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Trump's Closing Argument: Fear & Divisiveness; Trump Says He'll Use Executive Order to End Birthright Citizenship; Trump Kicks Off 6- State Campaign Blitz; Istanbul Chief Prosecutor: Khashoggi Killing Was Planned; Backlash Grows Against Rep. Steve King Days Before Election. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 31, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us today. We'll see you back here tomorrow. I'm Poppy Harlow.


"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

President Trump racing the clock and racking up the miles. With just six days to go before the all-important midterm elections, he is launching a final campaign blitz to try to boost Republican candidates in some key races. Eight states, 11 rallies, beginning tonight in south Florida. There, he will campaign for Republicans Rick Scott and DeSantis, locked in very tight races for the Senate and the governor's mansion. The president's closing argument, though, it is definitely not "Morning in America" and it's definitely not "Hope and change," and it's definitely not anything close to rainbows and butterflies. It is turning out to be "Immigration, be afraid."

Let's start at the White House. CNN's Abby Phillip is there.

Abby, the most recent Hail Mary from the president on this one is talking about overturning the 14th Amendment. Are they taking this seriously over there?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is hard to know, Kate, how seriously they are taking it. The White House won't even say who is advising the president that he can perhaps overturn the 14th Amendment by executive order. The idea is being roundly denounced by people in the president's own party, with House Speaker Paul Ryan saying it is a nonstarter. And even, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway's husband, George Conway, who it is no secret that he often criticized the president, said this in an op-ed that he co-wrote for the "Washington Post." He said, "Sometimes the Constitution's text is plain as day and bars what politicians seek to do. That's the case with President Trump's proposal to end birthright citizenship through an executive order. Such a move would be unconstitutional and would certainly be challenged. And the challengers would undoubtedly win." But President Trump on Twitter this morning, seemed to welcome that legal challenge. Kate, it's not clear whether or not there are actually even any plans for him to sign anything. It seems that this might just be about having this conversation six days before the midterm elections, teeing up the president's 11-rally blitz over the next several days in which a key issue for his base is this issue of immigration.

We asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders about what is behind the president's strategy here in terms of where exactly he is going. She said it is all about where people love the president. Listen.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If you look at those 10 states, they are also places where the president is overwhelmingly popular in those locations. And I think the president is the best messenger for the party. He's had an incredible, historic first two years in office. He has a great story to tell. He has been doing that all over the country for the last several months.


PHILLIP: Notably, there's very little mention about the House of Representatives, certainly not prominently in the president's schedule. It seems very much that president is focusing on the Senate where Republicans have the best chance of holding on or even gaining seats -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Abby. Thank you so much.

Joining me now is Marc Short, CNN political commentator, former White House director of legislative affairs for President Trump. Marc has signed a non-disparagement agreement when working on the Trump campaign. Joe Lockhart, CNN political commentator, former White House press secretary for President Clinton.

Guys, let's talk about this one.

Marc, Paul Ryan came out and said very clearly yesterday that you can't end birth right citizenship by an executive order. Nobody at the White House is saying, as Abby said, who says he can. Is this what it looks like? Is it just a stunt? If it is, why is this what Republicans think they can win on?

MARC SHORT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not sure it's a stunt, Kate. I think that often the president pursues executive orders to draw attention to specific topics. I'm certainly not a legal scholar and don't think you can overturn the 14th Amendment by executive order. I would be uncomfortable with the policy. I think politically it is really not wise right now because I think there's a large number of Republicans, Democrats and Independents who want to secure the border. By throwing in the 14th Amendment issue, I think you break apart that coalition. So not one I'd be recommending right now.

BOLDUAN: That's a really interesting take, Joe. I wonder, how do you think that this issue that he is throwing out there now is received or will play in those suburban areas that would keep -- will be the deciders in the midterm.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It won't play well, which is why the president won't be seen in the suburbs. He will be going to the reddest of the red areas.

You know, it feels like he has his holidays mixed up. It's Halloween day and the president thinks it is April Fool's Day every day. We are the fools. A 10 percent tax cut, sending troops to the border for a caravan that is dwindling, and all of them have been offered asylum in Mexico. We don't need to secure the border that way. It is all about politics.

[11:05:07] Presidents have always, near a midterm, found some federal money to move in one direction or move in another. It's part of the game. This is unprecedented to talk about getting rid of the 14th Amendment or an amendment to the Constitution, to put troops at our border, to talk about a tax plan that none of his tax team knew anything about. To me, it feels like the president, anytime he is not the headline, he has to change it back to him. And in a lot of these suburban places like you mentioned, that doesn't work for him.

BOLDUAN: Marc, on what Joe just laid out, yes, presidents, as Joe said, it's an election, it's a campaign, and presidents want to say, we have something coming down the pike. There's always a message. Is it just -- I don't know -- they hide it better when they do it? You don't throw out a tax plan, Marc, that no one has heard of before when Congress is not in session and say you want to introduce it by resolution.

SHORT: I differentiate the issues, Kate. I think the tax idea is one to try to remind voters what Republicans did with the tax plan. And so bringing that back --


BOLDUAN: Why didn't you just tell the truth and say let's talk about the tax plan that we put in place?

SHORT: I agree with you. I think, in some ways, I believe the tax plan that was passed, did a lot for the middle class. So you have a mixed message, and say, hey, now we come out with a tax cut for the middle class. So I agree. I'm trying to explain what I think the rationale was behind it.

I also dispute probably dispute Joe on securing the border and the troops, because I think that does show a divide between Republicans and Democrats on who is more sincere about trying to secure the border. I think that's a big problem. But where Joe and I probably do agree is, I think, as I mentioned, I think that the 14th Amendment issue is one that actually breaks apart that coalition and is counterproductive.

BOLDUAN: Let me put up the map of where the president is heading in the next six days one more time. Marc, when you look at this, does this map tell you the White House is

giving up on trying to keep the majority in the House?

SHORT: I don't think it does, Kate, because I think, if you look at where the vice president is traveling, he is traveling to many more of the House districts. I think there's a differentiation between the president's travel and the vice president's travel. The president, as you know, often does the much larger rallies, I think, that are covered state wide, whereas, the vice president is focused more on some of the House districts.

BOLDUAN: From a strategic standpoint, when you look at that map, Joe, do you think the stops that they have planned for him over the next six days, from a strategic White House communications standpoint, do you think it is the right place to be in.

LOCKHART: Let me make one other point on something Marc said, which is, yes, the president is trying to make political points, and presidents always do. They don't send 5,200 troops on domestic soil to make a political point. That is unprecedented.

I think if you look at the map, it says this, which is the president wants to be able to the day after elections say, look, I helped. So he is not going to the toughest races. He's going to places where he can say, look, I went to seven states and I won all seven states or six out of seven. I think if - if --

BOLDUAN: Joe, if you are the White House, you would want that, too. You have seen what he said when he says he has been advised wrongly.


BOLDUAN: He blames everybody else.

LOCKHART: Again, that is true in this White House. In previous White Houses, you would want to do everything you could to keep the majority in the House. It is going --


LOCKHART: -- to fundamentally change the way Washington works if Democrats have oversight authority. Whatever side of the aisle you are on, whether you think it's good or bad, it is going to be very different next year.

BOLDUAN: On the issues, Marc, that we know voters care about, they care about health care, consistently a top issue when you look at the polls, and it has been from the beginning. You don't need to look further to reinforce the point than looking at Republicans who have had to cut ads saying they will protect preexisting conditions. When you talk about some of these Republicans, Josh Hawley, Dana Rohrabacher, how can they campaign on that with that with a straight face?

SHORT: I think the Republicans have offered legislation to protect preexisting conditions, Kate. I have seen other polling that says, for a lot of Americans, they feel frustrated with the health care system because their costs are too high. They still blame Obamacare. That was the brand of the last president's administration. So I'm not so sure that the health care issue cuts as cleanly as some of the media pretended it does. There are plenty issues that Republicans are campaigning on.

To Joe's last point, you look at the map and you recognize that, in the House, Republicans have 44 retirements. I think it is a heavy lift for them to hold the House at this point. But if you gain seats in the Senate, it will make confirmations more comfortable for Republicans and it is incredibly important.

BOLDUAN: The fact that Republicans are campaigning on health care and cutting ads saying they are out there to protect preexisting conditions, does that take away some of the Democratic message? Because when I talk to Democrats, they want to say health care really --


[11:09:58] LOCKHART: No. The Democrats have made a big bet here. They know that the public -- the number one issue is health care and health care security. People are afraid that they are one disease away from bankruptcy. It's a very real thing. And they know that Republicans voted 61 times in the House to repeal Obamacare. They know that this administration is in court now trying to take away preexisting conditions. Scott Walker, in Wisconsin, is one of the lead litigants on that.

The reason Republicans know it is working is because they are running the ads that are farcical. On one hand, they are arguing in court that you don't need preexisting conditions. Then they are putting an ad on that says, we are there protecting them. Voters aren't always that smart but I think they are going to be smart on this one.

BOLDUAN: So in closing --


SHORT: Let be clear about --


BOLDUAN: Go ahead.

SHORT: -- what Republicans are in court arguing is to overturn Obamacare because the individual mandate has been unwound. They are not saying we are going to court to take away preexisting conditions. I think that's --


BOLDUAN: But, Marc -- but, Marc --


LOCKHART: It's an essential part of Obamacare.

BOLDUAN: The number of times Republicans have come out and said Obamacare should go, there was no, oh, but we do want to protect preexisting conditions from way --


SHORT: Actually, if you -- if you --


SHORT: No, no, no. Then check it, because if you look at the legislation, Republicans put forward protected preexisting conditions.


BOLDUAN: Yes, and it totally fizzled. I mean --

SHORT: OK, but you can't say Republicans weren't trying to protect it because they were. It actually was in their legislation.

LOCKHART: But they were willing to get rid of Obamacare without something they could pass, which means preexisting conditions were put at risk. Now they're saying that they're trying to protect it. People are not going to buy it.


SHORT: We'll find out on Election Day.

BOLDUAN: And we're going to find out --


LOCKHART: We'll find out --


BOLDUAN: -- in six days, six whole days.


BOLDUAN: Great to see you guys. Thanks so much.

SHORT: Thanks, Kate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will protect your preexisting conditions.


BOLDUAN: Breaking news. We are getting more information coming in right now on the death of "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. He walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and he was never seen again. And the story since then has changed and changed and changed. There's official word now.

Let's go to Jomana Karadsheh, standing by in Istanbul.

Jomana, what do you have?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, as you mentioned, over the past few weeks, we have this drip-feed of leaks coming out from the Turkish government. We have had the changing narrative from Saudi Arabia.

For the first time, the chief prosecutor for Istanbul, who is overseeing the investigation into the death of Jamal Khashoggi, came out with an official statement today. He explains what happened on October 2 when Jamal Khashoggi entered the consulate. We have very little details. The first time we are hearing this officially from Turkey. They say he was suffocated to death immediately after entering the consulate in this pre-meditated murder, as they describe it. His body was dismembered and destroyed after that. Unclear what "destroyed" means.

This statement, Kate, is coming out after two days of meetings with the chief prosecutor for Saudi Arabia who was here on a visit for meetings with Turkish officials. What we understand from officials here is that it was not a really good visit, that it seemed that the Saudi side was more interested in finding out what evidence Turkey had than actually cooperating with the Turkish side.

Two key questions for Turkey that remain unanswered is, who issued the orders for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and where is his body -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: What does this "destroyed" mean? I cringe to think about it.

Jomana, thank you so much.

Coming up for us, Republican Congressman Steve King's history of using racially charged rhetoric is well documented. But now members of his own party are saying enough. Why now?


[11:18:02] BOLDUAN: So he lost big-dollar corporate dollars, he's losing support from his own party, could he next lose his seat? Republican Congressman Steve King's unapologetic and hardline views of race and immigration are not new, but they seem to now finally be too much. The head of the House Republicans campaign arm, the man in charge of getting Republicans elected, coming out against King the week before the election, saying this, "King's recent comments, actions and retweets are completely inappropriate. We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms. And I strongly condemn this behavior."

Two weeks ago, King endorsed a white nationalist running for mayor of Toronto. Last week, news reports surfaced that King met over the summer with members of a political party in Austria with ties to Neo- Nazi movements while he was on a trip to visit Holocaust sites funded by a Holocaust memorial charity. Let that set in.

Given the nation just saw the deadliest attack on Jews in its history, some Iowans are saying enough, writing in the "Des Moines Register," in part, this, "When King promoted white supremacist ideology, many of us were silent. We will not be silent now. Stand with us in denouncing Steve King and ideology he promotes."

Joining me now is the co-author of that letter, John Pleasants. He's the president of the Ames, Iowa, Jewish congregation, which is in King's district.

John, thank you for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Why write this letter, why now?

JOHN PLEASANTS, PRESIDENT, JEWISH CONGREGATION, AMES, IOWA: The letter actually started with the "Washington Post" article that came out last week where we found out that he juxtaposed this visit to a far-right propaganda outfit right after visiting Holocaust sites in Poland. And then the events on Saturday occurred and that ratcheted it up to a whole new level.

I think the reason for writing it is that Steve King has been the congressman from this district for 16 years. I think a lot of his supporters kind of treat it sort of like the grumpy old uncle that makes inappropriate statements every now and then, but is still family. We wanted to point out that this is something more serious. The visit to the far-right outfit in Austria and then, on top of that, the shooting in Pittsburgh points out that words matter, that rhetoric matters. This is something very serious. This is going too far.

[11:20:42] BOLDUAN: I know you --


BOLDUAN: I'm sorry.

I know you saw the tweet from Steve Stivers, the head of the House Republicans campaign arm. He came out pretty hard against King after this, a week before the election. You have seen the tweet. Is that enough?

PLEASANTS: That's a good start. We have not heard Republicans calling out Steve King or other individuals in the Republican Party when they have made very outrageous statements. That is certainly something. Hopefully, this will open the eyes of Steve King's supporters and they will see that, by supporting him, they are also indirectly supporting other organizations, which news outlets and social media, which are then picked up by people who then might do a shooting like we saw in Pittsburgh.

BOLDUAN: So what if after this -- Stivers is calling him out, you are calling attention to Steve King supporters -- what if King wins reelection next week? There's a good chance that he will. What do you do then?

PLEASANTS: Well, we'll have him around for another two years. We can continue to push back in any ways that we can. The only thing we can do at that point is, at local levels, just raise awareness of these issues and call him out when he says things that are inappropriate.

BOLDUAN: So we have it out there, Steve King, in response to when Steve Stivers called him out, he says, "These attacks are orchestrated by the nasty, desperate and dishonest fake news." He goes on to say, "Establishment Never Trumpers are complicit."

It's a long way of saying it does not sound like an apology that you're looking for, John, is going to be coming soon from Congressman King.

I thank you for coming on through.


OK. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Joining me right now, CNN politic reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza.

Chris, I said it off the top, and John Pleasants pointed it out, and I thought it was interesting how he described him, as a long time, as treating him as the grumpy uncle that might say outrageous things but he is still family. Is Steve King in trouble right now in terms of his reelection?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Kate, I am going to answer that. But I can't let that tweet from Steve King stand. How is the fake news responsible for a Republican Congressman tweeting about Steve Stivers?


CILLIZZA: How do we orchestrate that?

BOLDUAN: Let me -- let me --


CILLIZZA: I mean, at some point, we have to call B.S. on this.


BOLDUAN: No, listen to me. At this point, when you see things like that, fake, dishonest, fake news, it is like putting a period or a comma or saying and/or/but, or that in a sentence.


BOLDUAN: It is just an additional word at this point. For better or worse, I just gloss over it. For me, that reads no comment.


BOLDUAN: That's the way I'm taking it.

CILLIZZA: You're right. So you're right. To your initial point, this district is the most Republican district in Iowa. It's most of western Iowa. It's rural. It was drawn largely -- they have a nonpartisan board that draws these districts. But it was drawn to elect a Republican. King is more conservative I think than the district. He is more conservative than most of the Congress. But he has won reelection in the last few times, Kate --


BOLDUAN: Can we make a differentiation between conservative and --


CILLIZZA: Yes, absolutely. That is important. This is not Steve King's first rodeo when it comes to saying things like this. He has won easily before. There's a poll out there that Democrats are pushing that shows his Democratic opponent, who has better finance than in the past, within striking distance. I think this is a -- if Democrats pick up 30 seats Steve King doesn't lose. If they pick up 40 seats, I don't think Steve King loses. If Democrats pick up net 50 seats then you are in the realm of possibility. There's at least two seats in Iowa that are more vulnerable than this one even with these comments.

BOLDUAN: Regardless. What happened in the past week deserves being called out.


[11:25:01] Absolutely.


CILLIZZA: And we find this a lot with Donald Trump, quickly, Kate.


CILLIZZA: With Donald Trump, people say it's a political strategy and it will work. Sure, we can acknowledge that. That doesn't make it right. That's a key distinction.

BOLDUAN: That makes me sick to my stomach even talking about political strategy when it comes to this.


BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. Great to see you.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, Kate. BOLDUAN: I do want to -- for our viewers I want you to look at this. A great day for my friend, John Berman, and the city of Boston and Red Sox nation. Looking live at Boston where the Red Sox are holding their World Series victory parade after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers, four games to one. Look at the duck boats. Congratulations, J.B.

We'll be right back.