Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Heads to Pennsylvania to Stump for GOP Senate Candidate; Ivanka Trump: Family Separations "A Low Point"; Franken Doesn't Rule Out Running Again; Can Democrat Beto O'Rourke Beat Ted Cruz in Texas? Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 2, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: who's polling ahead in his run for governor, because of Trump has been on T.V. time and time again blasting the Russia investigation, defending the president, saying this is all a witch hunt. You talked about Lou Barletta. I remember when he was the first person on Capitol Hill to endorse the president in 2016. The president clearly never forgot that. He started a whole Trump caucus thing.

Look, the president's endorsement is the top prize for Republicans, even though he doesn't have the greatest polling right now. If you look at the support amongst Republicans, it's the greatest of any other president in recent modern history in terms of favorability ratings with his party. So it's the ultimate prize.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and that's the thing. I mean, he is incredibly popular. He is one of the most popular Republican presidents that we've seen among Republicans. He's polling at something like I think 84 percent among Republicans. And you see that and that's why people want his endorsement.

The other thing that's interesting, though, is if you look at the kind of enthusiasm he brings among Republicans, he also brings out opposition among Democrats. I mean, it's at an all-time high. The question, Abby is what's going to matter more, right? The opposition that Democrats feel towards this president or the loyalty that Republicans feel for him comes midterms?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, I think the loyalty part is you can -- if you're a Republican, you can't do without it. It may not be enough to overcompensate for what the Democrats are doing, but as a Republican, you cannot go into a general election without really firm support from your fellow Republicans.

But that being said -- I mean, the battleground for control over the House is going to be in the suburbs. Where are Democrats going to be able to not only get their base out but also get those conflicted moderates in the middle, the independents, the one-time Republicans who are maybe a little bit more disenchanted with Trump than others, maybe who have stopped identifying as Republicans --

WHITFIELD: Particularly suburban white women, college educated white women. PHILLIP: So we don't know. I mean, honestly, anybody who says that they know doesn't know. We don't know how this is going to turn out. But, that being said, it doesn't diminish the value of Trump's endorsement if you are a Republican. You just cannot go into a general unless you've solidified your base.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: It is kind of fun to see the president lay a little bit of a groundwork to give himself space like if it backfires. Hearing him say things like, it'll be interesting to see whether my great popularity transfers.


WHITFIELD: And what's the sense of how -- I mean, the big test will be the general election, right. It's one thing for his endorsement to matter in a primary, but come the general election, for instance, if you're Barbara Comstock, you don't want him anywhere near your campaign.

TALEV: Although, if you're Barbara Comstock, it's kind of baked in the cake already. I mean -- and that sort of -- it's like a self- fulfilling prophesy. The Republican lawmakers who are going to be craving President Trump's visit and endorsement are inherently not Barbara Comstock.


TALEV: And so it's sort of the geography is destiny problem for a lot of these folks is that, you don't want the president -- you certainly don't want the president campaigning against you, but if he's campaigning for you, there's some place where is that really helps turn people out. And there's some places where that just reminds Democrats and swing voters to don't like President Trump, why they want to turn out, you know, the other way around.

Every president in a midterm year craves being as relevant or as important as he is in a presidential year. President Obama went through this also in the second time around in 2014. He'd really hold back. He wanted to be out there, but he was benched in a lot of places.

And President Trump has not exercised the same discretion, but so far his instincts about where to go and the places where his team have been able to maneuver him have been pretty smart.

WHITFIELD: And he always highlights the same things when he tweets these endorsements, something that Philip Bump discovered in the Washington Post is basically tough on crime, strong on the border, and he's going to offer you his full and total endorsement if you meet that criteria. We'll see what happens in November.

Coming up, thanks and see you soon. The president tweets out praise for Kim Jong-un.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:38:39] WHITFIELD: Topping our political radar today, the Trump administration says it plans to freeze an Obama-era clean car regulation. That rule required automakers to make cars more fuel efficient.

Now, the EPA and transportation departments cite safety as one reason for the rollback, arguing it would make cars more affordable and allowing more people to actually buy safer cars. Twenty state attorneys general say they are prepared to go to court to challenge the clean car rule.

The White House says North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un sent President Trump another letter yesterday. President Trump, he thanked Kim for that letter in an overnight tweet, but it's still unclear what the president means by, I look forward to seeing you soon. This morning, Vice President Mike Pence, he complimented the president on his negotiations to bring home the remains of U.S. troops killed during the Korean War.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He secured not just a promise to create a pathway for denuclearization and peace, but he also secured a promise to bring our boys home.


WHITFIELD: Today is the court deadline for the Trump administration and the ACLU to present their plans to reunite 500-plus immigrant children who are still separated from their parents. But as these children wait to see their families again, Ivanka Trump told Axios that the family separations battle was a low point for her during her time so far in the White House.


[12:40:09] IVANKA TRUMP, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: That was a low point for me as well. I feel very strongly about that, and I am very vehemently against family separation and the separation of parents and children. These are incredibly difficult issues, and like the rest of the country, I -- they're -- I experienced them in a very emotional way.


WHITFIELD: Do we know what Ivanka Trump did to actually help the kids get back together? I mean, she's sort of sitting there as like a bystander, if she was only just sort of witnessing the whole thing and not actually working in the White House.

TALEV: We know a little bit. We know that this is an issue that she talked about behind the scenes with her father. And we know that her position on this behind the scenes is as she describes it there, that she didn't agree with the policy.

WHITFIELD: Right. TALEV: But how did she go to the mat? What effect did it have? Did it have an effect or did it have more to do with the public backlash? The republican backlash.

You know, those are the sort of things we don't know. And this just reflects the kind of nuanced position that you have when you have family member, you know, serving in either an official or unofficial kind of advisory capacity, which is that they have to weigh their family loyalty to the loyalty of their own convictions. And that they have to be discreet enough to be able to come home for dinner once in a while so.

WHITFIELD: Yes, there's always been this kind of tight rope that she's walking, Rachael with this. She's sort of in the White House but not of the White House on any number of issues.

BADE: Yes, this interview created some buzz. I would say we were talking about this in the makeup room and also during the break. Does she have political ambitions? I mean, she just sold her company. She's showing that she's going to be here in Washington, at least for the foreseeable future. She's tried to paint herself as the more pragmatic kind of person, the Trump whisper who can talk to her dad and bring him closer to something that, you know, both parties can get behind.

But again, like -- she could really get hit for not, for instance, speaking out publicly on the family separation issue until it was over. You know, she actually going to pushed back -- she hasn't pushed back a lot on her father publicly at least.

MATT VISER, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: And it takes a lot less courage, I think, to speak out against it now after families are now being reunited than it would have been at the time. But I do think that it's like a joke of waiting for President Trump to pivot. You know, speak to a broader electorate.

Ivanka does seem to try to do that more, to speak to a broader slice of the electorate whereas President Trump is always speaking to his base. So she does have a little bit of role there.

PHILLIP: There are real questions about her efficacy in the White House in the time that she's been there. She says she stays in order to make an impact on what she can, but the reality is that Trump hasn't, to your point moderated on almost anything, including many of the things that she says she cares about the most. So I think that's why people are sort of skeptical about her, especially at times like this when she after the fact speaks out forcefully against something everyone thought was outrageous at the time.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll have to end it there.

Next, former Senator Al Franken won't rule out another run for office. What his Democratic colleagues are saying about his possible return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:47:38] WHITFIELD: Former Senator Al Franken says he's considering a return to politics. The Minnesota Democrat of course resigned back in January after several women accused him of inappropriately touching them. Now he says never say never when asked about running again.


AL FRANKEN (D), FORMER MINNESOTA SENATOR: I miss the whole job. I love that job. I love the job of senator. If I say anything there, you'll put it in the story.

So I don't know. I don't know. I haven't ruled it out. I haven't ruled it in.


WHITFIELD: Franken's friend and former colleague Senator Amy Klobuchar didn't exactly get behind the idea of his comeback.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Al made his own decision to resign, so I don't see this in the cards that he's running right now.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: This isn't just wild speculation. He's the one saying he hasn't ruled it out. I guess I'm just wondering, would you like to see him back in Congress?

KLOBUCHAR: I'd like to see him back doing good work and using his skills and his passion for public service in a way, but that doesn't mean he necessarily has to run for office.


WHITFIELD: That would be a no for Amy Klobuchar.

BADE: That's just so uncomfortable. And it's noteworthy too because Klobuchar was a friend of Franken for a long time. And she was not one of the first women to ask him to resign, so she's saying stay away. He should probably stay away.

Let's be clear, he can try, but he will not succeed. Just revisiting some of the allegations against him alone would sink any campaign he would try right now. We're talking about groping, forcible kissing. I mean this stuff is not acceptable in this day and age, and women are speaking out. And that's going to poison him for the rest of his life. I just don't see a comeback.

WHITFIELD: One of the things we saw, Gillibrand was really one of the first people out there and she's experienced some blowback from George Soros who says he wouldn't back here. And this is what Gillibrand said, "If standing up for women who have been wronged makes George Soros mad, that's on him. But I won't hesitate to always do what I think is right."

And it goes on to say that when someone does something wrong, you have to speak up and be counted, whether it's President Trump or a Democratic colleague.

PHILLIP: Yes, something of a gift for Amy Klobuchar, this thing coming up in some ways. But this is a bad conversation for Democrats. They do not want to be talking about this again.

[12:50:01] In part because it brings up really deep tensions and bitterness among some Democrats who feel like he was pushed out prematurely and others who feel like Kirsten Gillibrand used this as an opportunity to raise her profile at a time when she's thinking about running for president. Look, it is better for Democrats for Al Franken to not even talking about coming back, but Kirsten Gillibrand is going to take the hand that she has dealt and use it to her advantage.

George Soros is, you know, a household name among Republicans in a kind of a negative way so distancing herself from him is not exactly the worst thing for her right now.

WHITFIELD: And by -- in some ways, I'm not surprised that Franken is doing this. I mean, he was fairly defiant in his farewell speech in the Senate and hadn't ever really apologized or admitted any wrongdoing at all.

VISER: Yes, you got the sense that he was leaving because of the pressure, not because he had come to his own conclusion that he needed to leave. But if you're a Democrat, you don't want Al Franken on T.V. giving interviews at all right now.

And he seemed to realize what he was saying and sort of saying like, this is going to be a story if I say it. And then he goes ahead and says it. I think he hasn't given up the dream, but I agree with Rachael like no way.


Next is a big upset brewing in Texas. A new poll shows Democrat Beto O'Rourke within striking distance of Ted Cruz.


[12:56:02] WHITFIELD: A new poll in Texas is giving Democrats at least a little bit of hope that they can pull off an upset in this year's Senate race in Texas. Democrat Beto O'Rourke is losing to Senator Ted Cruz by just six points. He's still a long shot to be sure, but O'Rourke has also raised more money than Cruz and has had more cash on hand as of the end of June.

O'Rourke is running as an unabashed liberal in Texas. He's pro- choice, wants an assault weapons ban, a path to citizenship, an ObamaCare public option. And Cruz says O'Rourke sounds like he's running in Massachusetts, not Texas.

We got Matt Viser here, you got a great piece in Town & Country magazine. You asked the question, can a person who looks like Kennedy and sounds like Kennedy win in Texas? VISER: Yes. I mean, you're right that he does sound like he's running in Massachusetts. I mean, he's an unabashed progressive. He talks about gun control in a state that is heavily armed. He talks about immigration issues, and against the border wall in a state with the longest border with Mexico.

And he talks about climate change in a state that deals a lot with the energy sector as an important part of its economy. So he is talking up these issues all around the state and getting a lot of reception among Democrats. But there's still a big question. It's still Texas. This is the shiny object for Democrats every couple years.

WHITFIELD: We saw Wendy Davis for instance.

VISER: And they always lose, right? And so I think Beto is seeing a lot of momentum on this. He's polling closely. Fundraising is coming in, a lot of it from out of state, you know, as well, as Democrats look to this as a hot race.

WHITFIELD: And what's your sense, Rachael? Is Ted Cruz scared? Should he be?

BADE: If he is, he probably shouldn't be. This is Texas. But this is a sign of the blue wave coming. It's not just Ted Cruz who's experiencing this.

There's a bunch of House Freedom Caucus members, hard core conservatives, who are in safe seats, or they used to be safe seat, and are now having to run a real race. So he'll have to be careful of course but it's Texas. Cruz will be fine.

WHITFIELD: Yes, that's the thing. I always feel like this is sort of the white whale, Lucy and the football. But we'll see. Maybe this year will be different.

We're waiting for the White House briefing to begin. Wolf Blitzer, he's going to bring that to you live when it happens. He picks up on our coverage right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Any moment now, the White House press briefing is scheduled to begin. It comes as we learn of a new proposal from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller to President Trump and his legal team. Talk to me in person and I won't ask you as many questions about obstruction of justice. That's the Mueller proposal we're told.

This development could be what potentially set the president off yesterday when he tweeted that his Attorney General Jeff Sessions should end the Mueller investigation right away, right now, his words. So now is this an offer the president will accept? We're going to find out presumably soon enough.

While we wait for this press briefing to begin, I want to bring in the veteran journalist Carl Bernstein. His reporting with Bob Woodward during the Nixon administration helped expose the Watergate cover-up that led to President Nixon's resignation.

Carl, thanks so much for joining us. I'm anxious to get your perspective on what we're seeing right now. Let's start with the latest offer from Robert Mueller, the special counsel. He says he'll limit the number of specific questions on obstruction of justice if President Trump will talk to him in person and not simply do it in written form. Do you think this means Mueller isn't as interested in obstruction or more interested? What's your analysis?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we shouldn't read too much into that exact language. Of course he's interested in obstruction. And of course he has and has been preparing a case for obstruction of justice as far as any of us who have been covering this can tell it's not a 100 percent --