Return to Transcripts main page
ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
CNN Sources: Trump Has No Regrets Amid Charlottesville Outrage; Former CIA Chief: Trump's Beliefs Are A "National Disgrace"; Cities Bracing For Rallies: White Nationalists Emboldened After Trump Remarks. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired August 16, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:06] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: OutFront next, no apology, no regrets. President Trump defiant in the face of growing criticism at home and around the world. Can the damage be undone?
Plus, undercover with white supremacists, a former FBI agent on how the clan and neo-Nazis are celebrating President Trump's words.
And we're going to take you to the next possible battleground over a confederate statue. Could that city become another Charlottesville?
Let's go OutFront.
Good evening everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan in for Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, no regrets, President Trump defiant and not apologizing in the wake of his extraordinary defense of white supremacists saying both sides share blame for the deadly violence in Charlottesville.
Tonight, the president increasingly isolated. The widespread condemnation growing louder. CEOs one after the other abandoning the president. The exit is so dramatic that two of Trump's business advisor counsels are disbanding.
World leaders from Germany, Ireland, the U.K., even Iran coming out against Trump's words. Both Presidents Bush issued a statement calling for the rejection of bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all its forms.
Former CIA director, John Brennan writing to our Wolf Blitzer this, a blistering criticism saying, quote, Mr. Trump's words, and the beliefs they reflect, are a national disgrace.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a frequent Trump critic telling him this, "Mr. President, I encourage you to try to bring us together as a nation after this horrific event in Charlottesville. Your words are dividing Americans, not healing them."
But the Republican leaders in Congress, Senator Mitch McConnell, Speaker Ryan, going nowhere near that. Senator Mitch McConnell is said to be privately upset at Trump but publicly has only issued a statement saying, in part this. "We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred. There are no good neo-Nazis."
Let's be clear on this. There's nothing heroic about calling neo- Nazis in 2017 in the United States of America. But that is as far as leaders like McConnell and Speaker Ryan would go. Ryan tweeting this, "White supremacy is repulsive. There can be no moral ambiguity."
So there you have that.
Jeff Zeleny is OutFront tonight with much more on all of this. Jeff, you're hearing more about the president's mindset and what the staff is thinking. What are they thinking?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening Kate. The president is defiant. I talked to two people close to the White House who visited Trump Tower today, and that was the word that they used, defiant in the face of all this. And they also said that no regret, the president does not regret this.
Now, that is not that surprising. President Trump regrets a little. At least he admits regretting very little. But I can tell you, Kate, you know, this was something that has shaken the staff at the White House, particularly the CEOs fleeing the business council. The White House being forced today to abandon ship.
That was one of the president's prides and joy. He loves to having CEOs into the White House. Now, they did not want to be associated with him.
So, the question here is -- going forward, how long will people stay silent? Silence from Ivanka Trump, from Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, others who are central to this here and it is becoming, you know, more difficult for them to stay silent. There are people, outside groups calling on them to react here.
We do not believe that they will but going forward, this is also complicating the president's agenda. I talked to someone who's in charge of helping to set that agenda and enact it on Capitol Hill and he said, yes, this is going to make it much more difficult.
So at the end of the day here, yes, this will probably blow over. No, there will not be a lot of mass resignations, at least we don't believe. But it is one more thing that makes it more difficult for the president to get people on board with him.
Chief of Staff John Kelly, I'm told, he urged staff members to keep their heads down, focus on their work. As for his future, I asked one official if they thought John Kelly would stick around and they said, God, I hope so. Kate?
BOLDUAN: Well, that's a (INAUDIBLE) statement. Blow over for the staff maybe. Blow over for this country, we'll see. Thanks Jeff, great to see you.
OutFront tonight, David Gergen who served as an advisor to four presidents, John Avlon is here, editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast, and Perry Bacon, as senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight. Guys, great to have you here.
John, the president defiant and, quote, without regret. What does that mean?
JOHN AVLON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, it means that he's reverting to type. It's kind of a denial for Donald Trump, right? It's a -- whatever criticism comes in, he's going to say they must be wrong, I must be right, I live in a Trump-centric universe.
Here's the thing. All his key allies and the people he admires most, you know, Donald Trump likes strong men, he admires businessmen. He just got rejected by basically every CEO who agreed to serve as an advisory counsel. And he tried to present it as a firing but what it really was is you just quit, you can't quit, I'll fire you first.
[19:05:06] The Joint Chiefs, military leaders are coming out releasing statements condemning hate and racism. Obviously not directly criticizing the president but implicitly it could not be clearer.
And to the larger point, you know, when the president of the United States refuses to call out neo-Nazi hate, not only that is a national disgrace, that is an indelible mark on the office as long as he holds it. So they could hope this will blow over and they'll be able to distract with some of their news cycle. But they're playing in deeper waters they never have done before in history as well as contemporaries are going to incredibly unkind for a long time.
BOLDUAN: And history is a big part of this. I mean, David, two White House officials told Jim Acosta they don't believe that the president's comments are going to cause any long-term damage. Nothing disqualifying, one of them said. They decided it is all OK. Does that make it all OK?
DAVID GERGEN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. No. Who could have imagined we have reached the point where the CEOs of this country have more of a social conscience than the president of the United States?
I think that's unprecedented. I can't remember a moment. You know, after all, they're supposed to be all about capitalism and making money.
BOLDUAN: And rejecting the CEO president.
GERGEN: Yes. But in this case, you know, Kate, this could be a two counsels and one of them today got on the phone and they basically reached a consensus that they should disband. I think it was a smart and wise move.
And as John said -- and the president issued a statement saying I disbanded them. It wasn't his idea. He didn't want to disband them. He was facing, you know, a revolt from people who should have the closest to him.
And they, you know, they are ripple effecting this. I don't think he's going to clean this up, but there are ripple effects going to his legislative agenda, renewing questions about his fitness to serve. A lot of his emotional and mental health we're going to hear more about that in days ahead.
BOLDUAN: Perry, Vice President Mike Pence, he's been traveling, he didn't comment on the president's statement that there were good people on both sides. He didn't comment on that today when asked. Here is what he did say, though. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy. And the president has been clear on this tragedy, and so have I. I spoke at length about this heart- breaking situation on Sunday night in Columbia. And I stand with the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Should anyone expect anything different from a vice president, Perry?
PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: I don't think in this case you are, and I guess the simple reason is the politics of this are Donald Trump may have done something a lot of people disagree with. It is seems obviously a mistake of the president.
He right now is about an 80% approval rating among Republicans, and so I think that is the answer and the explanation fully for why Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are not condemning him by name because they -- he's the leader of the party, he's popular in the party right now. I assumed they want to (INAUDIBLE) in the party and I think that explains why they're behaving the way they are.
Like they are trying to kind of dance this way where they criticize Trump's remarks and disavow them, but not criticize Trump himself and that's a very hard line to draw.
BOLDUAN: Well, some aren't drawing a line, John. I mean, you've got some key Republicans, Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham calling the president out by name. Those are not a surprise. Those are people who have done that. Those are people who are critics of the president.
But Republicans leaders have not -- I mean, I think it's important to say things that are not hard to do is denounce racism.
AVLON: Yes. Or denounce Nazis.
BOLDUAN: Anti-Semitism, neo-Nazis (INAUDIBLE). Things that seem to be harder to do for Republicans though right now is call out the president when he isn't denouncing it really himself. Are they afraid of something?
AVLON: Look, I think they're trying to walk a line in which there's not a lot of room for subtly, which is your point. Look, they're trying to see if they could salvage something resembling a legislative agenda.
BOLDUAN: If there's a line, this is an obvious line.
AVLON: Yes. This is a party --
BOLDUAN: If there's ever been a line, welcome to it. I'm dancing on it right now.
AVLON: Yes. And there is a line and this should be an (INAUDIBLE) crisis for the party of Lincoln. If they want to hold up that legacy at any point, this is a fundamental contradiction to all those alleged values. And at some point, you got to say, you know what, we have to call it out because party asks a lot, principle should ask more.
BOLDUAN: Or am I being wrong? Am I wrong, David? Does it matter if they call the president out by name or not?
GERGEN: I think it matters, sure it matters. They need to be on record. I think John has a good point again.
It has been the party of Lincoln historically. It does not want to become the party of Trump which is (INAUDIBLE) Lincoln. And you know, kind of quality, it could. And I think they think it is a real danger for the party.
It does seem to be that there's a role that the Republican leaders could play, which is quieter but very important. We now know the generals can't control him. You know, he's got four generals around.
[19:10:03] You know, one of them, his chief of staff has his head in his hands, what the hell happened yesterday. He's got another one, his NSC director who's being chased down, you know, they're trying to push him out from the alt-right. He's got two others trying to clean up what he's been saying about North Korea.
BOLDUAN: Let's (INAUDIBLE) the idea that a 70-year-old man can be or even should be, we should think about babies act.
GERGEN: It is a point of personal privilege (INAUDIBLE) maybe we'd change a little bit here and there. But I think now we know that the generals can't control him. I do think that the Republican Party ought to seriously consider sending a delegation to see him quietly at night for dinner and say, Mr. President, unless you clean up your act, unless you become more civilized and more emphatic and more outreach, we are going to separate out from you and go our own way under legislative agenda.
We're going to take over from here. We can't work with you on this sort of thing. It would make it impossible. We can't do this when the public is so heavy against you.
BOLDUAN: Was the public ever so at war with the president?
GERGEN: Yes, it happened with Nixon. Yes, the Republican delegation should make a big point with him towards he end of his regime. And one of the reasons he left. I don't think we're at that point, but I do think we're at a point where he has to deal with this. He's got to deal with his inner demons, whatever they are. AVLON: That's very significant coming from David, right? Because he obviously served in the Nixon White House and recalls that time. What he's calling for basically is a civil intervention well ahead of any consultation about, you know, impeachment proceedings and threats. But simply an intervention that says, please, can you try to live up to the mantle of the office. And if you can't, we're going to go our own way.
It's really significant as you say.
BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this, Perry, where are the two most prominent people of the Jewish faith around the -- in the president's life? And I'm talking about his daughter and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Where are they right now, other than obviously they say they're in Vermont. But where are they?
BACON: What I can tell is they're -- where are they is they want to make anonymous comments to journalists and say we disavow this and we don't like it but not do anything in public. I mean, I'm glad Jeff has that reporting that throughout the day, we heard Gary Cohn, Ivanka Trump, Jared, they don't like these remarks. You know, according to sources close to them, if they want to do something, they can do something. Otherwise they have preferred in the stuff talking to reporters anonymously.
I would say the one thing I think is (INAUDIBLE) in terms of the Republican Party, John Kasich has been out there talking. I do think the Trump's behavior this weekend increases the chances of a lot of Republicans deciding we need someone down the line to run as our candidate in 2020 who we feel comfortable voting for. And I think John Kasich is racing himself to be that person. And you can imagine a Ben Sasse being that person.
I do think Trump's behavior is moving forward, almost inevitably some kind of serious party challenge among Republicans who just do not want to vote for him a second time.
BOLDUAN: Primary challenge for a sitting president. We are a ways away from that. Who knows what could happen before then.
Great to see you guys. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.
OutFront next, undercover with neo-Nazis. My next guest is an FBI agent who infiltrated the hate group. Why he says they are cheering tonight.
Plus, President Trump supporters, do they agree that both sides are to blame for Charlottesville.
And Steve Bannon in a new interview says that he wants the Democrats to be talking about racism every day.
[19:17:00] BOLDUAN: New tonight, cities across the United States bracing for alt-right rallies including Boston and San Francisco where there are at least two protest plan. These demonstrations come as white supremacists say they now feel embolden by the president's recent rant.
OutFront with me now, Michael German, he's a former FBI special agent who went undercover with white supremacist groups twice. Sara Sidner, who's been covering this issue extensively. And Mark Preston, CNN senior political analyst.
Michael, we all have heard and reheard and listened more than once to the president and what he said. But what is the message when you listen to the president's words? What is the message that these white supremacist groups hear?
MICHAEL GERMAN, WENT UNDERCOVER WITH WHITE SUPREMACIST GROUPS: So this is a community that's used to hearing dog whistles, right. They're used to hearing subtle messages to suggest that their policy is being implemented by people who are in charge of the government. So I think what's different here is they're getting it directly.
BOLDUAN: These are not dog whistles.
GERMAN: Right. This is very loud and clear that I don't think they believe that Donald Trump is a white supremacist and is one of them, but they believe he is helping them implement policies that support their world view, whether they're anti-immigrant policies, law enforcement and immigration enforcement policies that target Latino communities, the Muslim ban, these are things that would support their agenda.
So they want to -- what they're hearing is, I am adopting your world view that our white culture that is the under attack and we have to restore that culture.
BOLDUAN: Actually, from that press conference, I do want to play one moment that you've said sticks out to you for years. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? Do you like him? OK, good. Are we going to take down the statue because he was a major slave owner?
Now, are we going to take down his statue. So you know what, it's fine. You're changing history. You're changing culture.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: What is it about that comment that grabs you so much.
GERMAN: So that's long (INAUDIBLE) whistle term, western culture, that we're not -- we don't hate anybody. We just want to defend western culture, but what they mean is western European white culture.
And -- so when he uses that phrasing of culture and that we want to protect our culture, we're afraid that our culture is under threat from whatever force, multi-culture and what the Nazis would say is Jewish or international influences. It is a message to them that, yes, this is about our white people being victims in this case and our right to defend ourselves violently if necessary.
BOLDUAN: And this is what's fascinating, Sara, as you found there is real similarities and a connection here. You spoke recently with a white nationalist, Jared Taylor. And he talked about culture, he talked about changing culture in your conversation. Listen to this, folks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JARED TAYLOR, WHITE NATIONALIST: I'm afraid to do nothing. They will be reduced to minority and once their culture is a sideshow in which they themselves will be considered a despised group who did everything bad that all other groups suffer from.
[19:20:07] SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So you have experienced what I have experienced or what people of my race experienced?
TAYLOR: I doubt you personally have much experience.
SIDNER: You'd be surprised.
TAYLOR: It's not inconceivable that there could be a white privilege tax that all white people have to pay 15% more income.
SIDNER: In this country? Come on.
TAYLOR: Or in the future, I think yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Is it striking to you that the language is similar here?
SIDNER: Not at all. I think that's what they have been looking for and that's what they have been celebrating. I mean, we've looked at some of these white supremacy groups sort of the most extreme most hateful groups. And what they're saying is, the president just thanked us. He, quote, loves us and he's basically given us a thumb's up that he wants the culture the same way we want the culture, which is a segregated culture where it is whites only. All of the rest of us that have any other kind of other culture or any mix of human being they can move out.
I have heard from them you should go back to your country. They are referring to Africa not knowing that my mother is British, Caucasian, blue-eyed blond woman. And I'm mixed with an African-American who's from this country. I'm as much American as anyone is who was born in this country or who has immigrated to this country. But that is not how they see me or anyone else that doesn't look exactly like them.
So it is a real message. And I think the thing that bothers me the most and what we're talking about here is, everyone is trying to make this equivalency between, oh well, that the left is as crazy and doing all these violent things. Yes, the anti-fascists have been violent, and that should be condemned no matter, no difference from someone else being violent.
However, when the president sounds like he is supporting this white supremacist attitude or this white supremacist ideology, they're getting that message loud and clear. It doesn't matter what message everybody else is getting. They're getting it and what they're saying is, he wants us to grow and they are recruiting. They are recruiting on college campuses and getting a lot more people to join them.
BOLDUAN: And let's be honest. There's no moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and anyone else. I think that's kind of a basic point.
Mark, does the president not understand what he's saying or does he understand but just not care?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Kate, i posed this question to a person who works very closely with Donald Trump, who knows him very well. And I said, listen, is he a racist? Does he believe in racist ideology or is he is just a narcissist, that he's so thin-skinned that he's somebody who is incapable of expressing fault or saying sorry.
The person paused and then said, you know what, I really don't know the answer to that. So I don't think necessarily any of us can say we know what the answer is. We can look at his actions. We can condemn them for what they are and they were terrible.
But I will say this. You absolutely really understand somebody and you learn a lot about somebody when they are in a situation of crisis. Donald Trump going down to that lobby of Trump Tower yesterday, giving that news conference, that was a situation of crisis for him and we saw how he acted.
BOLDUAN: So many people, thankfully, don't have experience with these white hate groups. With neo-Nazi groups, you have. During your time undercover, I do just wonder what surprised you about these groups and the people that they attract, Michael?
GERMAN: I think what surprised me most was that it wasn't necessarily the skin head with the tattoos and the club who was dangerous, but somebody who wore a suit and went to work in an office, and was college educated and much more capable as a threat than some drunk skin head. So, you know, one of the things that I think is interesting about this movement is that they see policies implemented that support their world view, you know.
And it is so nice to hear the CEOs and the Joint Chiefs come out and denounce these remarks and denounce racism. But corporate board rooms are overwhelmingly white, right? The officer core in the U.S. military is overwhelmingly white. You know, that we have to make sure that it's not just words that we're actually implementing policies that increase inclusion and diversity.
SIDNER: Can I speak on something Michael just said I thought that was really, really important.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely. SIDNER: Instead of hoods and burning crosses, you're seeing khakis and tiki torches. That is literally what you're seeing. You're seeing a new version of the KKK coming out and looking like they're preppy college students. That is a huge worry.
And those are the people they're trying to recruit on college campuses. They've been going and putting flyers out and trying to target young people. What are they trying to do? They're trying to grow their base.
[19:55:07] Get young minds involved because they knew that at some point their ideologies were sort of dying out. That they weren't accepted by society and that fewer and fewer people wanted to act and talk like them. Now they're looking for young people to try to build that base.
BOLDUAN: Well, talking about that base or the base for the president, Mark. Yes, this is cynical, no doubt, but would the president really lose support from these groups if that is what he cares about? If he would call them out more forcefully, who else are they going to support?
PRESTON: Well, I don't think there is anyone else they could support out there that it certainly that is running for president. Donald Trump was very careful in how he chose his words yesterday. And I think we have to be very -- we have to focus in on that. He -- in his mind, he denounced them but he didn't denounce them. I mean, the rest of us heard what he said and what he said --
BOLDUAN: He said two things, right, Mark? I mean, he said i denounce these groups but everyone -- yes, keep going.
PRESTON: -- when he was forced to clarify what he's saying, he said, of course, you know, I did denounce these things.
What they're seeing, though, and what the neo-Nazis or the skin heads or KKK is seeing right now, is that they're seeing Donald Trump as somebody who is validating their message right now. And to the point that they're not carrying big, big torches, but they're now carrying tiki torches, that they're recruiting on college campuses, that is what should be concerning to all of us right now.
BOLDUAN: Guys, great to see you. Concerning, absolutely. Thanks very, very much.
OutFront next, Steve Bannon on the record about how he thinks the race conversation helps Donald Trump now and going forward.
And we called 55 Republicans to talk about Trump's remarks. Only one of them said yes, and he has strong words for the president. We'll be right back.
[19:30:36] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Breaking news: Steve Bannon speaking out amid outrage over President Trump's remarks on Charlottesville, telling the "American Prospect" magazine this about Democrats. I read the quote: I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.
So, what do voters who supported President Trump last year think about his remarks?
Brynn Gingras is OUTFRONT.
EDDIE PLATT, TRUMP SUPPORTER: In every action, there is a reaction.
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trump supporter Eddie Platt agrees with the president. Both sides are to blame for the deadly unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia.
PLATT: There is no clear thing on who was the first provocation.
GINGRAS: His view is not unique in Paris, Kentucky, just 14 miles outside of Lexington.
JEROME HARNEY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Two wrongs don't make a right. You got the left and the right in the country. Well, I don't -- whatever happened to the middle?
MIKE SEXTON, TRUMP SUPPORTER: There was fault on both sides, but --
GINGRAS (on camera): But both sides, right? One side, he calls the alt left.
GINGRAS: Those people are fighting for equality. The alt-right fighting for white supremacy to take over the country as a white-only America.
SEXTON: They have a right to protest the white supremacists.
GINGRAS: Even with carrying torches and shields. What do you think about that?
SEXTON: Whatever they carry. I mean, they have a right to protest.
KIMBERLY HOWARD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: How can you hold one person responsible for all the fighting? It's what people -- I think it's just what people believe in and that's what they're taught.
GINGRAS (voice-over): Here in Bourbon County, voters overwhelmingly supported Trump in last year's election. They are concerned about racism in this country, but they don't think the president is at fault for any of the divisiveness.
HARNEY: Some of the best friends I've got are black people. I served on the city commissioner for 17 years, the black people here elected me. GINGRAS (on camera): But you say -- you say some of the people -- closest friends are black people, right? But there are people in Virginia marching saying that black people can't replace them.
HARNEY: The ones that can't get their thirsts quench are making the black people look bad. Those white people that put swastika on their arm and marched are (INAUDIBLE), they're making a white man look bad.
HOWARD: There's going -- can turn into a war between the blacks and the whites and
GINGRAS: You think a civil war could happen.
HOWARD: I mean, honestly, I thought that.
GINGRAS (voice-over): As for white supremacy --
(on camera): Do you think the president has given them more of a voice?
SEXTON: I don't think so. I don't think so. I think the president is in a tough position.
HARNEY: If they put people back to work, that alone will solve a lot of problems. Poverty breeds a lot of trouble.
PLATT: He needs to stand up and call these people out by what they are. He needs to say this is not going to be tolerated in the United States.
GINGRAS: Is there anything the president could do where you draw the line?
SEXTON: You know, again, if he would -- if he would come in and say, hey, I'm not letting you protest. I'm not letting you -- you white supremacists, this is not going to happen anymore. Or I'm going to not let you people that are protesting for equality, I'm not letting that happen anymore. What would that do for our rights as the United States in this country? This is a melting pot. This is the United States of America. We all need to come together.
GINGRAS: Two of the people we talked to are registered Democrats. All of them are business owners. Jerome Harney, he's owned his barbershop here on Main Street for more than 60 years. He wears a tie to work every single day.
These people say they love their country, and that's why they respect the presidency. But seven months into this administration, they say they see some problems, Kate, but not enough to sway their support.
BOLDUAN: Fascinating look. Brynn, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.
OUTFRONT with me now, former special adviser to President Obama, Van Jones, and the host of "The Ben Ferguson Show", Ben Ferguson.
Van, what do you make of what you heard right there?
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that people are struggling to try to make sense of a very confusing situation. I do agree that people do have the right to protest and they also -- we have the right to try to make judgments and discernments about what kinds of protests actually push us closer towards democracy and towards inclusion and toward the dream of our founders and Dr. King and what protests pull us away from that.
[19:35:02] And I think that obviously Nazis -- I mean, the idea we have to debate whether Nazis and white supremacists and Klan members are protesting for things that we are in favor of in America is kind of shocking.
BOLDUAN: Let me ask you real quick about this, also, Van, because it is just coming in. This interview that Steve Bannon gave and the quote is, I want to get your take, he says: The longer they talk about identity politics, Democrats, I got them. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on racism and we go with economic nationalism, we crush the Democrats.
Is he right?
JONES: Listen, I think that this is something that liberals and Democrats should take very, very seriously. There is a way that we can sometimes get tricked into drawing our circle too small both in terms of constituency and concern. So, we're only concerned about those groups that have been historically marginalized because of race, religion or sexuality, and we sometimes seem like we're crouching down over a broken status quo, only concerned about those folks.
We're passionately concerned about those folks, but we're also concerned about the people who are newly marginalized in this economy, including white male workers. If we don't -- if we're not clear about that and a job agenda for everybody, we are setting ourselves up for another -- for round two of what happened in 2016.
You know, Ben, also in this interview with Steve Bannon, he called the far right a collection of clowns. He dismissed them as irrelevant.
BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think a lot of them are irrelevant. I think the majority of Republicans or conservatives or people that voted for Donald Trump do not consider any of these people anywhere close to them and that's one of the reasons why --
BOLDUAN: Right. But the guy that run Breitbart, that coming from him, that's pretty rich.
FERGUSON: Well, I don't think it's rich. I think if you look at Steve Bannon, there is a lot of people that tried to turn him into a white nationalists and they overplayed their hand. I think he thinks they're a bunch of kooks and crazies, and people try to turn him into by playing, and a lot of people did this during the campaign, the politics of racism were played, where people were trying to imply that the president was a racist or Steve Bannon was the core of the white supremacists and the alt-right movement, and they overplayed that.
And I think what you heard him say there is what he truly believes. The majority of conservatives think the alt-right is a bunch of racist, bigot, inbred idiots, and they don't look at them as being part of the conservative movement. I don't think there should be surprised that Steve Bannon said it that way.
BOLDUAN: Van, are you surprised?
JONES: Well, I just want to say that I don't think that people have overplayed their hand with regard to Bannon. You know, he's been, you know, championing this book, I'm not going to mention the name of this book, but it is a book that is an atrocious racist text denounced by everybody around the world and he quotes from it quite often. So, Bannon has put himself in a situation where reasonable people can conclude he has way too much sympathy for white nationalism and for racism in addition to his economic populism.
And so, I think that's -- again, we're going to have to start getting nuanced here. Everybody just wants to run and starts screaming. There are aspects of the Trump program, the economic program when it comes to infrastructure, when it comes to, you know, trying to get Americans working again, when it comes to frankly standing up to the elite in Washington, D.C., that I think are positive. The problem is it's always marbled with a bunch of toxic crap that people come out and try to defend.
And I think we're in a situation where the pain of the people in red states and blue states, there is common pain. There is no common purpose yet. And the president is making us more divided. We should be turning to each other, not on each other. The president is siding with the people who are trying to divide us.
If he wants us to come together there are responsible conservatives, including on the screen with me tonight who would be great allies in that, but the president has not been an ally yet.
BOLDUAN: Ben, on the issue of race and racism, it is something that former Republican presidents have very successfully tackled head-on. You don't have to look too far back. I mean, here's Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: If I were speaking to them instead of to you, I would say to them, you are the ones who are out of step with our society. You are the ones who willfully violate the meaning of the dream that is America. And this country, because of what it stands for, will not stand for your conduct.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: When someone has so recently endorsed Nazism, it is inconceivable that such a person can legitimately aspire to leadership in a leadership role in a free society.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: You don't hear Reagan and Bush saying there are two sides of the issue, Ben. It's not hard. Why is it hard for the president?
[19:40:00] FERGUSON: I think, one, it's because he doesn't understand the politics necessarily of what you have to do as the president. I think he's more of a guy that has the water cooler conversation of, man, did you see that big fight that happened this weekend? Got, that got ugly.
That's what a lot of Americans talked like after they saw it because they watched it on TV and he comes out and he says -- hold on.
FERGUSON: I know, but let me finish my point because it is important. I think what you understand when you're a politician, especially when you're the president, is there are certain things that you have to come out and always get them right.
On an issue of racism, that's a perfect example. It's very simple. Do you love your kids? You answer quickly yes. Do you love your wife? Yes.
Is it wrong to hit a woman? It's totally wrong to hit a woman. Is racism wrong? Yes. The KKK wrong. Those are certain simple things that politicians understand that you walk out there and it's very clear in your messaging and it should be a short clear message. It should not be a long conversation. It should be condemning the KKK, the white nationalists, the neo-Nazis.
Whereas, I think a lot of Americans are OK with having a bigger conversation. But they're not OK with seeing a leader that might have that same conversation they're having around the water cooler. And I think that's something the president has to get right moving forward.
Otherwise, these types of issues are going to take away from the other things he wants to accomplish, which is have a great economy, have better infrastructure. No one is paying attention to infrastructure, no one is paying attention to lower unemployment numbers right now, which are amazing, and a lot of Americans are back at work right now, which is great for all Americans.
But on these simple issues, I think somebody has really got to get in the air and say, Mr. President, there's certain moments where you have to have a conversation that a leader has, instead of a conversation the average guy might have at work the next morning.
BOLDUAN: Yes, on these issues, on these issues, like when you say those things, do you hit a woman? No. Do you like the KKK? No. That's not just a politician who should have a simple answer, that's a human that should have the simple answer, I feel like.
FERGUSON: I'm with you there. I'm just saying when he comes out, there is a lot of people at work that watch these protests, whether that or the Dallas shooting that happened and there are a lot people that sit there and they see these conversations and they have more blunt conversations about it.
BOLDUAN: Someone died. Someone died. This wasn't someone got a fat lip. Someone died.
FERGUSON: Kate, I'm not disagreeing with your point there. I'm not disagreeing with your point there. I agree with you.
But sometimes we try to make things so divisive. There is a reality right now in this country that the extreme left and the extreme right and take this out of someone dying. I'm saying in general all over the country, there are people that want a race war right now, and I think we have to be able to have a conversation about the responsibility of elected officials and people locally and the police and everything else to make sure we don't play into the hands of the white nationalists or the KKK or the hands into the extreme left that genuinely want a big fight in the streets. They want a war and we have to have a real conversation about that.
BOLDUAN: Van, if the president going forward gets the answer right, does that bring comfort to you?
JONES: Listen, I, you know, tried. I think, as much as anybody on the left to try to keep an open mind and open heart and open eyes for any aspects of this presidency that might be remotely praise-worthy. It gets harder every day.
And sometimes, you know, when you have another hostage video when the people looks like he's been frog marched out there to read some statement somebody else wrote, that's not going to work. I want to hear the president be as passionate about the loss of a human life as he is about the loss of the statue. I mean, he was passionate about the loss of a statue. He was more passionate about the loss of a statue than the loss of a human life, you know, this week. That kind of stuff I think is awful.
You know, Ben is I think making a good effort to try to balance stuff that's really, really tough to balance here. What I would say this is -- you're starting to see now I think a false equivalence being generalized that you have violent people on the left, violent people on the right and we kind of have to deal with violence overall. I do think that there are some elements on the left that are very troubling and very disturbing. But I do not see the level of organized, you know, terrorism, basically, that I saw in that city.
I talked to people on the ground in that city who said that they were literally because -- you know, all we saw was the fistfights and the flash points.
JONES: But when that wasn't going on, you had armed Nazis going around intimidating people, shoving people, threatening people, saying they are going to lynch people to -- I mean, for hours and hours and hours. I haven't seen anything like that yet on the left. And I think we've got to make sure to distinguish between a terrorist movement, a white supremacist terrorist movement, which I'm seeing now building on the right and some of these -- some people on the left with whom we have some concerns. We've got to be concerned about them, but they are not organizing on the level you're seeing with this dirty right movement.
BOLDUAN: Yes, and just to be clear, guys, you know, stopped being about statues the moment people started walking around with swastikas.
[19:45:06] I think that could be pretty much agreed universally.
Great to see you. Thank you very much. Let's continue this conversation.
BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT next, few Republican members of Congress aren't eager to be TV tonight. One of them who is, is calling out President Trump. He's my guest.
And another major city bracing itself tonight for a battle over a Confederate monument. Are hate groups using that fight as a recruiting tool?
BOLDUAN: Republican leaders tonight quick to denounce racism. One thing that is not hard to do, criticize neo-Nazis. What has been harder for many -- standing up to President Trump on this.
One Republican who did, who has, Congressman Paul Mitchell of Michigan, tweeting this at President Trump: You can't be a very fine person and be a white supremacist, @POTUS.
And Congressman Mitchell is with me right now.
I should point out, we called 55 Republicans to come on tonight and discuss this, and for whatever their reasons, Congressman Mitchell is the only one who agreed to calm on. They're always welcome.
Congressman, especially welcome, because that's a lot of phone calls to make to get someone on TV. I appreciate it, sir.
REP. PAUL MITCHELL (R), MICHIGAN: Well, it's good to be with you, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Thank you.
Was it difficult for you to send that tweet at the president?
MITCHELL: Well, I think the tweet was intended for a broader audience, which is the American people.
[19:50:00] I don't believe that you can be a fine person and a white supremacist. They're mutually exclusive, can't use the in the same line.
And in doing that, I wanted to remind the president that we need to be careful of how we express things. The KKK, neo-Nazis are fundamentally opposed to what our Constitution is about, which is equality of all men.
So, it's pretty simple to call them out. But more importantly, be careful what we say that we don't say in some manner there could be fine people there. No, I'm sorry, there's not. Then we can move on what we do to go forward, and we need to go forward.
BOLDUAN: But going forward -- let's start back there, though.
BOLDUAN: The president said there were many fine people, though. The president said that. No one said to him.
BOLDUAN: That's what he said, Congressman.
MITCHELL: Well, I think -- I've heard the argument that there were other fine people there that weren't associated with the neo-Nazis. And as I express to some folks in the last day or so, when you see people with swastikas, you know, yelling neo Nazi or Nazi slogans, fine people, as I put, some people get out of dodge, they leave. They got out of the area. You don't stick around to see what happens.
So, unfortunately, I don't buy the argument that somehow that fine people got caught up in this. I'm not buying it, and we need to call it for what it is. And then move on with policy issues to make a difference because I think -- here's the fundamental thing. We've got anarchists. I would call it -- we talk about alt-left and alt-right and all the various leftists. And we've got anarchists.
Whatever flavor they have that week, that month, whatever they're trying to do, and we've allowed that, because we haven't moved this country forward. We haven't done things to help people that have been marginalized. Your earlier guests talked about it. Infrastructure leads to jobs.
BOLDUAN: To get forward -- right. But to move forward, like you want to do, you have to get past where the president continues to remain. He -- this was the third try of trying to clean it up, and this is what he said on this third try. It was not -- it does not seen as you've made clear, hard for you to send this tweet at the president, and more broadly, and more widely.
Why haven't your leaders, like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, done the same thing?
MITCHELL: Well, I think Paul Ryan's statement on this issue is pretty clear. And I put the statement out, I did because that's the feeling I had at the point in time that I saw the press conference and then saw the transcripts. I stopped (ph) -- we watched through (ph) transcripts, and said, OK, I've got to make some comment on this. We have a responsibility to lead.
And the next thing we have a responsibility in Congress is to work on policies. Not wait and see what happens.
BOLDUAN: Right. But is that lead -- is that leading saying, racism is bad? Isn't leading calling it out for the person who is actually saying it on that day, the president?
MITCHELL: Well, with all due respect, the president didn't say -- advocate racism. So, let's be clear here.
BOLDUAN: He created a moral -- he offered up a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and the people that were only there to counterprotest neo-Nazis.
MITCHELL: And I can't climb into the president's mind nor did I write his statement, I'm not sure he had a written statement on it.
But I think that we made very clear --
MITCHELL: -- in the House that there are things that we're going move forward on that will make a difference in this country. And we've done a number of them already. We'll continue working on that when we get back. I certainly -- I mean, I intend to spend these last few weeks in the district talking about those issues.
I felt I had to come out and join you to talk about, no, this is wrong.
MITCHELL: But we have to recognize we -- violence by any group or any set of individuals to put forth their political opinion is destructive in our country, is destructive to our nation, and we need to stop. We need to focus on policies.
People can disagree without throwing punches, using clubs, and when you get to that, it's destructive. We need to call it for what it is.
You know, I serve in Congress with people across the aisle. I don't agree with them. Some of them are my good friends. Even when we have heated debates, I certainly wouldn't go across the aisle and punch them. Let's be adults here and do -- make a difference. That's why I went to Congress.
BOLDUAN: Republican Congressman Paul Mitchell, maybe new to it, maybe new to politics, because you're a former businessman, but you're calling it straight. Thank you for coming on, sir.
MITCHELL: Thank you. Have a good day.
BOLDUAN: Thank you.
OUTFRONT for us next: this memorial to Confederate soldiers is dividing people. Is Florida the next flash point for hate groups?
[19:56:53] BOLDUAN: New tonight, the growing effort to bring down Confederate monuments across the country. The latest battle, Tampa, Florida, where the city is now changing course on its decision to remove a statue there.
Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside this old courthouse building in downtown Tampa, Florida, there's a memorial to the Confederate soldiers of Hillsborough County. Last month, county commissioners voted to move it to a local cemetery. But commissioners voted today that $140,000 in private funds must be raised to pay for the move. If that doesn't happen in the next 30 days, the statue stays.
County commissioner Les Miller has led the charge to move the monument, and after the deadly protests in Charlottesville, he worries neo Nazis and white nationalists are looking for next city to target.
LES MILLER, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY COMMISSIONER: Did everything you want to have to come and fight war. They did not come to have a peaceful moment. They came there to do what they need to do.
LAVANDERA (on camera): And you worry that could end up here?
MILLER: I worry that could end up here.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Tampa is one of many cities across the country grappling with Confederate symbols displayed on public grounds. In Louisville, Kentucky, the statue of a Confederate officer was vandalized. In Durham, North Carolina, protesters toppled a confederate statue. At least four people were arrested.
And in Texas, protests around statues and monuments in Dallas, as well as.
(on camera): The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there are some 1,500 Confederate symbols across the country, mostly in the South, and that includes more than 700 statues and monuments like this one.
(voice-over): Ray Arcenal (ph) is a University of South Florida Civil War historian. He says hate groups are using the push to take down monuments to recruit new members.
(on camera): You think there's a recruitment elements to that what these Nazi groups and white supremacists are doing in these kinds of battles?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They live on publicity. So, we've seen that many times. But what we haven't seen is a group where they felt the president of the United States was at least somewhat behind them. The whole Trump revolution, if you can call it that, has really given them new life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my family there.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): David McAllister leads a group called Save Southern Heritage, which is trying to keep the Tampa monument in place. He blames left wing groups for trying to erase history, but also denounces the neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups.
(on camera): But the fact of the matter is, is that in this particular issue, they sympathize with what you want to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, they don't really. No, no, they actually don't. They have their own agenda, which is not our agenda. Our agenda is the mainstream agenda of cherishing American history. What we're afraid of is the people that are on the extreme left, the antifa, the Black Lives Matter, Maoists, that sort of organizations. They're the people that are pulling down monuments.
LAVANDERA: And after the change today here in Tampa, Kate, only about $12,000 of the $140,000 needed to move the statue has been donated and raised so far. The other thing officials here are keeping close tabs on is whether or not neo Nazi groups and white nationalists have really become kind of intrigued by the statue. So far, no evidence of that -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: All right. We'll watch it. Ed, great to see you. Thanks.
And thanks for joining us.
"AC360" starts now.