have scrambled to find shelter space. In fact, they are also leaning on three convention centers, one of them here in Dallas where they have also transferred children. All of this, Poppy, to get that number, the nearly 5,000 in Border Patrol facilities down.

HARLOW: Right.

OK, Priscilla, thank you so much. I'm glad that there was access so you could show us a bit of what it's like, at least in one of those HHS facilities. Thanks for the reporting in Dallas.

State lawmakers are set to probably pass a bill today, that's what it looks like, that would severely restrict voting in Georgia. And guess what it would also do? It would also actually make it a crime to give people waiting in line to vote any food or anything to drink. Why voting rights activists are calling this Jim Crow 2.0, next.


[09:38:23] HARLOW: Lawmakers in Georgia are set to pass a sweeping bill today that would restrict voting access across the state. The legislation would limit the use of ballot drop boxes. It would impose identification requirements, more of them for absentee voting. It would also allow for unlimited challenges to people trying to register to vote. It would also, get this, not making this up, it would make it a crime to provide food or drinks to people waiting in line to vote.

Greg Bluestein is with me. He's is a political reporter for "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," who covers this so closely.

Greg, this is expected, not only to pass both chambers, to very quickly be signed by Governor Kemp, right? So what does it mean for Georgians?

GREG BLUESTEIN, POLITICAL REPORTER, "ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION": Yes, I expect the governor to sign this as quickly as he can. What it means for Georgians overall, it would add new ID requirements for absentee ballots. It would curtail the use of ballot drop boxes. It would actually expand some weakened voting, unlike earlier versions that were restricted, and it abandons attempts to severely restrict who can vote by mail. That was another controversial provision.

But as you mentioned, the line warming part of it. Line warming is very common practice in Georgia where lines can be as long as five, six, seven hours. That's when advocate comes and pass out water, pizza, food. They're not -- they -- you know, they don't advocate who to vote for, they just -- they just want to help people who are waiting in line get nourished. That would be banned under this provision.

HARLOW: Why? I mean, I'm very interested in how Republicans, who have proposed this and are going to vote for it, are justifying that is a misdemeanor to give someone a coke and pizza.


BLUESTEIN: Yes, well, advocates of this provision say that they worry that, you know, people could influence the vote of those who are waiting in line. This tends to be in metro Atlanta districts where there are five, six, seven hour lines that tend to be more Democratic. So they're worried that this could influence the vote somehow. But the advocates who are out there doing this say they don't have anything -- they're not campaigning whatsoever. All they're doing is making sure that people who are in line for hours stay in line by getting food, by getting water, by getting cokes.

HARLOW: Right. Well, if that were the case you'd make it -- they'd outlaw anyone talking to anyone in line, right? Anyway, let me ask you about --

BLUESTEIN: Yes, it's going to get hard to enforce.


So the preamble to this bill called SB-202 that they're voting on, it claims that the changes are needed to address the supposed crisis of confidence in the election system despite no evidence of widespread fraud that even the, you know, all the Republican officials in Georgia have basically said, including the secretary of state.

But I want to ask you, in the wake of last week's mass shooting in your state, in Georgia, some critics have pointed to the fact that this could now mean that it will take longer to register to vote than to buy a gun in the state of Georgia. Have Georgia Republicans expressed concern about that?

BLUESTEIN: Yes, in Georgia, Republicans are going to end up expanding gun rights rather than curtailing it. There's a -- there's a relatively minor measure that's moving forward that the governor is expected to sign if it gets to his desk, but there's been no appetite among Republicans to restrict guns, even after these shootings.

Meanwhile, Democrats, who used to run as NRA Democrats not so long ago in Georgia, it was Democrats were championing gun rights, they have completely gone the other direction and are now, by and large, supporting gun control measures that polls show a majority of Georgians also support.

HARLOW: Greg Bluestein, thank you for the facts on this.

BLUESTEIN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Obviously, we're watching what happens today and next week on this bill very closely.

Well, the gun reform debate reigniting on Capitol Hill once again. Will anything be different this time? Will meaningful legislation get passed after this? We will speak to the House Democrat leading the charge. He is also, I should note, a proud gun owner.



HARLOW: A renewed push for gun reform on Capitol Hill in the wake of the latest mass shooting in Colorado following the mass shooting in Georgia. Colorado Democratic Senator Michael Bennet making this plea.


SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO): Boulder will heal, but this scar will always be there. My daughter's generation will always bear the burden of a national government that did nothing to protect them.

They have grown up with a reasonable fear that they will be shot in their classrooms.

I didn't grow up in an America with more gun-related deaths than virtually any country in this world. And we can't accept it for their America.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: So what now? Will anything change?

Joining me now is a Democrat in the House who has been leading this charge for years. Congressman Mike Thompson serves as the chairman of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. He is also a proud gun owner.

Good morning.

REP. MIKE THOMPSON (D-CA): Good morning, Poppy.

HARLOW: For anyone who may be skeptical, we have pictures of you with your guns. We can show them. You also said in 2013, I will never give up my guns. I will never ask law-abiding individuals to do so.

But do you think at this point, Congressman, President Biden should declare gun violence in this country a public health emergency?

THOMPSON: I do. It is a public health emergency. You just heard Senator Bennet talking about his child. I hear it in my district regularly from students who are afraid that their school is going to be the next one that's shot up. I hear it from parents. People deserve to be able to go to school, go to their grocery store, go to a concert, go to a church and be safe. The idea that every day 30 people are killed by someone using a gun, we have mass shootings regularly, there's a problem.

HARLOW: You called Speaker Pelosi years ago after the Sandy Hook massacre at the elementary school and you said, let me lead on this. No one knows guns the way I know guns. Let me lead on this. But literally nothing other than banning bump stocks, which is important, but nothing else major on a federal level has changed since then.

Should Americans have any hope this push is different?

THOMPSON: Well, we've passed the background check bill, my bill, HR-8 (ph), out of the House.


THOMPSON: Now for a second time we have a commitment from Senator Schumer that he's going to take it up in the Senate. Senator Murphy, who has been my Senate partner on this, I just spoke with him yesterday, he's negotiating with his colleagues. I read where a number of Republicans have stated, including one of the top Republicans, Senator Cornyn from Texas, that they believe background checks, an expansion of background checks are -- would be an appropriate way to proceed.

So I think we're making headway. And, you know, to quote our good friend and the great civil rights icon John Lewis, you've just got to keep your eyes on the prize.


This is important, and we need to keep working towards its adoption. HARLOW: Yes, I mean, I think you also have to keep your eyes on your

fellow Democrat, Joe Manchin, though, right? You two both blue dog Democrats, friendly. Have you talked to him about this?

THOMPSON: I have. I've worked with Senator Manchin on this from day one. I -- he and I sat in his office when he was working on the Manchin-Toomey amendment and, as you know, you've gone your research, my original background check legislation was the Manchin-Toomey bill. They adopted that over in the Senate.

The major difference is, in the bill now, and my bill then, was what was commonly referred to as the hunting buddy exemption. So you could sell a gun without a background check to a friend. We've tightened that up in HR-8.

But Senator Manchin knows that background checks are important. I think he's a good partner in this. And I think he'll do what needs to be done.

HARLOW: But to be clear, are -- you're not -- are you saying you have his support on this now?

THOMPSON: I say that he is -- he -- he has been a supporter of expanding background checks.


THOMPSON: I don't see that changing.

HARLOW: OK. He has voiced some reservations at this point, but let's see where that goes.

I want to get your --

THOMPSON: Yes, he's -- he's voiced a concern about how far HR-8 goes.

HARLOW: Right. Right.

THOMPSON: It sounds to me like he is still on Manchin and Toomey.


THOMPSON: Which would have that provision for hunting buddies.

HARLOW: I encourage everyone, by the way, to read HR-8 and HR-1446. They're like three to five pages long and they're very clear and people can understand exactly what they allow and what they exempt.

Look, your colleague, Republican Congressman Bacon from Nebraska, was on the show with me yesterday. And here's why he says he doesn't support either of those bills.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DON BACON (R-NE): It's onerous weight on the First Amendment rights of the 99.9 percent of our citizens who are law abiding. And so the weight of legislation should be against the criminals, not against law abiding citizens.


HARLOW: I did explain to him all of the exemptions in HR-8 that law enforcement is not counted here, transferring a gun between spouses or from child to parent or temporary transfer in the position of imminent death or bodily harm. All of those are exempt. But, still, he thinks it's onerous to ask people to do this.

You're awe gun owner. Do you think it's onerous?

THOMPSON: No. And the exemptions go even further than what you explained to him. I watched your interview with him, by the way. And you can lend a gun to someone for shooting, for target practice, for hunting purposes, for self-defense.

You can lend -- you can give someone your gun if you feel that you're in an unsafe spot and you're a danger to yourself or others. The bill goes on to prohibit any type of gun registry, yet that congressman and many of his colleagues continue to point to those areas as problem areas in the bill. They're just dead wrong.

HARLOW: He also told me, he got upset when I asked him if he thought an AR-15 was a weapon of war. So I want to ask -- and I should note it uses the same ammunition, cartridge as an M-16 built on a similar platform. Those are the facts. But let me ask you, because you have carried an AR-15 when you served in Vietnam. Do you consider it a weapon of war?

THOMPSON: You're right, I carried one. I know what they were designed to do. I know what they're capable of doing. And I don't believe that we need those on our streets, in our communities today.

HARLOW: Finally, President Biden has called this week for another assault weapons ban. Something we saw between 1994 and 2004 and then subsequently expired. During that decade, there were 15 fewer mass shooting deaths than in the 12 years before it was passed. And I understand there are questions about causality there that just can't be answered. But my question to you is, do you -- do you support, at this moment, another assault weapons ban?

THOMPSON: Well, I think the approach to gun violence prevention needs to be holistic. There's a lot of things that we need to do. The most important thing that we can do, the one with the quickest results, is the expansion of the background checks. Do I believe that we need to have military type assault weapons on the street? No, I don't believe that. I think it's -- I think they -- they have a potential of causing problems. I think it causes major problems for responsible gun owners to have to defend that type of weaponry on the street.


I just think it gives us a big black eye.

HARLOW: OK. I'll just note that seven of the deadliest mass shootings in the last decade were committed using assault weapons like an AR-15 or an AK-47.

THOMPSON: Absolutely. And the one -- and the one in Colorado, you can take it another step, that was a concealable assault weapon platform.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes. Yes.

THOMPSON: And they're just -- we just don't need them. You know, it's --

HARLOW: It's a great -- it's a -- it's a great point. They just called it a pistol. But, you know, it's semantics again.

Congressman Mike Thompson, thank you for your time.

THOMPSON: Poppy, thank you very much.

HARLOW: Well, in minutes, the man that is charged with gunning down those ten people at the Colorado grocery store will appear in court for the first time. We'll take you there live, next.



HARLOW: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.