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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Trump Withdraws Federal Protections for Transgender Students; Trump Delays Revamped Immigration Order Until Next Week; White House: Relationship with Mexico is "Phenomenal"; Top U.S. Envoys Visit Mexico; Still Catching, Still Releasing; Trump Administration Sets New Enforcement Priorities; GOP Lawmakers Face Angry Constituents; Badly Burned Iraqi Toddler Reunited with Parents. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired February 22, 2017 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[21:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: -- and while the action revolves around which bathroom students may use in schools, it also speaks to the interpretation of a landmark piece of anti- discrimination law Title IX and covers far more than that. CNN's Sara Murray joins us now from the White House.

So, what's the latest we're hearing from the administration tonight?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, what this administration has effectively done is roll back these directives that came from the Obama administration saying that transgender students should be able to choose whichever bathroom they please. What the White House said earlier today and continue to say in a statement is this is really an issue left to the states, not to the federal government.

So, I want to read you the statement the White House put out tonight, saying, "As President Trump has clearly stated, he believes policy regarding transgender bathrooms should be decided at the state level. The joint decision made today by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education returning power to the states paves the way for an open and inclusive process to take place at the local level with input from parents, students, teachers and administrators."

And, Anderson, it's worth noting that in that letter, it does roll back these directives. They note that this does not mean that students do not have any sort of rights and sort of privileges to protect them from bullying or discrimination.

COOPER: There's also news about the executive order on travel restrictions. I mean, originally, was expected this week, now, that's been delayed, right?

MURRAY: Right, we had been expecting a new travel ban essentially from the administration. Of course the first one they ruled out had been blocked by the court, who were expecting a new executive order this week. Now, we are being told by an administration official that that's not going to be coming until next week, maybe early in the week, maybe midweek. And Sean Spicer earlier today, the White House press secretary, in his briefing said essentially, this new executive order is done. They are just finalizing the guidance to the agencies. It seems like they do want to make sure that when they roll this one out, they have dotted all the Is and crossed all the Ts. Obviously, that's something that was not done on the first ban which caused widespread chaos in airports and then got stuck in the courts.

COOPER: Yes. Sara Murray. Sara thanks for the update.

Just a short time ago, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Mexico to hold meetings on security, trade, immigration as well as the border. He'll be joined by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Now, they arrive against the backdrop of the administration's new immigration directives, plans to expand the border wall and more. Given all that, the question is, what kind of reception awaits them? Leyla Santiago joins us now from Mexico City.

What's the reaction there have been to the changes in U.S. deportation guidelines?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Anderson, today, we heard the Foreign Minister, for the first time, give a reaction to that. And he basically said, "Look, Mexico does not have to accept any measures unilaterally imposed by one country on another country." And that is him directly responding to the DHS memos that were released yesterday.

And he also said you can bet that that will be a topic of discussion with Tillerson, with Kelly, who, by the way, Tillerson and Videgaray, the foreign minister here in Mexico, are having dinner right now.

But I want to give you a few more points of view. There is one Mexican senator who is saying, "Hey, they're not welcome here. The secretaries aren't welcome here. The wall's not welcome here, mass deportations not welcome here."

And also, we were on the border just a few days ago and we talked to two gentlemen who said it doesn't matter what Trump does, it doesn't matter if he builds one wall, two walls, three walls, they still plan to cross just to get to their families in the United States.

COOPER: You know, I interviewed the Mexican foreign minister a couple weeks ago, he actually knows Tillerson well. They had a relationship obviously when Tillerson was in the oil business. Do we know what Tillerson and Kelly are going to be talking about with members of the Mexican government?

SANTIAGO: OK. So, given Videgaray's response this morning, we know that immigration is certainly going to be key for the Mexican government. But we also heard him today say that NAFTA was a big deal. And that's not really anything that's new. That free-trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. is something that Mexico has certainly been pushing ever since President Trump said that it was one of the worst deals signed in U.S. history. And they always -- Mexico always pushes the fact that they need each other. Mexico and the U.S. really depend on that trade.

You have billions of jobs in the U.S. that depend on trade with Mexico. You have $1.5 billion average, on average, of trade that crosses that border every day. Now on the U.S. side, we know that Tillerson and Kelly plan to discuss border security, immigration, as well as the economy and trade. So those are the big topics --

COOPER: Right.

SANTIAGO: -- that we know for sure they will be talking about tomorrow.

COOPER: All right, Leyla Santiago in Mexico City. Thanks so much.

While this is unfolding, millions of people back home are now facing growing prospects of potential deportation. Their relatives, many of whom are citizens are living with the possibility their families could be divided ultimately.

[21:04:59] Some of our constituents, Democratic Congressman Adriano Espaillat, he represents New York's 13th district and serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We spoke just before airtime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Congressman, a lot of people who support what President Trump is proposing essentially say, "Look, this is just enforcing the laws, enforcing the laws that already exist."

REP. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT, (D) NEW YORK: It's really much more than that. It's really about who we are as nation. It's really expediting removal of immigrants, splitting families.

COOPER: You think this is a huge expansion of --

ESPAILLAT: No question, no question.

COOPER: I mean, the people who are oppose to it are saying that this expands the idea of who has broken the law. This expands -- you know, the idea is go after criminals. This actually kind of redefines criminality in a much broader ways that can include just about anyway.

ESPAILLAT: That's right. Is it an infraction? Is it jumping the turnstile? Is it crime of moral turpitude? I believe that the guidelines that were made public yesterday really provide no specific details as to how the law is going to be enforced. They don't say they're going to go into a church, arrest outside of a church as the congregation gets to greet the priest. Are they going to round them up there? Are they going to follow a yellow school bus to a public school to see the parents are waiting for their children there and round them up there? Are they going to take caregivers away, people that care for the children, for the elderly, for the frail? Are they going to be impacted because they have no documents?

So the details of it have not been laid out. So it gives a green light. It sets the hounds loose after immigrants. I think it's very damaging and it's going to harm our nation in the eyes of the international community and at home. It's going to create havoc and panic.

COOPER: Are you hearing from constituents, are you hearing people calling your offices already with questions, with fears about what --

ESPAILLAT: People are afraid. Even people with green cards that are legitimately here.

COOPER: Why would someone with a green card?

ESPAILLAT: Because they don't know if they look a certain way, if they have a certain way, if they have a certain access, they pray to a certain god, and they may be just scooped up and caught up in the frenzy of all this.

COOPER: For you -- I mean, how personal is this? Obviously, you were here for time. Your family was undocumented for time.

ESPAILLAT: It could not be any more personal to me. This is really personal. It strikes me, it hurts me. As an American, it hurts me.

COOPER: How old were you here -- how old were you when your family --

ESPAILLAT: I was nine years old. I was a young boy. You know, we came here, we overstayed our visa.

COOPER: Like a lot of --

ESPAILLAT: Like a lot of folks did. And, you know, my parents are just working class people that wanted the best for their family. My grandparents were already here before we got here. They have paved the way for us. So we had some level -- we had a safety net with our grandparents that were here.

COOPER: So you ended up -- your family is from the Dominican Republic. You overstay -- your family overstayed their visas, you eventually though had -- you went back to Dominican Republic --

ESPAILLAT: We have to go back.

COOPER: -- and then to get a green card.

ESPAILLAT: Yes, we not gotten it, you know, we would have been stuck there in the middle of a civil war you may know in the '60s.

COOPER: Right. To those though who hear your story and say, well, your family went back and got the green card and came back. Why can't other people do that?

ESPAILLAT: Because not every family has a safety net. Not every family has a pair of grandparents who worked in factories who were here with their green cards, and were able to sponsor us and to be able to submit an affidavit so we can get our green cards and come here.

COOPER: Congressman, appreciate you time.

ESPAILLAT: Thank you so much, Anderson.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, just ahead, something the former Sheriff Babeu mentioned in the last hour, undocumented immigrants tamed but then quickly released. New administration guidelines aim to end the practice, the facts on the ground say otherwise. We'll take you to the border.

Later, we'll take you back to a Republican town hall where lawmakers are facing some angry voters and tensions are running high.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:12:20] COOPER: Welcome back. President Trump promised big changes on immigration, on one place though, ending the practice of catching undocumented immigrants then immediately letting them go. Here's what law enforcement is up against. Gary Tuchman tonight has a reality check.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If catch and release is ended, you wouldn't know it here. These people have been caught crossing the border and have now been released into the United States. It took these Central Americans on this bus say they either rafted or swam across the Rio Grand, near McMullen, Texas after journeys across up to three borders.

They were apprehended, but then? Released to Catholic charity volunteers and taken to the McMullen Greyhound station where relatives in different parts of the country have bought bus tickets for them. Rosa is from El Salvador and eight months pregnant. She will be staying with an aunt in.

ROSA: Houston.

TUCHMAN: Houston, Texas.

Jose is from Honduras and will be staying with a brother-in-law.

JOSE: Austin.

TUCHMAN: Austin, Massachusetts.

Rosa Maria and her six-month-old son, Alexander, from Guatemala, she is going to Tulsa.

You and your baby came by yourself from Guatemala?

(FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

TUCHMAN: You were scared? Yes, very scared she was. And here she is in the United States for the first time. They enter a local Catholic Church before the bus rides across the country.

And a warm ovation from volunteers greets them. They're here for food, clothing and showers after their harrowing journeys.

Thirty-year-old Miriam says she paid $4,000 to smugglers -- her and her three children here. Her husband is still at home in El Salvador and makes the equivalent of about $4,000 a year as a barber.

Miriam says she came here for necessity because her kids can't go to school anymore because the gangs are too dangerous, they stalk her house.

Miriam and each (inaudible) here have been fitted with thick ankle monitors to track their whereabouts and ordered to appear before an immigration judge in their own city. Everyone here claims was they will make this court appearances.

Jose paid a smuggler all the money he had to get him and his six-year- old daughter, Caitly (ph) here from El Salvador. He knows about President Donald Trump and interestingly agrees in part with him. Criminals should be sent back for security reasons, but he says he and so many others are hard workers, adding, "I want to work and improve the life of my kids."

Sister Norma Pimentel leads the effort of McMullen to take care of people after they cross the border.

SISTER NORMA PIMENTEL, DIOCESE OF BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS: Well, I think, it's important to know who enters our country but it's also important that we do it in a way that it's humane, that response to the needs of these families and then we give them a fair chance.

[21:15:03] TUCHMAN: Their new lives in America now about to begin with many crucial challenges and decisions ahead of them. Perhaps the most immediate decision whether to indeed show up for their court hearings.

They board the Greyhound buses in complete exhaustion and with uncertainty about their futures, especially with this new American president on the job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Gary joins us now from near the U.S./Mexico border. So, what still has to happen before the Trump administration can actually end the so-called catch and release?

TUCHMAN: Well, Anderson, as we see, it certainly hasn't come to an end.

The immigration memo the Trump administration sent out was yesterday. We shot this story after the memo came out yesterday afternoon and last night. And you see what happened. So what the Trump administration is saying it has to do, still, is hire more Border Patrol and ICE agents and also increase the number of detention center facilities, but perhaps the hardest thing to do will be to convince Mexico to take many of these people. And s you see, many of these people are not from Mexico, they have nothing to do with Mexico. Expect for the fact they were in Mexico before they got to the United States. The Trump administration wants the Mexican government to take some of these people, and that may be indeed the most difficult thing to do. Sop there's still a lot of work to be done before this completely stops. Anderson?

COOPER: All right, Gary Tuchman, appreciate the reporting.

The panel is back this hour. Joining us, CNN political analyst, Kirsten Powers, Republican strategist, Anna Navarro as well.

Ana, you're certainly no fun of President Trump's but isn't the administration on firm ground here, I mean, enforcing laws that are already on the books?

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it all is going to come done to the detail and how it gets actually implemented. And what you start seeing is a bunch of frenetic raids going on all around the country, you're going to have a lot of problems.

You know, you don't just round up millions of people who are living, who are working, who are our neighbors, who are students, who are part of American society and think that it's not going to cause chaos, that there's not going to be a backlash. We saw it with the Muslim ban.

If it's not implemented correctly, if they go overboard like they did with the first executive on the Muslim ban, you're going to see backlash all over this country. I have full faith and confidence in the American people that if they start seeing their friends, their children's friends, their children's, you know, parents' friends, if they start seeing students, if they start seeing their employees, if they start seeing their employers, their doctors rounded up, families divided, I have the full faith and confidence in the American people that they will rise up --

COOPER: OK.

NAVARRO: -- and they demand that Congress get off their fence finally, for once and for all and pass some legislation.

COOPER: OK. Kayleigh, I mean, the people who oppose what President Trump has proposed say essentially that criminals were already being targeted for deportation, you know, the Obama administration had a policy of going after hardened criminals.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Right, but there were also criminal illegal immigrants who were released into society under the Obama administration. In fact, it was to the tune of 19,000 in 2015 alone.

Look, I agree with Ana entirely to the extent that most illegal immigrants in this country are hard-working people like we saw in that piece you did, the father who just wants, you know, a better life for his daughter, but I think sometimes in this discussion we forget about another population of people, and it's the population that is address in the executive order and that is victims of immigrant crimes, like Sabine Durden who lost her beautiful son Dominic at the hands of an immigrant who was not supposed to be here, who had two violent felonies grand theft auto and was deported to Guatemala and came back in because our border was not secure, and she lost her son's life.

This immigration executive order, we left it this out of this, creates an office for those individuals who are American citizens that have a right to life and want to gather information on illegal immigrants -- in some cases, as in the case of Dominic, murdered, their child.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Immigrant population has a lower crime rate in the American born population That's a tragic case. We want to punish that person. We want to drive them out. The Migration Policy Institute says there are 300,000 felons who are undocumented in this country, we should target them and deport them. That's what President Obama was doing. By the way, he deported far more than 300,000. He was the deportation president. He was very tough on this. But was Mr. Trump is doing, and what your comment does, is you scare tactics to incite fear and say that this animal --

MCENANY: No.

BEGALA: Excuse me, this animal is representative of that whole population. It's like saying Dylann Roof is a right ring white guy. So let's target -- let's deport right wing white guys. Some of my best friends are right wing white guys. But Dylann Roof is an animal who committed an act of terrorist.

MCENANY: You're missing the point.

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: -- this country have a right to life.

BEGALA: Of course. And so did those wonderful people in church in South Carolina.

MCENANY: Every single citizen. And when you have 108 people with murder convictions that were released into the society, 108 American citizens lost their lives because of people who shouldn't have been here. That is unacceptable.

BEGALA: Right, and so for that, we're going to deport 11 million people, we're going to have 10,000 --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: The question is -- I mean, does this go too far? Does this broaden the definition of who's a criminal? Does it open it up that anybody, a local police officer, a state police officer, member of ICE, it's really up to them to decide who they want to deport and who they don't? [21:20:07] ALICE STEWART, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, they will have a little more discretion under the new memos. The key is, the overarching theme of this is the safety and security of the American people and to enforce existing laws. They are just simply giving the agents on the ground the authority to enforce the existing laws. And as Gary mentioned, with regard to ending catch and release, which is a big proponent of this, it will take time. One of the memos says we need to hire 5,000 border agents, we also need to hire 10,000 ICE agents. That is going to take people and time to enforce this but they're going after criminals and they're going after people that already have deportation papers on the book and they're not going --

COOPER: But Kirsten, the argument that you hear from mayors in a number of cities or from even law enforcement is that the concern is somebody who has been the victim of domestic violence, a woman who is undocumented isn't going to feel comfortable pressing charges against her abuser, because she's afraid the judge might, you know, call up ICE and have her deported from the courtroom.

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: And also, if you're a person who doesn't care about that woman, let's just assume there's some people out there who don't, who might say I don't care in that case. For out of self-interest consider the fact that there are people who won't report crime that happens in your neighborhood.

COOPER: People who witness crime.

POWERS: People who are a witness of crime. I talked to an immigration lawyer yesterday who said she had a client, who was -- someone broke into her house and held her up at gun point, and she's an undocumented immigrant and she did not report it. So that's a crime that did not get reported in that neighborhood. And so one police go and they want to investigate a crime, people aren't going to talk to the police.

So, there is an impact, I think, on everybody. And I don't -- you know, this thing that -- Kayleigh, you keep doing where you're portraying undocumented immigrants as somehow being some menace to society that were --

MCENANY: No, that's not true. I started my statement by saying they're not.

POWERS: No, but that was supposed to be living in fear of them somehow. I mean, it's such a small number of people, and, as Paul said, really law-abiding people overall. And it's just demonizing this entire group of people.

MCENANY: That's not true.

POWERS: Over a few tragic, tragic incidents.

MCENANY: Well, listen, Kirsten, and I just -- to correct the record, the first statement out of my mouth was most legal immigrants are good, hardworking people --

POWERS: Then why are you talking about anomalies?

MCENANY: Because -- it's not anomalies.

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: Do you think Kate Steinle's father thought it was an anomaly his daughter was shot dead on a dock by someone who was deported three times?

POWERS: Kayleigh, it's a tragedy.

MCENANY: It's not an anomaly.

POWERS: Look at this way. Do you support legal immigration?

MCENANY: Of course I do. Of course.

POWERS: OK. Do you know there's some legal immigrants who kill people?

MCENANY: Of course.

POWERS: Well, do you not care about the people who were killed?

MCENANY: What I care about are people who are not supposed to be here and American citizens lose their right to life as guaranteed to them in the Constitution. It matters to Kate Steinle's father. It matters to Sabine Durden who lost --

NAVARRO: Can I --

COOPER: OK. Ana?

NAVARRO: Listen, honestly, this is a ridiculous discussion here. Nobody, I don't know a single immigration rights advocate, I don't know a single immigrant, legal or illegal, who advocates for anybody that commits a heinous crime to stay here.

If you come to this country, seeking a better life, seeking opportunity and you take advantage of that and you turn around and you do something that is terrible, get kicked out. Nobody is arguing about this.

What we're arguing about is -- is it the person who runs the red light, is it the people who gets a speeding ticket, what is going to be a crime here? And who is going to get prosecuted? If those are the people that start getting rounded up, then you're going to see a huge backlash, you're going to see more and more protests every single day. There's a great --

COOPER: Let me ask Alice, I mean, if somebody runs a red light and they're undocumented, should they be deported?

STEWART: Well, those are questions that are going to come up on a case by case basis. And as Sean Spicer said today and part of the administration has indicated, the ICE agents will have discretion at that time.

COOPER: Right, but should -- I mean, is that worrying to you that it just depends on the luck of the draw, what police officer that person happens to have been pulled over by?

STEWART: They've said this before. In recent rates they've had, unfortunately, there are going to be some people that are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they're executing warrants for these people, and they will be apprehended because they're illegal.

COOPER: I think the idea you bring up of unintended consequences, it's always interesting to look at in a case like this, which is somebody runs a red light. They have a family here, they get deported. Then you have kids growing up without a father, does that have unintended consequences that lead to --

POWERS: Or you have a person who maybe came here when they were four years old is now being sent back to a country that they've never lived in. They have no connection to because of one mistake.

And look, ICE already has enough authority. OK. They already overcharged people with felonies for very minor things whether selling a small amount of marijuana. They have been -- they have had the Supreme Court slap them down three times, three times for overcharging felonies.

So, they don't need more authority. They actually need to be reined in a little bit. And so, you're going to have people who have lived here their whole lives, who make a mistake. I wrote a column about some (inaudible). Made a mistake, came here when he was eight years old, sold some pot, got deported. His wife and child now live here without the father. Is this really what we want to do?

[21:25:03] COOPER: We're going to leave the conversation there. Everyone stick around, though.

Coming up, the Democratic leadership debate is about half an hour way here on CNN, featuring eight contenders for DNC chair. We'll take a look at what at stake for the party. Also, Republican lawmakers in tense town halls across the country, some of them tonight. Why the anger's boiling over, and what the White House is saying, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, tonight, we saw another night of town halls across the country in which Republican lawmakers faced anger from their constituents. President Trump has tweeted that in some cases these scenes were "planned out by liberal activists" which Sean Spicer echoed today. Well, the same type of analogy (ph) that some people are genuinely angry. Kyung Lah tonight reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The growing, grassroots tide of public outrage against Congress, visceral and visible in town halls across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody stand and place your hand over your heart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do your job!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

[21:30:01] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do your job!

LAH (voice-over): White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer explaining what the administration believes is behind this.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think some people are clearly upset, but there is a bit of professional protester, manufactured base in there.

LAH: Are you a political operative?

COURTNEY MARDEN, FOUNDER, UTAH INDIVIDIBLE: Absolutely not. I'm a nurse. I'm a mom. I've never contacted my Congress person for this.

LAH (voice-over): We met Courtney Marden in Utah, professional nurse, but not a professional protester.

MARDEN: No.

LAH (voice-over): After the election, she founded a local group called Utah Indivisible.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS: Do your job. Do your job.

LAH (voice-over): That did this at Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz's town hall. It was so packed police told us about a thousand people couldn't get inside. And about those crowds, the White House calling them loud and small.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS: Do your job.

LAH (voice-over): But from Utah to Louisiana, we saw a large, passionate crowds with pointed questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you vote to repeal Obamacare with or without this in place?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And so --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you vote to repeal Obamacare with or without this in place?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I can finish --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please answer the question. Answer the question. Answer the question. UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS: Yes or no? Yes or no? Yes or no? Yes or no?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do your job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes or no?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody here, 2020, you're gone.

LAH (voice-over): These constituents maintain they do represent their district, in Virginia, wearing stickers showing off their zip codes.

Grandmother Anne Tucker formed Virginia's Indivisible 757.

ANNE TUCKER, FOUNDER, INDIVISIBLE 757: I think it's a desperate attempt to delegitimize what they must most definitely perceive to be a powerful grassroots movement.

LAH (voice-over): So, how did it begin? The local groups are following this, the "Indivisible" guide, written by these former congressional aids based on 2009 Tea Party tactics used against their Democratic bosses.

Are you making money on this?

EZRA LEVIN, CONTRIBUTOR, INDIVISIBLE GUIDE: Making any money? No, I mean, no, this is not a money-making venture.

LAH (voice-over): Ezra Levin is the only full-time employee. He just left his real job and he's yet to be paid. They wrote the guide shortly after the election, posted it online, and it became a viral sensation. They say viewed 15 million times. He says Republicans call their constituents professional protesters at their own peril.

LEVIN: It's sad that they would make that claim without any evidence at all. Bottom line, these are their constituents, the members of the Congress. These are folks who feel really strongly about the direction of the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Kyung is in Branchburg, New Jersey where town hall wrapped up a short time ago. What have you found surprising about the town halls that you've been to, Kyung?

LAH: Really, the level of personal engagement, how personally invested everyone is. Especially about issues that, really, Anderson, are so far away, like Trump and his taxes, Russia, Trump's involvement, possible involvement with Russia.

Again, so far away, they take it personally. When they hear things like Sean Spicer what he said today, when the President tweets about them, they are then deeply, personally insulted. We've heard that again and again. And it's frankly, Anderson, making these town halls even more heated.

COOPER: Kyung, thanks very much.

Joining us now is Matt Kibbe, president and chief community organizer for "Free the People." He's been called one of the masterminds of the -- of Tea Party politics. With us, again is CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, Paul Begala.

So, Matt, Congressman Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, who had a heated town hall of her own yesterday told me in the last hour, that while she thinks these protesters are, you know, that they're legitimate, they're angry, that a lot of it is done by top down organizing by big liberal activists. She says not like the Tea Party. Do you agree with her?

MATT KIBBE, PRESIDENT, FREE THE PEOPLE: Not really. I think most of is organic. There are certainly some big national organizations who do pay organizers to do community organizing. That's what they do. But this looks very real to me. And it's a lot of frustrated Democrats and progressives who don't like the outcome of the election.

I think it's wrong to dismiss it as not real. But I think it's also wrong to not let members of Congress actually respond when questions are asked.

COOPER: Yes, you know, I mean, obviously, you shouldn't shout down anybody. It's interesting now, though, I mean, in comparisons with the Tea Party, I'm wondering what you make of those comparisons. Because early on, you know, there were a lot of Democrats who were saying the Tea Party was top down, that is was, you know, Astroturf, it was paid protesters.

KIBBE: You know it's almost like bizarro world. I'm kind of laughing because now the Democrats are making all the arguments the Tea Partiers used to make. And the Republicans are making arguments that Democrats used to make. You know, we were called the astroturf but the Tea Party was very bottom-up, it was very underfunded, and it was powerful because of that.

I do think there is some differences here. People forget that the Tea Party specifically targeted a lot of Republican town halls as well. You know, most of 2009 was spent beating the Republicans before we could beat the Democrats.

[21:35:06] I think this looks more partisan. And I think it also -- it's sort of trying to figure out what issue these protests are going to latch onto without that sort of level of cohesion and commitment. I don't know where these things go exactly.

COOPER: That's interesting. Paul, what about that -- I mean, because it does seem like the one commonality. I mean, it's different issues, Russia. It's anti-Trump. I mean it seems like, dislike with Trump.

BEGALA: And I -- first of all, I think Matt's exactly right. He would know. He literally, you know, helped create the Tea Party. This, I -- I've been doing this, I don't know, 30 years. I have never seen grassroots Democrats energized like this. Not even during Clinton impeachment, when MoveOn.org started to defend Bill Clinton, not when people like me thought Bush stole the election, I mean, the Supreme in 2000, not even during Obamacare, when President Obama was being mocked for accusing not him being an American citizen. I've never seen Democrats this engaged.

COOPER: So, when people see a group, this group, you know, there's three --

BEGALA: Right.

COOPER: -- former Hill staffers and a video telling people how to organize, that doesn't take away you're saying from the genuineness of the people coming out.

BEGALA: Right. And I -- and Matt's right. Democrats, my friends in the Obama White House were saying the same things that the Trump White House is saying now. And I hope the Trump people keep saying it. I hope Mr. Spicer is exactly right. This is nothing, it's nothing to worry about, go back to your business. Just like the Obama people said. Oh, it's the evil Koch brothers and it's all astroturf. It's real. This is real and in a democracy, this is a beautiful thing.

COOPER: Matt, what is the danger for Republicans or for the White House of viewing it through that lens of astroturf of just paid organizers?

KIBBE: Well, I think it's a mistake to not understand what's going on. And I think this is a paradigm shift that the Trump and the Tea Party are a part of as well.

You know, the politics is more democratized now. Technology enables people to find out what's going on. They self organize. They show up at town hall meetings. I think this is normal. I think you're going to see more and more of this as we move forward.

But I like Justin Amash's approach. Justin Amash, Republican congressman from Michigan has actually scheduled more town hall meetings. He's willing to talk to his constituents. And he actually defended holding town hall meetings in a response to Donald Trump, saying, "Look these are citizens too and I think we should listen. And I think we should respond. As long as they're respectful, I'm going to respect them."

COOPER: Because, Paul, we have seen some Congress people cancel town hall meetings or decided to leave it.

BEGALA: Right, it never works. So there's one, it -- Congressman Barbara Comstock, in the Virginia district, very vulnerable. Hillary Clinton did very well there. She's having tele-town hall meetings where people can phone in and some staffer screens them. And I'm mean, it's like as just as fair as like "The Rush Limbaugh Show."

Matt's right and Congressman Amash is right that you should engage these folks. And you win points for just the endurance. I saw Senator Chuck Grassley in Iowa. He got hammered. But, you know, he took it, and he, I think quite rightly said, you know, if Mrs. Clinton did won, I'd hear from the other side too. And I think it's really important to engage here.

There are 23 House Republicans who hold districts that Hillary Clinton carried. The Democrats only need 24 to take over control of the House. That is about a dozen or so for Democrats in Trump district so it's not a perfect match. But there could be -- it could be a 2010 type of wave beginning here.

COOPER: So, Matt, how do you, I mean, in terms of the Tea Party, how they did it, how does this go from just being, you know, people mobilized, coming out, yelling at their Congress people or their senators to actually affecting change, the ballot box, which is what the Tea Party was able to do. It moved from these kind of town hall meetings to actually running candidates.

KIBBE: Yeah, and -- if the goal is political, obviously, they're targeting Republican congressmen in their town halls. That's one thing. But I do think they need to figure out what their agenda is. They need to find the unifying set of principles and issues that they want to focus on. Is it healthcare? Is it something else?

I mean, just being anti-Trump I don't think is enough to sustain an organic social movement. If this is just a means of building a get- out-to-vote machine for the next election, maybe that works, we'll see. I don't think it's enough.

COOPER: Paul, do you agree with that?

BEGALA: I do. And I think that as circumstances develop we'll see them coalescing. You know, back in 1963, Dr. King had people marching for jobs and justice. And they had an agenda. And I think that's very important. This is -- it's in right now, it's just beginning.

And, so, yes, some people are upset about the ties to Russia, and other people upset about losing their health insurance. I think, Matt, organically, and I could be wrong, you can correct me. I think organically, they will come to settle on more tight and focused agenda, but they've only had one month so far.

COOPER: But, Matt, you're saying, oh, just like Donald Trump, that is not enough.

KIBBE: Well, a key difference, you know, we protested first against George W. Bush's bailout out of Wall Street. And we didn't show up against Obama until he had started proposing policies. These protests really started on inauguration day. And I think that's a difference. And I wonder if just being partisan against the guy that's in office is enough. I don't think it is.

[21:40:16] COOPER: Interesting. Matt Kibbe, appreciate you being on us always, Paul Begala as well.

Just ahead, a two-year-old Iraqi boy badly burned in a refugee camp, brought to the U.S. for treatment, finally reunited with his family. We've been following his case for quite a while now. What it took for his parents to get him here. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, as we said, the new timeline for President Trump's new executive order on travel restrictions is early to mid next week. For now, the ban on visitors from seven Muslim majority countries, including Iraq, is suspended. Even so, the obstacles to get any visa in Iraq can be monumental.

Tonight, an update on one family's struggle to be together again. We've been following their story through all the twist and turns. And now the moment they've waited so long for, Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nearly four months, three visa rejections and now more than a full day of travel. Ajeel Muhsin and Flosa Khalaf arrived in Boston from northern Iraq to finally reunite with their two-year-old son, Dilbireen

[21:45:05] I first met Dili a few weeks ago, stranded and being cared for by a compassionate stranger, Adlay Kejjan. Tonight, she and Dili are waiting for mom and dad at a nearby hotel.

ADLAY KEJJAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, YAZIDI AMERICAN WOMEN ORGANIZATION: I'm excited, I want to see his parents, but at the same time, like sad, because I won't have him. You know, he's been the center of my life over the last three and a half months.

GUPTA (voice-over): This is what their last precious moments together looked like. You see, when Adlay agreed to care for Dili, she really had no idea if this day would ever come. The young parents are reduced to tears. Overcome with emotion at seeing their son again. This isn't a video chat. This is real. They can touch him, hug him, kiss him.

AJEEL MUHSIN, DELBIREEN'S FATHER (through translator): Thank God we're all together again. It's really hard to stay away from your child when they're healthy, let alone, he was burned.

SALLY BECKER, FOUNDER, ROAD TO PEACE: It's kind of a bit surreal, really, because I didn't know what to expect.

GUPTA (voice-over): Sally Becker runs Road to Peace, that's the British charity that brought Dili to the United States for medical care after he was burned at a fire at a refugee camp.

BECKER: I was afraid he might reject his mom, because I was told some children do, and it's been a long time, but he completely accepted them. And it it's as if they've never been away now.

GUPTA (voice-over): But a lot has changed since they've been separated. Flosa gave birth to another baby boy the day after the U.S. election. They decided to name him Trump, in gratitude for the compassion and care provided to Dili by an American hospital. Brothers from other sides of the world, meeting for the first time, under extraordinary circumstances.

FLOSA KHALAF, DILBREEN'S MOTHER (through translator): As long his surgeries are done and he gains his health back, we don't want anything else in life.

GUPTA (voice-over): Shriners Hospitals for Children in Boston say Dili will need multiple operations over the course of the year to further improve the function of his face. They're going to focus on the scarring around his eyes and began reconstruct his nose. Also, here's an important point, as soon as Dili's treatment is complete, dad insists the family plans to head straight back to Iraq.

MUSHIN (through translator): We don't know anyone here, don't speak the language. We are like blind and deaf people here. We want to go back and live among our own people.

GUPTA (voice-over): But not before little Dili has left an indelible mark on everyone he meets.

KEJJAN: You know, he just, he really has made me a better person. It's been like the most meaningful thing of my life, it's the most meaningful thing I've done.

BECKER: Success I can sum up with one word, and that's Dilbreen, because you only have to look at him, so happy to be back with his mom and dad and his baby brother. This little boy he's going to be fine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: So Anderson, a good ending there as you see for Dilbreen and his family. He's not out of the woods yet, he needs about another years worth of operations. And I should point out, according to Road to Peace alone, there are about 100 other kids who were waiting for similar type of care. It's unclear what exactly is going to happen to them. Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, a long road ahead for them. Thanks very much, Sanjay.

Coming up, the future of the Democratic Party, DNC chair contenders about to meet on the debate stage here at CNN. We'll take a look at the stakes, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:52:15] COOPER: This Saturday the Democratic National Committee meets in Atlanta, they're going to elect its new chair. Before that, in about 10 minutes here on CNN, eight contenders for that DNC chair are going to debate at stake. The future and the direction of the Democratic Party at very uncertain time to say to least. Sunlen Serfaty tonight takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM PEREZ, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: We've got to organize, organize, organize.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democrats are a party in search of direction and a new leader to help guide them.

REP, KEITH ELLISON, DNC CHAIR CANDIDATE: We've got a fight ahead of us. We've got to come together. And we will.

SERFATY (voice-over): Enter these eight candidates, battling it out to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee.

PEREZ: We need a DNC chairman who can inspire, who can make sure we talk to entire big tent of our party to bring who can bring us together.

SERFATY (voice-over): The outcome could send a huge signal on where the Democratic Party goes from here.

ELLISON: We win elections and that is how we get the majority back.

SERFATY (voice-over): The two frontrunners represent a proxy war between the Sanders and Clinton factions of the party.

In one corner, Tom Perez who served to both to Clinton and Obama administrations with the backing of the establishment Democrats like Joe Biden. And just today, Perez rolling out the endorsement of the heads of four DNC caucuses.

In other corner, Keith Ellison representing the more progressive wing of the party backed by Senator Bernie Sanders.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT: I think it's time to take a reassessment of the purpose of where the Democratic Party is and where it wants to go. And I think essentially what we knew -- need to do right now is to become a grassroots party, which is what Keith Ellison believes.

SERFATY (voice-over): As they prepare the debate tonight on CNN, neither candidate has the race locked up, presenting an opportunity for other candidates like South Carolina Democratic Chairman Jaime Harrison, and South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, it's helped their outsider status and potentially alter the race.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, DNC CHAIR CANDIDATE: I believe the DNC needs a fresh start too and I believe that I can deliver that fresh start.

SERFATY (voice-over): Buttigieg picking up the endorsement of former DNC Chair Howard Dean today.

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: He's the other side of beltway candidate. This party is in trouble.

SERFATY (voice-over): The Democratic Party is in trouble, they've been relegated to minority status in the Trump era, still reeling after suffering a big lost in November and their majorities in House and Senate before that. JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: It's a contest of ideas as to which direction to take the party. After every single loss, the political party that loses, they go and they do a retrospect of what happened? Where did we make a mistake, what did we do wrong?

SERFATY (voice-over): The new leader of the DNC will help define the course correction.

BUTTIGIEG: Our party has got some issues and let us not for a moment shrink from the knowledge there is no majority for Trumpism in America.

SERFATY (voice-over): As the party looks to make gains in 2018 --

PEREZ: You need a turn around artist.

SERFATY (voice-over): -- and retake the White House in 2020.

Sunlen Serfaty, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[21:55:08] COOPER: So, let's talk about where the Democratic Party is going with our CNN political commentators, Paul Begala is back, so as Angela Rye and joining us Democratic strategist Maria Cardona.

Angela, Maria, I know you both have candidates running who you feel strongly about. Paul apparently you don't. Why not?

BEGALA: I want to stay out it of. I think the party needs to sort this out for themselves. And I do think this is a time for grassroots activism. And I help ran a Super PAC and that's discredited, I'm out of business now anyway. But I want to see what grassroots is offering up.

COOPER: You think that's the future -- I mean you look to that?

BEGALA: Absolutely. When you have 3 million people in the street the day after the inauguration opposing the new president, there's energy now in the Democratic side. My guess is if it were in the party rules to elect a flame thrower as chair they would, they want to do two things, they want to kick ass, take names. And whoever does that best in tonight's debate is going to win.

COOPER: Angela, you're backing South Carolina DNC Chair Jaime Harrison, what are you looking for? I mean what do you want in DNC chair? What is the most important thing?

RYE: Sure, well one of the things that I love the most about Jaime is he is a former congressional staffer. Obviously, unbias (ph) as a Hill staffer. But I think you learn a unique form of hustle, right. Jamie works for a Congressman Cleaver and he was the floor director. He was in charge of what we call whipping votes. That is gathering those votes. That's same thing he's going to do to win this race. Very brilliant strategist. I think we have run a foul of what the party needs to be with a face person, a show horse. Jamie is a work horse. And that's what the party needs at this time.

COOPER: Maria, there's certainly a perception though that, you know, there's not a deep bench for the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party is in disarray.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, that is certainly what the opponents of the Democratic Party will say and Democratic Party certainly has challenges, but I like to think that this is an incredible time of opportunity.

Back to Paul's point, there is incredible energy out there, something that I have not seen since I started in Democratic Party politics back working at the DNC with Chairman Ron Brown in the early '90s.

I have not seen this kind of engagement, this kind of enthusiasm and that comes, yes, from losing and losing badly and from a heart wrenching loss which is what we suffered in November. But that also leads to incredible opportunities to make sure that the party is listening to everybody. And that's what I think these candidates are going to talk tonight about.

And personally, I'm backing Tom Perez, I think it would be thrilling for me to see the first Latino chair head the Democratic Party. And he's somebody that works and lives and can walk in so many worlds.

COOPER: Yes.

CARDONA: But I think that we actually have a plethora of riches Anderson. I think we have tremendous candidates out there that can really lead the Democratic Party forward.

COOPER: Paul, what does -- I mean what is it -- how big an impact does the DNC chair really have?

BEGALA: When you're out of power, the party chairman matters a lot. Reince Priebus, the current White House Chief of Staff, got there because he was quite a good party chairman when his party was out of power. So it matters a lot more now for the Democrats.

And so this is somebody who has to do what Angela talked about, is going to be the work horse to put together the mechanics, to put them in a position to win. For too long, Democrats looked for a savior, hero from the top. And I loved President Obama, I help re-elect President Obama, but that with the model there and the problem with that is we lost almost a thousand seats in state legislatures when that happened. We're at our weakest level at the state legislative level since the '20s.

So we got to build from the grassroots up and a good party chairman, that's what you're going to hear, how many times -- we should have a counter how many times I use word the grassroots --

RYE: Yes. (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That's what I'm looking for.

COOPER: What does that mean building up, I mean, how did they do that Angela?

RYE: Well there's a lot that has to be done. One of the biggest things -- or one of the biggest responsibilities of a DNC chair is fundraising. They're going to have to spend a lot of time in states, in communities and I think in a more of a unique way raising dollars from small level donors.

I think that is the type of thing we saw energized Bernie supporters in a very unique way. It would be so unfortunate for us to lose some of that ground. So this person also has to spend a lot of time bridging that divide. I know Maria said this is a great opportunity but we will be remiss if we didn't acknowledge. There is a pretty substantial divide in the party right now. One that says identity politics is OK, the others did they say it doesn't. One that says, you know, we're over here with Bernie, others that say that they're still with Hillary. How do you bridge that divide, it has to be someone that is capable of doing that as well.

COOPER: And just a few seconds left. Maria, in terms of, I mean, the power that this person will have --

CARDONA: Yes.

COOER: -- to really bring people together. What is it?

CARDONA: I think it's incredibly important, because to Paul's point, especially a chairperson when a party is out of power, they're going to be seen on the level of the leader of the Democrats in the House, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate. They're going to be that other voice --

COOPER: OK.

CARDONA: -- all of the grassroots out there. And that is an incredibly powerful position to be in. Again, I worked for Ron Brown, I worked for Terry McCullough when they did and it was very important.

[22:00:03] COOPER: Maria, thanks. Thanks for our guest. Thanks for watching. Time to turn it over to Dana Bash and Chris Cuomo, moderators of "The Democratic Leadership Debate".