Return to Transcripts main page


Sources: 17 Dems Vow to Vote "No" for Pelosi as Speaker; U.S. Sanctions 17 Saudis Over Death of Jamal Khashoggi. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 15, 2018 - 16:30   ET


[16:30:01] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: This afternoon, Democrats picked up yet another House seat, making the Democrats' net pickup 33 with seven races yet to be called. All of those seven are in Republican-held districts. Democrats right now are leading in five of the seven.

Today's winner, Democrat Jared Golden, the new congressman from Maine's second district, pledged to voters he would not support Nancy Pelosi as the next speaker of the house.

Pelosi today asserted she has the votes to take the helm. Others in her party are saying not so fast.


REP. SETH MOULTON (D), MASSACHUSETTS: She's wrong. We have the votes.


TAPPER: That's Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. He's pushing other names to challenge Pelosi. No one has officially come forward to challenge the first woman speaker of the House, who also wants to be the second woman speaker of the House.

So, what's the deal?

Our panel is still with us.

Now, according to multiple sources, 17 Democrats have signed a letter saying they will not vote for Pelosi for speaker and five others have pledged not to vote for her but have yet to sign the letter.

Take a listen, however, to Congresswoman Pelosi.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be speaker of the House, and certainly we have many, many people in our caucus who could serve in this capacity. I happen to think at this point I'm the best person for that.


TAPPER: I just did the math. So, 223 seats minus 17 and five who say they won't vote for her, that's 211. That's not enough votes to be speaker. You need 218.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, but she seems very confident. She's saying she's 100 percent confident that she will and there are other people saying they're 100 percent she won't be. So, someone here is 100 percent wrong, we're going to figure out who it is.

But I do think that she is incredibly unpopular across the country in an optics way and that's why so many people running pledged not to support her if they did win their races. But then now that they are in Washington where she can raise a lot of money, you can't ignore how much money that Nancy Pelosi can raise, I think it's going to be a harder decision for them to stick by that promise. If that's the first promise you made to your would-be constituents, and now that your constituents, it's kind of hard to square that if you do support her in the end.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm not saying Nancy Pelosi is bluffing, because I don't know her whip list, but I know Nancy Pelosi never brought anything to the floor she didn't have the votes for, and I don't know that Seth Moulton has ever kept a whip list. I mean, Nancy Pelosi knows what she's doing. She knows that caucus.

She -- Democrats have never, since I can remember, have had -- have functioned under a weak speaker, so without Nancy Pelosi, who? It is hard to govern with a weak speaker. We just saw it with Paul Ryan.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: One thing about politics, the longer you don't have a vote and the longer she twists in the wind, the less likely it becomes, I think. If there was a vote held today could lock people down and nail it down. The longer the vote goes, it won't be until January, I think she's vulnerable until that vote happens and people get to go in the back room and cut deals and talk to others. I think she's in big danger.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But I think, David, that's ignoring how the process actually works. I mean, look, I believe there needs to be generational change soon. I think many Democrats believe that, and that's what you see happening.

But we also have a president in the White House that needs to have somebody who have had experience be their opponent. It didn't actually work when Republicans ran against her because Democrats won back 35 seats, around that number of seats, but the process works.

There will be a vote by the caucus in the week after Thanksgiving. That's not a vote typically where people know how vote, but they could change that and allow members to get on the record. I think that's something that would be wise to do so that members can go back and say I voted against her, but they just want to be able to come out of there with a person they have selected. On the floor, Democrats, even people who are new, won't vote for Kevin McCarthy over Nancy Pelosi. I think that's where she is making her bet. New members can also vote present on the floor.

So, there's a lot of dynamics about the process that are a little in the weeds, but the odds are probably still in her favor, though it's closer than it's ever been in her time.

TAPPER: So, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was asked if sexism might be playing a role in Pelosi's detractors, trying to push her out of the role. Take a listen.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: Well, there is a lot of sexism in politics, a lot of sexual bias in pretty much any industry that you want to look at. You probably know it in your own industry, and so I'm sure that's a factor, but I think she is qualified, and she is extraordinary and she is strong, and she will make a very effective speaker.


TAPPER: I'm sure sexism is a factor, is what Gillibrand said. And the truth of the matter is the Democrats won back the House. Democrats lost seats in the Senate. Nobody is calling for Chuck Schumer to step down.

COLLINS: That's right. But they did -- I do think a lot of it has to do to the generational change that people wanted to see. They voted against that, not simply just because it's Nancy Pelosi, because of what she represents.

But I do think back in the White House, they would like for her to be the speaker because they want her to be a foil for President Trump. When I spoke to several White House officials on election night, they said we kind of expected to lose the House and this is actually fine for us if this does happen. We were expecting this. We're bracing ourselves for it and now president Trump can have a foil in Washington and he can fight with someone who is not Paul Ryan, a member of his own party.

[16:35:03] DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The other thing --

PSAKI: What's strange about that it didn't work in 2018. So, the fact that they want that continue to be their foil is a little bit odd.

URBAN: The thing about Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi is someone who will cut a deal, someone who may run to her left and win. She's not going to want to get infrastructure done. She doesn't want to cooperate with the president on anything.

So, you know, from the administration's point I think to run against her and maybe cut deals with her, she's the best person to have.

TAPPER: The things that's mystifying is there really isn't anybody challenging her. We're all talking about this as she's vulnerable and nobody is challenging her. Seth Moulton, who played a clip of before, he's been pushing for generational change. He tweeted: I'm hoping Marcia Fudge, my first and best mentor in Congress, will run for the next speaker of the House.

Watch Pelosi's reaction when asked about Congresswoman Marcia Fudge challenging her.


PELOSI: I say to everybody, come on in. The water is warm.


TAPPER: Come on in, the water is warm.

KUCINICH: Yes, she said bring it, basically.

URBAN: She took out there a shiv out there too, by the way.

KUCINICH: I feel like Nancy please would stab you in the front. But she -- so, yes, Marcia -- and she said she's thinking about it, and in an interview with "The Washington Post," but Nancy Pelosi does -- she has the cardinals -- the incoming chairmen. She has a lot of support within the CBC.

But make no mistake: the CBC, particularly the incoming class of African-American women, are going to get a seat at that table because they do not only voters but also within that caucus, they really represent a very strong bloc in this Congress.

PSAKI: The other interesting dynamic that's going on with the CBC is Clyburn, Diana DeGette is challenging Clyburn, which most people don't think it was a serious challenge, but now, she's gathering a fair amount of support. I don't know that Clyburn is at risk but I think the CBC is looking at they need a spot in representation in leadership which is fair, too, and they don't see another place where they can actually challenge.

URBAN: That's an interesting point, right? So, Pelosi remains at the top. A bunch of younger folks get swept in underneath her and so, she's exactly correct but her leadership team may not be in place.

PSAKI: But a lot of younger members are also making a calculation that this leadership is not going to be around forever. I mean, the average age of the leaders is high, and they may want to get their names on the map as the alternative, maybe in two years, maybe in four years, maybe in three years. And that's a smart tactic to take as well.

TAPPER: It's tough to go after entrenched leaders in a party, as they said on the wire. If you come for the king, you best not miss.

Everyone, stick around.

They murdered a journalist and then lied about it to the world, and now, Saudi Arabia wants to execute the same people who they say carried out the assassination of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Will President Trump go along with what critics are calling a cover-up?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:42:04] TAPPER: And we're back with the world lead.

Saudi Arabia charging 11 people in the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi today. Saudi officials continue to insist that the crown prince had absolutely nothing to do with the murder, despite the fact that many of the suspects have ties not just to his regime but to him personally. Instead, officials cite the Trump administration's claim a rogue operation was behind the plot, and it seems that explanation might be good enough for President Trump.

Today, the Treasury Department sanctioned 17 Saudis for their involvement in Khashoggi's death. The crown prince was not one of them.

Here's CNN's State Department reporter Michelle Kosinski.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. today sanctioned 17 Saudis including officials and people close to the crown prince, implicated in the murder of Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, who has never seen again after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd to get papers for his upcoming wedding.

But the sanctions list follows right along the Saudi line of what happened inside that consulate, and today, the Saudis announced indictments of some of those men, as well as not surprisingly executions.

SHAIKH SUOOD BIN ABDULLAH AL MO'JAB, SAUDI PUBLIC PROSECUTOR (through translator): We have requested the death penalty for the five people who ordered and carried out the murder.

KOSINSKI: Not sitting well with those who've been critical of the Saudis.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Sanctioning people who are already in jail is sort of like pretending to do something. I think it's doubtful that in an authoritarian regime like Saudi Arabia, that anything happened without the crown prince's support.

KOSINSKI: U.S. sources echoed that belief, but President Trump hasn't, seeming to side instead with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who's close to the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It sounded to me like may be this could have been rogue killers. Who knows?

KOSINSKI: The same phrase the Saudis use in their defense of the prince.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER: His royal highness has nothing to do with this issue. In fact, the -- the national security adviser in the U.S. said this. This was a rogue operation. KOSINSKI: Today, their prosecutor outlined what they say happened to

Khashoggi, a plot they claimed was hatched by the former deputy intelligence director and carried out by a close advisor to the crown prince.

The Saudis say the plan was to persuade Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia and if that didn't work to force him. They say there was an argument, a physical fight, the officials restraining Khashoggi and injecting him with an overdose of a sedative. Khashoggi's body was then cut into pieces. No word on why the negotiators obviously had tools to do that.

His remains taken away and given to a local collaborator to a still undisclosed location, according to the Saudi report that also notes the cameras at the consulate on this day were disabled.

AMBASSADOR ROBERT JORDAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: I think we've got a lot of other people to be held accountable this. This requires a much more thorough investigation and not simply by the Saudis.

(on camera): The Turks now are calling for an international investigation. The U.S. investigation is ongoing. But the national security adviser and other sources say there is still no smoking gun linking the Saudi crown prince to murder.

Michelle Kosinski, CNN the State Department.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And our thanks to Michelle for that report. Republican Senator Rand Paul, a longtime skeptic of the Saudis was just on CNN expressing his skepticism about even the sanctions that the Trump Administration is putting on these seventeen Saudis. Take a listen.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think sanctioning people who are already in jail, it's sort of like pretending to do something because if you sanction them are already in jail, five of them are on death row, you think they really care if they have been sanctioned?


TAPPER: Does he have a point?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Look, I think the question -- the real issue at hand here is President Trump in the administration going to stand by MBS when the increased --

TAPPER: The Crown Prince, yes.

PSAKI: The Crown Prince. When the increasing evidence seems very clear what happened here. Obviously, we're going to continue to have a relationship with Saudi Arabia. They have -- they're an important relationship for the United States but his survival is interesting here and I'm not sure survival would be as certain without the U.S. support which he has at this point.

TAPPER: So we just got a statement from the CEO of The Washington Post, the newspaper for which Khashoggi worked and he writes, "from the start, the Saudi investigation has been an effort to shield those ultimately responsible for this heinous crime when there is every reason to believe that it was authorized at the highest levels of the Saudi government. It's impossible to have confidence but we have gotten to the truth when the purported investigations were neither transparent nor independent and when investigation -- and when -- I'm sorry, and when evidence continues to be withheld." We have to remember also, Kaitlan, the Saudis story on this --


TAPPER: -- has changed. At first, they were denying that Khashoggi had even visited the embassy.

COLLINS: But I do think it's interesting that the Saudis announced today they're going to request the death penalty for those five people right around the time that the United States announced those sanctions on the Saudis because those twin statements to be coming out in an effort to put this behind us. Because the White House has wanted nothing more than that, and they have said to me for weeks White House officials, that they believed we and the media we're over blowing this story and that we were the only ones who really focused on it and that people out in the country did not care about the story and did not prioritize it, which I don't know is true.

But we do see that it's the administration trying to look like they are holding the Saudis accountable without disrupting any arms deal you. Heard from Rand Paul, he was someone who though being close to Trump said that he believed they should put the arms deal on hold while this was going on. so it does seem that the White House is simply just trying to do this to put this behind them because they would like nothing more than to not talk about this anymore.

TAPPER: Let's talk about that for a second because I remember talking about this when President Trump initially made his comments and it seemed clear that that was their position that whatever the Saudis did it didn't matter compared to the strategic relationship and that -- they weren't going to abandon MBS and they were relying on the fact -- I'm surprised that they said it so candidly to you -- they were relying on the people they didn't think the American people cared. And I guess my question for you is, is he right? Do the American people really not care about this?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But just because it isn't playing in Peoria doesn't mean that human rights don't matter around the world. It doesn't mean that you the United States doesn't have a responsibility to send a signal that this isn't all right, that this isn't a way to treat -- to do this to a journalist that they didn't agree with. That's not OK and that sends signals to other countries. We saw other countries start to act against journalists after the president seemed to set this aside. So while this might not be something people are discussing at the dinner table every night which is fine, people have lives, it doesn't make it any less important. TAPPER: David, let me ask you, Jack Quinn who worked as Al Gore's

chief of staff and also went on -- he sued the Saudis trying to get those redacted documents from the 9/11 report. Jack Quinn phrased it this way. "Saudis murdered Khashoggi and now will quickly kill the members of the hit team who can identify the senior Saudi Arabian mastermind of the assassination. Is that fair?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, look, none of this stuff is pleasant obviously right? It is -- it is beyond -- the handling of this has been not even-handed. As you, as you correctly point out, they say it wasn't there, now they admit they killed him, trying to find his body right? There's never -- the notion that somehow we're going to get to the end of the truth here, ultimately, I think it's just -- everyone knows no one's going to -- there's not going to be a direct line from these gentlemen to the Crown Prince that proves definitely he did it.

TAPPER: Well, certainly not after he killed them.

URBAN: Well they're -- I don't believe there's going to be a direct line anyhow. I mean, you know, who knows. I mean, I think there's a push for that. There's a push for people, there's a hope that it's going to happen. At the same time you know, there was a call earlier for regime change. Is that going to happen? Is that plausible? Is that possible? No. So I mean, what is the outcome here? What's the best outcome? You're going to depose -- they're going depose the Crown Prince, get rid of him?

PSAKI: But David, I think it certainly is possible. I mean, you don't inherit the Crown Prince position. You're named the Crown Prince there --

URBAN: I understand --

PSAKI: -- as you know. There have been a couple in the past few years. So this is sort of a question within Saudi Arabia and they need to determine how they want to be viewed by the rest of the world. Obviously, by -- as Kaitlan said, they're trying to put this behind them, the White House and Saudi Arabia. They've always said from the beginning they thought that there might be like a rogue actor. That was the several weeks ago explanation.

[16:50:05] URBAN: Listen, when MBS came here, he was feted Oprah, by you know, everybody --

COLLINS: Jared Kushner.

URBAN: Roses were thrown in front of the guy. He's being the biggest reformer everywhere, right? So you know, it's a really tough spot, you know. What do you do?

COLLINS: That raises, even more, the importance on the White House for this because this is an authoritarian regime killing a dissident for saying things they didn't like.

TAPPER: On foreign territory, Turkey. COLLINS: Oprah does not -- Oprah and the (INAUDIBLE), Morgan Freeman and people who hosted him for dinner which I think is a regrettable thing that they bragged about that and they did place him in such glowing terms, don't have the same responsibilities in the world that the White House does. The White House sets the tones for so many other countries and that is why people are --


URBAN: So again, are you advocating regime change? You're going to (INAUDIBLE) the Crown Prince?

COLLINS: Lindsey Graham did.

TAPPER: Amnesty International said on Twitter Saudi Arabia has an appalling human rights track record. Their investigation into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi lacks credibility. A U.N. investigation is needed so that those who are responsible are held accountable and face justice. So theoretically the Trump Administration could support a United Nations investigation --

URBAN: And regime change, topple a regime --

TAPPER: I don't know about a regime change but --

URBAN: Bur that's what would happen. That's what you're advocating with it. If you're going to say -- if you're going to -- if you determine -- it's predetermined that the Crown Prince was behind this --

TAPPER: There are 3,000 guys who can serve as Crown Prince. I mean, it's not --

PSAKI: Right. That's the point, David.

URBAN: I'm not quite -- I'm not quite certain there are 3,000.

PSAKI: David, there's a number of people who could. Obviously, an investigation can get closer to the ground truth. We may not find out a lot more but we've already found out a lot over the past couple of weeks, so why not call for that --

URBAN: Look, I just don't know -- there's -- it's never going to get there realistically.

TAPPER: You're probably right. Everyone stick around. Millions of kids are hiding it from their parents and now the FDA is trying to crack down on the trend one doctor describes as an alarming surge. What am I talking about? Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "HEALTH LEAD" now and shocking statistics about how many teenagers are using e-cigarettes. According to the FDA, 3.6 million middle school and high school students regularly vape. That number has jumped by nearly 1.5 million kids since just last year. And when you break it down, one out of every five high schoolers says they've used an e-cigarette in the past month. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins me now.

And Sanjay, correct me if I'm wrong here, big picture, the U.S. government for decades worked really hard to convince teenagers and teens to not smoke cigarettes and they actually were very successful, the government, it worked, until e-cigarettes came along. And now all that progress seems at risk.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think that's a very fair characterization, Jake. I mean, I think we're still talking about a relatively new phenomenon, these e-cigarettes, and I think, in the beginning, it wasn't clear what's the trend going to be? Are young people going to start using the e-cigarettes? Are they going to then start using real cigarettes as a result? I think the statistic that got everybody fired up about this, Jake, is that 78 percent increase in ause of these e-cigs among high schoolers, 78 percent. 48 percent increase in use among middle schoolers. That's the real concern, that they are starting to use these e-cigarettes, might they go on to smoke combustible or real cigarettes? Here's how the FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb put it.


SCOTT GOTTLIEB, COMMISSIONER, FDA: And so, all the dramatic gains that we've made in recent years getting smoking rates down among kids, there's a threat that that's going to be reverse if we don't do something about this.


GUPTA: One thing I want to point out to you is while I look this up, Jake, you may be interested. People who start smoking, 90 percent of them start smoking before the age of 18.

TAPPER: Oh, wow.

GUPTA: And they become lifelong smokers. 90 percent before the age 18. 95 percent before the age of 21, only one percent of smokers start after the age of 26, and that's why there's an intense focus on that time frame, that period of life for people, Jake.

TAPPER: Yes. That's why the corporations are trying to make them appealing, these e-cigarettes to kids with their flavors and the like. The FDA announced new proposals to cut down on underage use today. Walk us through those proposals.

GUPTA: Well, the overarching theme is they basically want to make it much harder for young people, kids, to actually be -- have these things available to them. So that's really what the focus is on. And part of it is looking at the flavored e-cigs which they truly believe have been used to get the young people to start using these e- cigarettes so they want to ban most of these flavors. They want to make these flavors much harder to get. If people are going to buy these e-cigarettes at all, you're going to buy them from a store that's dedicated, a vaping store that has age restrictions in place. You can't just buy these things everywhere. They want to make that much harder. If you're buying it online, there's going to be an age restriction that's going to be much more strict in terms of verifying your age. They also want to ban menthol cigarettes. They want to ban flavored cigars. These are parts of the recommendations that are being made right now. It's still going to go to the comment period, Jake. People are going to weigh in on this. It's going to be a contentious debate, but the FDA is very clear now on what they are trying to do.

TAPPER: Yes, and the idea here, corporations are preying on children, get them hooked on something that will ultimately in all likelihood lead to serious illness, death, cancer, et cetera.

GUPTA: And the likelihood of someone who starts with e-cigarettes then migrating, if you will, to combustible or real cigarettes. Some would say that's an open question mark up until recently. The FDA was very clear about this. That's the concern that they will start smoking these other cigarettes as well.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much. As always, we appreciate it. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.