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Biden to Decide on Run Soon as Warren Hits Iowa; FOX News Host Fact-Checks Sarah Sanders in Real Time; Trump Will Address Nation Tomorrow Night on Shutdown; Tenn. Governor Commutes Sentence of Cyntoia Brown. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 7, 2019 - 14:30   ET

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


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[14:30:12] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Is Joe Biden the Democrat's best hope for 2020? New reports suggest that is how the former vice president feels about his potential candidacy as he gets ready to decide whether or not he wants to run. A close ally of the former vice president knows he can't wait too much longer to announce. But other candidates are already testing the waters. Elizabeth Warren spent the weekend in Iowa reaching out to voters there.

With me to discuss that, CNN national political correspondent M.J. Lee and also, Rekha Basu, a columnist for the "Des Moines Register."

So, ladies, good to see both of you.

And, M.J., you are virtually fresh off the plane. What was Senator Warren's message?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That Washington is not working for Americans. That is the classic Elizabeth Warren, the reason that she rose to national prominence. And this I have to say was a very heavy and almost in other words -- in other words, this weekend she wanted to talk about legislation that she wrote in order to lower the price of hearing aids, student loan. And she took dozens of questions from Iowans and the one time that Trump came up and the one time that she even muttered his name was when an audience member asked about the DNA test and they wanted to know, why did you release that test and therefore give President Trump more fodder.

The other thing that she really didn't want to talk about was 2016, worth I think playing that sound bite.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I'm not relitigating 2016.

(APPLAUSE)

But I think right now, in a 2020 presidential primary that, as Democrats, we have a chance to strengthen democracy. And here's how I think we ought to do it. I think all of the Democrats candidates whoever they turn out to be should link arms and say our primary is not for sale to billionaires.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: That won't be the last time that she will be asked about 2016, but for now, she doesn't want to talk about Trump. She doesn't want to talk about Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

BALDWIN: So the fact that it was lunky and nerdy and sensitive, talk about policy, Rekha, how was that received by folks in Iowa?

REKHA BASU, COLUMNIST, DES MOINES REGISTER: I think that it was received very well. In part, because people in Iowa are just hungry. Democrats especially are hungry for someone to come out and have a case to make against the current system in America. And that it is a rigged economy. And what was interesting though is that she I think is trying to avoid the really hyper progressive leftist label. So she seemed to be framing the conversation -- it was really the language she used rather than the message, rather than the actual policy matters. For example, she talked about how democracy is being corrupted by the growth of corporate power and the citizens united ruling. And she talked a lot about the middle class without really talking about the working class. She didn't go into Medicare for everybody, but she talked about health care being a right for everyone. She talked about the right to get free education, college education, but she didn't talk about the right to free education. So I think that it was a rather suggest way of signaling those people who might be Independents or even Republicans who are disaffected by Trump to potentially get on board with her because has been branded with this label of being very left.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BASU: The interesting thing will be to see how she differentiates herself from Bernie Sanders. And I think going back to what you were just talking about, about not relitigating 2016, that was the question that she had been asked, it was about the Democratic Party throwing the election basically in Hillary's direction. She didn't want to go there. So it will be interesting -- because she and Bernie and if he decides to run Sherrod Brown would all be three people who have been similarly labeled as the progressive wing.

BALDWIN: What about let's turn the page and talk about Joe Biden, former vice president. A Democratic confidant told the "New York Times" that Biden said, quote, "If you can persuade these there's somebody better to win, I'm happy not to do it, but I don't see the candidate who can clearly do what has to be done to win."

What I want to know, M.J. first, then Rekha, how is he coming to that conclusion?

[14:35:01] LEE: Well, you know, the political calculation that you have to make when you are considering a presidential run is, first of all, you can get through the Democratic primary. And then obviously the question of, can you be the incumbent in the general election. And it seems from our reporting that vice president Biden has at least told close allies that he believes that he is that person in the second scenario, that he can take on president. But I think that the question people are wondering about, whether he is the right person for the party right now, whether he is the right person for the moment. Especially at a time when you can tell and you can feel it even going to Iowa this weekend that people are excited about a fresher face, a younger person. They want someone that brings sort of that progressive energy. And I think people want to know whether Biden can fit in that role. And I have to say, time is kind of running out. The train has already pulled into the station and candidates whether start hopping on. Elizabeth Warren be the first person. And being the more that you wait, the more you potentially risk sending the signal that you might be ambivalent. And ambivalence is not what you want.

BALDWIN: Yes, correct.

Rekha, and what about Julian Castro, will be in Iowa tonight. You've heard a lot of Iowans talking about time for a fresh face from the Democratic Party to take on this current president. What are you hearing from Iowans?

BASU: An Iowa poll showed last month is that 49 percent want someone seasoned and only 36 percent want a new face.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Really?

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: How do they feel about Biden?

BASU: How do they feel about Biden. He rated number one in the poll.

BALDWIN: OK.

BASU: Warren came in fourth. And then Biden followed by Bernie Sanders, Beto O'Rourke and Elizabeth Warren. So, yes, I think to a certain extent it is because it is so new and he is a familiar name. But I think that there's a sense also of longing to go back to the Obama administration and certainly he was a part of that. So there's some thinking that maybe he could, you know, pull in the same kind of vote. I don't know that that is necessarily true. Because Biden ran in his own right and did not win. So you have that.

BALDWIN: This 2020 race is going to be fascinating.

Ladies, thank you very much. We'll talk many more times about this I'm sure.

I want to continue along more on the news here just in. As the shutdown drags on with no deal in sight. CNN has learned that the president will address the nation tomorrow night as he heads to the border Thursday. Key question, will the networks give him the air time?

Also ahead, a major development in the case of a young woman serving a life sentence for killing a man who bought her for sex. And now it looks like she will be walking free. We will tell you what has happened.

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[14:42:13] BALDWIN: Credibility in the White House. This time it is Press Secretary Sarah Sanders' false claims on border security. Sanders suggesting that terrorists are pouring across the southern border by the thousands. But FOX News Host Chris Wallace was quick to call her out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We know that roughly nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally. And we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRIS WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: I know that statistic and I studied up on this. Do you know where they are captured? Airports.

SANDERS: Not always.

WALLACE: At airports.

SANDERS: Certainly a large number.

WALLACE: The State Department says there hasn't been any terrorists coming across the border --

(CROSSTALK)

SANDESR: It is by air, it's by land, it's by sea.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: It's all of the above.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And the White House is spouting this false claim as justification for a wall separating the U.S. and Mexico. But here are some facts. In July of 2017, the State Department said there was no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the U.S. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security's own figures note that of the 2500 individuals on the terror watch list encountered traveling to the U.S. in 2017, the vast majority attempted to enter by air.

So Frank Sesno is with us, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University, and former CNN bureau chief.

Always a pleasure to have you on. Good to see you.

FRANK SESNO, DIRECTOR, SCHOOL OF MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY & FORMER CNN BUREAU CHIEF: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Out of the gate here, has the press secretary lost all credibility?

SESNO: Well, I don't know if she's lost all credibility, but she's lost a lot and always does anytime she or anyone engages in information that is false or so manipulative that it can be revealed to be wrong, false, incorrect with the stroke of a fact. Kudos to Chris Wallace who did what anyone should be doing when they are interviewing somebody in power like this, which is to be ready to respond.

BALDWIN: And where are we know when the White House is pushing these lies to make a case for policy?

SESNO: Well, look, the first thing that I think we have to understand is the White House and every seat of power always will use facts selectively to persuade, to prevail, when there's a controversial issue. That is not new. What is new and different and disturbing here is the amount, intensity of this false information that comes from this White House. And their resistance to being corrected. You know, I've covered the White House. I know that when presidents have misspoken or press secretaries misspoken, they say you got us, here's what we mean. This White House doesn't do that. Really at the end of the day, the only thing the White House press secretary has when it comes to talking to the media and public is credibility. And once that goes away or erodes, it is very, very hard to re-get it.

[14:45:25] BALDWIN: Isn't it interesting, Frank, that this fact check came from a FOX News host. Will this make the White House think twice do you think?

SESNO: Well, yes. FOX matters when something like this happens. Chris Wallace is frankly one of the best. He is an excellent interviewer. And I thought it was very effective for him to say wait, I studied up. It was a way to inject himself and say I know the facts here and let me confront you with them. And that's what he did. It was very good television, frankly, but also excellent interviewing. And the kind of interviewing that has to take place with people like this who are being as I said so manipulative with the facts. The interviewer has to have those same facts, accurate facts, at their disposal and Chris did. That it happens on FOX, which is the president's base network, makes the impact of this I think even stronger. We have research that we've done some here at our school of media and public affairs that shows everyone partisans when they are confronted with incorrect information by the person they support will absorb that the information is wrong. They may not change their support of that individual, but they now know and they reflect that the information is wrong. The White House can't afford in a going on forever. Least of all on FOX News.

BALDWIN: Last question. Just ahead to tomorrow night. We know the president will be addressing the nation. Is this ahead of his trip down to the border on Thursday. And given the conversation we just had, do you think the networks should take the president? SESNO: Oh, yes. I mean I don't think that there's a choice here

really. Because the first standard should be is this news worthy, is this editorially significant. We are in the middle of a partial shutdown of the government. The president has made it all about the $5 billion plus for the wall. He will be going to the nation to make his case as any president does. I don't know that if you are a news organization you can say, oh, well, we're not going to pay attention to that or put that on live. What you can and must do and should be done in all cases is to have a group of people like Chris Wallace and others very knowledgeable about the information, about the facts, who can respond to what the president says to point out if things are inaccurate or flat out wrong or whatever. And put the president's comments into some context. I'm sure you will hear from the not so loyal or loyal on that position that -- opposition as well. But I don't know how you walk past this one if you are a news organization when the president of the United States is speaking at a moment like this.

BALDWIN: Agree. It is news. We'll be tuning in.

Frank, thank you very much.

SESNO: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Just ahead, freshman Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is making waves for floating the idea of this 70 percent tax on income over $10 million. And at least one 2020 contender is backing her up.

Also, President Trump believes he is an expert in just about everything. Just ask him. From Facebook to foreign policy, we'll have a look at some of his favorite topics and why he claims to know more than everyone else.

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[14:53:08] BALDWIN: A massive victory today for a Tennessee woman whose life sentence has grabbed national headlines. The governor of Tennessee has just commuted Cyntoia Brown's sentence. She served 15 years in prison after killing a man who paid to have sex with her when she was 16. The circumstances ignited a national outcry. Brown was tried and convicted as an adult and was required to serve at least 51 years before being considered for parole.

CNN's Martin Savidge is here.

So, Martin, last couple of days, the governor said I'm freeing her.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Remarkable really. Bill Haslam only has a couple more days has governor of Tennessee, but he took this act many people had lobbied on behalf of this young woman for quite a long time, including political celebrities, Hollywood celebrities, and many who just said this is a classic case of a woman who was convicted of a crime, sex trafficking, and then commits the crime. But the circumstances had not been fully taken into account. So now she goes from what was a life sentence to getting paroled. Doesn't straight away, she will be released in August. It will be 15 years. But many say her life behind bars was exemplary, too. She got her GED and then her associate's degree, almost about to get her bachelor's degree.

Here are her attorneys.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES BONE, ATTORNEY FOR CYNTOIA BROWN: We are here to say thank you to everyone who has been involved in pleading for, praying for the release of Cyntoia Brown.

HOUSTON GORDON, ATTORNEY FOR CYNTOIA BROWN: But her story is a story that could be a catalyst for a lot of others, thousands of other juveniles. We need to see this as a national awakening to change the draconian laws that allow juveniles, children, to be placed in adult prisons when they are just children. They are not little adults.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[14:55:22] SAVIDGE: Cyntoia Brown released her own statement. I'll read part of it. She said, "With God's help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others especially young people. My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been."

And that is a tremendous commitment to make.

BALDWIN: We will see her in August.

Martin Savidge, thank you.

SAVIDGE: You bet.

BALDWIN: As the president gets ready to address the nation on the shutdown tomorrow, he is telling federal workers now, who aren't getting paid, to make adjustments, that he can relate. Hear why Chris Cillizza says this is the greatest trick the president has ever pulled.

And Actor Kevin Spacey appearing in court today on charges of sexual assault after his bizarre Christmas Eve video. We'll show you what he said, if anything.

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