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Trump Delivers SOTU, Hints at Possible Reelection Theme: Capitalism Versus Socialism; As a Republican Trump Wanting to Pull Troops from Syria, Afghanistan "Insulates Him;" Beto O'Rourke Hints at White House Run to Oprah; Kansas Judge Under Fire for Calling Teen Sex Assault Victims "Aggressors;" Maduro Blocks Bridge, Stops Shipments of Aid to Venezuela. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 6, 2019 - 14:30   ET



[14:30:36] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Nine days from another potential government shutdown. It remains to be seen if President Trump's State of the Union speech will do anything to bring both sides closer together. The president last night delivered his first State of the Union address to a divided Congress and perhaps giving us a glimpse of his strategy looking ahead to the 2020 race and his re- election bid.

And Peter Beinart is a contributing editor for "The Atlantic" and a CNN political commentator.

And you wrote this whole piece about it, it sounds like to me you're marking this as a win for President Trump last night.

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's the most effective State of the Union speech he's given.

BALDWIN: Make your case.

BEINART: His previous two focused a lot on repealing Obamacare and tax cuts. Both of which are unpopular. What Trump did in this speech was -- and I'm not a Trump fan by any stretch of the imagination -- is in addition to immigration, which is his big thing, he talked about a bunch of issues that served him well in 2016 because they get a lot of Democratic support. One is trade.


BEINART: You saw the Democrats stood up during that, right? The second was getting out of foreign wars. Republican Senators have chastised Trump for pulling troops out of Afghanistan and Syria but the bases of both parties want to end these wars. You saw Democrats stood up for that. Those are good themes for him.

BALDWIN: Late-term abortion was something he talked about in addition to some of the other themes that we recognize from his first campaign. Do you think that that's all about just waving all the red meat for his base specifically so he can help -- so they can help carry him over the finish line come 2020? BEINART: Absolute, the late-term abortion. He needs a big turn out

from the Christian right. What trade and ending the wars does is it gives him the possibility of winning over some of those white Democratic voters in the industrial Midwest who deserted Hillary Clinton in 2016.

BALDWIN: Nancy Pelosi stood up.


BEINART: Exactly.


BEINART: Right. Those are issues that are better for him.

The other thing he did that was political shrewd, he linked Socialism to Venezuela. Why is that true? The Democrats have a bunch of proposals that are pretty popular. Increasing taxes on the rich is popular. Medicare for All is popular. When you get away from the specifics of the proposal, call it Socialism and link it to Venezuela. Bernie Sanders always talks about Socialism as Sweden and Denmark. This is a dog whistle to Trump's base saying, they're going to take America away from you. It's not going to be a white Western country any more. That is, although I think odious, it's a smart play for him in 2020.

BALDWIN: I was just talking to Van about that how maybe a word that really could work in his favor using that word as the big boogie man.

My last question, you mention, you know, what he wants to do with Syria and Afghanistan. We're listening to him in the next hour speaking specifically about Syria. You mentioned in your piece the sharp rebuke from the Republican Senators, his plans of withdrawal. You write, "If the president were a Democrat," Peter, "a political move like that would be dangerous, but as a Republican, he's insulated.

BEINART: The famous Nixon and China thing. Because Republicans are considered tough on national security, they have more leeway to end wars than Democrats do.

BALDWIN: When Obama pulled the troops out of Iraq, Republicans could just say, see, ISIS.

BEINART: Exactly. But since Trump's reputation is as a tough guy, people, most voters are not going to pay a lot of attention that he's giving the Taliban pretty much everything they want. They're basically going to say, good, the war's over, it went on for far too long anyway, and Trump's a tough guy and we trust him to be tough on terrorism.

BALDWIN: We'll be watching for him to speak on Syria next hour.

Pete Beinart --

Thank you.

BALDWIN: -- thank you very much.

BEINART: Thank you.

BALDWIN: One of the Democrats who may enter the race for the president's job speaks to Oprah about his plans. What is going on with Beto O'Rourke?

[14:34:18] Plus, I just mentioned Syria. A top defense official says former Defense Secretary James Mattis was right to disagree with the president on withdrawing. And moments from now, the president is expected to tout why he wants to do this. Stay tuned.


BALDWIN: Three months after a crushing loss in his Texas Senate race, Beto O'Rourke has maintained his status as a rising Democratic star. And now, by way of Oprah's interview couch, he's hinting as a White House run.

Oprah asked him for the sit-down to, quote, "see what the fuss was all about."


OPRAH WINFREY, FORMER TALK SHOW HOST: Thank you for the chance to sit down and see that -- if you are the real deal.


Are you the real deal?

BETO O'ROUKE, FORMER TEXAS SENATE CANDIDATE: I feel some pressure now when you put it that way.




BALDWIN: Oprah said she first noticed O'Rourke when he made a call to action from the border regarding family separations.


O'ROURKE: Come down to El Paso where we are imprisoning these kids, something that is tantamount to torture what we are doing to them and bear witness to this. And let's testify to everyone that this is happening in your name in this country. Do not blame this on Donald Trump. Do not blame this on a political party. Do not blame this on someone else. If we're a democracy, then the people are the government. The government is the people. It's on every single one of us.



BALDWIN: So that was a huge piece of the interview. But really the question of the hour, will he or won't he run for president in 2020? O'Rourke said he would be making a decision by the end of the month.

With me now, Gromer Jeffers. He's a political world reporter for the "Dallas Morning News." He was at the event.

Gromer, good to have you on.

What do you think? You think he's going to?

[14:40:05] GROMER JEFFERS, POLITICAL REPORTER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: He is. I think he's going to. Since -- you're right, Brooke, it was a crushing defeat, a close defeat, but crushing, nonetheless. Since then, he's been preparing to run. The trip that he took to clear his head, all the buzz. There's a Draft Beto movement out there and his interview with Oprah. He's in. I think he's in, unless and there's always that caveat, if the family doesn't want me to do it then I'll have to reconsider it. All signs point to he's going to give this a go.

BALDWIN: But you had mentioned to me a second ago, perhaps not fully excited in this whole thing would be some Texas Democrats. Tell me why.

JEFFERS: Yes, because, you know, he had a close Senate race against Cruz, came within 2.6 percent of winning. Brooke, a Texas Democrat hasn't won a statewide race since 1994 and because he came so close, they feel like he can run in 2020 against John Cornyn, the senior Senator here, and perhaps win. He came that close. One more biscuit for breakfast maybe he gets over-the-top. There's a lot of people in Texas that want him to finish the job for Senate. Cornyn is a different match-up. They feel it's a better risk than running for president.

BALDWIN: What about -- there's this new word that's been coined, Beto-mania. We've seen this growing fanaticism over O'Rourke. His interview with the "Washington Post" just a couple weeks ago showed a real lack of policy knowledge. I'm curious what you're hearing from Texans. Are we at a point in this country where likability beats out experience and wonkiness?

JEFFERS: I think we are. I think we've been inching that way for a long time. It's not so much, you know, that he doesn't have policy chop. He's been in Congress and all of that. That was the criticism from Republicans that his message is pretty straightforward and doesn't have substance.

Remember in 2008 Barack Obama stormed on to the scene with his convention speech was in 2004, but in 2008 his message was hope and change and he took a little criticism for that as well. Sometimes that positive message resonates with people and you don't need a whole lot else. A message, an organization, and a whole lot of money and that can make a difference. I think O'Rourke feels like he can do all of that.



BALDWIN: I think -- I think Obama, those who knew Obama, even Senator Obama, would argue he would never have given the interview in to which the way Beto O'Rourke did to the "Washington Post." He is a wonk. But I take your point.

I really want to get to this question because, Nia-Malika Henderson, she's this extraordinary correspondent, contributor here at CNN. She was remarking on Beto O'Rourke multistate journey and she wrote this op-ed, and the headline says it all. She wrote, "Beto's Excellent Adventure Drips with White Male Privilege." So she wrote, in part, "In Jack Kavak (ph) style, he roams around jobless. Does he not need a job to find himself and figure out if he wants to lead the free world? This is a luxury no woman or even minority in politics could ever have."

Does she have a point?

JEFFERS: She does have a point. And when you look at the field of the Democratic contenders, you have a mix of candidates but the message is the same. They're the party for everyone, and trying to be the party for everyone inclusive, the middle class, the poor, the have-nots.

And when Beto said he was lamenting the fact the first time he was unemployed for about 20 years, that sort of rubbed some people the wrong way because there are people out there who legitimately have problems with employment or under-employ and can't take a trip rambling through Kansas or what not to decide whether you're running for president. So, yes, that's a problem for him. And that's a blind spot that he'll have to fix once he gets outside of Texas and in different parts of the country.

BALDWIN: Sure. If he decides to do this thing --

JEFFERS: Exactly.

BALDWIN: Right, which you are guessing he will. I have a feeling you and I are talking again, Gromer Jeffers.

JEFFERS: I think he will.

BALDWIN: OK. OK, we'll hold out on for sure.

But, Gromer Jeffers, thank you so much, from the "Dallas Morning News." Great to have you on. Appreciate you.

JEFFERS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Meantime, CNN inside Venezuela as the power crisis intensifies by the hour. We are now hearing the military has blocked a bridge as aid arrives. We will take you there. [14:45:07] Plus, a stunning remark by the pope today. He admits some

priests and even bishops abused nuns. We have that story ahead.


BALDWIN: Is it a case of victim blaming from the judge's bench? A Kansas judge under fire for calling sex abuse victims, quote, "aggressors." The victims were 13 and 14-year-old girls. The man who solicited them online for sex was 67 years old.

According to court transcripts, Leavenworth County District Judge Michael Gibbons cited the girls for voluntarily going to the man's house, saying, quote, "I do find that the victim's in this case, in particular, were more an aggressor than a participant in the criminal conduct. They were certainly selling things monetarily that it's against the law for even an adult to sell."

[14:50:24] And it doesn't end there. Prosecutors ask for a sentence of at least 13 years but the judge went lower, much lower, settling on just under six years less than the state's sentencing guidelines.

We should note CNN has reached out to Judge Gibbons and has not heard back.

Julie Donelon is president and CEO of the victims' advocacy group Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault.

Julie, thank you so much for being with me.

When I first read this story this week, this judge -- we should also point out, this judge also criticized the girls for not showing up to the sentencing hearing, saying, had they actually suffered, then they would have made a point to be there.

Like, and people wonder why women don't come forward?

JULIE DONELON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, METROPOLITAN ORGANIZATION TO COUNTER SEXUAL ASSAULT: Absolutely. Making comments like that about the impact of the trauma on the victims is completely inappropriate. Victims respond to trauma in a variety of different ways and to say that the victims in this case didn't show up and therefore they weren't traumatized by the assault is, you know, just a mistake in comment to be made. It really down plays how victims respond to sexual violence.

BALDWIN: What about the judge? The local paper here, the "Kansas City Star" published this editorial calling him out. Here's part of what they write, "If Gibbons believes that child sex abuse victims are aggressor, he doesn't belong on the bench. Kansas law allows for sentences to be reduced when the victim was an aggressor or a participant in the criminal conduct, but an acceptable definition of aggressor cannot possibly include 13 and 14-year-old children in a solicitation case. They are far too young to understand the consequences of having sexual relations with an adult or to give consent, facts the judge should have known."

My question is, what about this judge, and is your organization or anyone else, are there -- can anyone take action against him?

DONELON: Well, from my understanding the prosecutor in the case is reviewing whether or not they'll appeal the sentencing. Mocks works hard every day of the year to make sure victims get the justice they deserve. Clearly 13 and 14-year-old children cannot be aggressors. Children do not have the capacity to consent and I think we need to make that very clear.

I am excited that this is something that is getting national attention because for far too long we have blamed victims in cases of sexual abuse and assault and we see that now there's a culture change. We understand as a society that it's never the victim's fault. And 13 and 14-year-olds cannot consent to sexual assault or abuse.

BALDWIN: Julie Donelon, thank you so much.

DONELON: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up, investigating beyond Russia. The head of the House Intelligence Committee revealing his plans to dig into President Trump's financial interests, both at home and abroad, and whether that has any influence over his decision making.

And more trouble in the state of Virginia. The three top officials now all facing separate serious scandals, among them, the lieutenant governor facing sexual assault. The alleged victim releasing an emotional statement just moments ago. Stand by for that.


[14:58:17] BALDWIN: The political and economic crisis gripping Venezuela has prompted so many countries to offer the South American nation humanitarian aid but the government of Nicolas Maduro has put a stop to that today. He blocked this bridge connecting Venezuela to Columbia just as aid, called for by opposition leader, Juan Guaido, was due to arrive. Guaido has declared himself Venezuela's acting president and he's locked in this power struggle with Maduro.

Senior International Correspondent, Sam Kiley, is live in Venezuela.

And, Sam, just talk more about the situation on the bridge, this struggle between these two men in the midst of this humanitarian crisis.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that the humanitarian crisis is absolutely central to the politics here, not just, Brooke, the obvious implications that people here or, in many cases, on the brink of starvation. But also because the opposition under Mr. Guaido is saying that over the next week or so they intend to stockpile aid with the help of the international community at these border crossings, presenting the military with a dilemma.

The indication at the moment is that the military will respond by blocking any effort to import humanitarian aid. Once it's really there, the hope of the opposition is, Brooke, that they will flip sides, that they will see that the need the country faces trumps effectively the power that they feel Mr. Maduro may still have over them.

It is that power struggle that also has indications for Mr. Guaido's own family, for example. Earlier on today, I spoke to his wife, Fabiana.


FABIANA ROSALAS GUAIDO, WIFE SELF-APPOINTED PRESIDENT OF VENEZUALA JUAN GUAIDO (through translation): I think that fear is free. As a human being, we have moments of weakness.