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At Least Four Dead, 159 People Unaccounted for in Condo Collapse; Vice President Harris in El Paso Visiting Southern Border after GOP Criticism; Attorney General Merrick Garland to Make Big Announcement on Voting Rights. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 25, 2021 - 10:30   ET


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Citizen that is reported among the missing at this point is apparently a relative of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelle.


So these are people that have close ties to different countries across South America. And what we know about this part of South Florida is that there are many people from different South American countries that live either permanently or just stay in a second apartment, perhaps, in part of South Florida.

And so as we learn more, as the rescue efforts continue, there is every chance that more citizens from different South American countries will be confirmed as among the missing. Jim and Poppy?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Matt, is there communication between the U.S. and Mexican governments and the governments of other countries on this? They must be seeking information about their citizens and I wonder if that information is going back and forth.

RIVERS: Yes, it absolutely is. We've heard from multiple different foreign ministries across South America that they're in constant contact through the U.S. mainly through consulates based in Miami, because there are so many different citizens from South American countries that live in South Florida. There is a lot of countries that have consulates.

And so that is, from what we're learning, the primary method of communication to the point that these different consulates are actually contacting area hospitals in South Florida to try and do their own research, to try and identify where their citizens are, if they somehow made it out of the rubble, made it into a hospital. But that seems to be the primary way that these countries are communicating with the United States.

But just like so many American families are waiting for news of their loved ones, the exact same thing is happening for people across South America.

SCIUTTO: Matt Rivers in Mexico City, thanks very much.

So what happened here? How does a residential building in 21st century America disappear into a cloud of dust with dozens of people inside?

Joining me now to share his insight is an architect, Kobi Karp. He's a member of the American Institute of Architects. Mr. Karp, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

KOBI KARP, ARCHITECT: Thank you so much for having me.

SCIUTTO: Listen, this is a catastrophic failure. And we're still in search and rescue phase and those efforts need to be exhausted before we get to these questions as to what possibly could have caused this. But those questions will, in due, demand answers.

As you look at this, without making definitive explanations or theories, what are the kinds of things that could cause a sudden collapse like this?

KARP: Number one, thank you very much, as our prayers and our thoughts and our hearts go out to the victims. This is a community in the neighborhood and this is a very unique event, whereby the structure that is a commonly used structure here in South Florida, concrete, reinforced slabs, columns and walls had a major devastating effect.

This is a common structure that we have repeatedly used over the decades since the 1920s. And it is probably the way it looks right now collision of effects of potentially working on the roof, potentially the non-maintenance for certain parts of building, where the connections can come together and fail and create the pancake effect that happened that collapsed the whole building.

SCIUTTO: As you've been speaking, Mr. Karp,, we're seeing what are live pictures of excavation taking place at the site here. Mr. Karp, there is a researcher at Florida International University, which is nearby who had done some research on this area, including this building, and found signs of subsidence, sinking of the structure, not a lot, a couple of millimeters a year. But given the way structures work, he says that could have had an effect. I mean, would that kind of thing, again, without making a definitive conclusion, put stress on a structure like this that could potentially lead to collapse?

KARP: That is a very good point. Settlement is a natural occurrence where the buildings settle. The problem can happen is obviously if the settlement is not equal, it is not the same, then people in the building would see cracks in their floors, the table would not be flat, things would roll off. You would see cracks in your walls. You look up in the ceiling and you'll see cracks in the ceiling.

Those are the kind of things that individuals who live in the building would see and then report to the condominium association for the repair and the maintenance of the building. And it sounds like some of these things did occur yet they were not maintained and they were not dealt with.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Question, if I'm living next door to this building, right, or in a similar building nearby, how should I be looking at this? How should residents in the area and should there be concern at least as a precautionary measure about the stability of other buildings in the area, if it is not specific to this one structure, right, if it is something about the foundation, the grounds around where this building came down?


KARP: It is a valid concern. We do have friends and family who sleep in these buildings on a daily basis. I am deeply hopeful that us as a community, as we've gotten together after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, we'll get together here. After Hurricane Andrew, we found out that certain structures were not designed for hurricane impact and we became the forefront of that.

I think we're looking at the same thing here. We're looking at relooking at how we look at existing structures and they're ability to be maintained on an ongoing basis. We've done it in the past. We have beautiful historic buildings built in the 1920s here in Miami Beach that we have restored and preserved and they're standing. And then we have this event of a structure, of a rather useful (ph) building, 40 years old, and that is the issue on the table.

And I believe I'm optimistic that we, as a community, with the resources that we have here, we have very good inspections, we have very good community that will deal with this and a very good government that has dealt with it in the past.

SCIUTTO: Yes. 159 people, if it is that high, should not go to sleep with fear of the building coming down on their heads. Architect Kobi Karp, thanks so much.

KARP: Thank you for your time.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: In just minutes, the vice president, Kamala Harris, will head to the southern border for her first trip since taking office. We'll explain what she plans to do, next.



SCIUTTO: Any minute, Vice President Kamala Harris will arrive at the U.S. southern border for the first time as vice president.

HARLOW: She has been tasked with dealing with and grappling with the root causes of the border crisis. She's been criticized by some Republicans for not traveling there sooner while in office.

Jeremy Diamond is in El Paso following this trip. We saw her trip to the northern triangle countries a few weeks ago and the White House is saying, look, you go to the root cause first and then go to where it is happening second. Do we know what she'll do today?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, she actually just arrived a few minutes ago here at this border patrol facility in El Paso. This is a central processing center. And her team has told us that she has come here versus another part of the border because they see El Paso as embodying a range of dynamic as the U.S.- Mexico border, both legal migration, legal goods and services trade that happens here as well as the illegal immigration that also happens here.

El Paso is one of those areas where you have indeed seen a surge in migrants coming from Central America up here, though it's certainly not as much as what you're seeing in the Rio Grande Valley. And you are seeing criticism from Republicans who are saying that she should have perhaps visited there.

But she is already meeting with border patrol officials. She's accompanied by the secretary of homeland security, as well as Congresswoman Veronica Escobar from this district right here in El Paso, as well as Senator Dick Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

She's also going to be meeting with some organizations, non-profit organizations and faith-based groups that work with migrants here in El Paso. So she is seeing a range of issues here.

Now, there is no question that her visit here is also aimed at trying to quell some of that criticism that she faced for not having yet visited the border as vice president. As you know, Jim and Poppy, Republicans have sought to paint Vice President Harris as the border czar, even though she has been focused on the root causes of migration.

And then, of course, she stepped in it during that trip to Guatemala and Mexico when she offered that pretty flip answer to the question of why she had not yet visited the border, comparing it to not having yet been to Europe as vice president.

So, certainly, her team is looking to put that aside. But the vice president saying today, as she arrived in El Paso, that she always did plan to come to the border but she wanted to do it after having visited Guatemala and Mexico to view the root causes up close, and now she's seeing what she says are the effects of those root causes, which is that surge in migration.

And just lastly, this is also where the family separation policy saw its first test in 2017. There was a pilot program. And so there is also an attempt here to contrast the immigration policies and border security policies of the Biden/Harris administration versus what happened under former President Trump.

HARLOW: Okay. Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much. And we see Vice President Harris beginning this tour of the facilities there talking with officials about it. Thank you for that update.

Let's bring in Ryan Lizza to discuss, Chief Washington Correspondent and Playbook co-author for Politico, and Sabrina Siddiqui, White House Reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Good morning to both of you here.

This comes, obviously, in the midst of really important agenda items, Sabrina, for the Biden White House, including what they hope is an infrastructure deal that will hold. What is your takeaway here from this trip that the vice president is making at a moment like this?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice over): Well, the White House is saying that this trip is not political but it is impossible to ignore that it is coming after weeks in which Vice President Harris was questioned about when she will make a trip to the border. And so it is a reflection in some ways of the pressure that the Biden administration is under amid a recent surge of migrants at the southern border.

But as Jeremy pointed out, part of why the vice president's office said she is in El Paso is to try and change the narrative around immigration, specifically going to a place that they say was where the Trump administration's family separation policy was piloted, as well as where there hasn't been a surge of migrants in the same -- at the same level as some other parts of the border.


So I think trying to change the narrative around the idea that there is a crisis.

But they have been focusing more on long-term solutions and trying to address root causes, that migrants are showing up because of poverty and violence. And, of course, in the interim, they have to figure out how to handle the more immediate politics and how to process the people who are coming.

But this is a problem that has vexed many administrations before, and so you're seeing that dynamic play out very early in the Biden administration, where it is a very complex issue to overcome the challenges of the immigration system here in the United States. And that is, I think, what we're going to see vice President Harris talk about today.

SCIUTTO (voice over): Ryan Lizza, infrastructure, we had a moment of bipartisanship outside of the west wing yesterday. When was the last time we saw Democratic and Republican senators standing with a Democratic president announcing a deal?

Soon after, however, President Biden and Nancy Pelosi said they won't advance that bipartisan agreement until they have the second chapter, a larger reconciliation plan for their priorities.

You made a wise point on Twitter saying now any Republican vote for the first will be viewed as a vote for the second as well. I wonder, did the White House just blow up this deal?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice over): You know, first of all, wise point on Twitter, wow, that is -- that rarely happens. I think this is a big, big problem for this deal. This is what people in the conservative world are talking about right now. This is the first thing that Mitch McConnell seized on.

And then, very importantly, I talked to Senator Lindsey Graham last night. Now, remember, Senator Lindsey Graham was one of 11 Republican senators who put out a statement endorsing the original bipartisan framework, right? So that is what they worked through all this week to conclude that framework and get -- dot the Is and cross most of the Ts.

And yesterday, Lindsey Graham was positive when he saw the agreement. He was sticking with that group of 11 Republicans. After Biden's comments, he pulled out. And last night, I talked to him and he said, you'd have to be an idiot, is actually a little bit more colorful than what he said, to support the bipartisan agreement if it's contingent on the big, $4 to $6 trillion reconciliation bill.

So that is going to be a big problem. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has come out against this now, saying that Biden double crossed Republicans. And we haven't heard from some of the other Republicans that weren't at the White House yesterday but that like Lindsey Graham initially endorsed this deal and what those five other Republicans say will be very, very important because the five at the White House plus the five who haven't spoken up, that will get you ten Republicans. If that number falls below ten, the deal is over.

HARLOW (voice over): And, Ryan, you make such a great point, but it is not just the -- it is not just the Republicans. I mean, you have to then get Manchin and Sinema on board with the $4 to $6 trillion Sanders plan through reconciliation, which we know how they feel about doing a lot without any bipartisan support. And it was just interesting that New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen this morning is quoted as saying, I hope that we trust each other a little bit more than that, that they don't necessarily have to be there tandem. So I just wonder about the Democratic side.

LIZZA (voice over): Yes, this same -- look, I think one of the questions is how much did everyone in the deal know about this linkage issue. The Republicans are saying they were not aware that the two bills were going to be linked. They were not aware that they could easily be accused, as Jim pointed out, of if you vote for the bipartisan bill, you're essentially voting for the reconciliation bill. So that is what really bothered Lindsey Graham and why he pulled out of this deal.

But absolutely true, on the left, you have a similar problem. This is like, remember the movie, Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield, and he attempted a triple lindy, that dive?

HARLOW: No. Is it bad that I'm saying no?

LIZZA: No. It is probably --

SCIUTTO: It is just because Ryan and I are old enough to have watched a film with Rodney Dangerfield in it. But, any way, continue your point.

LIZZA: But I'm just saying this is an incredibly complex two-step maneuver they're attempting here to pass the bipartisan bill, keep all of those Republicans on that bill, don't lose any of the progressives on that -- on that bill if they need them and then keep both wings of the Democratic Party on this big reconciliation bill.


This is going to be tough and it is going to be declared dead many, many more times before this is all through over the summer and into the fall.

SCIUTTO: So, Sabrina, what is President Biden doing? Is he calling -- well, okay, we'll have to save that because we do have live pictures coming from the border. We also have breaking news coming out in a short time. Ryan Lizza and Sabrina Siddiqui, thanks very much.

Next hour, Attorney General Merrick Garland is expected to make a significant announcement regarding voting rights, possibility of enforcement action, a lawsuit.

HARLOW: Evan Perez, this is really interesting. This is about what Georgia has done. Can you explain the power -- could the Justice Department overturn, change what Georgia passed?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. Look, this is a significant action because this is the first action by the Justice Department to take out -- to take on all of these -- any of these laws that have now been passing in Republican-led legislatures, Republican-led states, that Democrats say are severely restricting the rights of voters, particularly minorities voters. And in this case, the Justice Department is filing its own lawsuit, this law, the state of Georgia has already facing lawsuits from voting rights groups, civil rights groups. And now the Justice Department, instead of just joining those lawsuits, is filing its own lawsuit against the state of Georgia. That is being filed right about now.

And, again, this is takes on these restrictions at state, as you remember in these -- Georgia was one of the first to pass these laws, and the state took essentially more control over the election systems from some of those election officials that angered President Trump, angered a lot of Republicans for, frankly, handling the election in the way that it is supposed to be handled.

So we'll see what more the attorney general says about other states because we know a number of other states have also passed similar laws. And we'll learn more about this lawsuit, Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: There is another piece to this action, is there not, and that is that the DOJ is launching a task force to address the rise in threats against election officials, which we've seen in Georgia, for instance Republican officials such as the secretary of state.

PEREZ: Right, exactly, Jim. This is another separate action that has been sent out, a memo has been sent out by Lisa Monaco, the deputy attorney general, to prosecutors and to the FBI around the country. The memo says that there has been a significant increase in the threat of violence against Americans who administer free and fair elections throughout our nation. And it directs these offices around the country to essentially participate in this task force, which is aimed at trying to protect elections officials, as you mentioned, a lot of threats. Certainly, the Georgia officials who rebuffed President Trump and rebuffed some of those efforts to try to turnover what the will of the people was in that election have faced incredible number of threats and the same thing has happened in states around the country. So that is what the Justice Department is also announcing today. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Two really significant developments. Evan Perez, thank you and stay with us, as we bring in our Legal Analyst Elliot Williams, former federal prosecutor.

So, Elliot, here is where my mind goes. A lot of the talk and certainly my thought was, well, the only way that you can supersede what states like Georgia have done, what Texas is about to do, is federal legislation, like SB-1 or HR-1. But does this change that then if the DOJ prevails?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, no it doesn't change that. Look, the federal government has a right to sue states when they engage in practices that are found to violate the Constitution or violate equal protection rules under the Constitution and so on.

I think, frankly, I think the bigger question is there has been a lot of talk over the last couple of weeks over whether Merrick Garland and the current Justice Department has actually brought a shift in tone or practice to the department. And suing a state for civil rights violations around voting is precisely the kind of activity that we could have expected from -- in a big shift from the Trump administration.

And so certainly not to politicize this at all, but it is almost a message debunking the arguments of many who have been criticizing the current Justice Department and saying they're not going far enough.

SCIUTTO: Quickly, Elliot Williams, Justice Department can sue it still has to win that case in court. There were cases that the Trump Justice Department sued and then lost in court. How long does this play out over?

WILLIAMS: Months, if not, longer. But also, look, if the parties can agree and come to settlements outside of bringing this all the way to a verdict from a judge. But, no, this is not tomorrow or next week, these things take some time.



HARLOW: Thank you both, really big news and we'll await those comments, Evan, in a live press conference, it sounds like, from the attorney general coming up.

PEREZ: That is right.

HARLOW: Thank you both very much. And thank you, Elliot. Thanks everyone for being with us today. Of course, we'll stay on top of this breaking news from Florida. Have a safe weekend. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: Yes. A busy news Friday, to say the least. I'm Jim Sciutto.

At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts right after a quick break.



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: We begin with the breaking news, the intense and complex search to find survivors from the horrific condo collapse in South Florida.

I'm going to show you right now.