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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Trump Calls Himself A "Nationalist" Denies Racist Undertones; Georgia Gov. Candidate Speaking Out As 1992 Footage Emerges Of Her Burning Old Georgia Flag; New Racist Robocall Targets Florida Gov. Candidate Andrew Gillum. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 23, 2018 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks to our viewers for watching. "Erin Burnett OutFront" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: "OutFront" next, President Trump says he's a nationalist and he's sticking to it. Does he really not know what that word means to so many people?

Plus, President Trump says he's "shattering" the blue wave and he's not letting up in the days before the election. Here to respond, DNC Chairman Tom Perez.

And our "Race of the Day," could a 26-year-old tape stop Stacey Abrams from becoming the country's first black woman governor? Let's go "OutFront."

Good evening, I'm Jake Tapper in for Erin Burnett "OutFront" tonight.

Trump, the nationalist, the President of the United States is tonight embracing the controversial term, nationalist. It's a term he used twice just today within a matter of two hours.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Call me a nationalist if you'd like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Call him a nationalist if you'd like. It's a broad term with many definitions, but most politicians in this country avoid using it because it's a word loaded with the baggage of bigotry, European nationalist arties with anti-immigrant and anti-semitic rhetoric.

Today, white nationalists in the U.S., which is really just a polite name for white supremacists and white separatists, racists. But when asked this afternoon by CNN's Jim Acosta about theories out there that the President's embracing this term as a dog whistle because of possible racist or xenophobic insinuations, President Trump said he was surprised to hear that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I never even heard that. I cannot imagine that. You mean I say I'm a nationalist, no I never heard that theory about being a nationalist. I've heard them all. But I'm somebody that loves our country. I'm proud of our country, and I am a nationalist. It's a word that hasn't been used too much. People use it, but I'm very proud. I think it should be brought back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, the President went on to try to explain that he was using the term to convey his love of country, his desire for fair trade deals, and the need for American allies to pay their fair share when it comes to their own defense.

But here's the thing, when the President first used the term last night in Texas, he acknowledged that some folks might find the term offensive. He said, "We're not supposed to use that word."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You know, they have a word, it sort of became old-fashioned, it's called a nationalist. And I say, "Really, we're not supposed to use that word." You know what I am? I'm a nationalist, OK? I'm a nationalist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The President's embrace of the term comes not only with the baggage of the word but the baggage of the president. For instance, his current campaign attacks on the migrant caravan and made-up accusations that "unknown middle easterners are in that caravan."

Whether it's claiming a judge born in Indiana can't do his job fairly because of his Mexican heritage or the President's frequent refusal to call out white supremacists, it's going to be difficult for lots of Americans to see this term, nationalist, through the President's brand-new definition of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're building a wall. He's a Mexican. We're building a wall between here and Mexico.

TAPPER: If you are saying he can't do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?

TRUMP: I don't think so at all.

TAPPER: Will you, unequivocally, condemn David Duke and say that you don't want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?

TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, OK? I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. TAPPER: But I guess the question from the Anti-Defamation League is, even if you don't know about their endorsement, there are these groups and individuals endorsing you, would you just say, unequivocally, you condemn them and you don't want their support?

TRUMP: Well, I have to look at the group.

Well, I think there's blame -- yes. I think there's blame on both sides. You look at -- you look at both sides. I think there's blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it and you don't have any doubt about it either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

By the way, speaking of former Klan Leader David Duke, he praised Trump on Twitter today for using the term nationalist saying, "He's defending the rights and heritage of white people and white people love him for it."

The reaction from the other side, Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks, for instance, not so positive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: It reminds me of the kind of words that came from people like Hitler who thought that in Germany he was a nationalist. That language that the President is utilizing is a very dangerous language.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, we don't know. We aren't sure how the President truly, in his heart, defines this word. But we do know, from his saying, we're not supposed to use that word that he recognizes many Americans might find it offensive.

[19:05:08] And that's because the President knows many Americans think that the word he is now embracing is one that is hostile to them, even though they, too, are part of this nation.

Pamela Brown is "OutFront" live outside the White House. Pamela, what's the back story behind President Trump really digging in his heels on using this word, nationalist? Are you hearing that there's a serious strategy behind it?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I just spoke to a senior White House official who said, "No, this wasn't part of a serious broader strategy ahead of the midterms." And this official basically said that he doesn't know where it came from. It appears that this was the President playing to the crowd, seeing how it worked with the crowd.

He first is using this label, calling himself a nationalist at this Houston rally last night while stumping for Ted Cruz. And after he labeled himself that, the crowd started cheering, chanting, USA, USA. And so it appears that the President thought that it worked well with the crowd and you heard him say it again today for a second day in a row calling himself a nationalist.

But as you pointed out, he knows it's a controversial word. He said this is probably a word I shouldn't use, given the historical baggage, the fact that it's been used in relation to Naziism, white nationalism.

Now, he rejected that notion saying he meant the word as he wants to protect American jobs, using it in relation to his trade deals that he's been working out with Canada and Mexico. So it's clear, Jake, that the President is not backing down and he thinks that this is a word that works well with his base ahead of the midterms.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

"OutFront" now, Wesley Lowery, Pulitzer Prize winning National Reporter for "The Washington Post," David Gergen, former adviser for four presidents, Democrats and Republicans, and Andre Bauer, former lieutenant governor of South Carolina.

Wes, let me start with you. You've covered race relations in this country extensively. What's your reaction to this -- President Trump, you know, doubling down, tripling down, calling himself a nationalist?

WESLEY LOWERY, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Of course, you know -- well, first of all, it was really interesting watching this whole riff where he's talking about globalists versus nationalists and in many ways it was language that echoed his former adviser, Steve Bannon, who he would use a sublanguage all the time and for anyone who's read breitbart.com, the site Bannon used to run, I won't necessarily recommend that. But if you read it, that's the exact type of framing and language that's often used. They're very often are very anti-semitic undertones to it, certainly some racist undertones to it.

And so here you have two things. One, the President was giving voice and word and a term to his policies and how he's run his campaign. This is a president who started his campaign by disparaging Muslim -- or he's disparaging Mexican immigrants as possibly rapists. He is someone who at times has refused to condemn white nationalists and white supremacists.

And so he resurfaced the term America first as a campaign slogan which has some of the dark history. And so he was, in some ways, owning the term that really does encapsulate who he is both in terms of the ways he plays footsie sometimes with these dark racist forces in our society, but also in terms of how he campaigns and how he mobilizes his base. That's us versus them, real Americans versus those other people. And so in many ways those are pretty fitting that he acknowledged kind of what he is.

TAPPER: Andre, President Trump says this is just about trade. This is just about making sure that American allies pay their fair share. That's kind of a new definition of the term. Do you think the President is truly just trying to redefine what the word means or is he trying to tap into something else? ANDRE BAUER, FORMER LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, couple things, Jake. Number one, I went back and looked at a tape. In 1988, on Oprah's show, he said, "I'm so tired of seeing our country ripped off." Then I went and pulled the definition from Webster, it says, "Loyalty and devotion of a nation." Google defines it as advocacy of a political independence for a particular country.

I truly believe, as a Trump supporter, our president is in his 70s. He has loved this country for many, many years. He's talking about trade imbalances for decades, and he truly believes, and the crowd even started chanting, USA. They are people.

There are so many people in this country that feel like, for too long, we've supported other countries that voted against us in the U.N., that ripped us off in trade imbalances, and we have had unfair deals where we feel like we have been not treated fairly.

And so there are a lot of people in the country that there's nothing racist, whatsoever. They truly believe that when you elect a leader for that country, they should look out for that country first and foremost and the people that live in it.

TAPPER: David Gergen, take a listen to what Vice President Biden had to say today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No president has ever led by fear. Not Lincoln, not Roosevelt, not Kennedy, not Reagan. This president is more like George Wallace than George Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: More like George Wallace than George Washington. Wallace, of course, a former governor of Alabama, former Democrat, he supported segregation, was a vocal opponent of the civil rights movement. Is that fair?

[19:10:09] DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I frankly think it goes a little far. I don't think that Donald Trump is George Wallace. I do think he plays upon the resentment and the anxieties of white Americans. And when he calls himself a nationalist, you can almost hear the preface or the prefatory word, white, because that's the message he's sending. We all know that.

It is true that there are many, many Americans who love this country, but the distinction that has been historically accepted about the different -- there's a difference between patriotism and nationalism. This is something George Orwell wrote about in a book on nationalism.

And patriotism is about love of country. Patriotism is about being loyal to country. Nationalism is about a search, an obsession with power, power for the country and indeed for the strong man.

And so you associate the day with people like Hungary and Orban, you know, the authoritarians who have risen in our midst, they are almost to a person considered nationalists. And that's why this has sends out a worrying signal across the political landscape.

TAPPER: In addition, Wes, to the baggage that the word has, the President has some baggage himself when it comes to issues having to do with race. On April 18th, he tweeted about sanctuary cities, writing, "There is a revolution going on in California. So many sanctuary areas want out of this ridiculous, crime-infested and breeding concept."

He went tweeted about caravans in April 22nd of this year he sounded a warning sending, "Act now Congress or our country is being stolen." Last August, of course, in the wake of the Charlottesville riots he tweeter, "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments." He's talking about Civil War confederate statues and monuments.

How do you think he views this? Does he really believe this? Does he see this as a means to an end? How -- what's going on in his mind, do you think?

LOWERY: Certainly. And it's difficult to ever surmise exactly what may be happening in anyone's mind, much less President Trump's. But it's clear, after this amount of time, it's not as if no one has ever walked into President Trump and said, "Hey, by the way, everyone thinks these things you're saying are kind of racist and here's why." I'm sure someone in the White House has done that, whether it be after Charlottesville, whether it be after this tweets about the caravans or this tweets about immigration, right?

And so the President -- I'd like to give him the credit of being shrewd in a smart political tactician. He was elected on a white grievance platform, right? His coalition was largely and demographically white aggrieved Americans who believe, many of them very earnestly and truthfully, that we are being screwed in our trading deals and that there is a major immigration crisis that's harming our economy, right?

That these are sincerely held beliefs for many Americans but the reality is that coalition, that support is the politics of white grievance and the President time and time again plays it up. He's not just talking about immigration and jobs, he's using specific language about who these people are and why they might be coming, stealing our country away.

And what we know is that our history has a long and pretty ugly moments where immigrants of all sorts have been described this way and the President, time and time again, uses very similar language to that.

TAPPER: Andre, obviously, the President is trying to get Republican voters to the polls. The election is in two weeks. And so I'm quite sure he thinks that this is going to help motivate people.

I do wonder, do you have any concerns that this might turn off some people that Republicans need as well? I'm thinking specifically about the voters who are putting all these congressional districts up for grabs, college educated women, many of whom are Republican.

BAUER: Well, again, I don't believe that's what the President intended to do. I think some people are now trying to turn that. Jake, the President for five decades worked in one of the most diverse cities in the world.

He worked with blacks and whites and people of all races and colors with unions and elected leaders from across the board and nobody ever said this about him. He got things done. You couldn't get things done --

(CROSSTALK)

BAUER: -- racist feeling. You couldn't get all these things done if you were that racist.

TAPPER: Well, Andre, he was sued by the Nixon administration.

BAUER: You would not be able to get that much done in --

TAPPER: He was sued for discrimination in housing by the Nixon administration.

BAUER: Again, he was one of the most successful developers that New York City's ever had. If he -- how did he become so successful in working with all these groups if he was that way? I disagree. Look, you asked me my opinion, you don't have to agree with me, but I'm on here to give a different perspective.

I'm telling you, I don't think that he meant that. Webster has not changed their meaning of being a nationalist. And so a lot of times I think that people look through the certain type of lenses they want to get a story, but the President knows his base is going to come out. I don't think he's going to do anything to try to stir the pot the other side to come out.

TAPPER: David Gergen, final word on this idea of whether or not this might help or hurt him in the midterms.

GERGEN: I think it gets in the way of his message. I think it scares some of the people, but he ought to be out campaigning on jobs and, you know, the progress that's been made on the economy. And every day he wakes up and goes out and hits some Mexicans and then hits this nationalist chord, does the horse face stuff. It just clouds the issues, and I think it ultimately hurts him.

[19:15:11] TAPPER: All right, everyone stick with me. We have a lot more to talk about.

"OutFront" next, the woman running to be Georgia's next governor, speaking out after this video emerged of her as a college student burning Georgia's former state flag, a flag that included a confederate symbol at the time. Plus, be afraid, that is a message that we're hearing from the campaign trail. How are Democrats fighting back against the Republican push? The chairman of the DNC, Tom Perez, is my guest.

And the U.S. is revoking the visas of suspects in the murder of a "Washington Post" journalist. Is that the severe punishment President Trump has been promising? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: "Race of the Day" now. Tonight, an 11th hour twist in one of the most closely watched governor's races in the country as Democrat Stacey Abrams just started her first debate tonight against Republican Brian Kemp.

Footage has emerged from 1992 when Abrams was a freshman in college, showing her burning Georgia's former state flag. It was an act of protest against the confederate battle symbol. Kaylee Hartung is "OutFront" with our "Race of the Day."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see, we cannot ignore the power of racist symbolism.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hours before the first gubernatorial debate in Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams defending her presence at a 1992 protest on the steps of the Georgia Capitol, the old Georgia state flag, burning before her.

[19:20:08] In a statement, Abrams' campaign saying her actions, while a student at Spelman College were part of a permitted peaceful protest against the confederate emblem in the flag. 11 years after the protest, the confederate battle flag emblem was removed from the state's flag but the raw emotions of that debate still linger.

RICK GOODRUM, COBB COUNTY VOTER: I love that flag. I still do.

HARTUNG: The episode surfacing with two weeks until Election Day in one of the most hotly contested races in the country, splitting an already sharply divided electorate.

GOODRUM: It was pretty distraught that somebody that I knew was dishonest and is running a dishonest campaign would have done something like that even though it was in her younger years.

MICHAEL JONES, COBB COUNTY VOTER: Well, I think that burning the flag is a sign of protest and we have a right to protest, and each person has that right to do that. As far as Stacey Abrams, I think she'll make a fantastic governor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stacey Abrams.

HARTUNG: Georgia's heritage, a recurring theme in this race. Abrams, who would be the first black female governor in the country, has called for the giant carving on Stone Mountain, a confederate memorial, to be removed. Republican Brian Kemp has vowed to protect it and other historical monuments from "the radical left." Kemp's messaging strategy is consistent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stacey Abrams, too extreme for Georgia.

HARTUNG: Casting Abrams as an out of touch liberal, attacking her big money endorsements from out of state and her progressive policies on health care and immigration. In a changing Georgia, some voters say they prefer Abrams' agenda.

JONES: Georgia is a progressive state. And for us to grow, we need to change. Her being elected as the governor, I think that would be good for the state of Georgia.

STACEY ABRAMS (D), CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR OF GEORGIA: I don't want anyone to vote for me because I'm black. I don't want anyone to vote for me because I'm a woman. But because I'm a black woman, you know I've done a lot of good to get to where I am.

HARTUNG: With early voting under way, the test for Abrams will be to keep the focus on her core issues and not the flag.

BILL NIGUT, GEORGIA PUBLIC BROADCASTING: We don't know how this is going to motivate voters one way or the other, but one thing we can almost certainly say, and that is with just two weeks to go until Election Day, this is not the sort of distraction that Stacey Abrams would choose to have to deal with.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARTUNG: This debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club began at the top of the hour. Stacey Abrams was asked about that 1992 incident right out of the gate. She said she is a proud Georgian and she protested as such.

Earlier today, Brian Kemp's campaign told me he wouldn't be issuing a statement in reaction to the news as it broke. They said any statement about the incident would come from him tonight during this debate. But, Jake, he has not yet had an opportunity to address it.

TAPPER: All right, Kaylee Hartung in Georgia, thank you much.

And I'm back with my panel, Wes Lowery, David Gergen, Andre Bauer, also joining us, Symone Sanders, Communication Consultant for Priorities USA and former National Press Secretary for Bernie 2016.

Let me start with you, Symone. I want to ask you, Stacey Abrams has confirmed she participated in the burning of the state flag of Georgia. It had confederate symbolism at the time. Do you think that this is going to affect anything in the race? Could this cause moderate voters to lean away from her?

SYMONE SANDERS, COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTANT, PRIORITIES USA SUPER PAC: Well, Jake, I think that voters that if the confederate flag was their only issue, I don't think Stacey Abrams was going to win them anyway. I do think that the Abrams campaign is not allowing this distraction and this attempt at the 11th hour of opposition research, frankly, to derail their campaign.

I will also note that in 1956, the Georgia assembly changed the flag to the flag -- the former flag that was seen in that video as a direct affront to integration. That's what this was really about. And so Stacey Abrams stood by her participation in that protest earlier in the debate tonight, and I do believe that is, in fact, why.

TAPPER: That's right. Democratic Governor Marvin Griffin who had campaigned as the white man's candidate with a promise to prevent the state schools from being integrated, "come hell or high water is chiefly responsible for the flag having the confederate symbol on it," and there is that context which is very important. You can see the flag that was burned there on the left and the current flag on the right. Andre, what do you think?

BAUER: I think, actually, it's probably good that this is the video that's out and not one where she's seen against the Second Amendment in Georgia. I think it's a huge issue as well as where she's quoted as saying she's sick and tired of hearing about the free market being the solution. I think those affect moderate voters much more than the flag.

I don't think the flag, one way or the other, moves a lot of people that were either for or against her, but I do think some of these other issues that deal with Second Amendment rights or business or free market, I think those move moderates one way or the other because make no mistake, both of these candidates have been extreme candidates. And so that's why this is such a up in the air race.

[19:25:02] This is a hugely Republican state when you look at 14 of the congressmen, 10 of them are Republicans, two U.S. senators Republican, every constitutional officer Republican, both Houses Republican. It's a little shocking that the race has gotten this close.

I think towards the end, it will move a little bit more to the "R" side, but the main issues that are folks that swing either way, I think those are ones that she would be more afraid of than the flag. I really don't think the flag has that big a bearing on the voters that could go either way.

TAPPER: And David Gergen, a big issue, bigger than this flag issue, is Brian Kemp, the Republican, he's also the Georgia Secretary of State, has been facing weeks of criticism and a lawsuit for allegedly suppressing minority voters.

There is this thing in Georgia, the exact match law, and an Associated Press study revealed that 53,000 or so voter registrations, many of them filed by African-Americans, have been flagged and these people have not gone through. That's a big issue. But do you think that could have an effect?

GERGEN: Oh, yes, I do. And I think the problem for Stacey Abrams is this story appearing just on the eve of the -- of this debate is going to give an awful lot of ammunition to her Republican opponent. He's going to be a keeper on the defensive in the early part of the debate at a very time when she would want to be on the offense about voter suppression.

Because there are real changes that have taken place in Georgia that are very concerning that it -- you know, the number of polling booths there, polling places over the last six years has been reduced by almost 10 percent. It's -- and the further away you put those polling booths from people who don't have a car, have to take a bus, do whatever, the less likely it is that they'll vote.

TAPPER: Yes.

GERGEN: The only thing -- the only counter, Jake, is I do think what I hear from people close in Georgia is that the way the Republicans have done this and the way that they -- what the attacks they have made on her have only energized her Democratic base.

So I think Andre's right, this is going to go down to the wire. I'm not sure it's going to tilt a Republican at the end, but I do think that there are issues on both sides, a very tough race and a fascinating race to boot.

TAPPER: A very difficult race. There's another tough race going on south of Georgia in Florida. And Wes Lowery, I want you to take a listen to this shocking robocall that the "Huffington Post" got their hands on.

It's against Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, the Democrat running to be Florida's first black governor. It's put out by a white supremacist group in Idaho. I want to warn viewers at home, it's disturbing and appallingly racist. Let's play some of that.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, hello there. I is the negro Andrew Gillum and I'll be asking you to make me governor of this here state of Florida. My state opponent, who done called me monkey, is doing a lot of hollering about how expensive my plans for health care be, but he be thinking of the white man's medicine, which is very expensive, because it uses science and whatnot.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: I mean, it's almost from like a different era, like from the 1920s or something.

LOWERY: Well, the music in the background is literally from "Amos 'n' Andy," the famous --

TAPPER: That's right.

LOWERY: Yes, that it was actually pulled a clip from it. And so what was interesting, you know, the conversations being ahead about Stacey Abrams, this is a little different than this with Andrew Gillum and this organization in Idaho has historically put up these types of robocalls against black candidates in other states as well. This is their shtick. But in some ways, the tactics are similar, right? That the hope here is not necessarily to sway some type of moderate voter who was going one way or the other, it's the idea that if this is a base vote, if this is Stacey Abrams or Andrew Gillum, their coalition, which is going to be black, brown, young, much more liberal, against a more conservative southern coalition that is going to include in these states someone who might be scared by that type of robocall or someone who might feel very strongly about someone burning the confederate flag. The hope is to scare them enough that they show up to vote if perhaps they weren't going to.

TAPPER: GOTV, get out to vote. Final thoughts Symone Sanders?

SANDERS: Look, I think I have been saying this Jake and I'll say it again. If the closing argument for Republicans in this midterm election is fear and scare tactics, I don't think they're going to do too well. Democrats are out here talking about the issues and I, frankly, am looking forward to calling Stacey Abrams governor and right along there with Andrew Gillum as well.

TAPPER: And just to underline it, the Republican candidate in the Florida governor's race, Ron DeSantis, a former congressman, condemns this ad and has nothing to do with it. Wes Lowery, David Gergen, Andre Bauer, Symone Sanders, thanks one and all for being here.

"OutFront" next, President Trump on the campaign trail attacking Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The Democrats have launched an assault on the sovereignty of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: DNC Chairman Tom Perez will be here to respond.

Plus, Trump's mysterious new tax cuts. Is this all toss all this talking admission that his last tax cut didn't do enough for the middle class? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:33:26] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President Trump's on the campaign trail, trying to motivate the Republican base to get out and vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Democrats want to massively raise your taxes, impose socialism on our country. We'll be another Venezuela.

The Democrats have launched an assault on the sovereignty of our country, the security of our nation, and the safety of every single American. You know how the caravan started? I think the Democrats had something to do with it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: There seems to be something of a spring in the president's step these days with Republicans telling CNN that the White House is more confident that the GOP will keep the Senate and keep losses in the House to a minimum. Now, that may or may not be true, but ultimately, a blue wave is no longer a sure thing.

OUTFRONT tonight, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez.

Mr. Perez, good to see you as always.

The most recent NBC --

TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Good to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: -- "Wall Street Journal" poll shows President Trump's approval rating now stands at 47 percent. It's his highest rating ever in that poll, and higher than where President Obama was at this point in his presidency.

Are you worried that the president's message is working?

PEREZ: Well, those approval ratings are about what President Obama was at in 2010 and we know what happened in 2010. I don't sit here and think about one poll or another poll. I think about what we're doing and what we've been doing is organizing everywhere, and we're talking about the issues, Jake, that people care most about.

We're talking about health care. We're talking about the fact that they want to cut health care. They want to cut coverage for people with preexisting conditions.

[19:35:01] And now we know from Senator McConnell, they want to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Those are the issues that are on people's minds. And that is what is bringing people out.

That's what brought Ralph Northam to victory and Phil Murphy last year in New Jersey and in Virginia. And in the run-up to those elections, you saw the politics of fear and division, lies, you saw those in those campaigns and this is a staple of the Trump campaign, and what we're doing is we're focused like a laser on improving people's lives in those critical ways that I've outlined.

TAPPER: The president is obviously confident that -- making immigration a main focus on the campaign trail will work. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The Democrats would rather destroy American communities than defend America's borders. The Democrats don't care about what their extremist immigration agenda will do to your communities, to your hospitals. What about your hospitals? And to your schools. Democrats want to open borders, which equals massive crime coming into

our country. Republicans want strong borders and we want no crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And now the president is making a big issue of the caravan, of migrants and refugees making its way north. The president says that caravan is not going to be allowed to come into the United States.

What's the Democrats' message on the caravan?

PEREZ: Well, let's talk about the facts first, Jake. As a result of policies that president Obama put in -- and let's deal with the facts -- border crossings in fiscal year 2017, which started in 2016 when Barack Obama was in office, were at the lowest level since the 1970s. That was the trend data. That is what is happening on the ground.

Caravans are not new. They have been happening for a number of years, and they are happening because the conditions in these countries are horrific. This is not something new.

But Donald Trump is talking about this because he wants to distract voters from the fact that they want to cut Medicare, they want to cut Social Security, they want to cut Medicaid, and they want to make sure that if you have a preexisting condition, you're going to be out of luck.

They hope that voters aren't thinking about that on Election Day. It's distracting Donald once again.

TAPPER: What's the -- but this caravan is coming up. It's about 7,000 people. It's, I think, a few thousand miles away from the border right now but it will ultimately reach the border.

What's the Democratic Party's message about the caravan? Are they going to block them from entering the country or are they going to let them come in and apply for refugee status? What's the message?

PEREZ: We are a nation of laws and the laws that are on the books deal with issues of refugee and asylum status, and those are the laws that have always applied. They were applied when George W. Bush was president, when Barack Obama was president. They've been in place for decades.

And again, yes, you correctly point out, they are a couple thousand miles or a thousand miles away from the border, and they are walking. It's a humanitarian issue of significance, and our laws require that people be treated with dignity and given that process.

But Donald Trump isn't bringing this up for any reason other than to distract people. It's his closing argument. When he's in the biggest trouble, the biggest dog whistle he blows is the immigration dog whistle.

And the good news is they tried to do that last year in Virginia and New Jersey, it didn't work, and people understand that. And we saw a Democratic primary turnout go up 80 percent from 2014 and we're going to continue to focus on the issues that people care about. We're not going to get distracted.

TAPPER: But, Chairman Perez, OK, it didn't work for the Republicans in New Jersey and Virginia last year. But it sure as heck worked for president Trump in 2016.

There's a new poll today from the "Washington Post" about key congressional battleground races. Democrats only have a 3-point edge over Republicans, the margin of error is 3 points. So this can be seen as a dead heat. We're just two weeks away from Election Day.

What happened to all the momentum of the blue wave?

PEREZ: Well, I never used the term "blue wave" because human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability and the reason why it's difficult and I'm still very confident that we're going to take the House and I believe that we're going to surprise a lot of people in the U.S. Senate as well. And the reason why it's hard to win 60, 70 seats is because in the vast majority of states, the districts are so heavily gerrymandered.

We know when we get a fair shake, like in states like Pennsylvania, where the districts are fair, Democrats are going to do very, very well. But it's hard to get to 60 or 70 when you have so many states like Ohio and elsewhere where there's such a heavy gerrymandering.

But notwithstanding that, people understand that their health care is on the ballot. They understand that Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security are on the ballot and frankly our democracy is on the ballot.

[19:40:00] They're sick and tired of lies. They're sick and tired of the politics of division, and that's why I continue to have a lot of confidence.

This is the blocking and tackling phase, Jake, and that's exactly what we're doing, getting that vote out.

TAPPER: DNC Chairman Tom Perez, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it as always.

PEREZ: Pleasure.

TAPPER: OUTFRONT next, Trump's mysterious new tax cut.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It's going to be a tax reduction of 10 percent for the middle class.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: But is that real or just a pre-election ploy?

Plus, President Trump calling the murder of Jamal Khashoggi the, quote, worst cover-up ever. So then why is he giving the Saudi leaders so much slack?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: OUTFRONT tonight, what new tax cut?

President Trump has been touting a new tax cut for the middle class, saying he's going to have something to show the American public within the next week or two. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It's going to be a tax reduction of 10 percent for the middle class. Business will not enter into it. We're putting in a resolution, probably this week.

I think you folks know about it, and Kevin Brady's been working on it very hard, really, for a couple months. We'll put that in and start the work after the -- sometime after the midterms.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: OK. So, first, Congress is out of session, so introducing a bill would be difficult. And second, Congressman Kevin Brady, the House Ways and Means chairman who Trump mentioned there, he said in a statement today that he would work with the White House, quote, to develop an additional 10 percent tax cut to be advanced as Republicans retain the House and Senate, unquote.

[19:45:11] Retaining the House and Senate, that's, of course, a big question mark. It means this as of now phantom tax cut isn't happening any time soon, certainly not before the midterms, if at all.

OUTFRONT now, Catherine Rampell, a columnist for the "Washington Post", and Stephen Moore, an informal White House adviser and author of "Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy."

Stephen, let me start with you. The plan seems to have taken some people by surprise to say the least. A senior Republican congressional source tells CNN there was no serious plan at the moment.

But what do you know about what might happen?

STEPHEN MOORE, FORMER SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISER, 2016 TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, let me go back to the campaign. One of the things that Trump used to say on the campaign a lot is if you elect me president, I'm going to cut taxes every year. So I think this was harkening back to the campaign of keeping the tax message going.

And look, I don't actually even know what the 10 percent tax is. I did a lot of inquiries today, and everybody's kind of tight-lipped about exactly what the president has in mind. But I think the politics of this I think are pretty good. I mean, the Democrats are running around the country saying, elect us

and we'll repeal the president's tax cut of last year, the big one, and now Republicans say, look, we want to cut taxes, they want to raise them. That's not a bad place for Republicans to be politically.

TAPPER: What's your take? I mean, if Republicans keep the Senate, who knows what's going to happen with the House, it is possible that there will be some movement and you might be able to pick off some Democrats.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think it's very unlikely at this point. I mean, as far as we can tell, Trump may have just made this up on the fly. When the --

TAPPER: No.

RAMPELL: I know, unheard of, right? When the CEA chair Kevin Hassett was asked by reporters today about this tax cut, what analysis did you do? He said, ask Trump. He's the one who's talking about it.

TAPPER: Interesting.

RAMPELL: So, we don't actually know. Well, and I'm sorry, the -- your question was --

TAPPER: The question is, like, I mean, if Trump pushes -- let's say there's a Democratic House and Republican Senate or it's 50/50 or whatever, there is an idea, there is an argument that Trump could get a 10 percent tax cut targeted at the middle class. Why would Democrats vote against that?

RAMPELL: Well, Democrats have, in fact, proposed middle class tax cuts. Kamala Harris just recently came out with a proposal to essentially expand the EITC, the earned income tax credit, and other Democrats are on board for that. The problem is we've basically spent all of our fiscal space on this massive $2 trillion tax cut for the wealthy, so it's not like there's a lot of room to give the middle class and lower income earners the tax cut that they actually would need.

You would have to raise taxes on the high end in order to pay for it.

MOORE: This is exactly, I think, why Trump is doing this, because the narrative that Catherine just described, which I disagree with, which is a giant tax cut for the rich, that has taken hold with a lot of voters.

RAMPELL: It's because it's true.

MOORE: But you know, when you ask them, oh, this is a tax cut for the rich. This is where I kind of blame Republicans, Jake. I don't think they've done a -- look, they've got this spectacularly strong economy. It's not that hard to basically say to people, look, we passed this tax cut so we could get a strong and prosperous economy with a lot of jobs, and they haven't done a very good job of connecting the dots so they have is to say, we're going to do another tax cut. They've got to sell what they've got.

RAMPELL: Well, that's because they can't sell what they've got because if you look at every single outside analysis of this tax cut from the Tax Policy Center, from the Tax Foundation which openly flavors lower taxes, they all say the biggest gains went to the very wealthy and to corporations. I mean, this is not a talking point. This is a fact.

MOORE: Yes, but you know, like I helped write the plan. The whole idea was to try to make America more competitive place to create more jobs, to have higher incomes for the middle class and so far, we see some good signs for that.

Look, when you have 7 million more jobs than you have people to fill them, that creates a tight labor market.

RAMPELL: Yes, that's a continuation of previous trends. Again, if you look at every single outside analysis of the tax cut --

MOORE: How do you explain what "The Wall Street Journal" reported, which is they found the biggest wage gains have gone to the lowest Americans?

RAMPELL: Because they're always the last in every recovery to see gains. You can't attribute that to the tax cut. We are nine years into one of the longest recoveries on record. You can't attribute that to the tax cut.

TAPPER: One thing I'm hearing from both of you, though, you're saying bad messaging and you're saying it's because of bad policy, but what I'm hearing from both saying the reason this is being talked about is because not enough voters think that the tax cut helped the middle class.

RAMPELL: Because they're well informed on this point.

TAPPER: You think it's bad messaging.

RAMPELL: And I think, look, they should be running on a prosperous economy and saying, this isn't a continuation of Obama. This is a full-fledged economic boom and you're right, it's not just the tax cut. It's all of Trump's policies.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Just as a note, he' s out there talking a lot about the caravan, about immigration, about he's a nationalist. He's not talking about -- I mean, I know a lot of Republicans would agree with you 100 percent.

[19:50:02] Why isn't he talking about --

MOORE: Trump actually does talk a lot about the economy. It's the Republicans on the campaign trail that aren't good at selling it.

RAMPELL: I think the other issue is even if it were the case that Republicans were out there touting the tax cut more aggressively or whatever, it's still not clear that's going to be a winning political message. If you look at polling amongst Americans about what they like about the tax code, it's not their own tax liability. They think it's fundamentally unfair.

TAPPER: Catherine, Stephen, thanks so much. It's great to have you, guys. Good duo, I like it.

OUTFRONT next, President Trump rips into the Saudis' handling of Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Oh, that's saying something.

So what should the president do now? Former intel chief James Clapper is my guest.

Plus, Trump's second sit-down with Putin could be just weeks away. Is a second summit smart?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Breaking news now. A total fiasco and the cover-up was horrible. That's what President Trump is saying about the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

But the president continues to echo the denials from top Saudi leaders who say they had nothing to do with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[19:55:02] TRUMP: I would say it was a total fiasco from day one. The cover-up was horrible, the execution was horrible, but they should have never been an execution or cover-up because it should I never happened. The crown prince yesterday, and he strongly said that he had nothing to do with this. This was at a lower level.

(END VDIEO CLIP)

TAPPER: OUTFRONT now, former national intelligence director under president Obama, General James Clapper.

Director Clapper, good to see you. Thanks so much for being here.

It seems the president is calling out the Saudis for a botched cover- up or a bad operation, but he still gives the crown prince the benefit of the doubt. Is that the right line to walk, you think?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don't think so. I keep wondering, where is the moral outrage here, which I think should have been the first, any statements we made would be that. And you know, the superficial things like they didn't cover it up very well, again, that just emphasizes a lack of moral outrage here.

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you a question because you were director of national intelligence I believe when Saudi Arabia launched its war against Yemen --

CLAPPER: Right.

TAPPER: -- during the Obama administration, and it's gotten worse and worse and worse. They dropped an American-made bomb on a school bus full of Yemeni kids a few months ago, under the Trump administration, not the Obama administration, but some people out there might think that's even more of a moral outrage.

CLAPPER: Well, it's -- yes. It's maybe not as dramatic as -- or attention-getting at this thing with the reporter. And you know, we're kind of implicated in Yemen and have been. We have been trying to assist and help advise the Saudis so with respect to targeting and targeting accuracy and all that, but there's, I think, a moral issue there as well.

TAPPER: The State Department says 21 Saudis suspected in Khashoggi's death have had their U.S. visas revokes or will be ineligible for U.S. visas. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says it's a strong signal the murder will not be tolerated.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're taking appropriate actions, which includes revoking visas, entering visa outlooks and other measures. We're making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I guess the question is, that's kind of going along with the Saudis' version of events that's it's a bunch of lower level people and the crown prince is not culpable at all.

So do you think that's enough?

CLAPPER: No, I don't. I think that's certainly necessary to take that step, but I don't think it's going to get them where -- the individual to get them where they live very much. I think frankly, much more serious diplomatic actions should have been taken, such as breaking diplomatic relations with Saudi for a while or declaring our ambassador PNG or something like that, but to simply remove visas, that doesn't feel right given the despicable nature of what's happened. TAPPER: I want to ask you also about this possible meeting President

Trump is going to have with President Putin in Paris on November 11th. I think it's fair to say that the Helsinki Summit did not get the kind of reviews the president thought it would.

Do you have any concerns about a second summit?

CLAPPER: Well, I would hope that this would be an opportunity maybe to recover from what happened in Helsinki. I think it would be appropriate to talk about the INF Treaty, for example. I think the two, since this was signed by two leaders, Gorbachev and Reagan at the time, if we're going to end it, there should be, you know, dialogue between the two leaders now.

TAPPER: This is the treaty the U.S. is talking about pulling out of?

CLAPPER: I'm sorry?

TAPPER: This is the treaty the U.S. is talking about pulling out of?

CLAPPER: Right. Exactly.

TAPPER: Because Russia has been violating it.

CLAPPER: Right.

TAPPER: Has Russia been violating it?

CLAPPER: Yes, they have. That was clear to us in the last administration. They have been in violation of it since about 2014.

TAPPER: So, is there anything wrong with him pulling out if Russia --

CLAPPER: Well, there's an argument for pulling out of it. There's a dimension of China, for example, who is not bound by it. So, perhaps if China were to agree to bye-bye the INF treaty, that will be -- which I doubt they will do that, so, yes, that's what it's about. And there may be a case to be made for it.

TAPPER: All right, General Clapper, it's always good to see you. Thanks so much for being here.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts right now.