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Grassley: Kavanaugh's Accuser Deserves to be Heard; CNN Poll: Democrats Leading Key Senate Races in Arizona, Tennessee. Aired 12:30- 1p ET

Aired September 17, 2018 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[12:30:32] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Some breaking news just in to CNN. The first statement from the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley in the wake of the accuser of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh saying she is willing to come forward and testify publicly. Senator Grassley just moments ago issuing a statement saying, quote, anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has deserves to be heard. So I will continue working on a way to hear her out in an appropriate, precedented and respectful manner.

Senator Grassley goes on in that statement to say, the standard procedure is to have background investigations to conduct follow-up calls with the relevant parties. In this case he says that would include a follow-up call to Ms. Ford who has come forward and said Brett Kavanaugh has sexually assaulted her back in high school. And the Grassley's statement goes on to say, then a conversation with Judge Kavanaugh.

Background calls. He says Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat has refused to go along with that. The significant development here is that Ms. Ford says she is willing now to testify publicly at a hearing. Chairman Grassley saying the committee would prefer to have a call whatnot.

Let's talk about the politics of that and the danger of the Kavanaugh nomination. With me, the hosts of the Pollsters podcast, Kristen Soltis Anderson and Margie Omero.

This is a box for everybody. It is a situation that is complicated for everybody. Let me start with the Republican at the table. Chairman Grassley is trying here to say we will listen to Ms. Ford, but this indicates he does not want to do it in a public setting which is a huge risk for Republicans, a huge risk for Judge Kavanaugh.

Since she is willing to testify publicly, can they do that?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND POLLSTER: I think as your previous guest, Mary Katharine Ham sort of mentioned, on the one hand it's extremely important to make sure that Republicans are doing all that they can to say we want to hear from this person. That in fact, it's a shame that Democrats for weeks and weeks and weeks knew of this woman's testimony, knew of her story and yet it kept it silent until the moment that it would be the most politically advantageous to bring it to light.

However, I do think that even if Senate Republicans don't go along with an open hearing, they will have the argument available to them. He was already under oath, we already had the hearing. Why the Democrats did not bring it up before the hearing happened? So it's this fine line of making sure that you want to make sure this woman's voice it heard because her story deserves to be heard. People deserve to know what she has to say.

While at the same time sort of holding firm that this was not done in the right way and the Democrats should have brought it up when the hearings were ongoing, when you had people already under oath.

MARGIE OMERO, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, it's really about far more than how -- what we do next. It's about what is the story here. What is the broader picture of what this means for the American people and for women voters who are watching how the parties behave.

I mean, you have had a gender gap and party identification since 1980. You had in 1992, the year of the woman in response to how Anita Hill's testimony was handled. And then you have a president now who has been credibly accused himself of sexual assault.

On top of that now you have a Supreme Court nominee who's going to throw -- the people are worried even before we had an actual nominee. We're worried about the court being thrown out of balance and becoming too conservative. And now you have a nominee with, you know, this story that it needs to be investigated and discussed. Potentially protecting a president from -- who has his own challenges.

So you add all that in addition to putting women's rights and the rights of having abortion in jeopardy. So you have all that together, it's very important that we have a conversation that seems inclusive and open minded.

KING: You touch on why this is so complicated. There is Judge Kavanaugh's nomination, he deserves to be treated fairly. There is Ms. Ford coming forward saying this happened to me, I had a hard time wrestling with whether I wanted to go public, now I do. She deserves to be treated fairly and with respect.

Then there's all these other issues of the balance of the court is at stake. There is an election 50 days from now in which the suburban women especially they view as the key constituency. How do we get through this -- I'm asking a lot in today's Washington, in a way that is respectful to everybody and here's the issues. And do you really believe that if she's going to testify publicly, Senate Republicans can say we're going to go ahead with the confirmation vote without her testifying publicly?

ANDERSON: I suspect -- my bet for -- since we're in the polling business and our job is to sort of forecast what's to come, what I forecast is going to be a lot of ugliness. I don't forecast that this is all going to get done in a way where everybody is sort of fell satisfied that both sides are heard and the vote proceeds and we move on. [12:35:06] And I think from a political perspective, the Kavanaugh nomination at least in the data that I was seeing was not something that was a big driver or factor in how people were thinking about the midterms. Perhaps in some red states you had some folks that had voted for President Trump wanted to see his nominations get through. But yet had a Democratic senator who was up for reelection and how that factor in.

This I think moment has really elevated the story to a much higher level of importance and a piece of the conversation which -- and I think makes it more challenging for Republicans which in concert with all of the other polling news that come out in the last week or two is not good news.

KING: All right, stay with me because I want to go up to Capitol Hill and Phil Mattingly. He's been tracking all of this. Phil, come into the conversation in the sense that all day -- all morning long the question has been, what will the Republican leadership do? Chuck Grassley here is seems to be trying to strike what he calls a reasonable compromise. The question is, can he sell it?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee just putting out a lengthy statement. And it reads in part, "Anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has deserves to be heard. So I'll continue working in a way to hear her out in an appropriate, precedented and respectful manner."

This seems to goes on for awhile. One of the key takeaways here is what I have been told as Judiciary Committee Republican staff behind the scenes over the course of the weekend was trying to work with minority staff to set up a phone call with the accuser and also touch base again with Judge Kavanaugh. Democrats have rejected that idea, they believe there needs to be public testimony, they believe that the confirmation vote on the committee level also needs to be postponed on Thursday.

When you read through the statement that Grassley put out and in talking to Republican staffers and aides throughout the morning, you also see the frustration here. The frustration that this came upon them just last week, that they didn't know about this, that this wasn't filed with the FBI a background check team before last week. So there's a lot of frustrations, there's a lot of questions about motives.

One thing there's agreement on is that the accuser needs to be heard and Judge Kavanaugh probably needs to be heard again. As you noted, the chairman clearly trying to thread a needle here, and I think the big question has always remained, and this is what I've heard from aides throughout the day.

It's, whatever Republican senators, namely, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Jeff Flake who's on the committee say they need to have concerns addressed. That's likely what's going to be -- what's going to have to happen. You saw the tweet from Senator Collins, I know you guys were talking about that tweet, making clear that there needs to be testimony, it needs to be under oath. She did not say whether or not that testimony needs to be public, but that's clearly the push from the Democrats right now.

If Republicans start heading in that direction too, I think the honest answer is Republican leaders probably don't have much of a choice. However, right now the chairman of the committee clearly trying to make the point, we're going through a process, the committee has a process. And Democrats at this point aren't willing to accept that process.

How this all ends up is an open question. I do think it's very, very clear that a committee vote on Thursday so long as other Republicans are skeptical or want more answers, John, that seems unlikely at best at this point.

KING: Phil Mattingly with the breaking news on the Hill. Appreciate it.

Let me just try to end this, this way. We bring you here to discuss polling and data so I'm putting you in a position that maybe somewhat uncomfortable but help the guys here. I mean, this -- with full sincerity. We're in the middle of all of this. We have, you know, white men who run the Senate, who cares if they're Democrats or Republicans. Trying to face a decision at this moment where you have a movement in the country of the specifics of this case. You have a movement in the country, you have an election 50 days away. I thought Kellyanne Conway as the highest ranking woman in the Trump White House today struck a pretty reasonable position.

Everybody, calm down. Don't insult her, don't smear her. Let's let everybody be heard. Then we'll regroup and move on. Isn't that a reasonable position? Shouldn't the men take the queue here?

ANDERSON: Yes. Well, I think the other thing that they need to do is not dismiss the seriousness of what's being alleged. Which that's not something that Brett Kavanaugh is doing. He's saying it never happened. But there are -- I have heard rumblings sort of behind the scenes from folks saying, well, is it such a big deal?

And I think that if we don't want 17-year-old boys thinking that this is an OK way to treat women. So I think my advice to Republicans would be, do not for one moment dismiss the seriousness of what is being alleged here.

OMERO: Well, that's good advice. It's also important to not just be respectful and think about these actions and how serious they are but also how they match your policies and your politics too. And that women voters and male voters are thinking about all of these things.

KING: All right, a quick break. Ladies, appreciate you juggling with me today. We'll bring you back for the election as we get closer, 50 days away. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.

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[12:44:09] KING: Welcome back. Two brand-new CNN polls releasing right now that show, yes, the Senate is in play for the Democrats in this 2018 midterm election season. Let's look at these polling votes in states where open races at Republican-held seats. Let's start out in Arizona.

This is the seat -- it's Kyrsten Sinema at 50 percent. This is Jeff Flake's seat. He is retiring. She's the Democrat at 50 percent.

Martha McSally, the Republican at 43 percent in our brand-new CNN poll. This is likely voters in the state of Arizona.

A Fox News poll out last week also had Sinema ahead. The race is a little bit closer. Our poll a week later suggests Democrats' momentum. Now don't invest in any one poll but what does this tell you? In the state of Arizona carried by President Trump, Republican- held right now, the Democrats are in play and our poll would suggest with a lead at least the slight lead heading into the final days. That's Arizona, a Republican-held seat.

Tennessee, the retiring Bob Corker's seat also held by Republicans.

[12:45:01] The former Democratic governor Phil Bredesen in our poll with a five-point lead over the Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, 50 to 45 percent. Again, the Fox News poll out last week had that race even closer, but average them together. A very close race with the Democrats in play, perhaps even slightly ahead in the state of Tennessee.

If you look at the map right now, if you take the solids, the likelies and the leans, we give it 49 to 45. Tennessee was a toss-up state, let's just assumes for the sake of argument, are the Democrats really competitive there. What would happen if that went that way?

Let's go out to the state of Arizona, what would happen if the Democrats are in play there and could take that. Just by taking those two Republican-held seats, the Democrats get back in the game. Doesn't deal with the other toss-up states but that would suggest if the Democrats were in play in Tennessee and Arizona, maybe Florida will break their way. Maybe they hold Indiana, maybe they hold Missouri. It just tells you heading into the final weeks, the Senate is very much in play. These new polls reinforce that.

Here's a little flavor of the competitive race in Tennessee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bredesen opposes building a wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He supports ObamaCare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bredesen opposed Trump's tax cuts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's a non-starter for me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bredesen gave crooked Hillary tons of money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now Washington Democrats are behind him.

PHIL BREDESEN, TENNESSEE SENATE CANDIDATE: One of my favorite things I did as governor was have these brown bag lunches and just talking about things.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's concerning to me the debt that we're going to leaving to our children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is skyrocketing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Its taken both sides to get us into this debt.

BREDESEN: It's a moral issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tells you a lot. Again, don't go to Vegas in any one poll, but the Democrats are ahead or at least in dead heats in Arizona and Tennessee tells you a lot about where we are going to the final week.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And the irony is that in this year of the anti-Trump anger on the left where, you know, everything is about Trump, the candidates who could be the majority makers for Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona and Phil Bredesen in Tennessee are running the super cautious, moderate campaigns where they go to great lengths to avoid criticizing President Trump. And in fact more often take aim at their own party.

It's striking to watch Bredesen in that ad. He's talking about the debt, what people talking about how this is out of control. I mean, this is like so old school and so pre-Trump era, but that's the reality of Democrats running in red states. They're going to get huge anti-Trump energy in the liberal pockets in those states, they're going to raise a ton of out of state progressive money, but their message to actual voters on T.V. and in person is going to be like DLC circa like 1987. It's fascinating.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. And also no question that the anti-Trump sentiment is helping them despite their own messages that are not so much anti-Trump. I mean, that same poll that just came out today said that Trump was at 35 percent in Arizona which tracks his poor number --

MARTIN: And tied with Tennessee.

RAJU: Tied with Tennessee with just 49-48. The approval of his performance in a state that he won overwhelmingly in 2016. So no question this energy on the Democratic side.

But this is -- the map in the Senate has changed so dramatically. This -- overwhelmingly favors Republicans just when you look at the state, now we're talking about the prospects of maybe the Democrats could win the Senate. Still very difficult, but possible now.

KING: Right, the state-wide races are different than the any of the House races but in both of the polls, you saw the Republican candidates, both female candidates trailing with women independents.

Yes, and this -- I mean, this is a persistent problem. I think Bredesen and Sinema are running smartly because you have to run a little bit more towards the center despite all of the talk of the ascendancy of, you know, Democratic socialism or far liberalism. That's not the case in these states.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: Bredesen is a sort of a known quantity as that guy. Sinema, a little bit more of a makeover that she's attempting to pull off. But it cannot be overstated in the end game how favorable this map was to Republicans.

So in one hand they're totally blowing the opportunity to have picked up a ton of seats but they may end up sort of where they were. Or even more favorable surprisingly at the end of the day because things were set up this year to favor them sort of.

KING: Math was so tilted in their favor. The question is the big, big close in the final weeks.

A quick break. And when we come back, the latest on the big breaking news. The Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley says Judge Kavanaugh's accuser should be heard. Just how? Still an open question.

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[12:52:12] KING: Let's get back to the story. We have some breaking news developments throughout the hour. The nomination of the Brett Kavanaugh to be in the Supreme Court. A woman now says that Kavanaugh sexually and physically assaulted her when both were back in high school. She says she's willing to testify publicly to that.

Moment ago, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the man in charge of the confirmation process said Kavanaugh's accuser, Professor Christine Blasey Ford deserves to share her story. Grassley saying in part, "Anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has deserves to be heard so I will continue working on a way to hear her out in an appropriate, precedented and respectful manner." Grassley went on to say though it is deeply disturbing with the existence of these allegations were leaked in a way that seems to preclude Dr. Ford's confidentiality. Nevertheless, we are working diligently to get to the bottom of these claims.

Back to the group in the studio here. The question is, what Grassley is saying is, we want to have a call, we want to talk to her, we'll talk to Judge Kavanaugh again, maybe to any other witnesses they think are vital. And then just decide whether to have a public hearing or to decide there's nothing more we need to learn. Is that it?

RAJU: Yes. I actually just got off of the phone with someone in Grassley's office who basically told me that decision about having a hearing will come after they'd have this phone call. Those are the next steps will be after that call that Grassley wanted to have a bipartisan call with Dianne Feinstein, Feinstein has said that she does not want to have this call and wants the FBI to investigate. This caused some partisan tension on the committee but nevertheless the decision to have the committee vote is still on the schedule for Thursday. But of course that could slip and the pressure of course is building to have a hearing from even Republicans. MARTIN: Yes, I've been texting some sources during the break here and it seems like at least right now, GOP officials want to move forward with this nomination. I think there's a recognition that there could be a delay in the process. But in terms of Kavanaugh himself, I think that folks are still hoping to push this through with the caveat being it's now Monday at 12:45, 1:00. This is a fast moving fluid story so who knows where we are by days in.

KING: And Kavanaugh at the White House, they're trying to plan strategy obviously to check everything they can. Another wrinkle in this because I saw this on the internet earlier today, some people are trying to question Ms. Ford's motives by saying that Judge Kavanaugh's mother who was a Montgomery County circuit court judge or was a Montgomery County -- excuse me, Maryland circuit court judge presided over a foreclosure case involving Ms. Ford, her maiden name is Blasey, her family, and the foreclosure case arose in 1996 was dismissed before the judge had to rule on it. This is the internet age where people can scrub the records and get everything. The property is still in a family's name, still in the family trust so it was not taken away from them, and then he process. But again, now that this is all public, this is what we have.

Which is why we do need an orderly process from the Senate. They need to figure out a way to do this in a responsible way otherwise people are just going to raise --

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It may very well be the only way to really just let this all be out there is to just to have a hearing.

[12:55:02] I mean, I can't imagine that anyone expects a hearing to actually bring out new facts about the case, but at the very least allows both sides to tell their story. And I think that in the absence of that, what you're going to have is the litigation of this case on the internet. And in newspapers and in other venues, that is actually not helpful to anyone.

That sort of thing is something that a lot of people might interpret as an attempt to dig up dirt on this woman or it could be seen by people on the other side of the story as being a legitimate way to look into perhaps this woman's motives. But none of this is helpful to Kavanaugh.

I think that this is why we will probably end up with some kind of hearing one way or another because I think everyone agrees that we may not have the time for an FBI, you know, process to really play itself out. And this is the only other avenue that an orderly process.

KING: Or some effort to regroup. Again, especially since you have Senator Flake on the committee, we don't know if he'll go along with this process but we assumed he would. We'll have a phone call first and then decide. But Senator Collins, Senator Corker, we assume Senator Murkowski saying I have some pause here. I have some pause here until we get to the bottom of this. In a minimum, we have a delay, don't we?

PHILLIP: In fact at a minimum, I would think.

MARTIN: Oh yes.

HAM: I mean, it's extremely difficult to adjudicate as it stands. I think your hope is that after some sort of orderly process, there would be facts on the table that would make it slightly easier to adjudicate this. Although as we know, the Senate is not great at doing very difficult things.

RAJU: I mean, they're not very good at doing difficult things quickly, too.

MARTIN: One final analytical point on the midterms and the impact of this, even if this hearing if there is a hearing is held in an orderly serious over fashion, I think the real danger for the Republicans is, what this president says and does at rallies and on Twitter. Even if the Grassleys of the world do this by the book, I just think this president is going to say things that if precedent is any guide will inflame this matter and just fire up and turn out from those key voters, the Republicans can't afford to have it more fired up the cycle, college-educated women.

KING: And yet he's been so out of character (INAUDIBLE).

PHILLIP: Yes. But we'll learn more about where he is on this. I mean, in a couple of hours he's supposed to be speaking at the White House. Will he take questions? If he doesn't, that might be an indication that he is heeding the advice of his staff for now.

KING: But there have been past episodes where we have restraint in the short term that is turned into nonrestraint. It's nonrestraint in the long term.

Thanks for joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS especially to the juggling of the breaking news. Please stay with us. The continuing coverage in just a moment. Wolf starts after a quick break.

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