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Trump Stokes Fear of Immigrants in an Ad Ahead of Midterms; Trump Says He May Send 15,000 Troops to U.S.-Mexico Border; Interview with Rep. David Cicilline (D), Rhode Island; Synagogue Shooting Suspect Appears in Court. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 1, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Mexico border.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Still, the president now says that the threat of violence, be it real or imagined, from that caravan warrants sending as many as 15,000 U.S. troops to the border.

Consider this. That would nearly equal the number now fighting terror groups in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would concede -- exceed, rather, those in Iraq and be more than those fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House with more.

Abby, does the White House have any answers to how the president justifies that extraordinary use of American military force on the U.S. border here?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House is pointing to that issue, pointing to the president sending troops to the border and saying that they are the ones dealing with what they have characterized as a crisis on the border and saying that Democrats have refused to do so, but, Jim, this whole thing is part of a broader closing argument from President Trump and his allies that's focused on the issue of immigration.

That ad that you just played earlier today is designed to get attention and designed to shock. But a lot of people are asking, is it also racist? Is the president's rhetoric around immigration and also that ad? Is that a dog whistle to his supporters?

He spoke to CBN News in an interview yesterday and here's how he responded to those charges.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, the word racist is used about every Republican that's winning. Any time a Republican is leading, they take out the R word, the racist word. And I'm not anti-immigrant at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PHILLIP: But of course, that ad has shocked a lot of people, including some in the president's own party. And it amounts to the final argument from President Trump that he is going to be prosecuting on the campaign trail over the next several days. He has yet another rally today in Missouri. And this has become a central theme of his campaign. He called it make America safer again.

But of course, Jim and Poppy, this will go down in the history books as one of the most divisive and controversial ads in recent political history.


SCIUTTO: Fitting with the overall message. Abby Phillip, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Let's talk about this because there's a lot of news this morning. With us, CNN -- joining us CNN military and diplomatic analyst Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Good morning to you.


HARLOW: If we could just pull up that chart again, guys, in the control room because I think it's striking if you look at the troops fighting overseas. You know, fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria. And then you compare it to the troop level at the U.S. southern border that far exceeds all of those. Does this make sense?

KIRBY: Well, so right now we don't have quite as many as 15,000 down at the border. I think the numbers that they're getting ready to deploy in the next few days is going to take you to around 7,000, but I take the point. And I -- you know, certainly the numbers are striking. But I think, Poppy, it's really important for us to remember that the types of troops are different here.

We have low numbers in places like Syria and Iraq because we don't need high numbers because these are advisers and trainers, because it's the Iraqi Security Forces that are really going after ISIS there.


KIRBY: And those kind of missions. The troops that are going to be going to the border or near the border are going to be enablers. What we call enablers. They're support troops, engineers, pilots, mechanics, supply clerks. That kind of thing. They're going to be doing missions that then can free up Border Patrol to actually go to the border.

SCIUTTO: But what evidence is there, John Kirby, that the more than 17,000 Border Patrol agents already stationed at the border, the 2,000 National Guardsmen already stationed at the border, need several thousand more U.S. Military to back them up? Especially in light of the fact that this caravan is many weeks away. An election, however, is just days away.

KIRBY: Yes, look, Jim, there's no getting around the fact that the timing of this is very suspicious with the election. And of course, it feeds right into President Trump's fear-mongering on immigration. No question about that.

That said, Jim, and you know this. You've covered the Pentagon, the requirements process for orders for troops to deploy even in the United States is a pretty rigid process and it's hard to game that out. And what I'm told is that Secretary Mattis is working directly with DHS to validate the requirements that they are submitting, the help that they need, then he says OK, this is a valid requirement.

He pushes it off to the northern command commander who then tries to source it with actual troops. So I'm not worried about the legitimacy of the requirements process and the capabilities that are being sent. I am concerned with, like a lot of Americans, with the timing of all this and the political intent behind it.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I know there's a process, John. But let's be honest here. You served in the Pentagon for a long time.


SCIUTTO: The timing of this, the number of troops, the constant raising of it. It was 5,000 troops, then it was 7,000, as you noted, then the president, with little basis apparently, triples, almost triples the number to 15,000.

[10:05:06] KIRBY: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Are you concerned here that the Pentagon is being used as a political tool? I mean, the Pentagon has to listen to what the president says. He's the commander-in-chief, and I'm sure Mattis ran it through the processes, but let's look at how this looks in light of the timing, the president's overall message. Aren't you concerned that they're being exploited here?

KIRBY: I'm absolutely concerned about the validity of this mission itself and the timing of it. There's no question about that. What I'm saying, though, is that I don't think the Pentagon is gaming out the capabilities. They're not gaming out the system to try to, you know, artificially amp this up. The other concern that I have, though, Jim, and this is a big one, is that Trump is not being honest with the American people about what these troops are going to be doing.

When he talks about them, he creates this word picture for people that these troops are going to be hurling back invaders at the border, side by side with the Border Patrol. And that's just not the case. In fact, many of them will never even get close to the border. They're logisticians, they're supply people, they're medical support. They're going to be building tents and temporary housing facilities. They're going to be freeing up the Border Patrol to do their job a little more.

HARLOW: Right.

KIRBY: They're not allowed to get into law enforcement issues.

HARLOW: I think that's a really interesting point, right, the word seizing them, for example, and what they're actually legally allowed to do, these troops. "The Washington Post" had a great fact check, gave it three Pinocchios, right? Some of the words -- the rhetoric the president is using around those troops. Equally important.


HARLOW: Admiral, as always, thank you.

KIRBY: You bet.

SCIUTTO: Let's continue our discussion now with our guests, Alice Stewart, she's a CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, and Mary Katharine Ham is also a CNN political commentator as well as a conservative blogger here.

Mary Katharine Ham, if I could begin with you. This is all -- you know, don't miss the forest for the trees here, right? I mean, this is all part of a bigger picture, strategy by this president, whether it's the controversial ad that the president re-tweeted, the language he's using on the campaign trail, the troops he's deploying on the border here.

From your seat, is this something that is both right and effective for Republicans before the midterms?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it could be effective in certain places, possibly. I don't think it's -- I think it's heavy handed. I think it's obvious that this is all of a piece. I think it probably messes with Republicans' chances in these more suburban districts that are swing districts that you would like to appeal to people who don't like an ad like that at all. And so it can hurt him other places. And that's always the thing about this president.

He will go full bore on, you know, triggering or owning libs or doing whatever the signaling he wants to do, and it will boost in some areas but it won't in others, right? And I will say, there always is, and this is what Trump supporters hang on to, right? There always is a kernel of truth. Like there's a kernel of truth that we have an issue with letting people who have committed crimes come into -- who are in the United States illegally come back several times after having committed even several crimes and been caught several times.

And that is a real security issue that people are allowed to be worried about. It is a very small part of the immigration picture, and he makes it basically all of it.

HARLOW: I think it was fascinating, Alice, what Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo from Southern California who is trying desperately to hang on to his seat said to Jim last hour. And he said essentially that he hopes that this divide and conquer strategy of the president, this fear-mongering, fails. That's a risky thing for him to say because his seat is so at risk, but just beyond that, looking at history and looking at the Willie Horton ad and as racist as that was, Jim pointed out, you know, it worked. Will it work this time?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think that the key to this is we have a bifurcated ad strategy where we're focusing on that and other issues as well. And with regard to this ad, I think it's inaccurate to automatically say this is a racist ad. When this is an ad that focuses on a serious issue that President Trump campaigned and won on, which is securing the border and border security. And if anyone thinks it's OK for an illegal immigrant to come into this country and kill a cop, and that's not a problem, I'd like to hear their defense for that because I think it's a real problem.

SCIUTTO: But does it matter, Alice, if it's factual? Because this guy was deported. Because the implication of the ad is that he was going to be welcomed back into the country.


SCIUTTO: After these crimes when that's just not factually true.

STEWART: It's an illegal immigrant that killed a cop. And if you don't think there's a problem with that, I would like to hear it.

SCIUTTO: I didn't say -- of course, I didn't say there's not a problem. I said that he was deported so I'm questioning the fact of the ad. The factual basis of the ad because the ad claims that he was basically welcomed back in when he was deported. That's the issue.

I'm asking you, does it matter if the basis of the ad is true or not?

STEWART: The basis of the ad is to call attention to the problem with crimes committed by illegal aliens. And that's what the focus is. And keep in mind, this calls attention to a big issue that this president has been very clear.

[10:10:04] This is a big part of his message to his base, to his core voters. But there are many other ads out there. You go across this country and you see rally ads in North Dakota and West Virginia and Indiana where he's showing a contrast. There are ones that focus on immigration. There are others that show contrast with the Democrat opponents that talk about a vote for the Democrat opponent will mean you'll be raising taxes, you'll be opening the borders, you will be losing jobs.

And there are many ways to go about this final midterm push. And contrast ads are important. Issue ads are important. And getting out the vote ads are all important. It's a big part of a comprehensive plan.

HARLOW: Mary Katharine, listen to what the rabbi of the Tree of Life Synagogue who was in the synagogue for that horrific massacre this weekend. Listen to what he said to Alisyn Camerota this morning about his discussion with President Trump about rhetoric and about hate. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RABBI JEFFREY MYERS, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: His hate speech led to the death of seven of my congregants and 11 total in my building. He listened. I would say the answer to your question would be to take a look and see OK, post-visit what does the president continue to do? And I don't need to answer that. I think you and the public can formulate your own answer. But I don't fully blame it on any one person. I think it's a national issue.


HARLOW: And that's really interesting, right, Katharine? Right? He's like, I talked to the president. I think he heard me, but watch what he does. What do you think he'll do?

HAM: I mean, it remains to be seen. And like I said, it's -- it can work with some people and not with others. And I don't think he's terribly good at staying on a sensitive message, and frankly, in the wake of tragedies, he can sort of for one appearance do that.

I will say with all due respect and all of my prayers for those who were affected, we do run the risk, I think, of endangering free speech, frankly, when we say that speech perpetrates massacres. It doesn't. Speech is different from actions. Political speech, even very bad political speech --


SCIUTTO: Wait, wait. But Mary Katharine, it's --

HAM: -- is different from actually committing crimes.

SCIUTTO: It's one thing to --

HAM: And by the way -- wait.


SCIUTTO: It's one thing to equate. But we define hate speech. I mean, hate speech is defined in law as something --

HAM: We do. Yes, and everybody said it's --

SCIUTTO: That is a bad thing.

HAM: Almost everyone sort of freely says that's bad. I do think that when we draw that causal link, and weirdly we don't have that discussion after ricin is sent to Mattis and white powder is sent to Donald Trump Jr.'s ex-wife, we don't have a rhetoric discussion. We only have a rhetoric discussion when the rhetoric discussion is useful for shutting down one side's rhetoric, or at least that's what it seems to me sometimes.

SCIUTTO: Well, a fair point -- CNN certainly covered the sending of the white powder, but I hear your point on the amount of talk about that question after each of these incidents.

Listen, Alice Stewart, Mary Katharine Ham, these are tough subjects.

HARLOW: Thank you both.

SCIUTTO: We always appreciate having you on.

The president is pushing back on Democrats' claims that they have the momentum before the midterms, declaring, quote, "The blue wave is dead." And the big guns are coming out in Georgia's governor's race. Both Vice President Mike Pence and Oprah stumping for the candidates there now. And even more star power on the way. Gives you a measure of how much attention on this race.

HARLOW: Yes. How important that race is.

Also, the man accused of gunning down 11 people at the Pittsburgh synagogue appears in court. The dozens of charges he's facing including 32 charges that each carry the death penalty.


[10:17:59] HARLOW: All right. Five days to go until the midterms. The president has made a prediction. Listen to this.


TRUMP: I think the blue wave is dead, frankly, and I think we're doing very well. I think we'll win the Senate. I think we're going to do well in the House.


HARLOW: So that's the president saying in his words the blue wave is dead.

Joining us now, part of the blue, the Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committee.

It is nice to have you. So the president thinks the blue wave is dead.


HARLOW: Nancy Pelosi is confident in her prediction, very confident this week the Dems will win the House. Are you as certain as she is?

CICILLINE: Well, I feel very optimistic and cautiously confident. I have been traveling the country, campaigning with our candidates. We have the best candidates we have ever had running for Congress. They're speaking about the urgent priorities of the American people, driving down health care costs, raising family incomes, and taking on the serious corrupting influence of money in our political system in Washington, and I think they're speaking to the issues that matter to folks, and I think the president is trying every way he can in these final days in this desperate attempt to change the subject. To talk about something else.

And I think that's also part of the failure of the Republicans to actually get anything done for the American people. If you control the House, the Senate, and the White House, this should be your closing argument.

HARLOW: Yes. All right.

CICILLINE: These are all the things we got done for you.

HARLOW: Well, they did pass -- they did pass tax reform, which is something they've been trying to do for a long time. And I know that you disagree with how it all played out in benefiting the wealthy. But they did get that done. Let me talk to --

CICILLINE: I don't just disagree. The American people disagree.

HARLOW: I heard your interview last night on it.

CICILLINE: Right? I mean --

HARLOW: I heard your interview last night on it. I heard your interview last night on it.


HARLOW: But I want to get to some other things.


HARLOW: Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Dana Bash just did a fascinating interview with her and with her opponent, and she's running away from the left wing of the party. As you know, you know, she knows her constituents. Right? She knows the state, but listen to this part.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You have the radio ad out saying that you're not one of those crazy Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Claire is not one of those crazy Democrats. She works right in the middle and finds compromise.

[10:20:06] BASH: What does that mean?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Well, the crazy Democrats are the people who are getting in the face of elected officials in restaurants and screaming at them. The crazy Democrats is whoever put a swastika on one of Josh Hawley's signs in rural Missouri. That's the kind of stuff I'm talking about. The extreme stuff.


HARLOW: Does she have a point, Congressman, that you wish more of your party would listen to? CICILLINE: Well, look, I think our party by and large is made up of

people who are committed to a core set of values. Protecting people's access to health care, improving family incomes, getting money out of politics.

HARLOW: But, Congressman, to that --

CICILLINE: And sure, in every political party, there are people who are more animated and more, you know, sort of engaged in tactics that I don't engage in.


HARLOW: I mean, come on, that's more than animated. OK. But --

CICILLINE: No, look, I think --

HARLOW: Do you agree with Claire McCaskill on that?

CICILLINE: No, look, I don't -- look I think we ought to all be civil to each other. I try to always conduct myself in a civil way.


CICILLINE: And people are passionate, and sometimes they go overboard, but the reality is what this election is about is not crazy people. It's about who's going to work for the American people and focus on the issues that are important in our lives.

HARLOW: So there's an interesting "Wall Street Journal"-NBC News poll out and it shows that 9 out of 10 Republican voters approve of the president's performance in office. That's probably giving him a lot of confidence to do things like put out this blatantly racist ad, that there was, you know, put out a tweet this blatantly racist ad that was put out on his behalf yesterday to talk about invaders in this caravan of asylum seekers.

The reality is he's not running on this great economy, and I'm confounded as to why not. I mean, unemployment is at a 69-year low. You said yesterday we should all be celebrating this low unemployment rate.

Are you concerned about Democrats, especially in the House, having to run against this very good economy?

CICILLINE: No, because I think, as I said yesterday, you know, unemployment rate is very low. We should all be happy about that, but when you dig below those numbers a little bit, what you see is there are too many Americans that are working two and three jobs just to get by. They're seeing their health insurance go up because of this effort to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. They see Republicans in court trying to take away coverage for pre-existing conditions.

And they see the corrupting influence of money in our politics, and the president now has a record to run on. You know, when he tried this fear-mongering in the last campaign, he didn't have a record to run on, and it worked. I think it's not going to work this time because now he has a record that he has to account for. The tax cut went to the richest people in this country. Not middle class families. So I do think the unemployment rate is good.


CICILLINE: But for too many Americans, they still haven't seen their incomes go up.

HARLOW: OK. I hear you. Wage growth is up 3.3 percent last quarter, higher than inflation. That's a good news story for everyone.

Let me get you on this because you sit on the Foreign Affairs Committee and this just doesn't get enough attention, the crisis in Yemen. I was so glad to see this morning, it is the cover story of "The New York Times" magazine, and it's a Saudi-led coalition fighting that war in Yemen. Also on top of that, you have this letter from five Republican Senators, Marco Rubio, Todd Young, Cory Gardner, Rand Paul, Dean Heller to the president.

And they write to the president, because of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist, and what's going on in Yemen, they write, "The ongoing revelations about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi as well as certain Saudi actions related to Yemen in Lebanon have raised further serious concerns about the transparency, accountability and judgment of current decision-makers in Saudi Arabia."

They are calling on the president, these Republicans, to cut off all nuclear talks with Saudi Arabia at this point in time. Do you join them in that call?

CICILLINE: Well, there have been a number of us in Congress who have been pressing for a very long time to stop the military assistance to the Saudis in Yemen. This is an unauthorized military engagement by the U.S. The murder of Mr. Khashoggi has brought attention to Yemen. And I'm grateful for that attention. We've been trying to raise this issue for a very long time.

It really is evidence of a larger problem with the Saudis, where there's been a very serious retreat on human rights. A real crackdown on dissidents. There are real problems under their current leadership in Saudi Arabia. And I think it's an occasion for us to not only cut off military assistance and to impose sanctions but also review in a complete and thorough way all of our security relationships with the Saudis and all of our other relationships with the intention of really punishing them for their behavior. But I'm happy that we're now talking about Yemen, but this has been a serious humanitarian crisis for a very long time.

HARLOW: For three years. It certainly has.


HARLOW: Congressman Cicilline, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: The accused gunman in the deadly synagogue massacre entering a not guilty plea. This just moments ago in court. Not guilty, he says. CNN was inside that courtroom. We're going to have a live update next.


[10:29:26] HARLOW: All right. Breaking news. The suspect, the gunman, the suspect in the massacre that killed 11 people in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh has just pleaded not guilty to all of these charges. Forty-four of them returned in this federal grand jury indictment.

SCIUTTO: The suspect simply replied yes when he was asked if he understood the charges against him, many of which carry the death penalty in the state of Pennsylvania.

CNN's Jean Casarez is live in Pittsburgh.

Jean, you were in the front row of the courtroom. Describe that moment as he entered this plea.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was different today. He walked in. He was not wheeled in in a wheelchair. He had a red jumpsuit on. He was shackled at his legs, shackled at his waist, he had his handcuffs on.