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Interview With Arizona Senator Jeff Flake; Texas Massacre Investigation; Trump in China; Massive Republican Election Losses Referendum on Trump?; Texas Church Shooting: With So Many Red Flags, How Did Killer Get His Gun?. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 8, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So, you're really telling me that was only one year ago? THE LEAD starts right now.

Exactly one year after Donald Trump's historic election, Trumpism was trounced at the voting booth, as the brand-new polls you have not yet seen are about to hit right now on THE LEAD showing a new wave of negative public reactions to this president.

And warning signs. He beat his ex-wife, abused his former stepson, then a toddler, punched a dog, escaped a mental health facility, and still was able to legally purchase a semiautomatic rifle. So, why were the blaring alarm bells ignored and why were procedures not followed before the Texas church massacre?

Plus: President Trump paging Democrats, telling them that rich folks like him would take a bath under his new tax plan, as we find out how much the middle class could pay.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to start with breaking news in the politics lead today.

A new CNN poll gauging what Americans think of President Trump, with today marking, of course, one year since this nation voted him into the White House.

This progress report comes one day after many voters showed up on Election Day to cast an anti-Trump vote, according to exit polls, giving Democrats sweeping wins in several key races. And it comes with the president on his longest international trip yet, stopping today in China for high-stakes meetings.

We're going to go live to Beijing ahead this hour.

But first let's turn to the factors here at home that have many Americans losing confidence in President Trump.

We're going to go to CNN political director David Chalian. He's at the magic wall.

David, start with the big picture. How does the public think President Trump is doing in office?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, here is the big picture headline, Jake, to these brand-new poll numbers.

A year after his election, Donald Trump is not wearing very well with the American public. We have asked people, has your confidence in him after watching his statements and actions increased or decreased? Nearly two-thirds of Americans in this poll, Jake, say that their confidence in Trump has decreased since he has taken office.

Take a look at how that splits up by party. Nearly a quarter of Republicans have decreased confidence, two-thirds of independents and nearly all the Democrats. We also asked, how is he doing on keeping up with his promises?

Forty percent of Americans say, yes, he's doing a good job keeping his campaign promises, but a majority, 55 percent, say he's not. And take a look how this has changed since we checked in on the 100-day mark in April. In April, at his 100-day mark, 48 percent of Americans said he was doing a good job keeping promises. Now that's down to 40 percent.

You mentioned the foreign trip that the president's on. One of the other questions we asked, Jake, is, do leaders of other countries respect President Trump? We asked those that took this survey that question. More than two-thirds of Americans say no; 24 percent, only a quarter of Americans, say yes.

And when we asked that back in April, Jake, that was 36 percent. This has gone down 12 points since April and that's largely driven by Republicans. There is one big silver lining, and that is the economy. Take a look; 68 percent of Americans say that economic conditions today are good, and, Jake, go back to January.

Look at that, number has been climbing all throughout Trump's presidency. The economy is his silver lining. In fact, when we ask about his approval on the economy, of every issue we tested, he does best on the economy; 45 percent approve, 46 percent disapprove.

You may say those don't look like great numbers, but an even split right now, those are pretty good numbers for President Trump.

One final question for you. Looking ahead to 2020, I know it's a little early, Jake. We just had 2017 election. Does Donald Trump deserve reelection? Nearly two-thirds of Americans say he does not. That's the assessment a year after he was elected president, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. David Chalian, thank you so much.

I want to bring in my panel to talk about where the Republican Party goes from here.

Neera Tanden, let's start with you. OK, those are bad poll numbers for the president, no question about

it, but the outlook on the economy is stunningly good, especially considering the last decade and where the public has been. Is that not something that President Trump will be able or will potentially be able to convince the American people, hey, you like the economy, that's because of me?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I think actually what you saw last night is that people are actually able to put things in two different boxes. They don't like Trump's presidency.

They do like the economy. They don't -- you know, they're not -- that's not what people are voting on. They're voting on and what's driving the vote is a repudiation of Donald Trump and his policies. He didn't just run even yesterday. Democrats came out across the country to vote against him and his policies and the kind of policies he's put forward, which have been incredibly divisive and one of the reasons why I think the American people are rejecting him.


TAPPER: There was an anniversary tweet that the president did today, David Urban: "Congratulations to all of the deplorables and the millions of people who gave us a massive 304-227 Electoral College landslide victory."

I guess it's not so unusual for politicians to focus on the positive, and not the negative, even if the positive was a year ago and the negative is right now.

But does President Trump need to address some of these issues that we see in this polling or the election results that we saw last night?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, I disagree with Neera. Shocking. That this is, you know, some...

TANDEN: That's the first time.

URBAN: I know.

That this is somehow a holistic indictment of the president.

TAPPER: The election or the poll numbers?

URBAN: Well, both actually. The poll numbers are a snapshot in time. The election last night was -- it was a wide swathe. It was in some pretty narrow states that didn't vote for the president. I think Virginia not surprising and New Jersey not surprising.

New York City not surprising. So, I'm not so sure where the big shock is there. I do think that, you know, people vote their pocketbooks. I think you have -- these numbers on the economy are proof that what's going on in terms of cutting regulations, the president's policies on getting government out of business sector, allowing business to flourish, $5 trillion in stock market value creation, those things are great.

People vote their pocketbooks during elections. And I think when they come time -- when he's on the ballot, I think he will get reelected.

TAPPER: Amanda, take a listen to Virginia Republican Congressman Scott Taylor, former Navy SEAL, talking to CNN about the Democrats' big win in his home, Commonwealth of Virginia.


REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: I think last night was a referendum. I don't think there is any way that you can look at it in a different way, to be honest with you, and be intellectually consistent.


TAPPER: A referendum about President Trump is what he was saying. He's a conservative, he's a former Navy SEAL. He's not a Trump basher. We have him on the show all the time. He's not just someone who just attacks President Trump.

Are you concerned as a Republican, as conservative who wants to see Republicans do well in 2018 and 2020?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Any good political operative is going to look at the results from last night and see, is there a Trump protest vote? If there is, I believe there is, how big is it?

This is the first time that Donald Trump has suffered any kind of political disciplining factor for his style, his substance, because until last night, everything, if it works, we're winning, life is great. Continue, continue, continue on the Trump train.

Well, now there are some brakes that have to be applied to that train. So my question is, how will Donald Trump react as the head of the party? A sensible Republican leader would give people permission to distance themselves in competitive races, but judging from Trump's tweet at Ed Gillespie last night, where he essentially knifed him for not running on the Trump agenda hard enough, is not a good sign of things to come politically from Donald Trump.

URBAN: I will say just as a quick follow-up on that, look, Neera, the Democrats did what they needed to do. They turned out big numbers. The grassroots, while the party may be completely discombobulated at the top, and a little internal knife-fight, at the base, the grassroots, very organized, lots of turnout. Did a very good job, not just there, but in local races across the United States in the grassroots.

TANDEN: In suburban counties that we have lost in the past. Democrats picked up seats against Republicans.

URBAN: They have done a good job. They were very well organized. And I will admit that. I think, to Amanda's point, Ed Gillespie lost in a primary to a Trump acolyte. And I think Republicans weren't that excited about turning out. It's the turnout. You have to turn out your base. You have to turn out your voters. Republicans didn't do that in Virginia.


CARPENTER: Corey did effectively move the race to the right. He moved Gillespie to the right quite a bit.

TAPPER: Corey Stewart, the Bannon-esque Republican candidate.


TANDEN: Let's just say, Steve Bannon this weekend claimed credit for Ed Gillespie's campaign. He said, this is the kind of campaign that I would run. And he endorsed Ed Gillespie.

The idea that he wasn't running a Trump-like campaign is ridiculous. He ran on divisive -- he ran gangs and racial issues. He heavily racialized the race. And I think what happened is, a lot of people were disgusted by that and came out to vote against it.

CARPENTER: I think it actually turned out Democratic votes. It backfired.

TANDEN: It did. It turned out college-educated white voters against Trump.


TAPPER: ABC News was reporting that Bannon had said that he offered to Gillespie twice to campaign with him and was furious when Gillespie turned him down. Would that have changed anything, do you think?

URBAN: Listen, again, it may have driven voter turnout in Northern Virginia, but it may have also driven turnout in the more rural parts, right?


TAPPER: In the Southwest.

URBAN: That's the problem Ed Gillespie had, right? He couldn't be too hot. He couldn't be too cold. The porridge had to be just right.


TAPPER: Let's give Amanda the last word.

CARPENTER: The speech that Steve Bannon recently gave, which I think had a lot of interesting things in it, to the California Republican Party had a great deal of Bush-bashing.

Ed Gillespie was a prominent figure in the Bush administration. I can see how that would be a conflicting message to have Bannon come in, bash the Bush legacy, which is essentially Ed Gillespie's resume. Of course he's got to turn that down.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.


He's come out publicly against President Trump, so what does Republican Senator Jeff Flake think about the Democrats' winning night last night and its impact on the future of the Republican Party? He's going to join us live next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead.

He was elected president one year ago tonight, but was President Trump also on the ballot again last night?

We wanted to take a moment to step back and take a look at the governor's race in battleground Virginia and how the Democrat, Ralph Northam, beat Republican Ed Gillespie in one of the first indications of how voters might be reacting to Mr. Trump's presidency so far.

Now, Gillespie, the Republican, he chose a strategy of trying to thread a needle. He distanced himself personally from President Trump, with whom he never personally appeared, but he accepted the president's support on Twitter and in 11th-hour robo-calls, and he campaigned with Vice President Pence.

And he pursued a TV ad campaign that embraced many of the president's positions on issues such as immigration and Confederate statues, in an apparent attempt to win over the Trump base and get them to the voting booths, running ads like this one:


[16:15:01] AD NARRATOR: MS-13 is a menace, yet Ralph Northam voted in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegals back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13.

ED GILLESPIE (R), VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I want to keep our statues up. Our history is our history and we need to teach it. Not erase it.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Now, before Election Day, before yesterday, Trump strategist Steve Bannon said, quote: I think the big lesson for Tuesday is that in Gillespie's case, Trumpism without Trump can show the way forward. If that's the case, Democrats better be very, very worried.

It was Gillespie's embrace of President Trump's agenda and his talking points that made the race close, Bannon said. Of course, the race did not really actually end up being close, as most polling suggested it would be. Gillespie lost by almost nine percentage points.

Now, when Gillespie ran for Senate in 2014, he only lost by 0.8 percent.

President Trump quickly took to Twitter last night to disown Gillespie entirely, saying, quote: Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me and what I stand for.

But many conservatives interpreted last night's election as a referendum on President Trump. Take a listen to Republican Congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia on CNN this morning.


REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: I think last night was a referendum. I don't think there is any way you can look at it in a different way to be honest with you, and be intellectually consistent.


TAPPER: So, we took a look at the numbers. And here is the thing, Gillespie actually did get his voters to the polls. In those deep red parts of Virginia, he did better than the 2013 Republican candidate for governor, Ken Cuccinelli. He did better numerically than he did in 2014 when he almost won. In fact, Ed Gillespie got more votes than any Republican candidate for governor in the history of the commonwealth of Virginia ever.

But ultimately, Democrat Ralph Northam shellacked him with the largest margin for a victory for a Democrat in Virginia since 1985, and that was partly due to the huge turnout in the suburbs for the Democrat.

In Loudoun County, a suburban county right outside Washington, D.C., in 2014, Gillespie almost tied his Democratic opponent in that county. But this time, the Democrat took 60 percent of the vote, better than Hillary Clinton's share of the vote in 2016 and she won Virginia. Better than the Democratic governor in 2013.

Now, granted it was a tough crowd for Gillespie, this state. One- third of the voter who's showed up were at least partly motivated by voting against Donald Trump, but in addition to that, it seems what Gillespie did to rally his supporters successfully apparently also so turned off the suburban voter who's had once been willing to listen to him. His fate was sealed.

Joining me now is outgoing Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona who has been a frequent critic of President Trump.

Senator Flake, thanks so much for joining us.


TAPPER: Tell us how you think Republicans across the country should decipher last night's election results. FLAKE: I haven't had the time to analyze it that you have. We've had

a bit of a busy day here. But I do think we've seen the limits of, you know, how we can drill down on the base. We've got to play addition rather than subtraction and I think that that's the message that we ought to take.

TAPPER: And you seem to be suggesting Gillespie was only focused on the base and not adding some of the swing voters, the moderate voters in the northern Virginia suburbs, for example.

FLAKE: I do think that we do better with a more inclusive message. So, I think that that is something that we can learn from last night.

TAPPER: Do you think your party is learning that from last night?

FLAKE: Well, I don't know. It's just been 24 hours or less.

So, I hope we do. I think that was the case before. I -- you know, we'll have blips. You can rile up the base and win an election here or there, but in the end, you've got to, you know, appeal to a broader electorate, to suburbanites and others. And I don't think we are right now, at least not the administration.

TAPPER: You told me last month that one of the reasons why you're not seeking re-election is you feared you wouldn't be able to win the primary in Arizona because of the political climate. You said you didn't think you could win because at some point, the fever's going to break but you don't think it's going to be within the next year.

FLAKE: That's right.

TAPPER: Do you think last night was a suggestion that the fever is breaking to any sort of degree?

FLAKE: Well, that doesn't suggest that it's breaking in a primary. I think the Republican primary electorate is very much behind the president. I'm just suggesting that that may not be enough to win general elections around. It may determine the type of candidate we get out of a primary, but it doesn't mean that you can win a general election.

TAPPER: Thirty-nine percent of Virginians in exit polls said that health care was their top issue. And obviously -- well, I don't know if you know this, actually, more than 70 percent of voter who said health care was their top issue, they went for the Democrat.

Do you think that might change the Republican calculation when it comes to the push to repeal and replace Obamacare or at least in terms of what they might replace it with?

FLAKE: Well, I know that in Arizona, a lot of people are hurting because of Obamacare, certainly those who are trying to buy on the exchange.

[16:20:06] That has to be balanced by those who have benefitted from the Medicaid expansion. I think every state will have to make calculations there. So, it calls for certainly a well thought out response but I do think that we're better off by repealing and replacing.

The politics of how that plays into the election coming up, we'll see. I don't know. I haven't looked at those numbers with regard to Virginia, but I certainly will.

TAPPER: Last night, President Trump tweeted, quote, Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for. Don't forget, Republicans won four out of four House seats and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win even bigger than before.

How many of your Republican colleagues do you think find that convincing?

FLAKE: Well, I do think that a lot of us recognize that we're going to have to appeal to a broader electorate. Looking at demographics moving ahead, you've got to, you know, you've got to move on elections based on, you know, the population. I just don't know how you can have a hardcore message on so many areas like on immigration and appeal to a broader electorate. I just don't know how you do that.

TAPPER: Do you think we're going to start to see more Republican office holders like yourself speaking out and distancing themselves from President Trump as we approach the midterm elections?

FLAKE: I do. I do. I think on certain issues in particular, on immigration, for example, and on trade issues and things, I do think that you'll see some distance there.

TAPPER: Senator Flake, stick around. We've got lots more to discuss, including the new bill that you just introduced in the wake of that horrific shooting in Texas.

Coming up, we're going to also look at some of the missed signals, the red flags about the shooter, from accusations of rape to domestic and animal abuse. Now, what the shooter's school records might reveal. Stick around.


[16:26:10] TAPPER: We're back with our national lead.

Just minutes ago, Vice President Pence arrived in Texas to grieve with the Sutherland Springs community over Sunday's senseless shootings as more red flags continue to pop up from the killer's past. And they seemed to be there at almost every turn. So how was he possibly able to legally get a gun and how can this be prevented in the future?


TAPPER (voice-over): Animal cruelty, insubordination, attempts to carry out death threats, these are just some of the warning signs on record. Countless dots now beginning to connect far too late.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Each of them are sort of like a canary in a coal mine, sort of warning you that this is someone who is not stopping.

TAPPER: Devin Kelley's troubling paper trail shows a man that grew more violent over time. High school disciplinary records obtained by CNN show seven suspensions, including drug offenses and skipping class, but by 2012 he was facing assault charges and military court and he had escape from a behavioral health clinic where he was being held ahead of trial.

When officers found Kelley after that escape, they recorded that he, quote, suffered mental disorders and had been caught, quote, sneaking firearms on to the Air Force base where he was stationed. All this after making death threats against his chain of command.

Texas law prevents the sales of guns to anyone within voluntary psychiatric hospitalization, the question is, was Kelley's visit involuntary as it seems to be? Was it then reported to the national background check system as required?

KAYYEM: Stories like his have existed for, you know, all of mankind. And the difference today is the capacity to kill so many people so quickly with the accessible weaponry we have in the United States.

TAPPER: In military court, Kelley pleaded guilty to aggravated assault against his wife and young stepson, actions so violent, sources say, the toddler suffered a fractured skull.

A history of domestic violence is yet another red flag that would prevent a gun purchase under current law. But it must be reported to the FBI to make any difference.

Kelley's assault conviction resulted in him being discharged from the military for bad conduct, but the Air Force now admits it failed to relay Kelley's conviction to law enforcement.

KAYYEM: Throughout his life, he essentially kept pushing the envelope and he never seemed to face the consequences that he need to face for being the kind of person that he was.

TAPPER: Other red flags, in 2013, Kelley was investigated for rape and sexual assault but he was never charged. A year later, animal abuse charges came after neighbors told police Kelley was seen punching his pet Husky.

KAYYEM: What we see is the siloing of that information. So, the high school knew, the military knew, the mother-in-law and the wife knew, but none of them are looking at this with a, you know, in totality.

TAPPER: And finally, just days before the massacre, the pastor of this church told the sheriff he felt uneasy about the presence of Kelley.

JOE TACKITT, WILSON COUNTY SHERIFF: He just said he didn't think he was a good person and he just didn't want him around his church.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: Back with me is Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. Senator, you've introduced legislation that would prohibit anyone convicted of domestic violence in civilian or military courts from acquiring a firearm.

Now, reporting these types of convictions is already required by the military. The air force admits this was their failure. So tell me why this legislation is necessary.

FLAKE: Well, the military courts simply don't always list or categorize domestic assault, they simply have assault. And it's noted, I believe, most of the time, maybe all of the time, we don't know. I've talked to the FBI a couple of times today trying to find out how many cases have actually gone to the NICS system or some of the other databases.

Only one since 2007, a case of domestic violence was submitted to the NICS system from the Department of Defense and the FBI tells us they can't tell us. They don't know or track how many other cases are submitted to the NCIC or the III system. The law states that they're supposed to go to NICS, and so we're trying to find out why they aren't.