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North Korea Fears; Venezuela Crisis; Interview With Illinois Senator Richard Durbin. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 2, 2017 - 16:30   ET



SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: Here's the good news.

Immediately after that bill, the Republican repeal bill, failed on the floor, Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, went over to Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and said, let's sit down and put our committee to work to write the bill that's needed. And, in the meantime, let's figure out how to stabilize the system.

I will tell you, this threat from the Trump administration to bring down our health care system to win some political victory, he's doing it at the expense of a lot of innocent Americans. We should work together on a bipartisan basis to make our system stronger and make sure the premiums don't go up dramatically.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What do you think of the president's threat to undermine the health plans of members of Congress?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you that he has a pretty good insurance plan for himself, doesn't he? And what we want in Congress is to make sure everybody in the country has the same health care plan we do.

My wife and I buy our health insurance on the insurance exchanges created by Obamacare. We go into the exchanges and buy just like every other American. That's the way it ought to be.

TAPPER: There's one major issue the president is trying to address that perhaps Democrats can get on board. That's the opioid epidemic.

The White House opioid commission on Monday advised President Trump to declare a national emergency because of this vast rate of drug overdoses, lethal drug overdoses, in this country. You have suggested expanding access to substance abuse treatment in Medicaid.

Do you think that you could work with the White House and Republicans in the Senate at all on this issue of this opioid epidemic? And do you think the president should declare a national health emergency?

DURBIN: I think so.

I can tell you with the people dying every day because of opioid and heroin overdoses, there is no town too small and no suburb too wealthy to be beyond the reached of this terrible epidemic. It is a national epidemic. And it starts at the top. Pharma produces

14 billion opioid pills a year in America. That's enough for adult, every single adult to have a one-month prescription. That starting point is terrible.

We need the Drug Enforcement Administration to be sensitive to it and to reduce that production. Then we need doctors cooperating right across the board. It is a national challenge.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Dick Durbin of the great state of Illinois, thank you so much for your time, sir. Good to see you.

DURBIN: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Turning to the world lead now and new evidence showing just how close North Korea came to hitting a passenger plane during its missile last week. The U.S. is taking note, testing its own intercontinental ballistic missile today. Is the Trump administration gearing up for any sort of military action? We will go live to the Pentagon next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back.

Some bad news in the world lead. We're learning that two U.S. service members were killed today in Afghanistan. The Pentagon says their convoy was attacked in Kandahar province. That region borders Pakistan.

The attack targeted NATO troops. The Pentagon has not yet released details of the mission they were on. Family members are being notified before their names will be released.

The attack comes as President Trump is weighing what is next for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress that a strategy decision would come by mid-July. Today, of course, is August 2.

A new frightening development, CNN has learned that the ICBM North Korea fired last Friday flew within miles of the flight path of an Air France commercial jet that was en route to Paris from Tokyo with more than 300 passengers on board.

Every day, we're getting startling details about North Korea's military ambitions, which seem to be proceeding at an increasingly rapid clip. It's unclear what the Trump administration strategy is to stop the Kim Jong-un regime.

Let's bring in CNN's Barbara Starr from the Pentagon.

Barbara, it sounds like a terrifying incident, but experts are saying it actually wasn't that close of a call.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Not a close call, but it is raising a lot of questions about whether these North Korean missiles flying through the air do pose a threat to commercial aviation, all of this coming as the U.S. is sending back its own message.


STARR (voice-over): An unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile flew more than 4,000 miles into the Pacific after launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The Air Force emphasizing it was not a response to recent North Korean missile launches, but a long-planned test that demonstrates the ability of the U.S. to defend itself.

Republican hawks continuing to press for a tough approach.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We should have a clear message that this threat is not going to mature to the point that it can America with a nuclear-tipped ICBM, that if we have to use military force, we will, and I don't believe North Korea will ever change until they believe America is serious about the military option.

STARR: Defense conservatives worried after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to at least publicly soften the U.S. tone.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And we're trying to convey to the North Koreans, we are not your enemy. We are not your threat. But you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us. And we have to respond.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Diplomacy is not giving in. Talking to somebody is not giving in.

STARR: The White House won't be pinned down on what might happen next.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As I have said many times before, we're not going to broadcast our actions and we're keeping all options on the table.

STARR: There is a growing sense that any U.S. action would be a last resort.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You always have to apply overwhelming force to make sure that your opponent doesn't get the next move. In North Korea, you don't know what that next move is going to be.

STARR: A new problem. Last Friday, some seven to nine minutes before North Korea's latest ICBM test missile hit the water, an Air France flight flew through a corridor just two miles from the impact zone. By the time the missile hit, the airplane was dozens of miles away.

But North Korea doesn't warn when and where its launches are happening. Aviation experts say it wasn't a close call for the plane being at risk of a shoot-down, but it could lead to avoiding certain flight paths in Asia.


DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: This is something that is billions and billions to one as far as probability, but again, it's not something we can just discard and say, oh, well, we don't think it's going to happen so therefore we don't need to do anything about it. It's something that still needs to be assessed.


STARR: And what aviation analysts are saying is what needs to be assessed by commercial airlines like Air France and others is whether they want to continue to fly through those same air corridors in Asia or they need to start now making different plans -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thank you.

Turning to the crisis in Venezuela, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is set to welcome his new controversial legislative body which was elected through what the U.S. government is calling "a sham election."

Another sign of an assault on democracy by Maduro, the British company that supplies Venezuela's voting technology says voters turnout from that election were -- quote -- "manipulated."

Let's go now to Caracas, where CNN's Leyla Santiago has been covering the crisis in Venezuela.

Leyla, what does the start of this Constituent Assembly mean?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the creation of President Nicolas Maduro.

And what it would essentially do, it's expected to replace the National Assembly that is controlled by the opposition right now. It is tasked with rewriting the constitution, and so this could give President Maduro a lot of power.

This assembly would have a lot of power. It is filled with Maduro supporters. And so as it moves forward, it is expected to be installed tomorrow. The representatives were sworn in today, installed tomorrow. Already, government leaders have said they want to establish a truth commission, which would prosecute political opponents of President Maduro.

President Maduro says that this will help the economy, that it will bring peace, but the critics not only here in Venezuela, but in the international community, say this is a road to dictatorship. So when you ask, what does the Constituent Assembly mean, for much of

the world, it means dictatorship and instability in Venezuela. For President Maduro and his supporters, they claim it means peace, which we have not seen in quite some time here in Caracas.

TAPPER: And the Trump administration is now calling him dictator Maduro, not President Maduro.

Now that the U.K. company that has been providing the voting technology to Venezuela for more than a decade is saying that the voter turnout figures were "tampered with," what might that mean?

SANTIAGO: OK, so let's take a look at the numbers.

According to the government, that election that took place for the members of the Constituent Assembly on Sunday tallied about eight million votes. That's what the government is claiming.

But this technology company, which, by the way, Jake, let me put this into perspective for you, they have been here since 2004 and have not taken issue with a single election in that time. This technology company is saying that they believe without a doubt there has been tampering with those numbers, and they believe it could affect at least at least a million votes.

And then there was also a report from Reuters that took a look at some internal documents, and that found that by 5:30 on Sunday, only 3.75 million people had voted. Now, the polls were opened at 6:00. They were extended until 7:00.

So if that's the case, if 3.7 million people had only voted by 5:30, that's quite the push to get to eight million by the end of the day. What's the government saying? They're saying that those are irresponsible statements, and when it comes to that technology company, they're saying those were statements so irresponsible, they could seek legal action.

TAPPER: All right, Leyla Santiago, thank you so much.

Here in the U.S., the crippling effects after a tropical storm -- why the worst may not be over.

And the major changes under President Trump that aren't making the daily headlines -- why some government workers say the administration is attacking science and the changes already made will affect every single one of us.

Stay with us.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our "NATIONAL LEAD" now, South Florida bracing for even more rain after the remnants of tropical depression Emily dumped up to seven inches of rain on the Miami-Dade area, Tuesday. The storm caused flash flooding that left people stranded during rush hour. Some drivers were stalled out in high waters while others decided to do kayak the flooded streets instead. There's a chance of more rain today and forecasters are predicting storms through the weekend.

Now, to our "BURIED LEAD," stories we don't think are getting enough attention. A senior official with 30 years of service at the Environmental Protection Agency has resigned in protest for the direction she believes the agency is taking under President Trump. The farewell letter the now former Director of Science and Technology at the EPA's office of Water blames the Trump administration's regulatory rollbacks as part of the reason for her exit claiming, "the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth." CNN's Rene Marsh is here with me. Rene, this is just the latest official in a series resigning because they're concerned about the direction of the EPA under President Trump and the EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATORY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. She's one of many. Her name is Elizabeth Southerland and she's a veteran - where she was a veteran EPA official. She's resigned partly, she says, to bring attention to what the Trump administration is doing to the environment and ultimately Americans' health. Her concern is echoed in a recent report by the union of concerned scientists. The report outlines a pattern assault on science during the nearly 200 days of the Trump administration.


MARSH: A series of wildfires rage out west, the most in 17 years. And cities like Miami are seeing sea levels around it rise at a rate of about one-eighth of an inch each year. Scientists say the signs are all around. The climate is changing, making science more important than ever.

[16:50:19] DONAL TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERCA: You can't get hurt with extreme weather. Do you agree?


MARSH: Six months into the Trump Presidency, Department of Interior Scientist Joel Clemente says science is under attack.

JOEL CLEMENTE, REASSIGNED DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR EXECUTIVE: There's a chill on the science enterprise within the federal government.

MARSH: Clemente specializes in climate change policy. He spoke out about climate change several times, including in June, before the United Nations. Six days later he says he received this letter from the administration.

CLEMENT: Along with 30 or 40 or 50 senior executive colleagues, I received an involuntary reassignment notice. I was reassigned to an accounting office in the Department.

MARSH: Do you have a background in accounting?

CLEMENT: I don't. I am absolutely not familiar with accounting at all.

MARSH: Clemente filed a complaint, claiming the reassignment was the Interior Department retaliating against him.

Well, the Interior Department wouldn't comment on Clemente case, but a recent report from a union of concerned scientist paints a picture across the government under the Trump administration.

In January the Trump administration issued gag orders at agencies like the EPA. In February Congressional Republicans reversed a regulation curbing coal mine waste and water waste. In March the EPA announced it will reexamine vehicle admission standards intended to cut pollution. It rejected a petition to ban a pesticide linked to brain defects in children, and it released a budget outline that slashes funding for environmental regulations.

MICK MULVANEY, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET DIRECTOR: Regarding the question as to climate change, I think the President was fairly straightforward, saying, we're not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money.

MARSH: In April, the Justice Department cut ties in with scientist working to improve forensic science in criminal cases. In May, a rear move, half of the scientists' on a key EPA scientific advisory board terms are not renewed.

TRUMP: The United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.

MARSH: That was June. And in July, Department of Energy, Department of Interior and the EPA's websites were altered to remove information on renewable energy and climate change. Positions at federal agencies have gone to industry insiders and people with unrelated experiences.


MARSH: Well, CNN reached out to the White House, the EPA and the Department of Interior but received no comment. We should point out that several Senators have since called for an investigation by the A.G.'s office after that individual that you saw in the piece there, Mr. Clemente, was reassigned at the Department of Interior.

TAPPER: Rene, how effective has the Trump administration been in reshaping policy in these agencies?

MARSH: I mean, they have been very aggressive when we talk about rolling back regulations, but there have been many road blocks, namely the Courts. Just this week in a federal court in Washington, D.C., a panel of Judges said that the EPA has to, they ordered the EPA to enforce an Obama-era pollution limit rule on the energy industry. They said you have to enforce this rule. What the EPA wanted to do was put a pause on that rule for two years while they review it. The Court said that's not lawful. The intention of that rule was essential to make sure or monitor the emissions from oil and gas companies. So, they've been told by the courts they have to enforce it.

TAPPER: All right, Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

Coming up next, zeroing in on the opioid crisis. The new plan just launched to target the source of these deadly drugs. Plus, the plea to President Trump to do even more. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back with our "NATIONAL LEAD." President Trump's Commission on Opioid Addiction urged him on Monday to declare the nation's drug crisis a national public health emergency. The Commission, we're told, is still waiting for a response from President Trump. Meanwhile, in America's heartland, the death toll continues to rise. Preliminary Justice Department data shows nearly 16,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year. That's the biggest increase in drug death in the United States ever. Today in Ohio, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the new Justice Department program to crack down on fraudulent prescriptions of opioid medication.

JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: If you are a doctor illegally prescribing opioids for profit or a pharmacist letting these pills walk out the door, onto the streets based on prescriptions you know are obtained under false pretenses. We're coming after you.

TAPPER: To root out fraud, the Justice Department says they will analyze health care data and train some District Attorneys to focus specifically on prosecuting fraud related to prescriptions opioids. Also on the "NATIONAL LEAD" today, 41 cases involving three Baltimore Police Officers have been or are set to be dismissed, Baltimore State's Attorney Office says. The officers are the subjects of an investigation into evidence planting after body cam footage from a January arrest was released. The video appears to show one of the officers hiding drugs, placing them in a plastic bag into a can and then partially hiding it before walking back to the sidewalk.

30 seconds later the audio begins and the officer says he's going to check the area and appears to stumble onto the drugs and the can that he had just planted. 55 cases involving the officers are still under review. One of the officers has been suspended and two others are on administrative duty pending an investigation. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper, I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."