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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Democratic Leadership Fight?; Trump's Tone. Aired 4:30-4:45p ET

Aired November 19, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Much tougher, period.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And he didn't exactly give a ringing endorsement of his chief of staff, General Kelly, who he claimed months ago would be staying on through 2020.

TRUMP: There are certain things I love what he does. And there are certain things that I don't like that he does -- that aren't his strength. It's not that he doesn't do -- you know he works so hard. He's doing an excellent job in many ways. There are a couple of things where it's just not his strength. It's not his fault. It's not his strength.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And one person the president made clear he thinks highly of, himself.

Despite his 39 percent approval rating, according to CNN's latest poll, the president said he would give himself an A-plus when asked how he would rank himself.

I guess no surprise there -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: yes, not exactly.

Pamela Brown at the White House, thanks very much.

We're back with our panel now.

Mary Katharine Ham, just I will pose that question to you about his style. Is there political incentive, in his view or your view, for him to take a more conciliatory, I don't know, a bipartisan tone, reach out across the aisle, as opposed to just kind of attack when attacked, you know, footing that has been his footing really since the beginning?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, look, I think it's the same as always. Right?

It's in his nature, and there is a benefit with his base to doing this. But I don't know if politically moving forward when you have a House you might want to work with, and, frankly, he's not that much of an ideological creature and might be OK with some of the things the Democratic House might want to do, that it doesn't get you there.

But I also didn't buy that he was going to change his tone when he said that for three seconds.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. I was with you on that one.

I mean, Scott, do you -- and, again, we talk about this, frankly, about presidents of both parties after every midterm cycle, whether there are things they could reach across the aisle on. And with this president, we talk about infrastructure, prescription drug prices, et cetera.

You have the president praising the likely House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Is there actually any realistic chance that they do so and overcome this tone that we're talking about?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that there might be some room to run on a few issues, but I don't think the president is going to be having any kind of kumbaya moments with Adam Schiff.

The most dangerous place in Washington, D.C., the last two years has been between Adam Schiff's office and a TV camera, so he can run out and call the president everything but a good milk cow. These guys are not going to have a warm and fuzzy relationship here.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: ... the president and Democrats. I was talking about -- that's one thing, the upcoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

I'm talking about, is there ground here, middle ground, that could be found between the president and Democrats, who now control the House, to get legislative items across the finish line?

JENNINGS: Sure. Yes.

I mean, there are issues that the American people want them to work together on. Infrastructure would be one. Drug prices would be one, absolutely. The core question here is, do the Democrats want to give the president a win? Do they want to make it appear as though that he was able to bring both parties together as he enters his own reelection campaign?

I'm dubious that they do, because I think their presidential primary is going to demand such extreme anti-Trump rhetoric, that it would make it hard for reconciliation to occur at the legislative level.

(LAUGHTER)

SCIUTTO: Symone, go ahead.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, Jim, I find that interesting, because the fact of the matter is, Democrats took back the House and also the governor's mansions in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin by running on the issues.

Folks did not run out and just talk about how bad President Trump was. They did criticize the policies and said, we can do better, and here's our plan. And I think that's what we will see in a Democratic presidential primary.

But I think the fact of the matter is, we talk a lot about the president's base. The base is small. His base is really small. I think the midterm elections showed us that. And so I'm trying to figure out how it's politically just smart or even advantageous for the president to continue to talk to this very small group of people that does not equate to the entirety of the Republican Party.

His base is not, in fact, growing. And I would venture to say, if he continues to talk to this little bit group of people and marginalizes everyone else, it will not bode well for prospects for the Republican Party.

SCIUTTO: Kirsten Powers, I'm wonder if I could ask you -- and I'm sure you have thoughts on this, but I want to ask you about another topic before we run out of time.

The president now says no need for a sit-down interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, despite the fact that multiple times over the last many months the president reiterated his openness to doing just that.

Let's have a listen, in case some of our viewers may have forgotten.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Are you going to talk to Mueller?

TRUMP: I'm looking forward to it, actually.

QUESTION: Would you like to testify to special counsel Robert Mueller, sir?

TRUMP: Thank you. I would. I would.

I have always wanted to do an interview.

I would love to speak. I would love to. Nobody wants to speak more than me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: And, now, you, Kirsten and others may not have ever believed those promises.

But I wonder if the difference here is that now he has an acting attorney general in Matthew Whitaker who he believes will not push or approve a subpoena to him to sit down, and we're seeing the first effective change of having someone in that seat other than Sessions.

[16:35:07] KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I guess. I don't know.

I just never bought it in the first place that he was willing to sit down with him. I felt he was just sort of saying that to make it seem like he didn't have anything to hide, but that deep down or the real truth was he absolutely didn't want to sit down with him.

And certainly he's being I'm sure told by everybody around him what a disaster it would be if he did that. So I'm going to stick with his first answers, is what I think he really means.

SCIUTTO: So, Scott and Mary Katharine, was the president lying with all those proclamations of how willing he was to sit down and go head- to-head with the special counsel?

HAM: I think he was doing what he always does. It's bluster and then he comes back around and doesn't care that he changes his mind.

By the way, I'm not sure that I would sit down with counsel if I were Trump, because, if I were Trump, I would not be a disciplined person who tells the truth and the same truth every time I sit down in front of every person. And that, therefore, would get me in some trouble sitting down across from Mueller.

So I, if I were his lawyer, would be careful about that as well.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Jim, the answer to your question is yes.

SCIUTTO: So he wouldn't sit down because he would lie?

HAM: I'm saying I would be careful about that if I were Trump, too, and actually if I were just any citizen.

JENNINGS: Yes.

SANDERS: I don't have a problem with it.

JENNINGS: If I were him, I wouldn't sit down.

They have answered the written questions. If they need to -- I mean, he should not sit down with him at this point. They have answered the written questions. I'm very much looking forward to playing first base for the Saint Louis Cardinals, but they're not going to let me do that either.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: People didn't elect you president of the United States, though, Scott. Different obligations.

JENNINGS: They did not.

(LAUGHTER)

SCIUTTO: Listen, thanks to all of you. Much appreciated.

We're going to have more to talk about coming up, Nancy Pelosi getting a new -- a few helping hands, including an unexpected one in her quest to become the next speaker of the House again. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:17]

SCIUTTO: They didn't call it Reagan country for nothing, but now the former Republican stronghold in Southern California turning deep blue, as Democrats secure control of all seven of its House districts.

But will the election of three new members from her home state be enough to hand Nancy Pelosi the speaker's gavel again?

CNN's Manu Raju, he is live on Capitol Hill.

Manu, Democrats just days away from leadership elections. Like, a lot of us have learned to take with a grain of salt, challenges to her leadership, because she seems to come out on top. But what's happening now? Is she getting closer to the votes she needs?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Today, Jim, a rebellious faction of Democrats released a letter trying to show that they believe that they have enough votes to deny her the speakership on the House floor -- 16 Democrats, both incoming freshmen and some current members, signed that letter, saying they're committed to having new leadership, and they're trying to make the case that the math just isn't there for Nancy Pelosi.

But there are a lot of caveats. One, for one, one of the members who signed the letter actually may not win his race. Also, it's uncertain of what some of these members may ultimately do at the end of the day if Nancy Pelosi is the only Democratic candidate standing come January when it's time to elect a House member -- House speaker.

Now, to become speaker, of course, you need 218 votes on the House floor of members voting who are a specific candidate, and if Pelosi falls under that number, one person is vowing to help her. That is Donald Trump.

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted he can get Nancy Pelosi as many votes as she wants in order for her to be elected speaker of the House. "She deserves the victory. She has earned it."

He cites in particular Tom Reed, the New York Republican, who told me last week that he would be open to voting for Pelosi if he she endorsed certain rule changes making it easier for rank-and-file members to push legislation at the expense of the leadership.

So far, Pelosi has not endorsed that. And she and her office says that she intends to win with Democratic votes. And today, Jim, Pelosi making phone calls to her members and expressing confidence at the end of the day she will have the votes and be elected speaker of the new Congress, Jim. SCIUTTO: Manu Raju on the Hill, thanks very much.

Back with our panel now.

And I wonder, Symone and Kirsten, if I could begin with you, is the president's support something that Nancy Pelosi wants in this leadership fight?

SANDERS: Let me just say, Nancy Pelosi and frankly House Democrats do not care what the current president of the United States thinks about who should be their leader. We don't care.

Look, what I -- what we care about is what the House Democrats think. And I think House Democrats have a decision to make. Manu pointed out a very important point. Nancy Pelosi does not currently have a challenger. If a challenger were to come forth, I think it's absolutely within someone's right to run for leadership. That's what our party is about. It's about democracy in action.

So, look, if somebody wants to step up, I encourage them to. But if they do, they need to demonstrate they can do what Leader Pelosi has done at least and better. And no one has emerged at this time.

SCIUTTO: So, Kirsten, I mean, in a fictional world where you can imagine a Republican president reaching across to the aisle and saying, listen, there is stuff we can work towards -- and there is -- is it possible that the president's outreach here is serious, that he sees the landscape in the last two years of his term, sees areas where the two parties can get together on some stuff, and it would be better for him to have a partner on the other side of the aisle?

POWERS: Yes, I don't know what he's thinking. But I do -- but that's absolutely right.

If he -- I think anyone in his position would look at this and say, I need to expand out beyond 40 percent of the country. And if I want to get reelected, I'm going to have to actually accomplish something, and I'm the one who is going to be held accountable, because, you know, it's a referendum referendum on me the next presidential race. So -- and Nancy Pelosi for despite all of the attacks that the Republicans make on her to rile up their base, she's actually somebody who does work really well with all different kinds of people and she's not the caricature -- the San Francisco liberal caricature.

She's a very pragmatic person who has been able to keep a you know, very diverse caucus together and I think actually would be willing to work on certain things like infrastructure for example which she said.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Jim, can I say one more thing about the leadership race?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Please.

SANDERS: I think there's a lot of focus on Leader Pelosi but she doesn't even have a challenger. No one talked about the fact that the highest ranking black man Jim -- in Congress, Jim Clyburn, had a challenger. Now I think he has secured enough votes to be the number three in the House. There's a real fight right now for the House -- who's going to chair the House Democratic Caucus and there's an opportunity to elect the first black woman in leadership in the -- in the leadership in the House.

And I think that these are the kind of conversations that folks are currently having on the Hill. And the folks actually -- Democrats are having throughout the country about what real representation looks like.

SCIUTTO: No question. And then listen, the makeup of the new Congress is full of first and I don't want to minimize that. But I but I do when I asked the question Mary Katherine, to you as well, Scott here, the Republican view of this. Is it -- is it that they want to have this Nancy Pelosi foil as they did use in some of these Midterm elections. It can be a rallying cry for some Republican voters.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Look, I think it's -- it uses questionable or if its efficacy is questionable. I think there's some who think that she can still be a good boogeyman for election ads AND in some cases that might be the case. Look, I hate to ruin the suspense but the President is not going to change his tone and probably nobody's going to take down Nancy Pelosi.

And here's the thing, she didn't step down when they were taking big losses so it's hard to make the argument that she should now after this big win. She raises a bunch of money, she keeps them in line, and so unless there is a real credible challenger here, I don't see this happening.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, I see that argument, odd timing. Scott, I'm going to give you the final word, imagine that.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think it's noteworthy that a tiny, tiny percentage of Democrats are trying to dictate to the rest of them who the leadership should be so their experimentation with direct democracy is like I think backfiring right now. The best thing Trump's got going for him other than the economy is all these deep divisions that clearly are going on between the new Democrat guard and the old guard.

And so as long as that continues no matter who the speaker is, it all (INAUDIBLE) to Trump's benefit if Democrats are fighting each other the way Democrats did -- I'm sorry the way Republicans did after the 2010 Midterm.

SCIUTTO: That's a fair point. Guys, thanks to you, all of you. We talked about a lot today. I appreciate it. Happy Holidays to you as well. In our "MONEY LEAD" today, here comes the bridal bankruptcy. David's Bridal, the nation's largest bridal retail filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today but it is tying the knot with lenders to fulfill their vows, lots of jokes there, and this one reaching a deal to reduce the company's debt allowing David's Bridal to continue to operate it's more than 300 stores around the country. Its CEO assuring there will not be any change in service. Meaning, if

you said yes to the dress, you're still going to get it. Analysts blame more casual weddings, new competitors, and even the declining marriage rate in the country for the company's struggles.

Still to come this broadcast, here we go again. President Trump appearing not to believe his own intelligence agencies on a crucial national security question, this time it's not about an election, about cold-blooded murder.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] SCIUTTO: President Trump says that tomorrow he will get a full report on the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but it seems like he is already laying the groundwork to side with the Saudi Crown Prince over U.S. intelligence saying that Mohammed bin Salman repeatedly denied calling for the murder of Khashoggi. That is not the conclusion the CIA has reached according to sources.

I want to bring in CNN's Alex Marquardt who has been following the story. Alex, this afternoon, a Republican senator says that he will punish the Saudi Crown Prince if the President does not.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right Jim. That Senator is Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee who has been leading the charge in the Senate on Capitol Hill crackdown on Saudi Arabia in the wake of Khashoggi's murder. Now he's saying that if the Trump administration does not name the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as one of the guilty parties in that report due tomorrow, he and other senators in both parties will step up the pressure to sanction MBS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: Yet again, the President raising doubts about his own intelligence agencies conclusions. Sources tell CNN the CIA now believes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman known as M BS personally ordered the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But President Trump says he doubts that because of MBS' repeated denials that he played any role.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He told me that he had nothing to do with it. He told me that I would say maybe five times at different points.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What if he's lying?

TRUMP: As recently as a few days ago. Will anybody really know, right? Will anybody really know?

MARQUARDT: Part of what the CIA examined was the infamous audio recording from inside the consulate when Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered. A recording the President says he doesn't want to listen to.

[16:55:04] TRUMP: It's a suffering tape. It's a terrible tape. I've been fully briefed on it. There's no reason for me to hear it. In fact, I said to the people, should I? They said you really shouldn't. There's no reason. I know exactly -- I know everything that went on the tape.

MARQUARDT: On his way to visit the aftermath of the California wildfires over the weekend, the President offered up a likely explanation for his defense of the Crown Prince.

TRUMP: We also have a great ally in Saudi Arabia. They gave us a lot of jobs and give us a lot business, a lot of economic development.

MARQUARDT: Republicans in Congress are splitting from the President. Many believe there's no doubt that MBS was behind it and want to hold him to account.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think the evidence is overwhelming that the Crown Prince was involved.

SEN. LINSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I believe from day one that 15 people, 18, whatever the number was, they don't get on two airplanes, go to Turkey and chop a guy up in the consulate who's a critic of the Crown Prince without the Crown Prince having known about it and sanctioned it.

MARQUARDT: And this morning MBS' father, King Salman, spoke publicly for the first time since Khashoggi's death. As the Crown Prince listened in the audience, the King heaped praise on him and never directly addressed the murder or mention Khashoggi by name.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: And Jim, we should note that the U.S. has taken some action in response to the killing of Khashoggi. They have imposed sanctions on 17 of the Saudis who are accused of being behind it. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking news.

SCIUTTO: Well, here we go again. Police officers responding to reports and these are live pictures of shots fired near a hospital, Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Police are now asking people to avoid the area. Again, reports of multiple victims now. These are live pictures here. CNN's Athena Jones following this breaking news story. Athena, what is the latest we're hearing from Chicago P.D.?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jim. Well, we have the chief communications officer of the Chicago Police Department who has been tweeting about this for the last several minutes. The very latest information is that officers are on the scene during a methodical search of Mercy Hospital. He says at least one possible offender has been shot and he's calling on the public to avoid this area. This is the area around 26th and Michigan. We looked at the map, it's a little bit south of downtown Chicago where all of this is unfolding. I can tell you that the first tweet sent out was about half an hour

ago by this same communications officer for Chicago P.D. saying that there were reports of shots fired, reports of multiple victims. And so this is still being investigated. We know that the police are on the scene and they're searching the hospital but we're still waiting for details about how many people may have been shot, whether anyone was killed, and as I mentioned this communications officer from Chicago P.D .says at least one possible offender is shot. So it seems that they don't even know if there -- how many possible offenders there may have -- there may have been. So a lot of details was left away to emerge.

SCIUTTO: Right. If you're just joining us. You heard that there's active possible shooter at a hospital in Chicago. Reports of multiple victims but also the possibility that at least one offender may be wounded as well. These are live pictures of an evacuation from the hospital there you can see what would appear to be medical personnel and those white jackets being forced to leave. We have Phil Mudd still with us, former -- formerly both with the CIA and the FBI.

Phil, it's early here. We're just getting the first reports. What happens in these early moments after an active shooter is reported particularly as it appears they are still searching for one or more offenders.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Sure, you've got a couple things on the scene. First, as you're seeing the reporting from Athena, you've got to secure the area to ensure if there's a second shooter, that people don't get hurt. Second, is what I just mentioned. You've got to look around and even though you might be 98 percent certain that the person was there for example maybe because of a personal vendetta that there's not another shooter afoot.

One of the questions I'd have right at the outset, Jim, is whether the individual has identification on him or her so then you can go to look at things like social media pages to ascertain identity and to see whether it is communication about broader conspiracies. My guess is this is a sole operator but you can't assume that for a minute one.

SCIUTTO: As we will always know in these circumstances, these are the earliest reports that the police saying reports of an active shooter. They say that they are still searching the Mercy Hospital there for this shooter, no confirmation yet of victims. We're going to -- we're going to be staying on top of the story. These are live pictures there. That is Mercy Hospital and we've been seeing an evacuation underway. Police at a minimum exercising and abundance of caution here as they continue to look for a shooter. Also, at least one report that one shooter may have been shot. Again these reports are early. We're going to continue to follow the facts here. Our coverage of the breaking story -- breaking story continues on CNN right now.