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Interview With Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI); Biden Fundraising Eclipsed by Buttigieg As Former VP's Lead in the Polls Shrinks; Trump Misleads About The Cost Of July 4th Event, Sources Say Military Chiefs Fear It Will Be Politicized; Trump Suggests He Ended Homelessness In D.C. Without Evidence; The Justice Department Reverses Course On Census Citizenship Question After Trump Vows We are Absolutely Moving Forward. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 3, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now breaking news: acting shocked. President Trump accuses Democrats of overreacting to conditions at the border, even after a government watchdog warned of the dangers and appealed for action.

I will ask a congresswoman who just visited the border about Mr. Trump's claim that detainees are living far better now.

Show of a lifetime. The president insists his military-style July 4 celebration is worth the cost, even as he refuses to be open about the total price tag. We're learning about serious reservations within the Pentagon. I will ask the D.C. mayor about her concerns.

Census shift. Just when it seemed that the Trump administration had given up on adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the Justice Department seems to have had a change of heart. Was the Department of Justice pressured by the president to keep on fighting?

And honoring a hero. A first-responder who saved lives on 9/11 and died of cancer because of it is laid to rest after facing Congress for one last fight.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on President Trump dismissing new warnings about inhumane conditions for migrants held at the border.

In a new tweet, he claims many detainees are -- quote -- "living far better now than where they came from, and in far safer conditions."

His comments in stark contrast to new evidence of overcrowding and emotional suffering in detention facilities. Pediatricians are now sharing very disturbing images drawn by migrant children separated from their parents showing people in cages and behind bars. We're also following growing concern President Trump's July 4

extravaganza on the National Mall. CNN has learned that military chiefs are worried the event will take on a political tone, and they're wary of plans to showcase tanks and weaponry.

I will get reaction from Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, and I will speak with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who just visited the border.

Our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the president seems unfazed by new evidence of very disturbing conditions at border facilities.


And he's downplaying the criticism that you have heard from Democrats who have visited those facilities, saying in a new series of tweets just in the last hour -- quote -- "Our Border Patrol people are not hospital workers, doctors or nurses." He said: "The Democrats' bad immigration laws, which could easily be fixed, are the problem here. Great job by Border Patrol above and beyond. Many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than where they came from and in far safer conditions."

Then he added another tweet, Wolf. And he said: "If illegal immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detention centers, just tell them not to come."

Now, Wolf, this comes after a report from the president's own government detailed just what these conditions that these migrants are living in, overcrowded, dirty, and that this is a widespread problem they're facing they're on the border with people in standing-room-only places, where they haven't taken showers, some of them the entire time they have been there.

And some of the children not having hot meals. But the president is sending these tweets, Wolf, after you have seen several Democrats go and visit these facilities, come out on the other side, be incredibly critical of the administration, and say that they were told that there were some people there who were drinking water out of toilets.

Tonight, he's downplaying those concerns and trying to put the blame back on Democrats, even as his own DHS acting secretary, Kevin McAleenan, has said he is going to launch an investigation into reports that there is a Facebook group where current and former Border Patrol agents are denigrating migrants, talking about them, mocking their deaths, something that he said, himself, he found highly disturbing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, stand by. I'm going to get back to you shortly.

But I want to go to the border right now for a reality check on what the president has been tweeting. CNN's Nick Valencia is in El Paso Texas for us.

Nick, as Mr. Trump is praising border agents, his own Department of Homeland Security is launching a whole new investigation.


And I spoke to a veteran Border Patrol agent here who says conditions are just horrid. They spoke to us on camera so long as they remained anonymous. And when I asked, why are you coming out now, this agent said they're tired of seeing these conditions and that, so long as Border Patrol continues to respond the way they do and the way they are, migrants will never be safe in U.S. custody.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were a lot of negative comments back and forth, agents bickering with each other.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Tonight, a veteran Border Patrol agent now speaking exclusively to CNN about the newly exposed secret Customs and Border Protection Facebook group calling itself I'm 10-15, where current and former Border Patrol agents reportedly made jokes about dead migrants, derogatory comments about Latina lawmakers, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and posted offensive memes.


In a tweet today, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan says he's ordering an immediate investigation into the offensive posts. And it comes as we learn about similar attitudes and comments being made by ICE agents, this time in thousands of documents obtained by two advocacy groups.

CNN reviewed some of the more than 5,000 documents released by the organization Mijente. In internal ICE e-mails from 2017, ICE was planning raids dubbed Operation Mega. One e-mail by an unidentified individual concludes with "Happy hunting" and "Target Building."

But in response to these new documents, ICE says it does not condone the use of offensive or politically charged language in reference to agency enforcement operations. Today, we're also hearing new details about what's going on inside those detention facilities at the U.S.- Mexico border.

Dr. Sara Goza, the president-elect to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toured two of these facilities last week, describing the horror she witnessed firsthand.

DR. SARA GOZA, PRESIDENT-ELECT, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: When they opened the door, the first thing that we -- that we -- that hit us was a smell. And it was a smell of sweat, urine and feces.

And there were young children, boys in there, unaccompanied boys in there, and they had no expressions on their faces. There was no laughing, no joking, no talking. I describe them almost like dog cages with people in each of them.

And the silence were just hard to watch, hard to see.

VALENCIA: New pictures from inside a facility in McAllen, Texas, depict a similar scene. These were drawn by migrant children 10 and 11 years old, all held there, all three pictures drawn in marker with stark similarities, people behind bars held in cages.

These pictures reveal just one day after a DHS inspector general report released these images from inside Border Patrol stations in Texas, the report quoting a Border Patrol official who described the situation as a ticking time bomb.

On Monday, Texas Democrat Congressman Joaquin Castro visited the Clint border facility, capturing this picture of migrant women sharing a cramped cell.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): The system is completely broken. People's human rights are being abused. And it's not just about money. It's also about the standards of care.


VALENCIA: We asked Customs and Border Protection to respond to the allegations from the veteran agent in our report. And while they did not address them directly or specifically, they did say they take the allegations seriously, and have handed them over to the Office of the Inspector General -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nick, thank you, Nick Valencia in El Paso.

Joining us now, a member of Congress who visited border facilities in Texas this week, Representative Rashida Tlaib. She's a Democrat who serves on the Oversight Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-MI): Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Let me read to you a portion of the president's tweets that he posted just a little while ago.

"Many of these illegals," he says, "Many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than where they came from and in far safer conditions. No matter how good things actually look, even if perfect, the Democrat visitors will act shocked and aghast at how terrible things are."

You visited, together with your colleagues, some of these facilities on Monday of this week. Were you just acting shocked, as the president says?

TLAIB: Look, before I'm even a member of Congress, I'm also a mother of two children.

And I just can't imagine how, internally, many of the women that we met, the grandmother that I met, how they really were feeling. But I can tell you the conditions are bad.

Everything that people have been talking about is true in regards to the culture from within, but also the fact that children are being separated from their family members, that they're not being processed within a time period that is required.

I mean, some have been there for over 40 days. Some women -- a woman that is pregnant has not seen an OB-GYN, has been in there for 27 days. These are very vulnerable, poor communities.

And I ask the president of the United States, please stop tweeting. Go there yourself. See the conditions.

I don't know what to do other than to call for his humanity, some sort of -- this is a humanitarian crisis. And we need to see it for -- as is. Instead of blaming others, let's fix it. Instead of tweeting, let's actually take action to addressing this issue.

The humanitarian crisis is here now. And trying to compare conditions or not, we saw it with our own eyes. And I implore my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, who continue to fund the continuation of separation of children and the continuation just of the same cycle.

I can tell you agents took me aside, two of them, and said, throwing money at this is not going to fix it. Stop. The separation policy needs to end. This is not what we were trained to do.

They said, Congresswoman, do you know, we're not social workers, we're not medical care workers? We're being told to do this. No, we're here to protect the border. This is not what we feel like is protecting the border.


They don't want to be put in this condition. And these are officers of the federal government. These are folks that the president needs to also be protecting.

But also, and more importantly, listen to them. They're on the front lines. And I can tell you, when you go there, they were prepared for us to come. So, yes, I may not have smelled certain odors. But when we finally were able to have access into the cell-like, jail-like facilities, you spoke to people, real people, that deserve to go through the legal process.

I mean, some have come here for asylum, and we are not giving them the fair justice, their due process to doing that. That's what we're doing. We're ignoring the law. It's becoming so lawless, so chaotic at the border.

And this president needs to realize this is not a lawless country. You're not a dictator. You have to follow the asylum laws.

And, Wolf, it goes to the point of even when we were there, even touching the women broke them down to tears. That's how much they have been demonized and dehumanized. Looking at a father eyes holding his 8-year-old and 14-year-old, just

terrified that he's going to be separated from them.

BLITZER: It's an awful, awful situation.

As you know, ProPublica released their report on a secret Facebook group of Border Patrol agents, current and former, just before your visit. That report showed very disturbing sexist and racist comments.

The acting secretary of homeland security, Kevin McAleenan, he's vowing to investigate right now. But how do you think Customs and Border Protection should address these really concerning Facebook posts, for example, and the underlying attitudes?

TLAIB: Out in public, in a committee hearing, with the co-equal branch of the United States Congress.

We do this in closed doors, it's not going to get fixed. Wolf, when we walked in, right when we walked in, before we even got to the jail- like, to the actual families that were being in our care and being detained, I can tell you right now, right away, one of the agents took a selfie of my colleague, Ocasio-Cortez, and just shockingly took some sort of selfie without us knowing, noticing.

And we noticed right away. I knocked on the door. I said, did you just take a selfie of her? I mean, she did this inappropriately. I mean, she's a federal agent. And beyond protocol -- that was not protocol.

And do you know, I mean, she did this in front of her superiors, Wolf. She did this in front of people that are literally who she reports to. They begin to laugh.

The tension was very, very high. I can tell you, I found out about the Facebook page within probably 20 minutes. We were driving in from the airport to the first facility that we went to, El Paso, what they call Station One.

And as we were walking in, I mean, I was -- I was trying to hold my breath, trying to breathe, but I was holding my breath. I didn't realize it until we got in, because I thought to myself, I'm among people that may have threatened my life.

I didn't go through the Facebook page. But I can tell you, tensions were very, very high. But I can tell you also the couple agents that have taken me aside were imploring me to please report back what's happening here, because they don't want any part of it anymore.

And they do actually feel like it's making us less safe, because they're not at the border. They're there. In their eyes, they're not social workers. They're not supposed to be watching over 4 -- I met a 4-year-old, some 9- and 10-year-olds, that these are not agents that are equipped to taking care of them.

And throwing money at it is not going to fix it. And Mr. President needs to -- he needs to stop tweeting and actually fix this issue. BLITZER: I understand, Congresswoman, that the scene outside that

facility in Clint, Texas, was very contentious.

I want to play a portion of your comments. And you can hear protesters trying to drown you out. Watch this for a sec.


TLAIB: We are putting America first, not hate! So, you all can yell and scream. But what we saw today, what we did today is try to bring the eyes and ears that you all can't have when we go into these facilities.

I will outwork your hate. I will out-love your hate. I will always put my country first, unlike what you all do.


BLITZER: So, Congresswoman, what exactly were they yelling at you?

TLAIB: Well, I mean, they were yelling Islamophobic hate rhetoric, things that I don't want to be -- want repeated.

I can tell you it was very un-American. These are individuals that were in the crowd. They have every right to be able to -- I mean, we have a country that you're allowed to do that. You're allowed to -- unless you're threatening any violence, you're allowed to be there.

And at the same time, it was a reality check for me and I think many of our colleagues just how much the hate from the Trump administration has seeped into communities, especially communities of color like El Paso, Texas, which is very diverse.

You hear this constant dehumanization kind of rhetoric of the othering that happens when you're among people that are spewing out just very hateful, painful rhetoric and slurs that you don't want your children or anybody exposed to.


I can tell you, I got very angry when they attacked some of the members there. The things that were said were so volatile. It just made me very proud that I least am able to serve in the United States Congress very proudly.

But I also felt very much the truth was on our side. When we went there, nothing could erase what I saw or any of my other colleagues saw. What we saw was inhumanity. It was immoral, what our country is doing.

We're creating a generation of children who will never forget what we did to them. No amount of apology will ever fix this. And we, as American people, we need our members of Congress to go in there to seek out the truth.

And we came out to tell the truth. The truth was, that's what we saw. We -- I mean, if it wasn't for Congressman Castro and others seeking some photos and information, I mean, many of us, we really were told, don't talk to them. Don't take any photos. We were very, very much trying -- they were trying to isolate us from even having any direct contact.

But for the courage of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley -- I remember Norma knocking -- many of us were very eager to say, no, we want to speak to them.

Even Congresswoman Escobar pleaded and said, wait, I have been able to speak to some of the detainees. Why can't we speak with them today?

Well, as soon as the members of -- the officer didn't follow protocol themselves, we said, well, why should we also follow your protocol? We're going to be able to -- we want to be able to speak to the people that were under our care and those that don't ever -- won't ever have access to a congressional hearing.

That's why we're there. We're there to be the people's eyes and ears and to be able to report back exactly what is happening from within.

BLITZER: I know you got to run, but did you ever feel physically threatened?

TLAIB: I don't -- I didn't feel physically threatened.

I felt very much tension. I felt at one moment a tremendous amount of anger with the stares. Some of those men and women were not very happy that we were there.

I mean, these are agents that I think are under a lot of stress, but no excuse for their immoral and inhumane and just their character and how they proceeded to laugh and jokingly think that this was also very funny.

And it's -- it wasn't. This was horrifying to be able to see something like this. And, sometimes, Wolf -- at one moment, I looked, and there was a gentleman there. He was only there for one week, an agent.

And I said, you just got here? He said, yes, just came back -- came from New York, was pulled in. And you can see, he was in a situation he didn't want to be in. And I thought to myself, maybe the others just became more numb to it.

Maybe the others had to justify being part of something so -- so ugly and so hard to be part of in separating families like that.

I mean, to have a little 4-year-old come to you at the glass door, just a beautiful child, I was trying to play with him, trying to connect with him. They wouldn't let us speak to the children directly.

And you can see, as he slid a little board to me underneath, wanted me to write something. And he kept asking me where his papa was. I don't know how these agents take it every single day. And I'm

wondering if they become numb to it. But I also know, deep within, there is a culture of racism. There's a culture of anti-immigrant hate rhetoric that has been allowed to fester from within.

And it was very evident, Wolf, their stares that, oh, that's the one. That's that member of Congress of Muslim faith, the one who's been calling out the president for many of his impeachable offenses.

But you felt that kind of tension and that kind of anger towards you as you walked through the halls of the detention centers.

BLITZER: But I just want to be precise, Congresswoman. Some of these agents were actually laughing at you and your colleagues in this congressional delegation?

TLAIB: They were laughing through the window at us after we were very upset that some of them were taking photos.

BLITZER: You would think they would be showing some nice significant respect for members of Congress who come to the scene to try to find out what's going on.

It's an awful situation, I think everyone agrees.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for what you're doing.


TLAIB: Thank you.

BLITZER: We will have more breaking news coming up on a sudden shift by the Department of Justice on the question of adding a new question to the 2020 census. Is President Trump behind it all?

And I will talk with the Washington, D.C., mayor, Muriel Bowser -- there you see her -- about Mr. Trump's takeover of her city's Fourth of July celebration and the tanks rolling into town.


BLITZER: There's breaking news this hour on a new and very complete reversal by the Trump administration.


The Justice Department is now signaling that the fight over adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census is back on.

Let's go back to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, what are you learning?

COLLINS: Wolf, this is stunning. It was just 24 hours ago that I was on this show telling you that

something surprising had happened, because the administration had told a federal court they were going to drop their effort to get that citizenship question added to the census, and they were going to print it without it.

Now they have been back in a hearing today. And they said, actually, to a federal judge, they're going to try to move forward with a way to add that citizenship question to the census.

Now, what changed in between those two periods was a tweet from the president this morning calling reports that they were no longer going to try to put a citizenship question on the census fake, even though his commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, put out an on-the-record statement yesterday saying that is exactly what they were doing and that they had told the Commerce Bureau -- or the Census Bureau did they could start printing those questionnaires without that question on there, those 2020 questionnaires.

Now, today, there was a hearing with a federal judge in Maryland where Justice Department employees, attorneys, had to go in and make this argument because there was so much confusion over what the president was tweeting.

Now, I'm going to read you a quote from a Justice Department attorney who says they have been at the Justice Department through several administrations for about 16 years or so, and that they say they always try to be candid with the courts when they're making their argument.

This attorney said -- quote -- "What I told the court yesterday was my -- absolutely my best understanding of the state of affairs, and apparently also the Commerce Department's state of affairs, because you probably saw Secretary Ross issued a statement very similar to what I told the court. The tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the president's position on this issue, just like the plaintiffs and Your Honor.

"I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture, other than what the president has tweeted. But, obviously, as you can imagine, I'm doing my absolute best to figure out what's going on. I can tell you that I have confirmed that the Census Bureau is continuing with the process of printing the questionnaire without a citizenship question. And that process has not stopped."

It's that last part there, Wolf, that is adding a lot of confusion here, because are they going to move forward without this question on the census? Are they going to start carrying that census out, sending it out to homes out throughout the nation?

Or is the president going to try to delay it, which he said on Monday night is something he still wanted to do? And he's made pretty clear this is a question he feels belongs on the census.

But to see this kind of reversal, Wolf, is pretty stunning, because, of course, they were making this argument because the Supreme Court put a freeze on this decision, because they said simply that the administration had not made the argument well enough.

So, of course, Wolf, a ton of confusion over here. They're going to be trying to figure out what is going on over the next few days. Still confusion inside the West Wing. And, Wolf, all of this is coming as White House officials are still trying to put the last- minute touches on the celebration that is planned for tomorrow to celebrate the Fourth of July, a celebration that the president has made several demands of his own.


COLLINS (voice-over): Armored vehicles rolling into Washington tonight, as the city prepares for President Trump's Independence Day extravaganza, which will feature those tanks parked at the Lincoln Memorial, military flyovers, and a VIP section for his political allies.

But there are concerns about the price tag. Trump tweeting: "The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes. We have the pilots. The airport is right next door. All we need is the fuel. We own the tanks and all."

But that's not so. "The Washington Post" reports the National Park Service will divert $2.5 million from entrance and recreation fees to cover a fraction of the cost, money that's typically reserved for park improvement. And the administration is refusing to reveal how much this will cost taxpayers overall.

Trump's claim that the equipment is right next door is also misleading. Sources tell CNN the aircraft he wants must be brought in from California, Kentucky, Missouri, and Florida.

Trump is also facing criticism from Democrats who say he's turning the patriotic holiday into a partisan one.

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Instead of addressing something like veteran homelessness, he's spending it on boosting his ego with a parade that's fundamentally about him, and then getting tickets into the hands of wealthy donors for the Republican Party. What a waste of money.

COLLINS: CNN has learned that leaders at the Pentagon are also reluctant to put tanks and other armored vehicles on display.

WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: The truth is, he's politicizing the armed forces when he does it this way. It's not a political event. It's an event that's supposed to bring the people of the country together.

COLLINS: Several top military chiefs won't attend the celebration Thursday, and they're sending their deputies instead.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COLLINS: Now, Wolf, we talked about that last-minute scrambling happening over here at the White House.

Part of that is, they're still trying to give out the tickets to this event, including some of those VIP tickets, which we're told there about 500 allotted for that section -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks for that update.

Joining us now here in Washington, the Mayor of Washington D.C., Muriel Bowser. Mayor, thanks so much for coming in.

MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER (D-DC): Thank you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: So let's talk about this. You've accused the President of taking credit for the city's preparations for this event. Tell us what's gone into this. What sort of federal resources you're getting as mayor?

BOWSER: Well, we support the federal government every year with the 4th of July preparations. The National Park Service, part of the Department of Interior, puts on the fireworks. And our police force supports it. Our traffic control officers support it. And we prepare our Homeland Security Agency, the district's Homeland Security Agency, to make sure everybody gets in and gets out.

BLITZER: You have a price tag yet? How much is this going to cost the District of Columbia?

BOWSER: We don't know what the extraordinary costs will be because of the additional location, the additional location for the fireworks and any protest activity that results from it. We would typically seek reimbursement from the feds.

BLITZER: You're still seeking reimbursement for the inauguration, right?

BOWSER: We are. We went over $7 million because of the amount of protests activity that we had and we will continue to seek money back from the feds to pay for those costs. Our Congresswoman is moving the bill to make sure we get those moneys back.

BLITZER: Yes. And you want the federal government to reimburse you as opposed to the President's inauguration committee, for example. They have a lot of money too.

BOWSER: That's typically how we do it. The inaugural activity itself, the parade and the like, is an official activity.

BLITZER: So what do you think about the military nature of the events that are going to take place tomorrow, the tanks, the armored personnel carriers, for example, coming into D.C.?

BOWSER: To be honest with you, that's what concerns me the most. And 'm not saying that necessarily as the D.C. Mayor but as an American citizen who doesn't think that the display of military might is what is reflective of our values as Americans.

BLITZER: These tanks, they weigh tons and tons. And potentially, what, are you concerned about damage to the streets?

BOWSER: Well, they didn't roll the tanks through the city.

BLITZER: But they're still very heavy.

BOWSER: They truck them. They brought them in by a train, I think, and they truck them over to the locations. So I think that they're going to put them on display, on the federal part of the Mall, which, you know, has been refurbished and we don't want to see that damaged either.

BLITZER: And you're concerned there could be damage?

BOWSER: I'm concerned there could be damage, absolutely. And the nation's mall is really for everybody to come and enjoy. People come to see the monuments. They come to play Frisbee. They come to reflect on the monuments to our nation's heroes. And that has been very intentionally kept as a place for celebration and that partisan issue.

BLITZER: Are you concerned about potential protesters emerging tomorrow?

BOWSER: You know that our police force is the best able to make sure that people have the ability to exercise their freedom of speech, no matter what that speech is. And so we are planning, we know not just on the 4th but on throughout the weekend, there have been many permanent demonstrations from people with opposing viewpoints, so we'll be ready to protect them.

BLITZER: You've said the President is looking to dictators as an example how to celebrate our country. I want you to elaborate on that.

BOWSER: Well, as I said earlier, we see the 4th of July as a non- political event that people from all backgrounds and beliefs can celebrate. And we also celebrate our military and honor our veterans. But we don't do it by, in my view, putting out tanks and heavy equipment. That is just not the American way.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, I want you to respond to what the President said to Tucker Carlson on Fox News earlier in the week when he said that he ended homelessness in Washington, D.C.

BOWSER: Well, we have. And I think, you know, this is one of our signature initiatives, to drive down family homelessness in our city by 45 percent, overall homelessness in the double digits as well, and invest incredible amounts of money in affordable housing. And that's how we're solving our homeless issue locally with local tax dollars.

The President can help, however. And we asked the federal government and Secretary Carson to step up to the plate when it comes to public housing that is federally-owned and subsidized. And they've walked away from it.

BLITZER: But to be clear, homelessness is still very prevalent here in Washington D.C. You can walk outside our building and you see people sleeping on the streets.


You can walk up towards Capitol Hill, towards the White House, you see people sleeping on the streets.

BOWSER: Well, what is a fact, Wolf, is that we have put lots of services in place and there are a lot of people who can connect to services, and we're going to keep working with them so that they're in shelter, and so they are on a pathway to finding a permanent housing.

BLITZER: Yes. It's heartbreaking to see the people lying on the streets and people walk by, nobody does anything, they're just there, and it's happening in the nation's capital, which is very sad.

BOWSER: No, it happens. People who need a lot of help are all over our country. And what I am proud of is that we put systems in place to connect them with shelter. Anybody you see who needs help, we can have them in overnight shelter almost immediately.

BLITZER: Well, good luck because it's an urgent mission. Good luck tomorrow with the 4th of July celebration, Muriel Bowser of Washington D.C.

BOWSER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, President Trump says detained migrants are living better and safer in border-controlled custody, but how does that square with the new images of very disturbing conditions?



BLITZER: We have breaking news this hour. A major reversal by the Justice Department now saying it will continue to try to get a citizenship question on the census despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against it. The administration appeared to have conceded the fight will continue until President Trump Tweeted otherwise earlier in the day.

Let's dig deeper with our experts and analysts. And, Jeffrey Toobin, the President tweeted this, just to be precise. The news reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the citizenship question on the census is incorrect or to state it differently, fake. We are absolutely moving forward as we must because of the importance of the answer to this question.

As you know, the Supreme Court issued its ruling yesterday in an official public statement, the Department of justice said it was moving on without the citizenship question on the census, the Department of Commerce said the same thing and the President Tweets this. And then all of a sudden, there is a 180-degree reversal.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, I sometimes worry that when we talk about that the Trump administration, people think that, you know, we were crying, Wolf, and that everything, we're exaggerating. I mean, the craziness of this situation, the surreal nature in the way the government is handling this issue cannot be overstated. I mean, the government has a system in place for putting forward a litigation position. That system worked, they were dropping the citizenship question and the President comes out of the left field.

What's worth pointing out is the reason the justice Department gave up on this case is that they recognized in light of Chief Justice Roberts' opinion, their position was hopeless. This tweet doesn't make their position any less hopeless. So I don't know what they're going to do when they go back into court in Maryland and new York and say, oh, by the way, we're still fighting this issue. It's just nuts.

BLITZER: And it's amazing when you think, Susan Hennessey, about the fact that the President is describing an official statement by the Department of Justice, the Attorney General, Bill Barr, presumably approved it. The Department of Commerce, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, presumably approved it.

The President says that was simply fake. Those statements were fake. And then they have to reverse their position.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: The situation is completely insane. The idea that DOJ lawyers are going before the court and making representations and being undercut out of left field by a Tweet from the President of the United States. And we have this concept, a sort of a unitary executive branch. The other branches need to know what the position is of the executive branch. And right now, when you have statements from DOJ lawyers and Tweets from the President, nobody knows which end is up. That actually undermines the credibility of the Department of Justice writ large. Hundreds of lawyers every day have to make representations before the court. And if the court, they can't believe, can't believe that they speak for the government, that causes really serious systemic problems.

There's also a question of sort of the substantive issue here, as Jeffrey alluded to. You know, one of the reasons that the Supreme Court sent this case back down was they were saying, hey, we believe you've given as you pre-textual reason here for why you were including this question that you said it was about enforcing the Voting Rights Act. We think and there's evidence that it might be about undercutting Latinos.

The President is now stripping away any and all pretext. He is being pretty clear, open and explicit.

BLITZER: A federal judge sees the Tweet, David Swerdlick. He calls in the Justice Department lawyer. You heard Kaitlan Collins' report. The lawyer tells the judge, the first he heard about this was the President's position in that Tweet. He had not been told that there was going to be a reversal.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Because as Susan was saying, the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing here, Wolf. I'm going out on a limb and guess here that between yesterday when you have lawyers and civil rights advocates saying, oh, thank goodness that that Chief Justice Roberts and the court came to their senses about this and it was being hailed as a clear defeat for the administration, that the President didn't like what he was hearing and seeing in the coverage. So now, it has to be fake news that the department is backing up and going ahead with the census as the constitution requires and he wants to muddy the waters, not to look like he's losing.

PHILLIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: But I can't -- I mean, let me dumb this down as a taxpayer who pays a ton of taxes.

[18:45:02] I can't figure this out. Is the census about determining how many citizens in this country or how many people are in this country?

I live in an area in northern Virginia that has a ton of immigrants. I want to know every person there because I want every tax dollar, whether it's an illegal immigrant or not that relates to schools, that relates to sanitation, that relates to roads. I thought the census was determining how many people are here so we can figure out how to provide services, whether they're illegal or not. I don't understand the citizenship --

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: More importantly, the Constitution itself answers that question. The Constitution says that all persons will be counted. Not all citizens. That's an intentional choice.

Yes, it's about resources but more importantly, it is about voting representatives. The most important function the government provides. And we're saying that the Trump administration is fundamentally being untrustworthy in districting. It's really, really important duty.

BLITZER: They have a July 1st deadline to get the documents, the questionnaires ready and it is now past July 1st, you know, Jeffrey.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's right. Although the president has also said, he's OK with delaying the census. Now, the Constitution calls for a census every 10 years. That is, you know, 2020 is the year.

Now, I suppose he is still in compliance with the Constitution if he starts later in the year. But he has no authority to delay it very much. And the census, it takes years of planning to conduct a census. Thousands of people are hired to go conduct the census. So, it is not something the president can control by tweet.

But, you know, the situation now, I think it is safe to say, is very unclear because the Justice Department said yesterday that the forms are being print without the question. The president says this is still being litigated. I don't think anyone knows what is really happening with the forms and with the census.

BLITZER: I wonder Bill Barr and Wilbur Ross are going to react to being basically accused by the president of releasing fake news.

Let's talk about some other sensitive issues, Phil Mudd. The president also used Twitter today to weigh in on conditions at the border. This is what he wrote: Our border patrol people are not hospital workers, doctors, or nurses. The Democrats bad immigration laws which could easily -- which could be easily fixed are the problem.

Great job by the Border Patrol above and beyond. Many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than where they came from and in far safer conditions. Now matter how good things actually look, even if perfect, the Democrat visitors will act shocked and aghast at how terrible things are right now.

These picture that's we've seen, including the inspector general's report from the Department of Homeland Security are awful.

MUDD: The problem is we defined it between Republicans and Democrats. And I would say both of them, including the president have a responsible.

The president has to have a heart. This is the richest country on the planet. I cannot believe people came to this country saying it is better living in a cage than living at home. But also, we have laws in this country that say here's how you seek asylum in this country. Democrats have to look at those laws and say how can we pass legislation that says we can abide by the laws?

Both sides have to sit down in a way that we cannot do anymore and say we have to be courteous. And at the end of the game, we have to apply the law. We can do both.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree that Democrats and Republicans have to work together to figure it out. I think the president's tweet was disgusting. It is a hard question about what you do long term with a comprehensive immigration solution.

It is not a hard question to answer that you give children in custody blankets and toothpaste and soccer balls and books and clean showers and toilets and clothing. That it's a disgrace that the richest, most powerful country in the world can't get it together to do this. If they hold the children indefinitely, OK, that's not good. But hold them with some dignity and some care.

HENNESSEY: Look, it's also not a coincidence that we have not seen a single death of a minor in Customs and Border Patrol custody in over a decade. Within the Trump administration, we've seen more than six minors die. These have really, really serious consequences.

The idea here, yes, there are difficult policy challenges needing basic fundamental humanitarian standards, it's not one of them. This is not something prior administrations have struggled with. It's really unacceptable and it falls on the Trump administration.

BLITZER: The president says, Jeffrey Toobin, that Border Patrol, they're not hospital workers.

TOOBIN: Well, they're not. And there are significant challenges that they have in dealing with these large numbers of people.

But you know what? They can do it. And if they are given the resources by the Trump administration, you can get people blankets and toothbrushes. I mean, this is not an unsolvable problem.

And the fact that they are not doing it is going to be, you know, when the history books are written about the Trump administration, whether it is four years or eight years.

[18:50:02] But the treatment of the people who are coming to this country, to immigrants, legal and illegal, is going to be at the top of the list of his -- you know, I don't want to call it accomplishments, but legacies, to history.

HENNESSEY: But at the end of the day, whenever we see the president tweeting things like if they don't like it they can go back where they came from. I think we have to conclude this isn't some accidental consequence of a policy choice. It's actually an intentional decision.

And it's really -- we are running out of innocent explanations for why the administration can't get its act together.

SWERDLICK: This started with Attorney General Sessions announcing in two big speeches at the border last year the family separation policy was meant to deter. So, the idea that this is -- as you say, Susan, accidental or a continuation of something that happened in the Obama administration is simply not correct. They set themselves down this path and now, you have these conditions.

BLITZER: And it's a terrible situation we are watching right now unfold.

Everybody, stick around. There's more news of Joe Biden refocusing his campaign as a rival overtakes him in fundraising.


[18:55:52] BLITZER: Some of the Democratic White House hopefuls are out with new fund raising numbers and combined with the latest poll numbers, they show a changing race for the White House.

Let's go our political reporter Arlette Saenz. She's joining us from Iowa right now.

Arlette, Iowa, Joe Biden's first stop at a five-day campaign swing.


Joe Biden will be here in Waterloo, Iowa, in just a short while. And the Biden hit their fundraising goal, but a source tells us they just were not prepared for Mayor Pete Buttigieg to post such a high number. They had set their targets thinking that the other candidates would be raising no more than $10 million to $12 million in a quarter. That clearly wasn't the case.


SAENZ (voice-over): Joe Biden may be the Democratic front-runner but he's not leading the pack in the money race. The former vice president second quarter fundraising haul totaling $21.5 million. That amount puts him behind South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at $24.8 million, but ahead of Bernie Sanders who raked in $18 million last quarter.

Biden entered the 2020 race three weeks into the second fundraising quarter. But he did devote a substantial amount of time to raising cash, holding more than two dozen high-dollar fundraising events since launching his campaign, gaining criticism from grassroots-focused candidates such as Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, in this unprecedented campaign, we're doing it very differently.

SAENZ: Biden's numbers come as many 2020 candidates descend on Iowa this week, exactly seven months before the state's caucus.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ninety-nine counties, here I come.

SAENZ: A poll yesterday found Biden still ahead in the Hawkeye State with 24 percent support, followed by Kamala Harris at 16 percent.

On the trail today in Iowa, Harris took aim at President Trump.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know predators. And we have a predator living in the White House.

SAENZ: Rounding out the top four, Elizabeth Warren at 13 percent and Sanders with 9 percent.

But Biden's lead on the national stage has tightened in some polls, since the uneven debate performance.

BIDEN: My time is up.

SAENZ: As he looks to reassure voters he has the best chance of beating President Trump, Biden now turning to a new phase in his campaign, visiting early states like Iowa and South Carolina in the next five days and sitting for a rare national TV interview with CNN this week.

BIDEN: The marathon is just beginning. But at the end of the day, if you can't cross the line in Iowa, you don't win the marathon.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SAENZ: Now, Biden is here in Iowa for the next two days. Then he heads to Texas and South Carolina over the weekend, and he is already planning trips to New Hampshire and Nevada later this month, squeezing in all the early states before our next debate later this month in Detroit -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arlette Saenz in Iowa for us -- Arlette, thanks very much.

And stay with CNN for an exclusive interview with Joe Biden. The former vice president and Democratic front runner sits down with Chris Cuomo in Iowa to talk about the 2020 race. It airs Friday morning at 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Finally tonight, a hero's farewell, to 9/11 first responders and activist Luis Alvarez. The retired New York detective was laid to rest after losing his battle against cancer that was linked to the time he spent at ground zero.

The comedian Jon Stewart was in the crowd of mourners saluting Alvarez just weeks after they both testified before Congress about such serious health problem related to the 9/11 attacks.

Alvarez was clearly gaunt. He was very, very sick at that hearing. But he made a truly powerful appeal to Congress to replenish the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which is due to conspire by the way next year. Family and friends remembered Alvarez as a man who served, defended and protected throughout his life until his last dying day.

Luis Alvarez was only 53 years old. Our deepest condolences to his family and to his friends.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.