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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Republican Party Holds National Convention. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 18, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:20]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Live from the Republican National Convention.

Allow me to gavel myself in. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

And, as always, hello, Cleveland, in the city where LeBron James is normally king and he literally reigns larger than life over the devoted masses. Donald Trump assumes the thrown for at left a week as he hopes to paper over a vicious primary season and finally unite the Republican Party and regain the White House.

He, too, wants to make Cleveland believe-land and inspire those Republicans who still have misgivings about his takeover of the party of Lincoln. But even before today's programming sniffs prime time, Donald Trump could possibly get embarrassed at his own convention before it even really begins.

Those never Trump forces, those gremlins the presumptive nominee declared dead, well, they are very close to forcing a lengthy state- by-state roll call vote on the RNC rules. We are going to keep monitoring this. We could see it play out in the floor, on the floor in just minutes.

As for tonight, the convention headliner is someone the Trump campaign says they thought would never be able to get to say yes to speaking in front of thousands of people here and millions watching at home. Donald Trump's wife, Melania Trump, she will step into the white hot spotlight in just a few hours.

But as Republican delegations from every state in the union fill this arena, some with better seats than others, of course, Trump's task is much more than just putting on a good show. He needs to show undecided skeptics out there that he can be the strong leader to guide this country through these turbulent times.

The latest evidence of the divisions fracturing the country, of course, coming just a little bit more than 24 hours ago. A gunman assassinating three police officers in Baton Rouge. We will have the latest on that continuing story in a bit.

But, first, let's begin with CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. You can hear him to the tunes of "Shook Me All Night Long" going on behind me right now.

Jim, Trump is not officially scheduled to speak until Thursday, when he assuredly will shake it all night long. But given the fact that Melania is speaking this evening, it is possible we are going to get a glimpse of him on the stage behind me before then -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, this convention hall is shaking right now. It's shaking with some uncertainty, I can tell you. That is because as you mentioned just a few moments ago, there are some of those never Trump forces.

You heard they were dead. It turns out they are mostly dead. And they are attempting right now to force some kind of full floor vote on the rules governing this convention. And if they succeed in doing that, there are some in that movement who hope that this could somehow deny Donald Trump the nomination.

Now, I talked to people inside the Trump campaign who are really dismissing all of this as a delay tactic that would just eventually embarrass the party's nominee. But they did not see this coming, I'm told by one source. And so what they are doing right now on the floor, Jake, is there are officials with the Trump campaign who are cajoling different members of these delegations from these different states attempting to get them to take back their signatures authorizing this effort, sometimes challenging the validity of those signatures.

And it just goes to show you, even though the theme for today is make America safe again, Donald Trump's mission this week is to make this party whole again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Donald Trump has never had an audience quite like this. The presumptive GOP nominee has a tough-talking brand to sell this week to a world that he and his running mate, Mike Pence, see as spinning out of control.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are both ready. I have no doubt. We need toughness. We need strength. Obama is weak. Hillary is weak.

ACOSTA: After police killings in Baton Rouge, Trump slammed President Obama's reaction to the violence and offered his candidacy as a law and order response.

TRUMP: He has been a great divider in this country. I think race relations now are as bad as they have ever been. I watched the president and sometimes the words are OK, but you just look at the body language, there's something going on.

ACOSTA: When pressed, he wouldn't clarify what he meant by the body language comment, but this week in Cleveland, the optic will be all Trump.

In an unusual move, Trump will be at the convention tonight to introduce his wife, Melania, before she addresses the delegates. She is one of the big headliners on day one's theme of make America safe again, with Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who was on Trump's vice presidential short list, along with a tribute to former GOP nominee and World War II veteran Bob Dole.

[16:05:15]

But the party is still a house divided, as high-profile Republicans from George W. Bush to Mitt Romney to the governor hosting the convention, John Kasich, are skipping Trump's big moment.

And while planners did land "Happy Days" actor Scott Baio, after failing to book football star Tim Tebow, it's Kasich's absence that seems to irk Trump chairman Paul Manafort the most.

PAUL MANAFORT, TRUMP CONVENTION MANAGER: He is making a big mistake. He is looking at something that is not going to happen. He's hurting his state. He's embarrassing his state, frankly.

ACOSTA: A top Kasich adviser fired back, tweeting: "Manafort bringing professionalism to Trump. Attacking John Kasich this morning, just another pivot after great V.P. rollout. #Clownshow."

Still, a new CNN/ORC poll finds more than two-thirds of Republicans are confident they will united by November. Many in the party see Pence as evidence of that, despite his differences with Trump on issues like the Iraq War.

TRUMP: I'm one of few that was right on Iraq.

QUESTION: Yes, but what...

TRUMP: He is entitled to make a mistake every once in a while.

ACOSTA: The Indiana governor will spend all this week in Cleveland selling a new boss who is still looking to close the deal with Republicans.

GOV. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because this man is awed with the American people and he is not intimidated by the world. And Donald Trump, this could good man, I believe, will be a great president of the United States.

TRUMP: I love what he just said.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: One thing we will be looking for later on tonight, Jake, is just how Donald Trump introduces his wife, Melania, to this crowd of delegates gathered here in Cleveland.

You will recall over the weekend, Jake, his introduction of Mike Pence lasted for some 28 will minutes, included some big portions of Donald Trump's standard stump speech. Asked whether we might see a repeat of that tonight, I talked to a Trump delegate, pro-Trump delegate here earlier this evening, who said, well, it is Donald Trump -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Jim Acosta.

Obviously, we are anxiously watching the floor to monitor this developing story on the convention for the never Trump forces trying to force a potential state-by-state roll call vote. Trump forces saying it is just to try to embarrass the nominee.

Speaking of never Trump movements, it is worth pointing out that the primaries were so contentious and Mr. Trump remains so controversial among so many of his fellow Republicans, that there are, as Jim noted, so many high-profile Republicans who will not be here in Cleveland this week.

And whether you think good riddance or you receive this list more in sadness than in anger, the void is rather telling. Presidents George H.W. Bush and George H.W. Bush will not be here. Presidential nominees of days past John McCain and Mitt Romney won't be here. The incumbent Republican governor of this crucial battleground state, John Kasich, will not be here.

None of them here in Cleveland to give the Trump/Pence ticket their enthusiastic stamp of approval.

But you know who is here? Our panel, Michael Smerconish, Gloria Borger, John King, Nia-Malika Henderson, Republican strategist Kevin Madden, Donald Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord, Hillary Clinton supporter Donna Brazile, and senior adviser to Donald Trump's Ed Brookover.

First of all, Ed, let me just start with you. What do you make of this move on the floor by never Trump forces to try to force a roll call vote that would in some ways I suppose demonstrate that there are delegates who are opposed to Donald Trump and I guess the theory is just embarrass him?

ED BROOKOVER, SENIOR DONALD TRUMP ADVISER: Well, it is not unexpected. They have been trying to play games from day one.

But they have been beaten back at every step of the way, starting with primaries, where Mr. Trump received 14 million votes, a record number for Republicans. They were unsuccessful in the rules committee and ultimately I think they will be unsuccessful here on the floor.

But even if something would happen, Mr. Trump will be nominee. The program is going to go on as scheduled and we will present him to the American public as they learn more about Donald Trump.

TAPPER: What is the game plan, Kevin? Why force this if the Trump nomination is truly all but inevitable?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, I think, first, these events themselves are just -- are pageantries and shows. So I think many of the folks who are opposed to Donald Trump believe that on principle they need to demonstrate there is still in opposition to Donald Trump.

I think on the other side of this, there are a lot of pro-Cruz folks, people that are looking beyond 2016 to 2020 and a lot of efforts they are making towards changing are geared towards looking to that potential next election and possibly a reform of the Republican Party and the way they nominate nominees in the future.

TAPPER: Let's look at some comments that Donald Trump made earlier this morning.

[16:10:02]

President Obama, of course, condemning the murders of those three Baton Rouge police, officers calling the assassinations cowardly and reprehensible.

Here is Donald Trump responding to what Mr. Obama said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I watched the president and sometimes the words are OK, but you just look at the body language, there's something going on.

Look, there is something going on. And the words are not...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: What does that mean, there's something going on?

TRUMP: There's just bad feeling and a lot of bad feeling about him. I see it too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So we will talk about that in a second. But let's go to the floor of the House, where the rules committee is going through what is a challenge from the never Trump forces.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... for our convention and our party. I move the adoption of the resolution and yield back the balance of my time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Without objection, the previous question is ordered. The question is on adoption of the resolution. All those in favor say aye.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All those opposed, no.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And in the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it. And the resolution is agreed to. Without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chair now recognizes the delegate from the state of West Virginia for the purpose of offering a resolution.

TAPPER: Let's just explain to the viewers what exactly is going on right now.

I want to bring in CNN's John King.

John, explain what's going on. Who are the people yelling? What is happening?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have a protest on the floor.

They seemed to adopt rules on a voice vote there and the chairman said the ayes have it, trying to say the rules are adopted, and you have some delegates on the floor saying not so fast.

We know the anti-Trump forces believe (INAUDIBLE) have that state-by- state roll call. The anti-Trump forces went to the rules committee ,went to leaders of the convention. They submitted what they say is enough signatures from enough states to have a state-by-state roll call.

I think we are going to have that litigated right now on the floor of the Republican Convention.

TAPPER: The people yelling right now, the people yelling aye are the Trump forces. And the people yelling nay are saying the rules should not be adopted. And ayes -- what are the nays trying to force? Roll call vote.

KING: Roll call vote.

TAPPER: These are the never Trump forces.

KING: They want a roll call vote on the rules. This is their last gap, if you will, of (INAUDIBLE) their displeasure with Donald Trump and their displeasure with the Republican National Committee.

They concede they don't have the votes in the end. They concede the Trump forces have more votes. What they want to say -- and I know some of the people inside the Trump war room think they could have as many as 600 votes against the rules, meaning against Donald Trump, the last vote count against Donald Trump. They are trying to send a signal.

And, again, I think Ed is right. I think it will be defeated in the end. I think Trump forces have been working the floor. But there is a lot of resentment, Jake.

I was on the floor for a little bit before I came up. Some of the Trump lieutenants were trying to convince people who signed the petitions to withdraw their signatures, pressure them to back off so that this doesn't happen, because they're trying to say, we need party unity. We don't want to embarrass our nominee.

But a lot of those delegates are taking, hey, this is my right to demand this. Don't pressure me.

TAPPER: Now, Ken Cuccinelli, the former attorney general of the Commonwealth of Virginia and a big Ted Cruz supporter, he just went up to the microphone. He put his credentials on the ground. Dana Bash, you're out on the floor following all the action. I don't

know if you know what that meant. I don't know if you saw it happen. But who are these forces exactly? And explain what is going on from the point of view of the floor.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, let me just -- I'm not sure if you guys have explained this already.

It is a little bit hard for me to hear, because you can hear it is very, very loud. But the most important thing to know about what just happened from the chair, if you will, from the podium, is that they called the ayes have it and gaveled.

What does that mean? They just effectively tried to quash this whole movement to try to open up the rules package, basically to have effectively an open debate that would allow for amendments of all kinds on the floor of the convention.

The picture of the man you're seeing there -- I can see our air.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Dana, I want to listen to Senator Mike Lee, Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, who is a supporter of Ted Cruz and...

(SHOUTING)

(CROSSTALK)

[16:15:02]

TAPPER: ... trying to unbind the delegates.

[16:15:04] SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: Why this make sense? These are the very same people around the country who are going to need to be the engine for our nominee come November, and in months leading up to November. So, those who are calling for unity, those calling for unity need to keep that in mind. If what they want is unity, treat us respectfully as delegates.

(INAUDIBLE)

LEE: Well, it's not clear what they've done. The podium has been abandoned. There is someone standing at the podium. There is absolutely nothing that s happened. So, your guess is as good as mine.

TAPPER: That's Utah Senator Mike Lee. He is an ally of Ted Cruz. He is one of those individuals who believes that the delegates should be allowed to vote their conscience and not be bound by how their states voted. This is a movement. Some call it the never Trump movement.

There are people who are trying to seek, in their view, a different and better candidate to challenge Hillary Clinton. Obviously, Donald Trump won the nomination in terms of delegates. These people are trying to change the rules so the delegates are unbound. And can vote their conscience, because as you may or may not know when Donald Trump effectively wiped the slate clean, he had not won a majority of the delegates at that time. He had a plurality, he had not won more than anyone else had, but he had not won 50 percent, 51 percent.

So, there are people like Mike Lee, and we're going to go back and listen in on him who are saying unbind the delegates. Let's find a different nominee.

LEE: Never seen the chair abandoned like that. They did it in stakes entirely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What can you do?

LEE: Normally, in this kind of circumstance, people would perhaps raise a point of order or maybe make a motion. That would be addressed. That would be dealt with by the chair.

When the chair abandons his post as happened just moments ago, there was no rule for that. It is completely unheard of for the chair in any parliamentary situation to just walk off the post. So, maybe there was a medical emergency, maybe his mom called with bad news from home. I don't know. But this --

(INAUDIBLE)

KEN CUCCINNELLI, FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Under the rules of the Republican Party, with Rule 39, the majority of the delegates demand (INAUDIBLE). It's different to the roll call vote. The roll call vote is we go Alabama, we go Alaska and so on. Each of them reads their votes for the rules, how many for and how many against. That's a roll call vote. That's all we're asking for here. And apparently, it is too much, too much.

TAPPER: You're listening to Ken Cuccinelli right there, the former attorney general of the commonwealth of Virginia. Cuccinelli has said he will vote for Trump in November but he is also one of the ones leading for the charge here for roll call vote and Trump forces feel like that is an attempt to show how many people are not in favor of Donald Trump just to embarrass him. Cuccinelli was a Ted Cruz supporter during the primary.

Let's listen to what he has to say.

(INAUDIBLE)

TAPPER: Dana Bash, on the floor of the convention amidst all this chaos. What do you want to point out?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: One thing that I want to point out, that you -- first of all, you are exactly right. So of these many delegates who are upset that they don't think they have their voices heard are those who are not for Donald Trump. But there is also a very important movement going on here that we need to sort of let our viewers know about, which is not as much about Donald Trump but about people like Mike Lee, senator you're looking at right now on the left side of your screen, and others who are trying to push a movement to make the process in the next election, 2020 tilted more for a conservative candidate.

Let me explain to you what I mean by that. Some of what you saw going on here and the reason why Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee were very surprised by this, because there was a very quiet the radar movement to gather signatures from states -- in order to open up the rules package, you need seven states, the majority of delegates from seven states.

[16:20:01] That was going on --

TAPPER: Dana Bash, hold on one second. Let's go back to Mike Lee. Dana Bash, hold on one second. Let's go back to Mike Lee on the floor.

LEE: I really have -- I'm not being coy. I have no idea what is going on right now. This is surreal. I mean, the chair walked off the stage. He completely abandoned his post.

Meanwhile, we've got what appears to be a jazz band, doing a great job, playing lovely music. I don't know what the song is but it is a real nice soothing rift. It's strange. This is a political convention. People have taken time off work, come from all over the United States to be here.

People can be unheard anywhere. They can be unheard at their workplace. They can be unheard at home. They can be unheard with their friends and neighbors. They don't travel thousands of miles to be unheard at their own party's national convention.

REPORTER: What did we see just now, they did they just completely not seen take up signatures at all?

(INAUDIBLE)

REP. STEVE WOMACK (R), ARKANSAS/CHAIRMAN: Delegates, once again I need your help and your cooperation. Without objection, the chair will put the question on adoption of the report from the committee on rules. De novo. The chair would remind the hall that it is absolutely critical that we are able to discern the ayes from the nays.

Those in favor of the rules package will say aye.

(CROWD SAYS AYE)

TAPPER: Doing the voice vote that took place a few minutes ago, want rules adopted as they are.

WOMACK: People against, say no.

(CROWD SAYS NO)

TAPPER: The noes are shouting right now.

WOMACK: In the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it.

(CHEERS)

TAPPER: The ayes have it. The second time the ayes have it.

(CHANTING)

WOMACK: Is anybody seeking recognition?

(INAUDIBLE)

(CHANTING)

WOMACK: The chair recognizes the delegate from Utah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm the chair of the Utah delegation. I make a motion to have a roll call vote on the rules.

TAPPER: Democracy in action. You're watching Congressman Steve Womack of Arkansas trying to bring order to a contentious --

WOMACK: The secretary received total of nine states requesting a roll call vote on adoption of report on the committee on rules. Subsequently, the secretary received withdraws which caused three states to fall below the threshold required under the rules. Accordingly, the chair has found insufficient support for the request for a record vote.

(CHEERS)

[16:25:00] TAPPER: You see him waving his hand, Ken Cuccinelli, former attorney general for commonwealth of Virginia who is pushing for a roll call vote. A roll call vote many of the forces with antipathy to Donald Trump are calling for.

(INAUDIBLE)

(CHANTING)

TAPPER: Dana Bash, you're on the floor, can you tell us what they are chanting?

BASH: First of all, most important thing that just happened is --

WOMACK: The chair now recognizes the delegate from the state of West Virginia for the purpose of offering a resolution.

BASH: The people who are trying to get a roll call vote didn't have the signatures to do so. Let me just explain to you because it is hard to follow, I'm explaining what I'm getting via information through text from people who are involved in this. And the answer to that is -- let's listen for one second, if we will.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am honored to yield to the co-chairs of the committee, Senator John Barrasso, Governor Mary Fallin, and Congresswoman Virginia Fox. Thank you.

WOMACK: I now have the honor of recognizing the chairman of the -- BASH: What I was trying to explain is happening as we speak and it is

relatively unprecedented.

So, as we were reporting before, some of the never Trump forces and others upset about the rules were trying to get seven states, majority of delegates in seven states to force a roll call vote.

What the chair just said was that they did not have a sufficient number of states. What I'm telling you, this is based on a source explaining what was going on behind the scenes, is they actually had nine states. Nine states had majority of signatures who wanted to have a roll call vote. Three of them withdrew.

Now Jake, the reason the three of them withdrew is that in fact because for the past couple of hours, there has been a mad scramble on the floor here by Republican National Committee forces who didn't want this to happen and by Trump forces to try to get a people who had put in their signatures to take them back. That has been going on. It is actually almost been physical arm twisting that we have seen this scramble like never before and it looks like they were successful in doing that.

So, that is sort of the headline of what just happen had here. That it looks like what the Republican national committee and Trump campaign were able to quash this last gasp of never Trump forces.

One thing I was trying to say before, which is an important thing to underscore, part of it is never Trump. But part of it is also is a group of very conservative delegates who are allies of Senator Cruz, including the senator you were talking about, Mike Lee, Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia, former attorney general, trying to force this open discussion and amendment process on the floor, to change the rules, to try to make it so a conservative candidate can more easily get elected in 2020. This is much more about the here and now as the next time around -- Jake.

TAPPER: OK, thanks, Dana. Let's listen in to Senator John Barrasso, chair of the platform committee, Republican of Wyoming.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: We believe in the Constitution as our founding document and our enduring covenant. We believe our constitutional system, limited government, separation of powers, federalism, and the rights of the people must be preserved uncompromised for future generations. We believe that people are the ultimate resource. And that American people --

TAPPER: Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, speaking now obviously trying to change the subject from what we just saw on the floor of this convention. Rather contentious.

We have our panel here and we also brought in a special guest, Mike Shields, former chief of staff at Republican national committee, and an expert on rules. What just happened?

MARK SHIELDS, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, one way to see what happened is you saw the start of the Ted Cruz 2020 campaign on the floor there. Essentially, there was a rules committee that met last week. They passed the rules.