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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Trump Snubs Journalist Event Celebrating First Amendment; Trump on Tester: "I Know Things About Him, He'd Never Be Re-elected"; Comedian Who Trump Wants to Play Him Speaks Out; Trump: A Lot of Unhappy People if I'm Impeached; Journalists Celebrate and Defend First Amendment in D.C. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired April 28, 2018 - 20:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:16] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow.
Coming up, the political comedy routine of the year, the event that might have launched Donald Trump on the path to the presidency. Seriously! Washington gathers to celebrate journalism.
BERMAN: A breakout comedian prepares to skewer those journalists and, no doubt, the President himself. We saw him moments ago ducking the event, but can he duck the punchlines?
All right. Welcome back to our special live coverage of tonight's White House Correspondents' Dinner. I'm John Berman alongside Poppy Harlow, back for real.
So comedian Michelle Wolf, she will soon take the stage. She is the headline performer tonight. The President will not be in the room for the roast.
HARLOW: That was a very, very clear and political decision for him and his team. Second year in the row he is skipping it, going to what he calls real America to be with real people at this rally he just held in Michigan.
Ninety minutes. The President spoke for 90 minutes, supported -- surrounded, rather, by some of his biggest supporters. Nevertheless, the so-called nerd prom -- as they call it here in Washington, D.C. -- must go on.
BERMAN: That's because when reporters dress up and try to look nice, they can't stop for anything. You have to go on through your --
HARLOW: Stripes and checkers.
BERMAN: I know.
HARLOW: As Phil Mudd noted. I think he looks very nice.
BERMAN: Phil Mudd was so upset about it, he had to leave.
(LAUGHTER) BERMAN: Phil Mudd was so offended, you know.
HARLOW: He threw his pen and left.
BERMAN: He threw his pen and left.
HARLOW: To go get watered-down drinks at nerd prom.
First, let's check in with our White House Correspondent Boris Sanchez. He is at the President's rally.
And the President just wrapped up 90 minutes full of some major headlines and a threat to a Democratic senator.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy and John. Hard to keep up with all the news that the President made in the past hour and a half.
He kicked off the event by saying that he was invited to a different event in Washington, D.C., not Washington Township where we just spent the past hour and a half, but said that he would prefer to be here among his supporters than to be insulted by phony people and then having to smile during it.
The President took aim at some of his favorite targets including the press, obviously, and Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, the governor of California, Jerry Brown. And then also took aim at Montana Senator Jon Tester, saying that tester was throwing things out there about Ronny Jackson, his nominee to be the Secretary of the V.A.
The President saying, and I quote, I could say things, too, about Tester. And if I said them, he'd never be elected again.
The crowd ate it all up, including one part in which the President was discussing conversations with North Korea about denuclearization. Listen to what the crowd was chanting at the President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: Nobel! Nobel! Nobel! Nobel! Nobel! Nobel! Nobel! Nobel! Nobel!
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's very nice. Thank you. That's very nice. Nobel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: And the President, hearing from the crowd suggesting that he should win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to bring North Korea and South Korea back to the table. Though the President did acknowledge that it was too soon to celebrate, that we would still have to see how things played out in that regard.
One final sort of strange note, Poppy and John, the President, at one point, saying that Vladimir Putin planted Natalia Veselnitskaya, that attorney that was in Trump Tower during a meeting with Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr. and others.
He suggested that Putin planted her and made her say that she was a Kremlin informant this weekend, in part to sow chaos within the United States and potentially, to create more questions about the President moving forward -- John and Poppy.
BERMAN: All right. Boris Sanchez for us Washington Township, Michigan.
Back to Washington, D.C. where we are and where the political glitterati are tonight to be sure.
HARLOW: Oh, I like that.
BERMAN: The White House Correspondents' Dinner.
HARLOW: Among them.
BERMAN: CNN's Senior Media Correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," on the red carpet at the event --
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I have to fact check you, John. I don't think I'm glittering at all.
BERMAN: Actually, you are. Whole other subject right there.
Brian, what do we expect tonight?
STELTER: Well, you know, you were hearing from the President just now at his rally, saying the reporters here at the Correspondents' Dinner hate your guts. He was talking to his voters saying, they hate your guts. That is obviously not true.
And I think that one of the messages we're hearing inside the dinner and we will hear in the next couple of hours is about what brings everybody together. Everybody, once a free and fair and vibrant press. Everybody relies on the First Amendment whether that's to support the President or argue with him or seek out information about him.
Obviously, the message about the First Amendment has become a greater theme here at this dinner for the past couple of years because of the President's decision to skip the dinner.
[21:05:02] You have to go back to Reagan in 1981. That's the last time a president chose not to be here, and that was after his assassination attempt. Reagan was recovering so he decided to call instead.
STELTER: He decided to participate in the dinner by phone. Of course, two years in a row, Trump going in a different direction. In my mind, it is another example of polarization. That he wants to wage a war on the people who cover him every day.
But I got to be honest, people in the ballroom, people here at the dinner, they're not thinking so much about President Trump and his absence. Instead, they're thinking about the great journalism and talking about the value of the press in this very polarized world.
HARLOW: Yes, it's interesting. We're going to hear from Michelle Wolf, the headliner, the comedian.
HARLOW: And as she's been writing her jokes for tonight, Brian, she just told CBS News that it is, in her words, cowardly of the President not to be there.
HARLOW: And she'd rather make fun of someone to their face than not to their face. He's not going to be in the room.
STELTER: Yes, that's a really interesting point. A lot of Trump's aides, his allies, are going to be in the room. That's a change from last year.
STELTER: I was talking with Sarah Sanders earlier, Kellyanne Conway last night. A lot of Trump's aides are out on the festival circuit this weekend and showing up at all these White House Correspondents' parties.
Look, there is a reality here that this weekend of parties and events can sometimes seem excessive. But at its heart and its core, it is about recognizing the role of media in a democracy.
And, you know, that's why Sarah Sanders is on stage. She's going to be a part of the event tonight. I hope to keep an eye on her face as Michelle Wolf weighs in and makes some jokes later.
BERMAN: Brian Stelter on the red carpet. We will let you go party now excessively.
STELTER: Oh, we'll see about that.
BERMAN: Thank you so much for being with us.
HARLOW: A lot of headlines out of the President's 90-minute speech at this rally in Washington Township, Michigan on North Korea, on that Russian lawyer. We'll get to all of those in just a moment.
BERMAN: Plus, President Trump wants this comedian to play him on "Saturday Night Live." Darrell Hammond joins us to talk about that.
And the comedian we just mentioned, Michelle Wolf, getting ready to roast politicians and the media alike. I've been watching her stuff. She is really funny.
HARLOW: She's great.
BERMAN: I think we're in for something special and unexpected tonight. Stick around. This is CNN special live coverage.
[21:10:41] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, I know things about Tester that I could say too.
TRUMP: And if I said them, he'd never be elected again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: President Trump in Washington Township, Michigan seeming to threaten Senator Jon Tester of Montana, the Democrat of the Veteran Affairs Committee who, this week, released information that he had given -- unverified information -- about Dr. Ronny Jackson who was, at one point, the nominee to be Veterans Affairs Secretary.
BERMAN: And the President has been going after Tester very hard just after -- after Dr. Jackson withdrew his nomination.
HARLOW: Says he won't win.
BERMAN: We're joined by some new members of our august panel. Carrie Sheffield, conservative commentator, national editor of Accuracy in Media.
There are two sides to this, right? Look, there is a question about whether Jon Tester should have released the information he should have released. But now, there is this question about whether the President of the United States should be going in front of a large rally and saying, I know things about Jon Tester that I could tell you.
CARRIE SHEFFIELD, NATIONAL EDITOR, ACCURACY IN MEDIA: Sure, but I think that's him thinking in frustration.
So if you look at the record of confirmation, this -- in modern presidential history, this president has seen the fewest number of nominees who have been approved.
We're talking 51 percent through his first year versus 60, 70, 80 percent for other presidents. So I think there's a basic lack of trust, a basic lack of decorum, a basic lack --
HARLOW: Hold on. Doesn't that come down, fundamentally, to the White House not vetting this nominee first? JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
SHEFFIELD: Well, here is the question. Did the Barack Obama White House not properly vet --
HARLOW: No, no, no. That --
SHEFFIELD: -- this nominee.
HARLOW: No, no, no. My --
SHEFFIELD: No, no. But what I'm saying, if there was indeed a major, massive, possibly criminal behavior by this physician, why didn't the Barack Obama White House discover this previously and why didn't Jon Tester flag that at that moment? This --
HARLOW: It's just not --
SHEFFIELD: I just --
HARLOW: -- not --
SHEFFIELD: I just --
HARLOW: It's not the previous administration's job to vet the current administration's nominee.
SHEFFIELD: Sure. But why --
HARLOW: In any --
SHEFFIELD: Why didn't --
HARLOW: In any --
SHEFFIELD: But -- sure.
HARLOW: -- realm of reality.
SHEFFIELD: But Senator Tester, why did not he step up? If he knew this information, how long was he sitting on this information? And so I think it's --
WALSH: We have no evidence he was sitting on it at all. I mean, our reporters are starting to get this information from something like 20 sources.
People continue to come forward. We don't have names yet, and that troubles me. We should have names on the record soon or not if it's not true.
But to put this on Barack Obama? My God, Carrie, that is just ridiculous.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I also want to point out, this talking point about how there are too few Trump nominees getting through is just bogus.
I mean, you have more than half a dozen of cabinet members who have been accused of using taxpayer money to, like, do extravagant office redecorations and private jet flights. You have lots of other scandals throughout this administration.
If anything, there's too little -- you know, if anything, this Senate is pushing through nominees too quickly rather than too slowly. It's not these, you know, immigrants who need extreme vetting. It's cabinet members, right?
WALSH: And his judges --
RAMPELL: And this is a prime example of that.
SHEFFIELD: I think the level, again --
WALSH: And his judges are being approved at a record rate after Barack Obama's judges were blocked, blocked, blocked.
WALSH: So this is ridiculous.
SHEFFIELD: Well, you can call it a talking point if you want, but the reality is that the results that these people who have been able to get through is remarkable. And that's why the President --
RAMPELL: Scott Pruitt?
SHEFFIELD: No -- absolutely.
RAMPELL: I mean?
SHEFFIELD: In terms of the regulatory rollback --
RAMPELL: Mick Mulvaney.
SHEFFIELD: You see the "Wall Street Journal's" reporting --
RAMPELL: Who are all these --
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Nikki Haley.
SHEFFIELD: -- the billions of economic --
BRINKLEY: Should I continue?
SHEFFIELD: -- growth that will be --
RAMPELL: OK. So --
SHEFFIELD: -- brought to pass by the --
BERMAN: Let me --
SHEFFIELD: -- rollback in regulatory policies (ph).
LAUREN BURKE, WRITER, NATIONAL NEWSPAPER PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION: You lost the point, though, on it.
BERMAN: Let me ask this. We're also --
SHEFFIELD: I did not.
RAMPELL: It's fantastic.
BERMAN: We're also joined tonight by CNN Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley in the panel right now.
Doug, again, back to the question of the President threatening Jon Tester. I have -- I know things about Jon Tester.
BERMAN: I know that presidents, dating back, you know, to our -- well, not our first president because George Washington was really nice.
BERMAN: But every president after that basically has very sharp elbows. Although I don't specifically recall a president essentially saying, I know things about this guy.
BRINKLEY: Not in a speech like that. If you listen to the Nixon tapes, it's all sorts of that information but it's done in a --
BERMAN: But that's an interesting comparison.
BRINKLEY: Right, it's done in a subterranean way. I think the -- we all need to recognize that Admiral Jackson's a great American. He had great service.
He was, you know, beloved by George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, but he got caught up in the maw. He became debris in the super highway of our news culture today.
[21:14:53] The White House didn't vet him properly. Donald Trump threw him on Congress. And then I think Senator Tester got ahead of himself doing media appearances, particularly with Anderson Cooper when he called him the candy man, which seemed to me a little bit of an Exter knife put in that wasn't helpful.
So Trump didn't vet properly. Tester, I think, went after him in an ad hominem way prematurely.
SHEFFIELD: And I think that speaks to the level of bias that this White House is having to deal with, the level of people who go after it in an ad hominem way.
That's why my alma mater, the Harvard Kennedy School, found that 90 percent of press coverage of this president has been negative. So you want to talk about the press -- the President skipping this dinner --
HARLOW: That was in the first month.
HARLOW: You're talking about the study looking into what it's like in the first 100 days of the presidency.
SHEFFIELD: Well, I would imagine that it's probably even worse, if not comparable. Wait, are you saying that you think it's been better?
HARLOW: I'm not saying anything other than the facts of --
SHEFFIELD: Because I don't think so.
HARLOW: You're pointing to a study about the first 100 days.
HARLOW: Paris Dennard, as a big supporter of the President, where do you think this lands with his, now, as John brought up, central question of threatening Tester, I know things about you?
PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think that Mr. Brinkley was right on the -- was exactly right when he talked about how Senator Tester went after him and calling him the candy man and these ad hominem attacks. And I think it plays to a bigger picture, a bigger point, of how we are in Washington, D.C.
Whether or not we think that Admiral Jackson should -- have the qualifications to be V.A., that's what the Senate confirmation hearing would have been about.
But there are political questions to say, if you -- if someone told you something that you were not able to substantiate or they wouldn't even put it on the record with their name -- like you said, your reporters don't have the actual people, the -- given this information, we hope they'd be named as a source -- then why would you go out to the press and say these information without it being vetted and without it being actually proven to be true?
And then the Secret Service comes out and said --
WALSH: Well, there are like 20. There are like 20 accusers, so there's a lot to --
SHEFFIELD: But they're not on the record --
BERMAN: Can I just go back?
(CROSSTALK) BERMAN: Can I just go back real quick? I'm sorry, not to be a broken record here. I just want to go back to the original question because sometimes in this presidency, things pass, you know, and we just lose sight of them. The President, tonight, threatened a senator.
BERMAN: I think --
BERMAN: I think that's what happened.
BERMAN: When he says, I know things about you, what should you do?
SHEFFIELD: Or do you think he was being satirical, perhaps, to say, look, I could throw out innuendo --
SHEFFIELD: -- I could be irresponsible in the same way --
RAMPELL: He said, I know things.
HARLOW: He said, I know.
RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: But he said I know things about Tester that if I said them, he wouldn't win.
HARLOW: Hold on guys.
WILSON: This wasn't an elliptical --
HARLOW: Hold on.
WILSON: This wasn't an elliptical threat.
HARLOW: One at a time. One at a time. And to John's point --
HARLOW: And you're right, it is something that shouldn't just be passed by.
WALSH: It should be the headline.
HARLOW: This was, to all of us who witnessed it live here --
BERMAN: He says --
HARLOW: -- describes the President. BERMAN: Let me just read the quote. Leave me the dramatic reading.
Well, I know things about Tester that I could say too. And if I said them, he'd never get elected again.
WILSON: Right, that wasn't elliptical.
WILSON: That wasn't a veiled threat.
WALSH: That was plenty --
WILSON: That was a threat that was put out on the table directly. And, look, this President's style is built out of the New York page six, "New York Post" tabloid media, you know, fronting and beefing with people. And unfortunately, for a lot of Washington, that was a sort of alien thing for a while.
But the way Donald Trump approached the campaign and approaches the presidency and approaches all these things, the elbows have gotten a lot sharper in this town. And they're going to get sharper still because, look, you don't threaten a U.S. senator. Even a senator on the opposite party, in the minority party, can cause you an enormous amount of friction.
WILSON: An enormous amount of trouble.
HARLOW: And also --
WALSH: Can I say something about Jon Tester?
BERMAN: Quickly, go ahead, Joan.
WALSH: Jon Tester is a family farmer. He's a moderate Democrat. He's popular in his state. He lost a finger famously, I think, in a farming accident.
BERMAN: In a farming accident.
WALSH: I doubt very much Barack -- ah, Barack Obama -- Donald Trump knows something terrible about him. I think he's also lying as well as acting like a thug in making a threat.
BERMAN: I'm sorry, Lauren. You wanted to say something?
BERMAN: Lauren, quickly, before we take a break.
BURKE: So it would be helpful, with regard to negative press coverage, if this administration could nominate people who are actually qualified for the jobs that they're being nominated for. I mean, Ben Carson has zero experience on Housing, OK?
I mean, Admiral Jackson was going to lead one of the most important agencies that we have, Veteran Affairs, and he has no experience in management. I mean, that's someone Donald Trump --
BERMAN: Hang on. We're taking a break.
BURKE: That's on Donald Trump.
BERMAN: We're taking a break. We got -- hang on.
BURKE: That is on Donald Trump.
BERMAN: Hang on. Hang on. Before we go off --
BERMAN: Before we go off on another cabinet department, we're taking a quick break. Because we have a full, full -- one more time, full -- night ahead.
As the comedian gets ready to take the stage at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, we're going to get a chance to speak to a comedian who has not only hosted this very dinner, but has also played Donald Trump.
Darrell Hammond joins us. Standby.
[21:19:23] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BERMAN: We are just a few minutes away now from Michelle Wolf, the headline --
HARLOW: Can't wait.
BERMAN: -- or the comedian who will be delivering sort of the key notes slash roast slash performance for the White House Correspondents' Dinner. If you've been watching her on HBO on her special, she is really funny.
BERMAN: And I really do think we are in for something good tonight.
One person who's had a chance to host this dinner -- he's appeared at others -- is Darrell Hammond, of course, of "Saturday Night Live." Someone who has played Bill Clinton, someone who has imitated Donald Trump.
I had a chance to talk to him about what it's like to be in the spotlight at this event.
DARRELL HAMMOND, ACTOR: Oh, I'm sorry. Is this not a good place to read?
BERMAN: You've done the president for years. Do you play him any differently now? Has it changed over time?
HAMMOND: Well, he is different. But, you know, for a while there, I wasn't doing him on stage at all. I couldn't find a way to stop one side or the other from erupting. But I'm sort of -- you know, I have a middle of the road joke I did with, you know, Michael Moore on Broadway and people like it.
BERMAN: What's that joke?
HAMMOND: I'm not going to do it.
HAMMOND: It's basically --
BERMAN: Come see it on Broadway.
I'm not angry over here.
HAMMOND: I'm not angry over here.
It's basically how confident he is in his own personal vision, the way he sort of launders reality. You know, it comes in here and when it comes out here, it's the way he wants to.
BERMAN: You know, it's interesting because James Comey -- not to get overly serious here. One of James Comey's criticisms of the President is that he's never seen him laugh. He doesn't think the President has the sense of humor. And he is nervous about people, James Comey says, who don't laugh.
HAMMOND: I noticed that. I did a dinner one night for him. And Melania was there and police -- the police commissioner was there. It was like a police athletically kind of thing. And I had a really good set but he wouldn't unload. He would not laugh.
And I noticed -- it was -- you can see him on film doing, this going.
BERMAN: Right. Yes.
[21:25:00] HAMMOND: Sort of like a reverse meow. I'm not making that a punchline. I have not seen that before. When it's mirth, it's -- that was -- that's as far as I have seen him go.
Normally, you can find a piece of candid footage of, you know, a candidate losing it and laughing hard.
BERMAN: Are you --
HAMMOND: I have never seen that with him.
BERMAN: People who don't laugh, they make you nervous?
HAMMOND: I don't understand him. I don't -- I don't know. I don't understand the guy.
BERMAN: When you look back on your experience at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, is there any memory that you look back at and say, you know, that's the thing I'll always remember?
HAMMOND: I remember making a big faux pas with President Clinton when I said Bill Clinton is the only person -- and there was almost a -- an audible gasp from the room because you don't refer to the President by his name, right?
So I said, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, the President of the United States is probably the only person in the world who could say to a woman and get away with it, you know, if you'd only take your clothes off and let me see you naked, there would be no more racism. I swear.
Pause. Nothing in the room. Pause. Look at Clinton. You see the machinery sort of whirl and click, zzt (ph). And there was like a bell and a bing. He turns to an African-American woman sitting next to him, big hug, kiss on the cheek, eruption in the room.
And I went, that's the magic, isn't' it?
BERMAN: Yes. You were waiting for that and you were keeping your fingers crossed.
HAMMOND: And seeing your Bill Clinton just go -- just enormous laughter. Enormous moment that he created. And he made a miracle out of my mistake.
BERMAN: Final question, given that the President won't be in the room there, Sarah Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, will. Kellyanne Conway, you know, senior adviser to the President, will. Any advice to them about how they should react to the humor that could very well go -- be pointed at them?
HAMMOND: Everyone tries really hard to give it up for the comedy. You try really hard, but there's certain ones, it's OK just to -- you know, yes.
You know, there's certain ones it's OK to lay back. And people understand the -- that that's the topic that's sensitive to you. But you got to try and laugh a little bit, and I'm sure they will. And they'll probably enjoy themselves.
BERMAN: Darrell Hammond, we always enjoy anytime we get to spend with you.
HAMMOND: I enjoy my time with you. BERMAN: Thanks very much. Appreciate it.
HARLOW: And he talked about the pressure, right, of having the President in the room?
BERMAN: It's a real thing. I talked to Darrell Hammond about that a couple of years ago. It's a real thing when you're making jokes about the President, and the President is sitting right there.
HARLOW: Leader of the free world is staring right back at you.
HARLOW: We'll see how Michelle Wolf handles it tonight without the President in the room. She will take the stage moments from now. Stay with us for our continuing live coverage.
[21:31:27] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: -- to keep the House because if you listen to Maxine Waters, she goes around saying, we will impeach him. We will impeach him.
Then people said, but he hasn't done anything wrong. Oh, that doesn't matter. We will impeach the President.
So I don't think we're going to have a lot of happy people if that happens. I think it's going to be a little bit tough. But she goes around and some others, we will impeach him.
It doesn't matter if you do anything right or wrong. They want to do that. We got to win the House.
And you know what? We're going to win, anyway.
TRUMP: But we're going to win the House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. President Donald Trump in Washington Township, Michigan doing something very interesting. I don't think I've really ever seen it before, campaigning on impeachment.
HARLOW: On his own impeachment.
BERMAN: Exactly. CNN Historian Douglas Brinkley is here with me right now.
Obviously, you know, you didn't have with Nixon because it -- that played out in between elections.
BERMAN: And, you know, with Bill Clinton, again, he was impeached before the midterm election there. But Donald Trump out there campaigning, you know, if you don't put Republicans back in the House, they'll impeach me.
BRINKLEY: Yes, and he's not wrong about that. I mean, if the Democrats win Congress, they'd very well move to impeach him on all sorts of different reasons. So you're seeing the opening salvo of the 2018 election right now. And it's connected to Senator Tester in the same way, trying to pick up that Senate seat up there in Montana.
BRINKLEY: He is ginning things up early.
HARLOW: But, Lauren, just speak to how remarkable that is.
HARLOW: That was a remarkable moment, right?
BURKE: Yes. I think it's particularly remarkable since the Democrats, as we said before, aren't even really talking about that. You know, the leadership are really sort --
HARLOW: Some are. Maxine Waters, he's correct in saying that.
BURKE: You're right. You're right about Maxine Waters, true, but when Al Green -- when Congressman Al Green brought up his original, you know, idea of putting impeachment on the floor, he was sort of beaten back by the leadership and told, you know, effectively, to be quite on that idea.
BURKE: He did pick up some votes on his second try, but still it's not something that's a Democratic Party priority.
BERMAN: You know, Joan Walsh, it is interesting. You know, Democratic strategists I speak to, they are all pushing their candidates to run on healthcare, right?
BERMAN: Run on the middle class that has been left behind still, they say, during the Trump administration.
BERMAN: What they essentially say is, you don't have to bring up Donald Trump. You don't have to bring up impeachment. The voters you care about, you know, they know that already.
WALSH: I covered the Virginia House of Delegates races last year, 2017, where Democrats did really well. They almost took the House of Delegates. And I didn't see anybody campaigning on impeachment.
Conor Lamb did not -- in Pennsylvania did not campaign on impeachment.
WALSH: Doug Jones did not campaign on impeachment. Democrats in the state houses have flipped forty states from red to blue. Nobody is talking about impeachment. This is -- they've learned to be very local. They've learned to be very driven by issues.
People were afraid that the tax bill would hurt them. It did not. It has not helped Republicans. But the issues are not Donald Trump.
Is there Donald Trump -- anti-Trump rage that animates the activists and that will get people out to vote? Certainly. But the leadership and the candidates themselves are really not ginning that up.
HARLOW: So, Paris Dennard, is that smart strategy for the President to do that tonight then?
DENNARD: Well, listen, the RNC has 51 staffers on there and 23 field officers in the state of Michigan. He's talking to a political crowd, a political crowd that's made up of base. Thousands of people were there. Thousands couldn't get in.
[21:35:00] And so he's talking to them because, as we know, it's about turnout. So he needs to make sure, ensure, that his base, those that are going to be voting are going to be able to turn out. So that's one --
HARLOW: But he could have said, for example, I'm the one who got you these tax cuts, and now make sure you keep Republicans in power so that we will make the tax cuts permanent for individuals.
DENNARD: You're --
HARLOW: He is not at all. He is saying, come vote for me because they are going to try to impeach me if we lose the House.
DENNARD: He is talking to a crowd of people who already believe that the tax cuts are working. He is already talking to a crowd of people who already believe in them --
RAMPELL: No, but he's talking to -- he's talking to the nation. I mean, this was a televised speech. It's not only who was in that audience, right?
SHEFFIELD: But there --
DENNARD: Right, but we're only --
SHEFFIELD: There are many -- I mean, I interviewed Congressman Espaillat from Harlem who -- he was -- that was a big part of what he was saying, impeach the President, impeach President. He was saying there are multiple members who agree with me, and this is what we need to focus on. Tom Steyer is spending lots of money on this network and elsewhere
with millions of dollars that he could be spending, you know, maybe trying to help small business owners build companies. And he's doing it on a campaign to impeach the President.
So there is absolutely a lot of progressive energy behind it. But, Joan, I think you brought up a smart point about Conor Lamb and the fact that he ran toward President Trump rather than running away from the President. And that's going to be the smart strategy as it relates to --
WALSH: I wouldn't call it running --
RAMPELL: Run towards, no.
BURKE: Run towards the middle.
WALSH: I would --
WALSH: -- call it the middle.
BURKE: It's nowhere --
WALSH: I wouldn't call it --
SHEFFIELD: If you look at his policy statements --
BURKE: -- nowhere near the majority of Democrats who are talking about impeachment.
But it is a smart move by the President to take the subject off him and place the subject off of something else and make that strategy something that would gin up the base. But, of course, like we said before, he needs swings. He doesn't need just the base.
BURKE: He's got to have the swing voters.
BERMAN: Doug, you were saying? You wanted --
BRINKLEY: Just that the national argument is going to be, when the Mueller report comes out, was there obstruction of justice?
BRINKLEY: And the Democrats are going to say that is obstruction of justice -- at least many of them. And Republicans are going to say, no, there isn't. If you have the Democrats taking over Congress, they are -- they will look into impeachment.
And so it's Donald Trump trying to gin up his base right now to say, look, you want to get rid of a Trump revolution? Be lazy and stay home.
BERMAN: But I will say, when I actually talked to Democratic strategists, they want to make this about healthcare. The Republican strategist I talked to want to make this about anything besides Donald Trump.
BERMAN: So when he is coming to visit your district or, you know, around the country right now and says, me, me, me, me, me, impeach, impeach, impeach, you know, that is counterproductive, so say the Republican strategists.
RAMPELL: Yes. But you have to bear in mind that the policy issues, the number legislative -- the only legislative -- major legislative achievement that Republicans got in the past year is tax cuts.
RAMPELL: And tax cuts are not selling the way that Republicans claimed that they would.
BERMAN: Not now.
RAMPELL: No, if you look at what happened in the special election in Pennsylvania and this --
HARLOW: They also don't kick in yet. This is part of the problem. They don't kick until --
RAMPELL: No. No, that's not true.
HARLOW: They didn't kick in in these taxes --
SHEFFIELD: Well, they have sort of kicked in --
HARLOW: -- that were just filed for this.
RAMPELL: Yes, but withholding -- they have kicked in, but people haven't noticed.
BURKE: Withholding --
SHEFFIELD: Yes, but GDP growth is up to 2.3 percent in the first quarter --
HARLOW: Well, that's a different --
SHEFFIELD: -- versus 1.7 percent.
HARLOW: That's actually a different argument.
SHEFFIELD: If you're starting --
RAMPELL: No, it's a completely different argument.
SHEFFIELD: You are starting to see the growth this quarter, the first quarter --
HARLOW: Not --
SHEFFIELD: -- versus the prior year.
HARLOW: Not related.
RAMPELL: We saw --
HARLOW: We're going to take --
RAMPELL: We saw GDP growth of that level last year in at least one quarter?
SHEFFIELD: No, it was higher than this year. First -- the first quarter of GDP growth this year was higher.
HARLOW: Catherine covers the economy. Guys, I --
RAMPELL: Trust me. I know a lot about taxes. I know a lot of GDP.
SHEFFIELD: I'm talking about first quarter GDP growth. This year versus last year and the prior year was higher -- significantly higher this year in 2018, absolutely.
DENNARD: But you know what --
DENNARD: -- the President will be able to ask one question, do you have more money in your paycheck because of the tax cut? You know what American people are going to say? Yes.
BERMAN: But you know what --
RAMPELL: They said no.
BERMAN: But you know what he asked --
RAMPELL: They said no.
BURKE: They say no.
RAMPELL: There was a survey on it.
BURKE: There is.
BERMAN: And --
RAMPELL: They were three surveys on this. They said no.
DENNARD: How much more did her paycheck --
BERMAN: I will just say --
DENNARD: God bless her.
BERMAN: -- because I think you're right. He also didn't say it. What he said tonight is, if you don't vote for me, if you don't vote for Republicans, they will impeach me.
HARLOW: Right, that's what he said.
BERMAN: That's not taxes. We're going to take a quick break. The event is about to begin, the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Go nowhere.
[21:42:25] BERMAN: All right. Live pictures from the floor of the White House Correspondents' Dinner right now. They have been told to take their seats. You're seeing the live --
HARLOW: But they're not listening.
BERMAN: Right, but they're not listening.
BERMAN: Because they are journalists, folks.
HARLOW: Oh. Rebels.
BERMAN: They will go to their chairs over the next few minutes and the program is set to begin. We have a very exciting night in store for the next hour and a half or so.
HARLOW: We do. This is a night about honoring the First Amendment and journalism. Some big awards being handed out tonight, some scholarships for young journalists, and a very, very wicked smart -- like my Boston talk in here?
BERMAN: I love that.
HARLOW: -- comedian Michelle Wolf, who has prepared a host of jokes for tonight. She'll take the stage in just a moment.
But let's preview a little bit the history behind all of this. Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley is with us on our esteemed panel.
So what president has been the best at this? The best at taking the jokes, the roasting, and the best at performing -- oh!
BERMAN: Oh. Hang on, watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I look like a guy rescued from a snow cave just in time. President Trump has been invited to the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Will he decline or attend and risk standing at a urinal between Mark Knoller and Dave Weigel?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just get me up to speed. Are you an incoming or outgoing cabinet member?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm actually Margaret Talev, the President of the White House Correspondents Association. I just wanted to see if you'd made a decision on attending our annual dinner?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd look pretty thin-skinned if I didn't show up, so I'm in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But only under the following conditions. Someone tranquilizes Jim Acosta, I get two scoops of ice cream big enough to bend a shovel, and I can use Jeff Bezos as my napkin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump will attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Breaking Fox News alert. We can confirm that Chris Hayes stole his glasses from a child on a theater cutter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you believe the lying fake media invited me again to the White House Correspondents' Dinner? I mean, you don't see the Central Park Five inviting me to brunch.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, are you sure you don't want me to go in your place? The press corps loves me and my Reese Witherspoon-like Southern charm. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, I'm going. What am I going to do, hold
a rally to harden my ego before I watch it the moment I step off stage?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's great to hear, sir, and I'd be honored if you wore my clothes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Shepard Smith going to be there? I can't be believe some lucky lady hasn't snatched him up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To truly understand the White House Correspondents' Dinner, you have to understand where the journalists and attendants sit. Tables.
[21:44:57] Tables didn't always look like this. Here is a table from 1415 B.C. Sofia, I think. Looks similar to what we use today, flat top, leggy things down there.
We'll get deeper into tables later. First, let's talk about what made them possible. The big bang.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, it is Donald J. Trump. Or as you all know me, a source close to the President.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people complained that Washington is just a bunch of White guys talking to an audience who agrees with him but I like God Save America.
Now, where is the Sinclair Media table?
CROWD: Right here, oh, mighty sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The "Tribune" merger is going through. But tonight, we're really here to honor some great people. For example, Maggie Haberman.
Remember that lunch at the Trump Grill? You got the scoop on my presidential bid, and I got the vegan cheeseburger and licked the ketchup lid?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did we go wrong?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it when I called you a Hillary flunkey?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't play at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop pretending your paper has integrity. You work with Bret Stephens.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You work with Bret Stephens.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is only so much arrest you should poke into.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did we go wrong?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've already lost Kilmeade, and I can't lose you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did we go wrong?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Maggie Haberman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't play along.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations to tonight's honorees. I look forward to locking you all up in the coming years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, once again, please welcome Correspondents Association President Margaret Talev.
MARGARET TALEV, PRESIDENT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS ASSOCIATION: Thank you. Good evening, everyone. To those of you in this room and those of you watching across America, welcome to the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
TALEV: In this room, we are Republicans and Democrats and independents. People of all economic classes, races, religions, and gender self-identifications.
My name is Margaret Talev. I am senior White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and a CNN contributor. And I'm so very proud to serve as your president of the White House Correspondents Association.
TALEV: Before we get too far, I'd like to thank our cartoon president, R.J. Fried, Chris Licht, and Stephen Colbert for getting us warmed up tonight.
TALEV: And I think I can speak for all of us in this room when I say that we're sending our very best thoughts to former President George H.W. Bush tonight.
TALEV: He was, of course, a repeat guest at our dinner, and he has been recovering after his hospitalization and, of course, the passing of former first lady Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years.
And I was listening to old tapes of 41's monologues as I got ready for the dinner, and one of my favorites was where he was talking about Dana Carvey's impersonations of him on "SNL."
And if you guys remember, President Bush had infamously taken this phone call from someone who he thought was Rafsanjani, the Iranian president, but it wasn't actually?
And at the dinner, he jokes that your -- that Dana Carvey's impression of him was so good that he had actually asked him to go ahead and phone Rafsanjani. And he said, tell him it was George Bush, but Dana said, it wouldn't be prudent. It wouldn't be prudent.
TALEV: So to Poppy and the Bush family, if you're watching, we're thinking of you.
TALEV: I'd also like to acknowledge our student scholarship recipients in the audience tonight and our journalism award winners whom you'll meet later. This night is about you and what you've accomplished and the promise of what's yet to come.
TALEV: Yesterday, we held a luncheon for the scholars, and we paired them up with mentors. And then they got a visit from House Speaker Paul Ryan who was amazing. He spoke eloquently about the role of journalism and the next generation of journalists.
And then this happened. The U.S. President, the same one who has called American journalists the enemy of the people, welcomed these scholars to the White House. And he and his team rolled out the red carpet -- like they literally rolled out a carpet.
And in the midst of this visit by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, they gave them -- they gave the scholars an insider's glimpse at all of the kind of backroom passageways to the White House. The China room. The diplomatic room. Took them outside, lined them up on the stairs with that amazing view of the South Lawn and the Ellipse.
[21:50:04] And then they were invited to meet with the President and with Vice President Mike Pence and to pose for photos. And the President and the Vice President went to each scholar, hand-by-hand shook their hand, greeted them, who are you, where do you go to school?
The President asked them if they were sure that they actually wanted to become journalists.
TALEV: But then he praised journalism as, and I quote, a great profession, and also asked how quickly they could get to work so that they could kick us out and replace us.
TALEV: After the President has left -- after the President left, I asked the students how they felt. And, like, a group of them all responded simultaneously with one answer. They said, that was surreal. And we nodded because we know the feeling.
TALEV: Tonight is an important night for everyone who cares about good journalism. We're all here, all of us, because we cherish the First Amendment. We love the news and we believe in the power of reporting to raise up and better the lives of all people.
That includes coverage of the White House, to be sure, and threats like international terrorism or Russian election interference. But it also applies to local stories all across the country.
It applies to how we cover natural disasters and school shootings and the U.S. gymnastics scandal and #MeToo and pilots who pull off amazing disaster landings and save most of the people onboard.
Real news is sometimes happy. It's sometimes funny and heartwarming. And often, it's heart breaking or critical or makes you angry. But we reject efforts by anyone, especially our elected leaders, to paint journalism as un-American, to undermine trust between reporter and reader --
TALEV: -- or to cast doubt on the relevance of facts and truth on the modern age. An attack on any journalist is an attack on us all.
TALEV: This really isn't about the business of protecting journalism as a business. In fact, our business has all done pretty well in the last couple of years. But it is about protecting a pillar of American democracy.
The best leaders and public servants champion the First Amendment, even when the scrutiny is turned on them, and defend it at home and proclaim it overseas because they know that that helps democracy and freedom take root in places where violence, repression, and fear give cover to terrorism and corruption.
I'd like to ask for a moment of silence to remember journalists around the world killed doing their jobs or who are alive but imprisoned.
I'd also like to make a special mention of our colleague, freelance Austin Tice, kidnapped in Syria in 2012.
TALEV: Austin, if you are somehow watching, there are a lot of people working to bring you home.
I'd also like to remember some long-time veteran White House correspondents who we've lost to age and to illness over the past year.
For decades, the Correspondents Association members have invited a cross section of people from public and private life to celebrate these ideals -- freedom of speech, freedom of the press. And this year, we also took our act on the road, beginning a new program with presidential libraries to connect with more Americans outside the beltway.
We began with the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. A great place. And we were met with a full house.
Next month, we'll be at the Reagan Library in to Simi Valley, California. And if you happen to be out there, we welcome you to join us.
I'll also mention -- since you all have your phones out tonight -- that, thanks to the board and especially to Zeke Miller and Olivier Knox, we have a new and fantastic WHCA Web site, live as of just a few hours ago.
The new address is WHCA dot press. And we look forward to serving all of you on that website in the months to come.
TALEV: U.S. presidents have attended this dinner nearly every year since Calvin Coolidge's days. And that's a tradition that we believe will withstand the currents of time.
Tonight, we welcome White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to the head table to represent the administration. Thank you for being here.
TALEV: Sarah, we really appreciate your participation and your ongoing work with our members to help us cover the White House and to help Americans see their government in action. Thank you.
TALEV: I'd also like to welcome Aya Hijazi. You guys may recognize her from an amazing scene in the Oval Office about a year ago.
Aya and her husband and two other members of their NGO were arrested by Egyptian authorities and bogusly imprisoned for three years. But she was freed last year after sustained media coverage and a sustained campaign by U.S. political candidates and the current administration. [21:54:56] And her husband, Mohamed, who is in the audience with us
tonight, also continued to advocate for the release of others. And they strongly believe that it was the press coverage, in addition to the government intervention, that shed a spotlight on their situation and helped to build the leverage for their release.
TALEV: And, of course, we have with us a nice lady, Michelle Wolf. But more on you later.
I'd also like to call out all of my fellow board members, Dick Miller, Alicia Jennings, Todd Gillman, John Decker, Julie Pace, Doug Mills, John Carl, and Vice President Olivier Knox.
TALEV: Who will succeed me later this year and who will do a terrific job.
Steve Thomma, our new executive director, has brought his passion for White House coverage to the job. No one can ever replace Julie Weston who's in the audience tonight, but, Steve, we are so thrilled to have you aboard.
TALEV: And of course, George Lehner, the WHCA's attorney, who does an amazing, amazing job for us. Thank you.
HARLOW: All right, that's Margaret Talev, the President of the White House Correspondents Association there, honoring journalists and the First Amendment.
We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back with our special coverage.