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At Least 4 Dead, 159 People Unaccounted for in Condo Collapse; Soon, Judge to Sentence Derek Chauvin for George Floyd Murder; Harris Speaks During 1st Visit to U.S./Mexico Border as Vice President; Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) Discusses Visit of V.P. Harris' Visit to Border Amid Migrant Crisis; Biden Speaks Amid Condo Collapse Rescue Effort. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired June 25, 2021 - 13:30   ET



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: They're standing a block away and watching it actively on fire. And it hurts. They're praying, they are lost, and they are in pain.

And the first responders are acutely aware. And they're going in, they're trying to extend their shifts and do more. They're some of the best men in Search and Rescue men, and women involved with FEMA on that pile.

We know this from experience, watching them. We know it is a matter of fact about Florida's unusual access to search and rescue. They have multiple highly trained teams.

So it is hard, and it is slow. And it has been complicated by moisture, and by pressure.

You had fire below. They had to have a hose on all night. And that created difficulty underneath that you are watching with people standing in feet of water.

You've had rain on top of a pile that was already very compressed. Why? Why was it so compressed? Why is this pile not higher? What made the collapse so intense and made the collapse happen at all?

Those families matter. And these questions matter to them. Yes, they want to know who is alive and who isn't. But they want to know why they're staring at this pile in the first place.

It's not a question that's just forgotten by the urgency of the moment. It matters. This doesn't happen in America. It happened. And we're going to have to know why.

There's also something very eerie about this. The last time we processed something like this in our country, something that was anything like this, a building collapsing under its own weight, so many joined in the agony of the unknown and standing by and watching people dig through slowly for answers that may or may not come was 9/11. And one of the men who guided us through the effort and made sure our

resources were brought to bear in one of the most epic research and rescue efforts was then NYFD, fire department commissioner, Thomas Von Essen.

I have not spoken to him since. But I spoke to him all the time in the aftermath about what the men were capable or able to do, what the first responders were able to do, the men and women involved.

And it's good to have you now, sir.

If this is eerily familiar. The smell down here at the scene, the odors they're anticipating, the wind is blowing on top of us now. Just like back then.

And many of the challenges, and the lessons apply as well. Is that the truth?

THOMAS VON ESSEN, FORMER COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK FIRE DEPARTMENT (via telephone): Basically, you're absolutely correct. I haven't seen an incident in the past 20 years that's so similar to what we had to deal with, exempt on a smaller scale.

CUOMO: What are the challenges in kind of satisfying the frustration? Why aren't they moving faster? Why can't they use the equipment and get in there and find them? What are the answers?

VON ESSEN: Well, they are answers that people don't feel better about. They are answers that people don't like to hear.

And you said it earlier, in one of your other interviews. You know, there's going to be a point where it's no longer a rescue. It's going to be a recovery.

But right now, these guys are doing really the best they can to continue in rescue mode.

They're hoping there's somebody underneath that piece of steel that you're looking at right now. And that piece of concrete is against it and somebody is getting air. They're going to pull them out alive. They're hoping.

As the time goes by and becomes more compressed and heavier, and as they brought in all the heavy equipment, if they started pushing stuff around, they would kill anybody that has survived up to this point.

They're going as quickly as they can, but they have to be so cautious in the process.

It's not something you can really explain to people unless they've been in a situation like that.

The idea of digging tunnels under that? As you said before, if it was a mountain, it would be easier for the guys to crawl around. But it's not. It's compressed. It looks like a third of what it should be of 12 stories. It's a really tough battle there in right now.

CUOMO: Now, the risk to people who may be alive on the inside, and god willing, they are, the risk to the men and women who are trying to get to them comes back to that odor.

Just like this 9/11. I'm not smelling wood burning right now. We don't know what's in there. It's chemicals and the vehicles. It's compounds. It's the building materials.

We've lived through this before, about this being breathed in and how toxic it can be for the men and women trying to do the best they can. Explain.

VON ESSEN: Well, we've got firefighters dying today, 20 years later, from working on that pile for a long period of time after.

Most of these guys, I notice don't have masks on. Some of them are in areas where they don't smell anything. There are no fumes coming out.

Those who are on top of anything leaking really need to mask up, because you just don't know what's in those -- in that smoke that's coming out.

Like you mentioned, there's probably propane tanks in there, gasoline fumes. I don't know what kind of gas they use in the building. There's gasoline from the cars.


There's so many things you don't know what you're breathing in.

CUOMO: We know that the guys, that the first responder, the men and women on that from the task force that's on there right now from south Florida. The FEMA task force, too, we know they pulled people out of a similar situation in Haiti 72 hours later.

They're clinging to that because they keep relaying that as a motivation to keep going here.

But when you lay out what our best scenario is here, what could be still true for so many of the people gathered around us now watching the broadcast for why there's hope?

VON ESSEN: Well, the hope is diminishing as the time goes by, but it doesn't mean it's hopeless. It is definitely a fact you're going to find more people that did not survive.

But we can hope and fight the fight as long as they can and as hard as they can. And there's hoping they will find some survivors.

As the time goes by, and as the more they move that stuff, the harder it is.

I had memories of 9/11 when I saw the guys with the five-gallon pails. Like you said, it looks like they're picking up stones. But they're looking for voids and trying to find ways to crawl in and take even more risk.

When that stuff moves, that's heavy stuff.

We had a situation where you couldn't -- you could get 50 strong young bucks on it and you couldn't move a piece of steel. You had to bring in heavy equipment.

They'll reach that point. But they don't want to get to that point without giving it the best shot they can. As the days go by, they have to bring in heavy equipment and move the steel and concrete.

CUOMO: I remember you explaining, the faster we move stuff, the less chance we're going to search and rescue anybody. So there's a disconnect there.

It moves faster that way, but it's a bad sign in terms of what the objective is of the activity to begin with.

I wish you could be here for one reason, Commissioner. That not since the acuteness of the crisis, the pain, the unknown, the people who have come out in the community and how they're supporting each other, how they're holding onto each other, their sense of common purpose that sometimes can only come from pain.

They're here for one another. That's going to be what gets them through this is their belief in their common cause of just how much pain there's and how fragile it is. And they're living that in real time just like we did back then.

Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, for commissioner of the NYFD, thank you what you did then. And thank you for helping us understand this now. God bless.

VON ESSEN: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: Look, all we can do is watch and wait and explain what's happening. And again, here comes more rain. They're just bands of the storm systems that are coming through. Not helpful.

Will it help put out the fire? No. The fire is internal to the building right now. And there's not an opening on the other side.

So it's going to burn, and it's going to help compact things more, and be a nuisance to the men and women doing the job.

But you'll see now they're using this as a vantage point to put water on that fire and control it. This is what they've been doing. This is a multifront fight for them.

From below, the water levels started to get high, you have a high- water table, you have rain coming in, you have stuff leaking out of the building. They didn't have enough opportunity to justify the risk.

So that started to try to come at it laterally and on top. They're having a lot of struggles. But there's no quit in who we've seen on this structure so far. [13:38:51]

We're going to take a break. We'll let the storm pass. We'll be back.



ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Next hour, former police officer, Derek Chauvin, will be sentenced for the murder of George Floyd.

Today, Chauvin's request for a new trial was denied. He was convicted on all three counts in April, including second-degree murder.

The sight of Chauvin pressing his knee onto George Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes ignited outrage and calls for police reform across the country.

CNN correspondent, Omar Jimenez, is outside of the court.

Omar, what can we expect to see coming up in the next hour or so?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, when things get going just about 45 minutes or so in downtown Minneapolis, we'll see a number of things.

Mainly, we're going to hear from both the prosecution and the defense on what they feel the sentence should be for Derek Chauvin.

Now, to lay things out, when you look at the maximum sentencing penalties that we can see for the charges, Derek Chauvin's been convicted of, the second-degree murder charge carries a maximum penalty of 40 years.

The third-degree murder charges, a max penalty of 25 years, with a second-degree manslaughter, a max of 10 years, and/or a fine.

But crucially, he's not going to face that type of time in a realistic fashion. He has no criminal history. So when you look at the Minnesota state sentencing guidelines, that puts him more in a range of 10 to 15 years.


But then you look at what the judge in this case, Judge Peter Cahill judge ruled, in May. He ruled in favor of aggravating factors, basically things that would boost that number up.

And when you look at what he ruled on, he said that Derek Chauvin abused the position of trust and authority, acted with particular cruelty, acted in concert with three other individuals who all actively participated in the crime, and committed the offenses in the presence of children.

Again, these are all things that are going to factor into the sentence that comes down. Prosecutors wanted to get 30 years. The defense has pushed for him to

get probation and time served, or at the very least something below the lower range of sentencing guidelines. We're just going to have to see.

But then, in the after portions of this, crucially, we learned just two hours ago the judge denied Chauvin's request for a new trial. So his sentencing will be the closure of one major chapter.

HILL: Omar, we'll watch and follow along. Thank you.

The vice president at the U.S./Mexico border today amid a growing migrant crisis. That's next.



HILL: Taking you live now to the vice president, speaking during her first trip as vice president to the border.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That belief has been reinforced throughout our day today.

Whether it was when I met with children or unaccompanied minors or I met with leaders who have been on the ground in El Paso for many, many years doing work that is directly about supporting and interacting with folks who are immigrating to the United States and who are crossing this border.

My trip to Guatemala and Mexico was about addressing the root causes.

The stories that I heard and the interactions that we had today reinforce the nature of those root causes, a lack of economic opportunity, very often violence, corruption, and food insecurity, and basic needs not being met, including fear of cartels and gang violence.

So, the work that we have to do is the work of addressing the cause, the root causes. Otherwise, we'll continue to see the effect, what is happening at the border.

It is going to require, as we have been doing, a comprehensive approach that acknowledges each piece of this.

Informed also by the recognition that the United States is a neighbor in the western hemisphere. And not only do we have a reason to concern ourselves with the root cause issues because of what we see at the border.

But also because we are -- we live in this neighborhood, the western hemisphere. And like anyone living in a neighborhood, one must understand and see the effect and the relationship between fellow neighbors.

So that's the work we've done. I want to, in particular, recognize Secretary Mayorkas. The time that

we spent with the dedicated men and women of CPB really has reinforced the work that Secretary Mayorkas has done in terms of bringing technology, bringing resources, bringing professionalism and support to the men and women who are on the ground doing the job every day.

I commend all of them for the success that they have seen thus far. I'd call it progress. We're not exactly where we want to be yet, but we have seen extreme progress over these last few months because of his dedication and his efforts.

So, with that, I want to also make the point, you know, when we have this conversation about what's happening at the border, let's not lose sight of the fact that we're talking about human beings.

Let's not lose sight of the fact that we're talking about stories that, as the bishop shared and many of the community folks shared, involve horrendous tales of abuse and fear and harm, not only for folks who are coming here in their home country experiencing that but along the path of their migration.

And so, let's recognize with a sense of humanity that these issues must be addressed in a way that is informed by fact and informed by reality and informed by perspective that actually is dedicated to addressing problems and fixing them in the most constructive and productive way.

The president and I are absolutely committed to ensuring that our immigration system is orderly and humane. And I do believe that we are making progress in that regard.

So, with that, I'm going to now introduce the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, to make a few comments.


And a privilege to be --

HILL: The vice president just speaking there.

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas. He's one of several lawmakers who have encouraged the vice president to spend some time at the border.

He has specifically reached out, in a letter earlier this month, asking her to come this his district. I know she was in El Paso today.


Congressman, really quickly, I just want to touch on what we heard from the vice president there. She said, "We can't lose sight, you need to recognize the sense of humanity, and that the actions need to be informed by reality."

She called for a comprehensive approach to address the cause, the root causes of immigration and also the effects.

You're calling for a little bit of that too, but I know you told my colleague, Kate Bolduan yesterday, you haven't seen a lot of that. It's more the push from Democrats and the pull from Republicans.

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): Yes. And certainly we need to be compassionate on how we treat the immigrants that come down to the border.

But at the same time, even though we're compassionate, we still have to enforce the law. The law says if somebody's not supposed to stay here, unfortunately, we have to deport them.

If you have a hundred people that ask for asylum, an immigration judge is going to deny about 88 percent of them and only 12 percent will come in.

So, we could be compassionate. But at the same time, we cannot forget that we have to enforce the laws that are on our books. Point. Period.

HILL: And do you feel like that is the focus of the vice president and of this administration? That twofold response?

CUELLAR: Well, let me be very diplomatic. In talking to our men and women on the ground, and, again, I don't just go visit the border for a few hours, but I live there.

Even today, during the visit, I was getting some calls and Texts from my border patrol friends, the men and women in blue.

With all due respect, again, they don't want to have a pat on the back. They want to have the resources, the personnel, the boots on the ground, and they want to be given the power to be able to deport people if the law calls for that.

So, we want to be compassionate. We want to treat people with respect and dignity. But I emphasize, we have to enforce the law.

HILL: We are very tight on time, sir. I know you would have liked to have seen the vice president spend some time near -- in the Rio Grande Valley in your district.

What do you think this visit achieves today?

CUELLAR: Well, you know, I'm glad that she checked the box and went down to the border. That's good.

But the epicenter is down there in the lower Rio Grande Valley. I mean, that's the bottom line. If you want to get a snapshot, go to Donna, Texas, and see what's happening down there.

HILL: She has not responded to your letter that you sent. You have not heard from the administration even about this visit today to your state of Texas.

Do you expect that will change? Sorry, sir, we have to go now to the president, who is speaking. My




BIDEN: Nice to see you. How are you doing?

I feel silly sitting down in front of all of you here.


HILL: He will be signing a bill that will designate the site of the Pulse Nightclub shooting.

BIDEN: I'm Joe Biden. I'm Jill's husband.


HILL: Let's listen in now to the president.

BIDEN: Before I sign, let me start with a few words about what's going on now in Florida.

And you know, the people who are here who are part of what happened that night at the Pulse Nightclub.

And the scores that I just spoke to a moment ago, they're online looking at this. They understand that -- what it's like to have to wait and wonder what happened.

The families -- I remember going down there to the Pulse Nightclub afterwards and wondering, is it my son, my daughter, my husband, someone I love? Is that who got lost because they didn't know for certain initially.

And as Congressman Cicilline knows, there's nothing worse than having to wait and wonder what happened.

I know, Val, when you were a police chief, you had to go through waiting a lot as well.

And so, I just want to say, I've spoken to Governor DeSantis, and we provided all the help that they have -- they need. We sent the best people from FEMA down there.

We're going to stay with them, with the disaster declaration we made, provide for everything from housing, to, god forbid, whether there's a need for more a moratoria for the bodies to be placed, everything in between.

But I just want to say -- and I'm sure I speak for all the members of the Congress here today and all the survivors here -- that it's a tough, tough time.

There's so many people waiting. Are they alive? Will they be -- what will happen? So, our heart goes out to them.


And the people of Florida -- I want to -- I've spoken to Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I've spoken to most of the folks down there and in authority.