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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Lindsey Graham Follows Trump's Lead Again; Trump Visits Pittsburgh Amid Controversy. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 30, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, President Trump is sending more U.S. service members to the U.S.-Mexico border than there are fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria? Do I have that right?

[16:00:00]

THE LEAD starts right now.

Too soon. President Trump in Pittsburgh right now, an uninvited guest for many local leaders, as funerals begin for the victims of the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history.

President Trump trying to change the conversation with exactly one week until the midterm elections. His new promise on immigration that experts say is wholly unrealistic, and, by the way, likely unconstitutional.

Plus, he went from telling Trump to go to hell to competing with Mike Pence for teacher's pet. Why has Senator Lindsey Graham gone all-in for President Trump?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with our national lead.

President Trump just moments ago arriving in Pittsburgh, three days after the deadliest attack on Jews in American history. The president says his visit is to pay his respects to a grief-stricken city and community. But the trip has become controversial because of the timing and frankly because of the president's incendiary rhetoric.

All four top congressional leaders, along with Pennsylvania's Republican Senator Pat Toomey, were invited to go, according to CNN sources, but all declined, offering a variety of excuses.

Pittsburgh's Democratic mayor and the Allegheny County executive are both refusing to appear with President Trump. They say the attention today should be focused on the victims of Saturday's anti-Semitic massacre.

There are those who want President Trump to be there. This all comes as the first funerals are being held today.

Among those being laid to rest, brothers David and Cecil Rosenthal and Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is on the ground for us in Pittsburgh, where apparently a protest has sprung up.

Miguel, how are the Pittsburghers that you're talking to, how do they feel about the president's visit?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, Jake, I have not seen a person with a dry eye in this neighborhood all day, people walking their dogs, moving around the neighborhood, and now this.

That sadness, that absolute shock at what has happened has turned into anger with news of the president's visit. There are several hundred people here at this protest getting ready to march, just as the president is expected to land in Pittsburgh and move around the city.

There is a second protest in the neighborhood. President Donald Trump in this neighborhood tonight is definitely unwelcome.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm just going to pay my respects.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The U.S. president typically consoler in chief at times of national tragedy. Few here feeling it today.

SUGANYA SAHMURA, PITTSBURGH: This is supposed to be a land where you feel free to practice your religion, feel free to be who you are, and it doesn't feel that way anymore.

MARQUEZ: Suganya Sahmura, a first-generation Indian American, works in Squirrel Hill, where the synagogue massacre happened. She, like others in this neighborhood we spoke with today, says the president's visit is unwelcome.

SAHMURA: I would prefer if he didn't come, because I think he's -- his message, I feel that the people that listen to his message and agree with his message is a message of hate and not of togetherness.

And I don't think we should be blaming everything on Trump, because these people felt this way, way before Trump. But it has emboldened them in a way that I didn't see possible when I moved here and my family moved here for a better life.

MARQUEZ: His visit brings a mix of sadness and outrage from this largely Democratic neighborhood in this solidly blue town. The rabbi of Tree of Life Synagogue said the president is welcome, but won't attend any of his events.

QUESTION: Do you plan to see President Trump during his visit today?

RABBI JEFFREY MYERS, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: I have no plans at this time for any involvement. My attention will be with the family.

MARQUEZ: Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald, says the White House was in contact with him, the mayor and governor about attending an event with the president. All three turned the White House down.

(on camera): In any other case, you would want perhaps the president there to console people, to show that this is of national importance and that the entire nation is grieving. Why not now?

RICH FITZGERALD, ALLEGHENY COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Well, I think it's a time for this, and I think certain people need to heal a community. And I'm not so sure that would be the case in this circumstance.

MARQUEZ: Cathy Wolf lives across the street from the synagogue. She's preparing a sign of protest in case the president or anyone from the White House shows up.

KATHY WOLFE, PITTSBURGH: Words have consequences, that you can't preach hate and then be surprised when people, irrational people, take your hatred to heart and act on it. Your words -- if you're the president of the United States, your words have consequences.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: And that is the message we see in this crowd tonight. Your words have consequences.

[16:05:02]

There is great concern that what the president brings to this town will be something that is completely unwanted and that there will be -- I hate to say it -- but there will be an embarrassing moment for Pittsburgh, where the president is protested, and it will not be what they want to see today.

People are being laid to rest today, and the rest of this week, and they didn't want to see this sort of protest. And it's just -- it is not clear where this is going. There is another protest near here, and we will be watching it all -- Jake.

TAPPER: Experts, Anna, the president says he wants to go and pay his respects. This feels to me like -- from his position, he's probably like, I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't. I want to go pay my respects to this community in pain, and yet I'm being faulted for going. And if I didn't go, then I would be faulted for not going.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, he's not being faulted for going. I think we all expect the president of the United States to play the role of consoler in chief when acts call for it.

The reason he's being faulted is because everything he has said beforehand and everything he has said since makes this act seem like he's checking off a box and just rings hollow, when he continues to do things like fan the flames around the caravan by sending 5,200 troops to the border, when he continues to use immigration as a political wedge.

And let's remember, it's precisely the caravan issue that triggered this gunman, this killer, against the Jewish center. When he continues to do things like attack Tom Steyer, then this that he's doing is just checking off a box. It has no real significance. And people can see through it.

TAPPER: Bill, I wanted to ask you a question, because last night I was filling in for Erin Burnett. And Joan Walsh cited the fact that President Trump named you Saturday night in his speech, that the very same day that 11 Jews were massacred in Pittsburgh, Joan's point was, President Trump chooses that moment to publicly criticize a prominent Jewish-American critic of his.

How did you take it? Did you -- what did you think?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": No, I just thought I was getting under his skin by trying to find a candidate to run against him in 2020. And I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt that he's just worried that I will succeed in that effort to save the Republican Party from Donald Trump, that he wasn't thinking about my religion, which, for all I know, he has no idea about.

TAPPER: I want to -- Paul, sources told my colleague Jeff Zeleny that the reason President Trump is visiting today was because it's the best day on his schedule, given the string of campaign rallies that begin tomorrow and extend through the midterms, I think 11 stops in total.

A White House official saying today the optics of visiting Pittsburgh on the same day as a campaign rally were not viewed as ideal.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's already held rallies after the shooting, and seems to be completely heartless to the suffering there.

This obviously is not a partisan thing. We do want our president to be a healer and a consoler. But the way he has conducted himself has really, as we saw in Miguel's report, it's increased the pain of that heartbroken community.

And for him to go -- and let's hope that he says all the right words in the right order on the teleprompter that his staff gives him. And then to go back out and do -- not just do rallies, which is bad enough. I think it's very bad for him to be political at a time like this, but rallies that are so very divisive, that are so designed to pit Americans against each other, and that could trigger and has triggered unbalanced, evil people to act.

I think it's appalling judgment. It's just awful judgment. It's very unpresidential. I have to say, as a political strategist, I think it's bad strategy, too,but more importantly, it's bad morality.

TAPPER: Symone, take a listen to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is Jewish, talking about whether the synagogue should welcome President Trump, assuming he visits today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Stage a photo-op that would just be a photo-op, and not result in any meaningful change, that, they shouldn't do. If they could ever get a commitment from the president that they

believe he would do something about what's been happening here, then, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What would your advice be to the members of a Tree of Life Synagogue if President Trump goes there today? What would you say to them?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, one, I wouldn't allow the cameras to come in. I would not.

If I was the communications person at the Tree of Life Synagogue, I would decline all cameras and photographers to enter in while the president -- if he goes. This is assuming he even goes.

TAPPER: Right.

SANDERS: If the president doesn't end up going, if he goes in there, I wouldn't allow any cameras or photogs, because this is not a photo opportunity.

I would absolutely allow the cameras and photographers outside, in the vestibule area, after the meeting has taken place, because allowing cameras and photographers in allows Donald Trump to capitalize on this moment, allows him to look good, even though he hasn't done anything to demonstrate that he seriously understands this moment.

[16:10:11]

Not only did he hold a rally the day that this terrorist attack, this massacre happened, he joked about not holding the rally because his hair got wet. He said, well, maybe I should have canceled because my hair got wet, not because 11 Americans were targeted because of their religion.

TAPPER: Would you, if something -- God forbid, something like this were to happen at your temple, would you want President Trump there? How would you feel?

KRISTOL: I don't know. And I have discussed that with actually people from our synagogue. And I think they're -- many of them are not Trump fans, but they're all over the place on that.

As the rabbi has said from Squirrel Hill, from the Tree of Life, he's the president. We always welcome the president in our house of worship. I think that's an appropriate thing to say. It's an appropriate thing for the leader of the congregation to say.

On the other hand -- and I guess I would have that attitude. On the one hand, I would welcome him. I very much agree with Symone. I would not want cameras in there. And I myself might not attend. I wouldn't protest. I wish people wouldn't protest. I wish the president hadn't gone, honestly. But I hope that the whole day goes off with a certain amount of

dignity and decorum and doesn't just make this terrible site of a tragedy become a spectacle.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: ... wouldn't protest. This is America. And I think there's a lot of people in America who feel he cannot erase the last two years.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: As you know, I don't think he can erase the last years in so many ways either.

But I think for the same reason that one wants the president to have behaved with greater dignity, maybe the protesters could take a day off and just not show up, you know?

TAPPER: So President Trump spoke on FOX News, and took issue with the fact that people were blaming him for the mail bomber. And I want to play a little bit of that sound. He is suggesting he's being blamed unfairly for these instances of extreme right-wing violence. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They didn't say bomber found. They talked about Trump in the headline. Now, they didn't do that with Bernie Sanders when he had -- they didn't do that with the Democrats when other people came out. They didn't do that with President Obama with the church, the horrible situation with the church.

They didn't do that. They put my name in the headlines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "They didn't do that with President Obama with the church, the horrible situation with the church."

NAVARRO: That just makes absolutely no sense. That's incoherent babbling.

I don't think Barack Obama ever said anything that would incite violence against an African-American church, whereas you have got Donald Trump who, even after those explosive devices were sent in the mail, has been saying incendiary stuff.

Now, I went through the Twitter feed of the man who sent the explosive devices, Cesar Sayoc, and he had an obsession with Andrew Gillum. The same day, Donald Trump deemed it appropriate to attack Andrew Gillum. He had an obsession with CNN. The same day, President Trump deemed it appropriate to attack the free press and call it the enemy of the people.

So that's why people link him with these activities, because he links himself and because he's got two years of equating neo-Nazis with those that protest against them, pretending that people who say "Jews will not replace us, Jews will not replace us" are good, fine people.

That's why people are holding him accountable, because America does not have amnesia.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: And pretending -- and he's the one who really has hyped up the assault on the caravan, the refugees, they're invaders, which was literally -- not literally -- which is what triggered, I suppose you could say, the gunman.

He was a horrible anti-Semite.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: No, he absolutely said, I'm going to go in.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Because the Hebrew Aid Society was helping refugees, because they were -- and he was happy that people had started calling them invaders. So there is a pretty direct relationship there.

TAPPER: And, Paul, I want to ask you. President Clinton was not beloved in Oklahoma.

BEGALA: Right.

TAPPER: OK, I think it's fair to say.

BEGALA: Right.

TAPPER: So how much he was welcome in that state after the Oklahoma City bombing was something you guys had to consider.

But he still did go there, and he still did give a speech that was known as one of his most moving and comforting. How did you negotiate that?

BEGALA: The community wanted him there. The governor, Frank Keating, wanted him there. I think the mayor did. I don't remember the mayor. But the community wanted their president there, not for partisan reasons.

These were very Republican folks, but they were Americans first. And the president did his job, which is, he came in and healed. He didn't seek any kind of partisan advantage. He tried to reunite us and to heal a bunch of broken hearts in a really wonderful community that had been the victim of a terrorist attack, at that time the worst terrorist attack on American soil in our history.

And that's what a good president does. That's, by the way, what Ronald Reagan did. This is not a partisan thing. Ronald Reagan famously drove the anti-Semites out of his party, as Bill Buckley intellectually did before him.

And when a guy, an animal burned a cross in a Maryland family's yard, African-American in Maryland, Ronald Reagan was president. I think it was '84.

You know what Ronald Reagan did? He got Nancy, they got in the car, and they drove to that family's house and had lunch with them, with the whole global press watching.

[16:15:02] This is what a president. This is not partisan.

The problem is, Donald Trump is wholly incapable of doing that. He never will, he never can, and so I think we have to abandon any hope that our president can heal. And in that sense, maybe the people who don't want him there are justified. I could never imagine not wanting a president to help heal. But he can't do it.

TAPPER: Hold on, everybody. I'll come to you first in the next panel. I promise, Symone.

President Trump's latest attempt to change the conversation ahead of the midterms is likely not even constitutional, according to many experts. But does it appeal to voters beyond Trump's base? That's a question.

Then, Senator Lindsey Graham jumping at an opportunity to show the world just how much he supports President Trump, be even if it might mean ignoring one vital document.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: One week. One week. That's how long President Trump has to do everything he can to try to keep the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, and the president seems to be focusing on two major issues in his final push to the midterm elections, attacking the media and stoking fears of undocumented immigrants, or what he has called an invasion.

President Trump now revealing a new highly dubious claim, asserting he's exploring an executive order that will end birth right citizenship. That's what grants U.S. citizenship to anyone born in the U.S., even if their parents are here illegally.

[16:20:00] It's a right laid out in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, one that has since been upheld many times by the Supreme Court.

It's a move that few constitutional scholars believe the president actually has the power to do.

CNN's Pamela Brown is at the White House.

And, Pamela, it seems the president cannot do this by executive order, and the truth is, we don't even know if they're drafting anything or, more likely, this is just a stunt to stir up his base, not to mention, change the subject from the horrific acts of right wing violence we've seen and questions about his incendiary rhetoric.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. The hate-filled violence has certainly complicated the president's plans to close out the midterm season, and we're seeing him grapple with how to change the narrative in the wake of the attacks. And he seems to be resorting to familiar territory to rile up his base, immigration.

But now, he's making claims to do something that members of his own party are rejecting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): As President Trump heads to Pittsburgh, facing criticism on his inability to unite the country following a week of violence, he's now working hard to change the conversation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits. It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end.

BROWN: The president proposing to change the Constitution, one he pledged to uphold.

TRUMP: Reserve, protect and defend --

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, U.S. SUPREME COURT: The Constitution of the United States.

TRUMP: The constitution of the United States.

BROWN: -- by ending birthright citizenship with an executive order.

TRUMP: It was always told to me you need a constitutional amendment.

INTERVIEWER: Right.

TRUMP: Guess what? You don't.

INTERVIEWER: You don't.

BROWN: Except, you do, according to constitutional scholars. Why? The 14th Amendment states, all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.

If the president does sign an executive order, it is likely to be immediately challenged in court. Some in Trump's own party already saying, trying to change the Constitution is a bad idea.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order. BROWN: Constitutional reality aside, the political bottom line is,

Trump is appealing to his base by changing the topic to one of his signature issues -- immigration.

(CHANTING)

BROWN: The administration also announcing, it would deploy more troops to the southern border, even though a large group of migrants are weeks away from arriving.

TRUMP: I called up the military. This caravan is not -- they're wasting they're time. They are not coming --

INTERVIEWER: What's the military going to --

BROWN: Trump is sending 5,200 active duty troops to join the 2,092 National Guard troops already on the U.S./Mexico border. All together, that's more than the total number of troops serving in Iraq.

But a week before the midterm elections, Trump argues the move isn't political.

TRUMP: When you looked at that bridge loaded up with people, that's called an invasion of our country. This has nothing to do with elections.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And President Trump is ramping up his campaign schedule in his final stretch, heading into the midterms. There are 11 rallies planned, and in eight key states. And Jake, he is expected to bring his controversial style with him on the trail. This coming as he also is calling for unity. You're seeing aides of the president struggle with how to square the two -- Jake.

TAPPER: You can't square the two.

Pamela Brown, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's talk about this.

Symone, do you think President Trump has the intention of trying to do away with birth right citizenship, whether through executive order or action or legislation or the constitutional amendment process or whatever? Or do you think this is just to gin up his base to get them out to vote Tuesday?

SANDERS: Well, I think this is something that could gin up Trump's base. But I also believe this is something that was in Trump's platform when he ran for president, in his immigration platform. In September 2015, "Business Insider" wrote a story about how Trump would move to ban birthright citizenship.

I take issue with the folks today that had been saying on, you know, the Democratic side of the aisle, don't get distracted. One week, don't get distracted. Look, I don't know about you all, but I can walk and chew gum at the

same time. We should not be tricked into thinking that Donald Trump's rhetoric has not ever translated into policy. Folks said what he was saying about Muslim -- people of Muslim faith -- was just rhetoric. And then he had, quote-unquote, Muslim ban.

Folks said, what he was saying about immigration was just rhetoric. And now there are kids in cages on the border.

So, I don't put Donald Trump's -- I don't take Donald Trump's rhetoric too lightly at this point. They're some there there.

TAPPER: How seriously do you take it?

BEGALA: I can't walk and chew gum at the same time. Democrats need to stay true. This is Trump super power. It's distraction.

And sending the troops to the border should be called operation change of subject. This thing -- I think Symone is right, could be a real threat. There is time enough for that.

Democrats need to not leap -- to let Trump set the agenda of everything we discuss. Democrats are winning because they're running on health care, prescription drugs, the Affordable Care Act.

[16:25:03] TAPPER: House races.

SANDERS: But I'm not saying focus should be talking about this in the Democratic House races at all.

BEGALA: Good.

SANDERS: What I am saying is, we just can't ignore it. There are people who suggest you should just ignore what Donald Trump is saying, just because he's trying to change the subject. Rhetoric is dangerous, and rhetoric has moved people to kill people in this country. Hello, this last week.

So I think folks should take this seriously. Yes. Keep talking about health care. But we can't ignore it.

TAPPER: And --

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: What I thin Paul is saying is, let's give -- let's not ignore it, but let's ignore it for the next seven days until people go out and vote because look --

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about this. Congressman Ryan Costello, he's retiring, Pennsylvania. He tweeted today, quote: We all know challenges of suburban Republicans. The block of competitive Republican-held districts less impacted by the president thus far are those with high numbers of immigrants. So, now, the president out of nowhere brings birthright citizenship up. Besides being a basic tenet of America, it's political malpractice. That's a Republican congressman who wants to hold the house, saying

this is actually going to hurt Republicans, because the marginal seats that Republicans have still a pretty good hold on have a lot of immigrants and this is going to get them fired up.

NAVARRO: Look, I'm sure William Hurd agrees with that. I'm sure Mike Coffman in Colorado agrees with that. I'm sure it's why Carlos Curbelo came out strongly today against this issue, because it affects him in Florida.

But the truth is that while we're talking about this, which is a distraction method, and yes, there is some serious policy implications, when we're talking about this, we're not talking about Khashoggi, we're not talking about anti-Semitism, we are not talking about hate speech and division that's been sown in America by Donald Trump.

And he told us himself four days ago in a tweet, Republicans were doing great in early voting and then this bomb stuff happened. And, you know, we got distracted. He is trying to bring the ball back into his court, and he's going back relying on an old playbook.

This worked for him in 2016, pitting Americans against each other, divide and conquer, them versus us. The invading army of brown people versus those of us here already. Probably not me or you, but --

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: You don't know.

TAPPER: You're in a swing district. You live in northern Virginia. Congresswoman Barbara Comstock is a vulnerable House Republican. How do you think all of this play by President Trump is impacting the race?

KRISTOL: I don't know this particular thing --

TAPPER: No, the immigration, media, everything.

KRISTOL: I think it reminds some swing voters of why they dislike Donald Trump. It's all about division. It's all about not rising to what I think many people in my district, northern Virginia, would think is more traditional tasks of the presidency and role of the presidency and behavior-appropriate to the presidency.

I can't say for sure, though, that in Senate's -- I think he's given up on the House. In Senate seats and red states and Missouri, Claire McCaskill today put out a statement or yesterday sort of supporting sending troops to the border. We absolutely have to shut down this caravan and prevent them from coming to the U.S.

So, obviously, she thinks -- she's a Democratic senator from Missouri. She thinks that in a state like Missouri, it plays differently even it does than in a congressional district in northern Virginia. NAVARRO: In Florida, the tale of two Republicans. You've got Ron

DeSantis, who's running for president, who has become a parasitic twin of Donald Trump, embracing the birthright citizenship issue. And you got Rick Scott saying, don't ask, don't tell, I don't want to delve into. Actually, Rick Scott would have to vote on this if Lindsey Graham follows through with introducing legislation.

TAPPER: And it brings it up.

NAVARRO: Right.

TAPPER: All right. Stick around, everyone.

From Donald Trump's punching bag in the primaries to one of President Trump's attack dogs as Ana was just referring to, the surprising evolution of Senator Lindsey Graham.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)