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Immigration Front & Center As Harris Continues Latin-America Trip; DHS Task Force: Seven Families Split By Trump's "Zero Tolerance" Policy Reunited, 29 More Reunifications Pending; AOC Criticizes Harris' Message To Central American Migrants; Official: Bridges, Roads, Tunnel Crumbling Across U.S.; Hospital Workers In Houston Protesting Vaccine Mandate; Moderna Expects Vaccine Data On Kids As Young As 5 By Fall; Current Justice Department Moving To Defend Trump In Lawsuit Over A Rape Denial. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired June 8, 2021 - 13:30   ET




ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: A new report, driving home the enormous challenge in reuniting families separated by the Trump administration's zero tolerance immigration policy.

A Homeland Security task force launched in February has brought back just seven children to their parents, with 29 more reunifications set for the coming weeks it says.

It's a lack of documentation and clerical errors are making their tests difficult. It's believed there are still hundreds if not thousands of migrant families who remain separated.

Immigration is still the main focus of Vice President Harris' first international trip since taking office. She's been meeting with Mexico's president today after a stop in Guatemala where she offered a blunt message to would-be migrants: Do not come to the U.S.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live in Mexico City.

Jeremy, I want to begin with the vice president's meeting with Mexico's president today. What are we learning interest this important face to face?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, we heard from the vice president that the top of his bilateral meeting between her and the Mexican president.

And she talked about believing they were entering a new era of Cooperation as it relates to this issue that the vice president's foreign trip is based on, which is stemming the tide of migration and addressing the root causes of that migration from Central America primarily to the United States.

We also saw a before that meeting, the charge d'affaires at the U.S. embassy signing a memorandum of understanding with the Mexican foreign minister, outlining the ways in which the U.S. and Mexico will deepen their cooperation in terms of investing in development in Central America.

And what's interesting here -- this is something the U.S. delegation has really emphasized -- is the extent to which the U.S. and Mexico are increasingly aligned on this issue of migration.

Because of the that is correct that Mexico is not only a transit country for the Central American migrants coming to the U.S. But in many ways, it's also become a destination country for those very same migrants. So they have common issues here to address.

The vice president also pushing ahead on security cooperation, pressing Mexico to do more to enforce the border, its border, its southern border, rather, as the U.S. seeks to prevent migrants from coming to the U.S.-Mexico border.

CABRERA: And part of that, she has said, is, you know, making sure the message is loud and clear: Do not come.

But that message is facing backlash today from her own party. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is criticizing her message, calling it disappointing.


Is the vice president responding to her critics?

DIAMOND: Yes. The vice president was asked about these comments by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She kind of dodged the issue to be honest. Instead, talking about the fact that she is here to focus on the root causes of migration.

But that doesn't take away the fact that she did issue a very blunt, direct message that carried -- that while it has been said before by President Biden, by other members of the Biden administration, it carried a lot more weight because of where the vice president was delivering this message.

And I was in the room there. You could hear a pin drop as the vice president really emphasized this point. So it's not clear why she wouldn't explain further why she felt it was important to say that.

And there was a duality so her message. On the one hand, she was saying, don't come, you will be turned away. Which is true. It is the case for the vast majority of the migrants who come to the U.S./Mexico border.

On the other hand, she was trying to deliver a message of hope, to give hope to people living in the northern triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, to say you have hope for a better life in your home country. You don't have to make that dangerous journey.

That was what her trip to Guatemala was really all about.

CABRERA: Jeremy Diamond, in Mexico City for us, traveling with the vice president, thank you.

Meanwhile, hospital workers protesting, cruise lines battling with conservative governors, the new fights over vaccine requirements and the serious consequences they could have on efforts to end this pandemic.



CABRERA: The president is set to resume talks with Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito today as he pushes for bipartisan support on his hefty infrastructure proposal. It's the president's last chance to strike a deal before heading overseas.

And while Washington bickers, our nation's roads and bridges are crumbling.

CNN's Pete Muntean has more.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a traffic nightmare near Memphis. This is the new morning rush now faced by thousands who would take Interstate 40 each day.

But with its bridge over the Mississippi River shut down by a critical failure, commuter are now cramming onto Interstate 55 instead.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got to keep waiting, go through the traffic.

JASON GILL (ph), NURSE PRACTITIONER: It's absolutely horrible.

MUNTEAN: Nurse practitioner, Jason Gill (ph), fears ambulances could one day get caught on their way to Memphis area hospitals.

When inspectors found this crack in one of the bridges 900-foot steel beams last month, they called 911.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): We just found a super critical finding that needs traffic shut down in both directions on the I-40 Mississippi River Bridge. We need to get people off the bridge as soon as possible.

GILL (ph): And this cannot happen in the future, absolutely cannot happen in the future.

MUNTEAN: The 47-year-old Hernando de Soto Bridge is just one example of what the Biden administration says could be fixed and improved by its infrastructure plan.

America's bridges earn a "C" grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. It rates 46,000 bridges across the country as structurally deficient and in poor condition. This bridge between Indiana and Illinois is rotting away, closed since


ANDY HERRMANN, AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS: Here, you can see some deterioration.

MUNTEAN: Civil engineer, Andy Herrmann, showed us a railroad bridge near Boston he says is no longer safe.

Herrmann insists this traditional infrastructure is overdue for an overhaul, but it is caught in the middle of politics.

HERRMANN: It shouldn't be a political battle. It should be something we just invest in to make our lives better.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Now they're under a lot of pressure here.

MUNTEAN: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg toured the I-40 Bridge.

The Biden administration's $1.7 trillion infrastructure plan is larger than the plan proposed by congressional Republicans. Advocates hope whichever plan is passed pays for the $125 billion backlog of repairs they say that bridges need.

BUTTIGIEG: I think this is just a reminder of how much we depend on these assets. And a reminder that it costs money to look after these things.

But if you ever find yourself wondering, can we afford a big investment in the future of infrastructure, just remember what happens if one of those critical assets is not available.

MUNTEAN: Back in traffic, we saw not only everyday drivers, but also tractor trailers. I-40 connects Tennessee and Arkansas, running all the way from North Carolina to California.

In the middle is Memphis, known as the logistics hub of America. It is home to FedEx and the world's largest cargo airport, joining East and West by air, water, road and rail.

WILLIAM DUNAVANT III, DUNAVANT ENTERPRISES: From a transportation logistics perspective, this country doesn't work without Memphis, Tennessee.

MUNTEAN: Trucker Clifton Hughey says his usual half-hour haul to a Union Pacific rail yard now can take up to three hours one way.

He envisions a future of a third Memphis bridge, but says the only thing to blame for this gridlock is political gridlock.

CLIFTON HUGHEY, TRUCKER: That's what's wrong with the world. Everything's political. I don't care where you get it. Let's get it done.


MUNTEAN (on camera): This bridge has become a symbol for what's wrong with America's infrastructure. Now the question is whether or not a bridge fix will happen before an infrastructure deal.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation tells me more bridge materials are set to arrive here later this month. But that means the work here could extend into next month.

Pete Muntean, CNN, Memphis, Tennessee.


CABRERA: Thank you so much, Pete.

We turn now to the pandemic and a growing debate over whether COVID vaccines should be mandated for health care workers and hospital employees. There's a new fight brewing in Houston.

And CNN's CNN senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins us with details.

Elizabeth, what happened there?

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, let's put this in perspective. These vaccines have been out for six months. And this is the time that some employers are saying we want you to be vaccinated, giving you time to think about this and get this done.

But some employers, especially hospitals, where, of course, you're dealing with sick people who are vulnerable, we want you to be vaccinated in order to work here.

And so now, a relatively small number of workers in this very large Houston health care system, a little bit over 100, have filed a lawsuit saying we do not want to get vaccinated.

And the hospital has said, we're going to give you more time to think about that but we want you to be vaccinated.

It's anticipated that this is going to become an issue, more and more, as employers start requiring vaccination. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out,

In the case of hospitals, it is about protecting patients. An unvaccinated worker can be a threat to patients -- Ana?

CABRERA: And there are also questions about mandating vaccines when it comes to our recreation.

We know the first cruise ship since the start of the pandemic are back out on the water. And Royal Caribbean is no longer requiring proof of vaccinations for its sailings from Texas or from Florida.

Is this concerning when it comes to COVID? How safe is it to go on a cruise right now? COHEN: It depends if you're vaccinated or not vaccinated.

And speaking to experts about this, if you're vaccinated and you go on a cruise ship -- let's say there are many unvaccinated people on your cruise, you're probably going to be fine if you're vaccinated. That's what the science tells us.

Unvaccinated people, we're told by the cruise lines, will have to undergo certain testing protocols but still nothing is as good as being vaccinated.

I worry about the unvaccinated people. They're going to be a cruise ship, cruise ships are known to be high-risk places for all sorts of infections.

You're unvaccinated on a ship with other people who are unvaccinated. We saw what COVID did last year on cruise lines. I worry about those people.

Also, I worry about the cruise lines. If -- the last thing they need is more news reports of COVID-19 outbreaks on their vessels -- Ana?

CABRERA: No kidding.

News also today, Elizabeth, that seems like good news for Moderna and their timetable on when kids as young as 5 could be getting a vaccine. Fill us in.

COHEN: Right, so Moderna is saying they will have -- they think they will have information about children as young as 5, data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. They think they'll have that data in September-ish.

It then will take weeks and weeks to put it through the regulatory system. So still children that age will not be able to be vaccinated for the start of the school year.

CABRERA: Good to know, but at least we'll have some more tangible information and data, hopefully, by the start of the school year.

COHEN: Right.

CABRERA: We appreciate you as always. Thanks, Elizabeth.

It is a stunning move that flies in the face of one then-Candidate Biden's attacks on former President Trump. The current Justice Department moving to defend Trump in a lawsuit over a rape denial.



CABRERA: Now to a new legal development surrounding former President Trump.

It may seem hard to grasp at first, but the Biden Justice Department says it should be able to represent him, that is former President Trump in a defamation suit brought by a woman accusing him of rape back in the 1990s.

The suit filed by columnist E. Jean Carroll says Trump defamed her while denying the allegation.

The DOJ says it should be the defendant because Trump was a federal employee when he spoke out.

CNN's Paula Reid is joining us to discuss.

Paula, the White House says they weren't consulted. Is that significant?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That is incredibly significant, Ana, because it sits an independent Justice Department.

Of course, for the past four years, former President Trump repeatedly meddled in the Justice Department affairs. And on the campaign trial, then-Candidate Biden accused Trump of using it like his own personal law firm.

And so when he became president, Biden said he wanted to return to the traditional independent model of a Justice Department. And that is what you see here, even though it is causing some political headaches for the White House.

Now let's just look at the facts of this case. At the center are comments that the former president made while in office about Carroll.

He said that he denied raping her, said she was not his type. And he accused her of making these accusations to help sell books.

Now, in its brief, the Justice Department says that, look, these comments, they were crude and disrespectful, but it argues that this case is not about what is appropriate. It is not even about whether this rape occurred.

This Justice Department and the previous one, the Trump Justice Department, they are both arguing that elected officials, they may have to at times, while they are in office, address accusations about things that happen in their personal lives.

And both administrations are arguing that you should be protected from defamation lawsuits when you to that.


Now what's surprising about the fact that the Biden Justice Department effectively embraced this argument that the Trump administration had is that this argument has already failed.

A federal judge rejected the argument, saying that the statement had no relationship to the official business of the U.S.

So we'll see if they are successful at the court of falls. CABRERA: Paula Reid, I appreciate it. Thank you for joining us.

Thank you all for being with me. I'll see you back here tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter, @AnaCabrera. See you tomorrow.

The news continues next with Alisyn and Victor.