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Interview with State Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-TX); Portions of the Trump Era Border Wall Construction Now Abandoned; Republican Senator Tim Scott says he and his Democratic colleagues are inching closer to a compromise on police reform. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 3, 2021 - 10:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it's still not out. Late last month sheriff's deputies in Elizabeth City shot the 42-year-old while they were attempting to serve a warrant. An independent autopsy commissioned by his family found that he died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head.

CNN's Natasha Chen joins us now from Elizabeth City. Natasha, his family wants more transparent here, particularly after this judge's decision at least for now not to release to the public the broader police video.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the judge also said that the Brown family could be allowed to see more of the body camera footage within 10 days. But it's not clear whether that's 10 actual days or 10 business days.

And as late as yesterday I was asking the family attorney, Harry Daniels, about this and he has not gotten further indication about when that viewing might be. And we should mention that so far the problem from the protesters and family standpoint is that only 20 seconds of body camera footage has been shown and it was shown to just two Brown family members.

So the rest of the family did not get to see it. Those two family members plus their attorneys saw this footage they said was showing a shooting already in progress when the video clip started.

And so that's why cousin of Andrew Brown, who talked to me yesterday, said this is so astounding to her, especially when you think about laws in other states that have allowed other police use of force cases to have body camera footage shown much more quickly.


JADINE HAMPTON, ANDREW BROWN JR.'S COUSIN: I had never seen anywhere else in the country where this type of law existed and to know it even recently in the last five years passed is kind of it seems like something very ancient and it's 2021 in the -- in the world of media, in the world of instant, in the world of cell phones, in the world of everything, satellite; why can't we see the tapes? (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: And she did say that in that context, they are laying him to rest today while still having so much work to do in front of them. So it's going to be an emotional funeral starting at noon today. We are expecting to hear from Reverend Al Sharpton who's giving the eulogy. Poppy and Jim?

SCIUTTO: Natasha Chen, thanks very much.

Republican Senator Tim Scott says he and his Democratic colleagues are inching closer to a compromise on police reform. The South Carolina Republican as well as Democrats, Senator Cory Booker and Democratic Representative Karen Bass have been working on getting legislation through the senate, working through some final points of disagreement.

HARLOW: That's right. A big one of those is qualified immunity that protects police officers from civil lawsuits. Senator Scott has proposed keeping protections in place for individual officers. But basically allowing departments, the places that employ them, to be sued civilly. Listen to this.


SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): The real question is how do we change the culture of policing? I think we do that by making the employer responsible for the actions of the employee.


HARLOW: All right. So could this be the answer? Can they agree on it? Jessica Dean joins us in Washington.

I remember -- maybe two weeks ago Karen Bass asked, you know, is that -- does that break the deal for you? And she didn't say that it blows it up. Is this where they're going to land?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it may be. It certainly may be. That is really the $1 million question right now, Jim and Poppy. You mentioned qualified immunity is one of these key sticking points that they need to solve before being able to move forward. I've been told that their goal is to put forward a compromise bill.

You remember when they tried to do this last summer, it was two separate bills. Democratic version, Republican version. It went nowhere. The Republican version, Tim Scott's bill, failed on the Senate floor.

So what we know right now is that they're in recess. The Senate is in recess this week. With we know that they're continuing to talk. The key players in all of this, we know that their staffs are continuing to work on this. They are focused in on those key issues. Like qualified immunity. Will democrats be willing to give some on qualified immunity? Senator Scott told me last week that he has been very clear about

where he stands on that. And he said the ball is in their court on that -- you know when it comes to moving forward on that.

And another issue that they've got to tackle is Section 242. That deals with how they criminally prosecute police officers. So they've got to work through some of the language on that as well. This comes after a bipartisan meeting that we saw last week. This expanded out the circle.

So a lot of people saw that as a sign of progress. Because joining Senator Booker and Senator Scott and Representative Bass or other House GOP members, House Democratic members as well as Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Lindsey Graham.

So guys, they told me they're going to continue to meet on this until they get a deal. The question is when will that be.


And can they get this through the finish line? Karen Bass has said she'd like to see something by May 25th. That is the one year anniversary of George Floyd's death. We will see if they're able to do that.

HARLOW: Right. It would be significant to come together on something like this especially on a day like that. Jessica Dean, thank you very much. A quick break. We'll be right back.


HARLOW: Welcome back. This morning, a lot of eyes on a special election in Texas over the weekend. Why? A House seat there is up for grabs. And now two Republicans are advancing to a runoff race for it. This after beating a crowded field that included 10 Democrats hoping to flip that seat blue.

With me now is Carol Alvarado, she is a Texas state senator who represents that district -- that is district six.


She is also a leader in the Democratic fight against controversial restrictive election bills across the state. Good morning. Thanks for being with us.


HARLOW: So what we saw play out in the special election over the weekend is Susan Wright running to fill the seat of her late husband and Jake Elsy. Both Trump supporters, both Republicans are now going to head to -- to this run-off. And it was Trump's endorsement at the last minute, the former president's endorsement of Wright just before that seemed to push her into the lead there.

I thought it was interesting the reaction over the weekend from the Democrat who came closest to winning that seat in your district, Jana Lynne Sanchez, who said "Democrats have come a long way toward competing in Texas but we still have a long way to go."

What is the biggest lesson learned for your party in what happened over the weekend?

ALVARADO: Well Poppy, as you know, Texas is -- is trending blue. We're not quite there yet. But just in this race we saw that in third place you had the Democrat who just narrowly missed being in the runoff and in the 2020 election, the gap closed a bit. Trump won that district by just three points which is what we're seeing statewide.

The gap is closing in in this presidential race. Trump just won by six points. That's a big improvement from the previous election. So we're seeing that trend statewide.

HARLOW: So let me ask you about this that I thought was so interesting in this big New York Times piece over the weekend about the growing strength of Republican women running and their supporters in this state of Texas. I'm sure you read it. But they quoted a 42-year-old Mayra Rivera who -- who says she worked in the fields with her parents who are immigrants from Mexico to this country.

And then she said in the first few elections she voted as a Democrat. But here's what she says now. My family doesn't come from money. I have friends who are undocumented. I support medical cannabis. But I definitely think Democrats are pushing free everything, giving the message that there's no value in hard work and that's not something I can believe in.

What do you say to voters like her who you guys may be losing in the state of Texas? Oh, no. It went to black. Can we get it back up you guys? Control room is trying. OK. We'll take a break. We'll come back on the other side.



HARLOW: All right. The tech gods are back with us. Let me bring in Texas state senator, Carol Alvarado. Carol, thank you very much. State Senator, just -- I -- you were about to respond to my question which is from a formerly Democratic voter in your state who is disheartened by the state of the party right now. What's your response to her and other voters that may feel the same?

ALVARADO: Well, I would remind her the values that Democrats stand for and that's having a robust economy, creating jobs, good paying jobs with benefits and providing health coverage.

Just here in the state of Texas, we have the largest population of uninsured, 5 million Texans are uninsured. Mainly because the leadership in this state refuses to expand Medicaid.

During COVID-19, 1.6 million Texans lost their health coverage. That's over 6 million people in this state. And if we expanded Medicaid that, would give people coverage. So those are the type of things that Democrats stand for.

We ought to be debating things that drive our economy and instead we're -- we've been focused on election bills, abortion bills, constitutional carry permits carry. And those don't do anything to keep our economy going.

HARLOW: I -- I hear your point on the healthcare issue. I guess I would respond by asking one of the concerns, Mayra Rivera here, this 42-year-old voter in Texas has, who again, voted previously several times as a Democrat is that she feels like Democrats are pushing free everything.

And this comes on the heels of $4 trillion additional dollars in new spending from the Biden administration. Does any of that concern you?

ALVARADO: Well, I think the Biden administration has done a pretty good job explaining how they're going to pay for that. And if you look at the infrastructure part of this spending, these are things that we need.

We know that our infrastructure all over the country is aging. And the definition of infrastructure has changed. It's more than just bricks and mortar, bridges and roads. It's infrastructure to accommodate our -- our changing economy and the changing in terms of technology. So infrastructure has a broader definition than what people know from decades ago.

HARLOW: I want to you ask you about immigration because you -- although your district is it not on the border you have been outspoken on this issue in 2019 during the Trump years. In the summer you said talking about what you deemed humanitarian crisis at the border, you said that has given Texas a black eye not just around the country but around the world. This doesn't look good for Texas.


And then last year, in a 2020 op-ed you wrote a Biden -- a Biden win would help us reforming immigration laws. Joe Biden has never wavered in his support for diverse Latino community. Has -- has President Biden lived up to your hopes on the immigration front given what has played out at the border over the last three months?

ALVARADO: Well, Poppy, as you know, he is in a process of making permanent appointments to key positions that will deal with that. I'm very proud that he has tapped our sheriff in Harris County, in my home county, Ed Gonzalez to be the leader of ICE.

Ed has extremely well experience background in this matter and I think once the permanent people are in place and some of the people from the last administration are out, I think they're going to be focused to -- to make sure that the border is secure and to make sure that our country is doing everything in other countries to deal with this issue. There is a root cause problem of this.

HARLOW: Texas State Senator Carol Alvarado, thank you. We'll have you back again with more time without a technical glitch, we hope. Thanks for the time this morning.

Portions of the Trump era border wall construction now abandoned. This after the Department of Defense canceled all contracts along the border that used money original meant for military missions.

SCIUTTO: That's right. President Trump diverted that money from the Pentagon. Now as some call for President Biden to tear down parts of the wall, Republicans are urging him to instead complete it. Here's CNN's Ed Lavandera with a view from the border.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Fly straight east out of fly straight east out of Nogales, Arizona and you'll pass miles of rolling border wall built during the President George W. Bush era. Then it reveals a construction zone frozen in time.

Steel border wall bollards are left in stacks and construction equipment sits on staging grounds. Just weeks before President Biden was inaugurated, the Trump administration pushed ahead to build a four mile stretch of new border wall into the Patagonia mountains.

LAVANDERA: This is the end of the road. About 15 miles east of Nogales, Arizona; this is as far as the border wall construction got. And what you see now is this carved out path sitting next to the pristine untouched landscape.

LAIKEN JORDAHL, CENTER OF BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY: So this trench, I mean, this is the footer where they hope to put these bollards. Eight to 10 foot deep trench.

LAVANDERA: And they stopped mid trench?

LAVANDERA (voice over): Laiken Jordahl has spent years campaigning against the border wall in these remote areas of Arizona.

JORDAHL: It's kind of a bizarre scene because we've got this huge amount of devastation, this massive swath of land that's been blasted open. And nobody knows what's going to happen next.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): We revisited a number of the border wall construction sites we've reported on in the last year and this is what we have found; dozens of sites along the border have turned from bustling construction zones to ghost like scenes.

JOE BIDEN, U.S PRESIDENT: There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Vowing not to build another mile of wall, President Biden stopped construction after taking office. About 200 miles of border wall that was being constructed now sit in limbo and funding is approved for about another 75 miles. The Biden administration says it's reviewing the construction projects.

JOE FRANK MARTINEZ, DEL RIO, TEXAS SHERIFF: I'm taking you to the border fence. It's up the road here. LAVANDERA (voice-over): Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez in Del Rio, Texas

takes us to what's supposed to be a two mile stretch of border wall.

LAVANDERA: This is border wall that was started at the end of the trump administration?

MARTINEZ: Yes. This -- this structure that you see here and that structure there.

LAVANDERA (voice over): It's replacing an old iron fence a few hundred yards away from the Rio Grande.

MARTINEZ: I just think it's foolish to leave this project just as it is.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Construction equipment is still on site, deep trenches are dug out. The sheriff might describe this little section of Trump wall as overkill but he doesn't want to see it abandoned either.

There are also environmental concerns. At the end of the Trump era, crews were blasting into the Guadalupe Canyon in Southeast Arizona.

LAVANDERA: When the Biden administration took over, construction stopped. But before leaving, construction crews used the remnants of old steel border barriers to block access to the new wall.

Just a few months ago, all you could hear out here was the sounds of heavy machinery, construction crews, and explosive detonations blasting into the mountains. Now it is quiet.

LAVANDERA (voice over): Laiken Jordahl says he wants to see construction money diverted to restoring the wilderness.

JORDAHL: It is enraging. Frankly, I'm so tired of watching these beautiful landscapes pay the price of politics. Of really poor decision making.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): For anti-border wall activists, the damage is done and the question becomes how do you repair a mountain landscape that now looks like this?

LAVANDERA: And just to be clear, not all of the border wall projects have been canceled. Only those that have been funded through that U.S. military money. So the question becomes what happens to the rest of these projects.

And this story is far from over. The Biden administration must now go through the process of cancelling these contracts and negotiating those settlements. There's also the question of some land owners in Texas getting immanent domain lawsuits in land confiscated for more border wall.

So all of these issues still outstanding. And there are still some environmentalist who say they want to not only see some of this land restored, but they feel some of the Trump wall should also be torn down. So all of these political issues still swirling around what has been one of the most controversial issues of the last four or five years. Jim and Poppy?


HARLOW: Ed Lavandera, thank you. What a report. We appreciate it very much. And that'll do it for us today. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts right after a short break