Return to Transcripts main page
Will Republican Party Call out President Trump Over Charlottesville Response?; Interview With New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired August 16, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: He has always used racial stereotypes to benefit himself professionally, politically, and personally.
And now he's taken his despicable act to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It's time for him to stop acting like a two-bit racial hustler and start acting like the president of the United States of America.
A real president does not play political footsie with David Duke. A real president does not provide aid and comfort to neo-Nazis or to lift up this fraudulent ideology of white supremacy that Donald Trump seems to have a real problem distancing himself from.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Strong words and harsh criticism from you.
So, what about Gary Cohn, as Sara was just reporting, who has his eye, maybe, even on bigger jobs within the administration, who is now officially enraged over this, someone who I should also point out is Jewish?
JEFFRIES: That's correct.
BALDWIN: And was standing behind him yesterday. Should he leave?
JEFFRIES: Well, that's the trouble.
African-Americans, Jews in particular in terms of their affiliation with neo-Nazis and the KKK and people who spew hatred, building upon on ideology that led to the Holocaust, as well as the transatlantic slave trade, so, everyone has got to make their own individual decisions.
But I do think it's time for my colleagues, Republican colleagues in the House and Senate, for instance, to start putting country ahead of party. This is not an issue of Democrats vs. Republicans. It is an issue of right vs. wrong.
The president is on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of American values.
BALDWIN: Congressman, it's easy for you as a Democrat to call the president out. But when you look at members of his own party, especially senior leadership, our reporting is that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, privately is saying he's upset, but doesn't want to put it out there, for fear of what that may look like, because of their back and forth over health care.
John McCain, Senator McCain, is the only one who has called the president out by name.
Do you think that these Republicans are afraid of something?
JEFFRIES: It appears that they are.
Some seem to be afraid of the backlash that they may get from a substantial part of the Republican base that seems to still be willing to stand behind this president. But there are times that you have got to put the country ahead of your own political aspirations or even your political well-being.
At this particular moment, my Republican colleagues have to step forth and do that, because this is a president who is eroding the credibility of the White House, eroding the credibility of the United States of America. In times like this, he should be bringing us together. Instead, he's tearing us apart.
BALDWIN: Are you able to put job first? And, by that, I mean, after this, is there anything you would -- we're looking ahead at infrastructure possibly. Is there anything you would be willing to work with the president on?
JEFFRIES: Not at this moment. He's got no credibility.
BALDWIN: Not at this moment.
JEFFRIES: I do think what we have to do is, Democrats and Republicans have to figure out to govern together in the Congress.
The Constitution does give us an ability to pass legislation without the president's signature, to override him, if necessary. It seems to me that we may be at that moment, presidential nullification, so to speak. If he decides to become reasonable all of a sudden, then maybe we can work with him, but there's nothing in his 71-year history that suggests he's going to be reasonable or responsible at the moment.
BALDWIN: Let me read you something. This is from Dr. Ben and Candy Carson. He's just written this.
I'm just going to read this for everyone here in total.
"Regarding all of the racial and political strife emanating from the events in Charlottesville last week, and let me relay a story. Several years ago, we bought a farm in rural Maryland. One of the neighbors immediately put up a Confederate Flag. A friend of ours who is an African-American, three-star general, was coming to visit and immediately turned around concluding that he was in the wrong place.
"Interestingly, all the other neighbors immediately put up American flags shaming the other neighbor who took down the Confederate Flag. More recently, our home in Virginia, along with that of a neighbor, was vandalized by people who also wrote hateful rhetoric about President Trump.
"We were out of town, but other kind, embarrassed neighbors cleaned up most of the mess before we returned. In both instances, less-than- kind behavior was met by people taking the high road. We could all learn from these examples. Hatred and bigotry unfortunately still exists in our country and we must all continue to fight it, but let's use the right tools."
It ends: "By the way, that neighbor who put up the Confederate Flag subsequently became friendly. That is the likely outcome if we just learn to be neighborly and to get to know each other."
What do you make of that?
JEFFRIES: Well, listen, an unremarkable statement.
I understand that Dr. Carson may feel like he finds himself in a difficult position because he's a member of the Trump Cabinet, but he's not confronting the basic issues.
Donald Trump, essentially, lifted up an argument advanced by neo- Nazis, the KKK and others that the Confederacy is all about tradition and heritage. What exactly is the tradition and heritage that the Confederacy represents?
It is slavery, rape, kidnap, treason, lynching, Jim Crow, or all of the above? It's a phony argument. And the niceties that Ben Carson articulated are not going to get us past the legacy of slavery and hate that still exists in some quarters in this country.
BALDWIN: Hakeem Jeffries, Congressman, thank you so much.
JEFFRIES: Brooke, thank you.
BALDWIN: Thank you.
The worst firestorm President Trump has faced in his 200-plus days in office has now deepened. Two of his CEO advisory groups created to promote job growth now gone, disbanding, in the wake of his controversial remarks on the violence in Charlottesville, remarks that placed blame on racists and counterprotesters alike, with the president appearing to defend the neo-Nazis, the KKK and the white supremacists.
The heads of both Campbell's Soup and 3M were the latest to announce their exit from the president's advisory councils, the seventh and eighth executives to do so. Shortly after those announcements, the president confirmed this on Twitter, that he was disbanding both councils.
With me now, CNN senior economics analyst Stephen Moore, who used to advise the Trump campaign, and CNN global economic analyst Rana Foroohar. She is also a global business columnist and associate editor for "The Financial Times."
Stephen, let me just begin with you. How big of a blow is this for the White House?
STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: Well, I just have to respond to that previous interview, because I found it unbelievably shocking.
And I want to make sure I get this right, because I don't want to misquote. A two-bit racial hustler? The congressman called our president a two-bit racial hustler? What kind of language is that to use by a congressman about a president?
You can disagree with what he said, but I think those are pretty emotionally charged words.
When it comes to this economic council, you know, look, the CEOs have to do what's in the best interest of their companies and follow their own conscience.
I had warned the White House that, you know, the first time there was any controversy, that these CEOs, who most of them were not for Trump in the first place, would probably abandon him. I predicted this kind of thing would happen, and so it's not surprising to me that you're seeing a lot of these folks leave this council.
In the meetings that I was in, when Trump would have these council meetings, by the way, they really, truly were listening, you know, tours, where Donald Trump would sit around the table and listen to these CEOs and ask them, you know, what do you need from the federal government, how do you want it to work better, how can we in the federal government help you create jobs?
That's what it was all about and it's a shame that this council now has to be -- I believe, Brooke, it's being disbanded.
BALDWIN: Go ahead, Rana.
RANA FOROOHAR, CNN ANALYST: Brooke, I got to jump in here and say I spoke to many people this morning in the C Suite, and the reports that I got were that many of these meetings didn't go well at all.
And there have been concerns, even since the Paris accord, frankly, amongst a lot of these CEOs, a lot of internal hand-wringing about whether they should be involved with the White House or not. They told me the meetings had not been going well. The proper officials from various federal departments weren't even in attendance.
And I think this really marks a tipping point. And I think this is a huge deal for the Trump administration and the White House. If you think about it, Brooke, for starters, the strategic committee had already decided to disband before President Trump tweeted that this morning, following a conference call that was led by Steve Schwarzman, the CEO of Blackstone.
When you think about the business community losing faith in the White House and also labor -- you know, Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL- CIO, has already resigned. That's two core groups. That's the business community and working-class white men. And I think this is a real blow for the White House.
BALDWIN: Stephen, go ahead and respond.
MOORE: Well, but wait a minute.
MOORE: Just hold on. I just want to respond to that.
BALDWIN: Please do.
MOORE: You said that a lot of these CEOs basically decided they didn't want to be part of this when Trump pulled out of...
FOROOHAR: There had been hand-wringing since the Paris accord.
MOORE: Let me make a point about this.
BALDWIN: Go ahead, Stephen.
MOORE: A lot of these CEOs basically said they didn't want to be a part of this because Trump wanted to drop out of the Paris accord, but guess what? Donald Trump said he was going to do that during the campaign.
So if they didn't want to be part of a council with somebody who was going to pull us out of the Paris accord, then why did they join the council in the first place? A lot of them did that because of the prestige.
FOROOHAR: You know what? They joined it for two reasons, Stephen. They joined it for two reasons. Because they believed that you should join a council when your president asks you to, but also later on because they wanted to keep some adults until the room around important policy conversations, like tax reform, infrastructure, health care.
MOORE: When he said he was going to do what he was going to do, then why did they, oh, I'm so outraged by this? They knew his positions when they took these positions.
FOROOHAR: You know what? They're -- these folks -- many of these folks have been trying to influence the president and the White House around things like the skills agenda, around infrastructure. Now, I'm not saying that many of them possibly shouldn't have taken a stand and stood down earlier, but I think let's not fool ourselves. The entire business community has been worried about the Trump agenda for some time, and this -- the disaster that is his handling of Charlottesville is just the apex of that.
MOORE: OK, but let me make a point.
What is business really, you know, mostly concerned about? What are CEOs concerned about? About a healthy economy. My goodness, has any president in the first six months delivered a healthier economy than Donald Trump?
FOROOHAR: Oh, Stephen, Steve, don't even get me started on...
MOORE: You're seeing a boom in jobs. You're seeing a pickup in optimism. You're seeing a pick-up in employment. I made this point yesterday on CNN.
It's worth repeating, that for all the talk about how Donald Trump is -- has an anti-black agenda, this is a president who's created black jobs just in the first six months in office at twice the pace that Barack Obama did.
FOROOHAR: I'm sorry. God bless you, but we have been through this before.
We've fact-checked the fact that Donald Trump does not deserve credit for anything good that has happened in the American economy in the last six months.
MOORE: Yes, he doesn't get any credit for this. Right, exactly. How should he get credit? He was there.
FOROOHAR: ... go there again.
MOORE: The stock market didn't go through the roof the day after -- no, it actually did go through the roof the day after the election.
FOROOHAR: The stock market is there because the interest rates are low and companies do share buybacks.
MOORE: It's Barack Obama's economy, right?
BALDWIN: I'm just sitting here and listening to the two of you go back and forth, clearly very different views.
MOORE: Look, Brooke, this is my point, though. I mean, people -- this absurd argument that Trump doesn't deserve the credit for the...
BALDWIN: No, I don't think that's the conversation. Honestly, let's leave that. We have had that conversation.
MOORE: That people can't even give credit for to Trump for the things that have gone right, so there's this -- a lot of this is just against Trump's agenda, no matter what he does.
FOROOHAR: You know what? You're on the wrong side of this, Stephen.
BALDWIN: OK. OK. Let's move past that. Let's move past that.
Here's my question for you, Stephen. And the president now is in this position where he's the one ending these councils, but that's not entirely factual. He had no choice. He had no choice. So, why spin it that way?
MOORE: Well, look, I don't remember exactly how many people were on the -- I mean, this was a pretty big council. He has four or five of these business councils. When people start dropping off the council, it's probably a pretty good idea to fold it up.
But, look, he has a number -- I think there are six or seven of these business industry councils that he's put together to seek advice from the business leaders of the country.
BALDWIN: But he called them grandstanders, Stephen. Hang on. He called them grandstanders in that tweet yesterday and essentially said, we can just replace them.
But he's choosing not to replace them. He's just closing down the councils. MOORE: I hope he does replace them, because I think it is important
for Donald Trump to get good advice.
FOROOHAR: I will be curious to see who wants to serve.
I think the business community has lost faith in this president. He hasn't accomplished any of his agenda and he hasn't shown the kind of leadership that a president should. That's what I'm hearing from all the CEOs that I talk to.
MOORE: But it's ridiculous to say he hasn't accomplished any of his agenda. He's only been in office for six months, and we have already seen the U.S. GDP go from 1.5 percent and declining under Obama to 2.6 percent and rising under Trump.
FOROOHAR: Oh, man, nothing to do with him, Stephen, and you know that's true.
MOORE: Right. It doesn't have anything to do with his policies, right.
BALDWIN: OK, Stephen and Rana, whew. It's just Wednesday. It's just Wednesday. Thank you, both of you.
FOROOHAR: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Coming up next, some shocking video from inside the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville seems to prove the opposite of what the president was saying, that there were some fine people in the crowd. You see the video. You can judge for yourself.
Also, the vice president says he is standing by President Trump and then promptly cancels two events in Virginia this weekend. We will debate what's happening in the inner circle of the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have had a tough weekend in Charlotte. And I know you have all been following that.
I want to thank the state and local people and the federal people that worked so hard since those tragic events there. We cannot, and in no way can we accept or apologize for racism, bigotry, hatred, violence, and those kind of things that too often arise in our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: That was the attorney general there. Obviously, he said Charlotte. I'm assuming he meant Charlottesville, weighing in on what happened in the wake of this weekend. The president massively criticized once again for blaming both sides
for the violence that ultimately killed this young woman, Heather Heyer, in Charlottesville.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group. Excuse me. Excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So, while the president claims he saw the pictures from the ground, his critics are pointing to a shocking documentary from VICE News and asking how he could ever find an equivalency between the two sides after seeing this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALES: Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Those are the pictures.
Meantime, the president insists some very fine people, to quote him, participated in the rally, but it is tough to imagine how a fine person could happily march in a protest that is spurred by the rally cries of this man, well-known white supremacist leader Chris Cantwell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL, WHITE SUPREMACIST LEADER: Carrying a pistol, I go to the gym all the time. I'm trying to make myself more capable of violence.
I came pretty well-prepared for this thing today. Kel Tec P3AT, 380 ACP, Glock 19 .9 millimeter, Ruger LC-9, also .9 millimeter. And -- oh, and then there's a knife. I actually have another AK in that bag over there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: President Trump's own family under attack by the very people who say a perfect president would be a more racist Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here to spread ideas, talk, in the hopes that somebody more capable will come along and do that, somebody like Donald Trump, who does not give his daughter to a Jew.
I don't think that you could feel about race the way I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl, OK?
TRUMP: You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my, God.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I say it's going to be really tough to top, but we're up to the challenge.
QUESTION: Wait. Why?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?
QUESTION: Tough to top? I mean, someone died.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that a lot more people are going to die before we're done here, frankly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were people running up the streets, screaming and crying. There's many people on the side injured too. It's a really horrific sound.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: That's disgusting. It's disgusting.
With me now, I have Zerlina Maxwell, director of progressive programming SiriusXM, former director of progressive media of the Clinton campaign, CNN political commentator Doug Heye, former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, and Derek Green, a city councilman at large for the city of Philadelphia and a graduate of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
So, welcome to all of you.
And, Zerlina, let me just turn to you.
Watching that, someone sent me that VICE video, first thing this morning, I saw it. It just -- it still -- it makes you ill. How do you feel about that? How do you feel about what we heard from the president and the fact that he has no regrets today?
ZERLINA MAXWELL, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR OF PROGRESSIVE MEDIA: I'm really sad. This is a sad moment for the country, and I think not surprising, though, because Donald Trump essentially stoked a lot of this vitriol and hatred through the course of his campaign.
I said last year he normalized racism. He made it OK to come outside in public without anything on your face and to proudly say, blood and soil, and to call for the extermination of Jews and people of color.
And so we have to be really clear that what the president did yesterday is take the side of neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, which is anti-American, it's unacceptable. And I think that Republicans in this moment have a very -- this is a really big moral test for them to say Donald Trump's name, not just call out white supremacy and racism.
That's the easy layup, which Donald Trump missed, but also say that what Donald Trump said is unacceptable.
Doug Heye, to you.
You wanted to get on, I understand, because you e-mailed the White House and said, stop sending me your talking points.
DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
You know, in an alternative universe, Brooke, I would be disagreeing with everything that Zerlina said and telling you exactly why she's wrong. The reality is, I agree with a lot of what she said, and it really makes me sad, not just as a Republican, but as an American.
I can tell you, as a Republican, somebody who really cares about the party and the policies that it prescribes, it's not just what President Trump said, as awful as that was. I look at the comments that were made about Barack and Michelle Obama time and time again. Maybe it wasn't to the level of the president, but if it's a state party treasurer, if it's a congressional staffer, if it's a member of Congress making a stupid joke about Kenya, it makes people think that racism is endemic to the Republican Party, that it's some kind of a native flora.
And so if I'm talking to friends of mine who are African-American or Hispanic or gay and lesbian, and they ask me about why should they support the Republican Party, I can't answer them about policy, because all they hear is that my party doesn't like. And if that's the message that they hear, the Republican Party will die.
BALDWIN: On the Republican Party, here's the point on a lot of these, you know, members of senior leadership. They are denouncing racism, which, frankly, is easy to do.
It's a political layup, as Zerlina just said. The only one who's actually called out the president is John McCain, who said: "There is no moral equivalency between racists and Americans standing up to defy hate and bigotry. The president of the United States should say so."
Derek, do you think they should? Do you think they need to go that far?
DEREK GREEN, PHILADELPHIA CITY COUNCILMAN-AT-LARGE: Absolutely, Brooke.
And first and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to the Heyer family, who was funeralized today, as well as to Lieutenant Cullen and Trooper Bates, who were also lost in this tragic event.
But I agree with Doug, and I commend Doug for making a statement, as well as Senator McCain. More Republican leaders need to state the facts, what Donald Trump said was repugnant to the presidency, to our country, and we need more Republican leaders to do that, and it's a shame.
As a graduate of the University of Virginia, I'm really pained by what happened at my campus, at Charlottesville. And the fact that you would have a UVA graduate, Richard Spencer, do this type of event at the University of Virginia, where we all took an honor pledge, is really repugnant and deplorable.
And we need to make sure that we call out racism and neo-Nazism and white supremacy for what it is. And I wish more Republican leaders would do what Doug just did and call out the president for his statements and backtracking.
BALDWIN: We heard the man, Zerlina, in the video talking about -- and I wrote down the quote, something -- he said something like, "Watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl," being the president's daughter, who is Jewish.
MAXWELL: Right. Yes.
BALDWIN: As is the son-in-law, as is Gary Cohn, Steve Mnuchin, two men high, high up in the administration who stood behind the president yesterday.
Do you -- what do you think they need to do to send a message to the president?
MAXWELL: Yes. I think that the fact that we're even at 3:00 in the afternoon the following day, after what we saw yesterday, nearly 24 hours later, and no one has resigned, condemning it -- saying that you are uncomfortable or saying that the president went rogue is not enough in this moment.
You have to take a stand against this. This is going to get worse. This, what we saw in Charlottesville, is just the tipping point, because now racists have been emboldened by this president. David Duke said thank you for what you said, Mr. President.
BALDWIN: We have seen the responses. Yes.
MAXWELL: And so now it's a moment in which, if you are opposed to the Klan, you need to say so, and you have to do more than just condemn it with words. You need to get up and walk out of the White House.
BALDWIN: Doug, do you agree? Should Gary Cohn walk out of the White House?
HEYE: Well, I really don't know, to be honest with you.
Look, these are obviously very troubling times within the White House. And people should be troubled. I also think there are a lot of good, smart people at the White House, and we need good, smart people at the White House and the other agencies and departments to make sure that we can get Donald Trump the best advice that he can.
He's obviously not following it. But I don't know, just looking in my own heart, if I think everybody resigning en masse, while it's a grand statement, I don't know if that's the best thing for the country right now.
BALDWIN: Derek, do you agree? The risk of other -- these people resigning, Trump would -- we don't know who the president would replace them with.
GREEN: Well, I disagree.
I was taught at a very young age that actions speak louder than words. And we have had a lot of words from the president. We have had, you know, Congressman Ryan and others make statements, but not really condemning the president, and so we need action. We need members...
BALDWIN: From whom?
GREEN: ... his Cabinet to action.
From the members of the Cabinet, from Dr. Ben Carson, Elaine Chao, Jared Kushner -- the fact that Jared Kushner, who is a man of Jewish faith, and this white nationalist, Cantwell, made those horrific statements about Jared Kushner and about...
BALDWIN: What's Jared Kushner supposed to do? He married the president's daughter.
GREEN: Absolutely. But he should take some action.
Just like in the earlier segment that you played, you had a family call out their son for becoming a neo-Nazi.
GREEN: We need to take action. And we cannot sit in a situation where people whisper behind closed doors or talk about the things they say is negative, but won't say it publicly or take the next step in taking action.
BALDWIN: I appreciate the conversation. We're going to leave it.
Derek and Doug and Zerlina, thank you. Thank you very much.
HEYE: Thank you.
GREEN: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Still ahead here, we remember the young woman, Heather Heyer. Let's say her name, Heather Heyer, who lost her life in Charlottesville standing up to racism and hate. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Heather, when my children ask me who I admire most, I will tell them you, my baby cousin, who was larger than life and too good for this world.
You are in a better place now, where there is no pain, no sadness, no hunger, and no hate. You might not be with us anymore, but you will always be in our hearts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Hear the powerful message from Heather Heyer's mother and father when the crowd today on the downtown mall in Charlottesville gathered to celebrate Heather's life.