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Virginia's Top-3 Officials Embroiled in Scandals; WAPO: Warren Listed Race as "American Indian" for Texas Bar; Trump Claims "Partisan Investigations" Could Threaten Health of American Economy; Interview with Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL); Trump Nominates Fierce World Bank Critic David Malpass to Run It. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 6, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Michael, how extraordinary is this and the idea that if, and normally under normal circumstances, you might have the resignation of these three Democrats, how extraordinary would it be that the Republican speaker might take over?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": Who is to say that this is contained to the state of Virginia? I know that Virginia was the capital of the Confederacy, but my hunch is that now, across the country, there are other elected officials who are saying to themselves, uh-oh, what do I have in my background? Do I have some ridiculous, maybe racist Halloween photograph from the 1980s or 1970s? Who knows?

A second reaction that I have is, at first blush, you might think that Governor Northam is saying to myself, at least now I have company and I'm not the eye of the storm, I'm not the focal point. I would disagree with that logic because I think that every day the governor stays in office, given the news cycles that we have and how very quickly we move on to another subject, he feels more and more secure. So the fact that we are now on Wednesday talking about this again when the story broke Friday into Saturday and not good news for the governor.

And a final thought I have, Brianna, is the more time that goes off the clock and the more reporting that I see on the subject, the more I wonder, could the governors contradictory and seemingly ridiculous explanation of how, night one, he was apologetic, said he wasn't sure which of the two he was in the picture, and then the following day he said, I'm not in that picture, the more time that goes after the clock, I wonder could there be some truth in that. Because there's now reporting that suggests that at least two other individuals are in blackface. That 1984 yearbook and other subsequent yearbooks had similarly racist depictions. Makes you wonder, was there somebody slipping in images on pages where they didn't belong. I don't know.

KEILAR: Let's talk about Elizabeth Warren. The Massachusetts Senator is dealing with new backlash. It's huge concerning her claims of Native American ancestry and the "Washington Post" is reporting in 1986 she listed her race, as you see there, as "American Indian" on this, which is her registration card for the Texas bar, in her handwriting. And it's the first document to show Warren claiming herself that she's Native American. What do you think about this? SMERCONISH: So I think Elizabeth Warren --and I have the document

here -- is guilt of campaign malpractice. First of all, she didn't address this. She allowed the president to use that moniker to address her. She said nothing about it. And by the time she cooperated with the "Boston Globe," many impressions had already set in. But here's my take on this. I find it of interest that she regarded herself as Native American when registering for the Texas bar, but, to me, the fundamental issue is, did she ever use that characterization for professional gain? And the answer seemingly is, no, she didn't. When she applied to my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, for law school, and when she applied to Harvard she did not, if you'll pardon this, play that card. A better answer for her probably would have been to say, look, I was raised in Oklahoma, raised to believe that I was Native American. I am very proud of that heritage, but I have never used it for professional advancement. If she'd said that and been more forthcoming, from the get-go, she'd be in a better position.

KEILAR: All right. Michael, thank you so much. Always a great conversation with you.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: We can catch you Saturday mornings.

Check out "SMERCONISH," 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

Coming up, the president uses the top of his State of the Union speech to slam, quote, "ridiculous, partisan investigations," warning the economy will tank if they don't stop. I'll get reaction from a Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Also just moments from now, as we look at live pictures, President Trump set to nominate a fierce critic of the World Bank to be its next president. How it could bring an end to decades of U.S. leadership of the agency.


[13:38:43] KEILAR: It is a really exciting day for me at CNN. I'm starting a project that is near and dear to my heart as a member of a military family. And .4 percent of Americans are currently serving in the military and less than one in five military family respondents say feel their challenges and sacrifices are understood from the general public. That's from the Blue Star families annual survey out today. I know I've certainly felt that way. And my husband of two years is an Army Special Forces officer. He's on his seventh combat deployment. My second deployment experience. But on the occasion that I've talked about this, I've been so encouraged for the curiosity and the desire for a connection between people with and without ties to the military. So I'm going to make a regular thing of it with a weekly column called "Homefront." And I'm hoping that I can help create a forum for some of these untold stories of military families and also just create a place where we can find some common ground between either side of this civilian-military divide. Please check out today's column, the first one on It's under our top stories. And it's also going to be on my Twitter account @briKeilarCNN. Please send me your feedback and your story ideas to

President Trump did not mention Special Counsel Robert Mueller or the Russia investigation directly in his State of the Union speech, but he did take a swipe at Democrats preparing to dig into his administration. He warned that their investigations will only get in the way of moving the country forward.


[13:40:18] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An economic miracle is taking place in the United States and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.

If there's going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.


KEILAR: Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thank you for being with us for the first time here.

REP. DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL, (D), FLORIDA: Thank you, Brianna, for having me.

KEILAR: What was your reaction when the president talked about what he called, quote, "ridiculous, partisan investigations?"

MUCARSEL-POWELL: Well, you know, it's disappointing. He had a huge platform to really put partisan politics aside, address the American people, talk about issues that we all care about the most, which is reducing health care costs. It was very evident that he didn't mention anything related to the gun violence epidemic that we're seeing in our country. But he brings something up that he was, quite, quite honestly, very inappropriate during his address last night.

KEILAR: So you felt -- you felt that it was inappropriate? Were you surprised by it?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: I wasn't surprised. You never know what the president is going to bring up at these moments. But I can tell you that this investigation is completely independent. We can legislate and do the work that we were elected to do while we have a private investigation by Mueller, which we are committed in protecting. And being a part of the Judiciary Committee, one of the focuses that we have, especially as freshmen that we're coming in as, is making sure that the American public has the information that they need to make their own statements and beliefs on what is happening right now. We have to bring transparency. It's part of the reason why I wanted to run for office. So it will be interesting in the next few months as we continue and watch and wait for the facts and see where they may lead. KEILAR: So no doubt investigations by Congress are going to go

forward. It's just -- it's just the expectation that's going to happen. When he's previewing what his messaging is, which is let's say there's some issue with the economy, which some economists are predicting will come here in the next year or so, he's saying that he's going to blame it on investigations. How do you read a preview of that? Because he's very clearly going to start using Democrats as a scapegoat if there's any economic woes and blaming it on, oh, look, they're investigating, they're not actually working.

MUCARSEL-POWELL: I can assure you, Brianna, that we are working. We are legislating. We are right now looking at ways to prevent another government shutdown. We need to protect our federal workers. We can't hold them as hostages because we differ on certain policy issues. We are doing the work that we were elected to do. Just today I've been on the judiciary hearing listening to victims and families who were affected by gun violence. It is a very personal issue for me. We are continuing to do the work that we were elected to do.

Two things I do want to remind everyone, the president did bring up health care costs and protecting people with pre-existing conditions and investing in infrastructure. So, from my take what I would like to see is making sure that the president and his Republican colleagues follow up with those statements. And we're going to hold them accountable and make sure they can work in a bipartisan manner to find solutions to those problems that we are ready to work on.

KEILAR: Congresswoman, the president laid out his sweeping view of what's at stake in the 2020 election, and he's going to frame it as a choice, it seems, between Capitalism and Socialism. Let's listen.


TRUMP: Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt Socialism in our country.


TRUMP: America was founded on liberty and independence and not government coercion, domination and control.


TRUMP: We are born free and we will stay free.


TRUMP: Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a Socialist country.


KEILAR: Do you think this is a message that might resonate with people because there's -- when you look at the Democratic Party, you have candidates, potential candidates who were talking about Medicare for All. We've seen the effective shift to the left. And there are going to be people in the middle who are concerned about that shift to the left. Do you think this is going to resonate with Independents?

[13:45:07] MUCARSEL-POWELL: Let me just tell you something. I'm a congresswoman representing an area in Florida, and I have seen this messaging that the Republicans have tried to use against us. I stood up and clapped. Yes. We are not going to turn this country into a Socialist country. As Democrats, we are supporting one of the bills that I introduced last week sending humanitarian aid to Venezuela. I don't agree that we should have military intervention. The reason I'm bringing that is he brought Socialism right after he was talking about Venezuela. Democrats are here to work for the people. We were elected and we ran on reducing health care costs, protecting and expanding access to health care. We were elected to protect American workers and their wages. We actually are trying to pass a bill that raises wages for the American people. So I don't want this president to continue to use these little tag lines that he likes to use to distract from the fact that he is not supporting us as we are, right now, fighting to protect people with pre-existing conditions, Brianna. I brought someone that lives in my district -- we have 300,000 people in my community that have pre-existing conditions. That's what we need to do. Instead of focusing on the tag lines that the president likes to use, why don't we get a support in a bipartisan manner to find solutions to these problems.

KEILAR: Congresswoman, thank you for making your inaugural appearance on CNN right now.

MUCARSEL-POWELL: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

In his first remarks since last night's State of the Union, President Trump is set to unveil a controversial nominee to lead the World Bank, any moment. We're looking at live pictures. We'll bring it to you as soon as it begins.


[13:51:07] KEILAR: One of the World Bank's fiercest critic is now being tapped to run it. President Trump is expected to nominate David Malpass, the undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs, to lead the organization. He has played a key role in the Trump administration's effort to scale back U.S. foreign aid and that has some U.S. allies concerned. The whole focus of the World Bank is to provide financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world.

We have CNN global economic analyst and global business columnist and associate editor for the "Financial Times, Rana Foroohar, with us.

You do not believe that Malpass is the best candidate for the job. Tell us why.

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: I think that when you have somebody that is really not for multilateralism, is perceived to be someone that wants America to pull back, wants the world to be more a collection of nations rather than one global community, I think that's a tough sell in an institution like this, which is about nothing if not multilateralism. There are also questions, frankly, about, you know, his economic chops. Yes, this is someone who's had a long career on Wall Street and now in government, but, you know, Malpass missed the housing crisis. There are a number of other criticisms that have come out. And at a time like this, particularly when America needs to be banding together if we'll have a fight with China over trade, over technology, we need to be kind of looping in a lot of other countries and saying, look, we're in this together. He's a contentious candidate.

KEILAR: And so what's the global reaction to this?

FOROOHAR: Not great. What I'm hearing certainly from a number of European leaders but also folks in developing countries is, hey, we want somebody that's going to help nation build, that's going to help bring the community together right now. One thing I will say is that the Trump administration and Malpass, in particular, has said, OK, China is a rich nation now. It's not a developing country any more. It shouldn't be getting those development dollars. That's a fair conversation. If he's going to come in and say, look, we need to reconfigure how this organization works, we need to look at who should be taking responsibility, how the global economy has changed in the last 20 years, that's one thing. If he comes in and says, we'll pull the plug on development aid and pull the plug on climate change work, put forward an agenda that's considered to be more specific to this administration rather than any kind of longer-term U.S. position in the world, I think that's problematic.

KEILAR: Listening to the State of the Union last night, Rana, it was interesting to hear the president laying the ground work as he argued against Democratic investigations of his administration, saying that it would affect the economy. So he's clearly looking off into the distance and expecting that there could be some sort of downturn. And he's laying the ground work for how he's going to explain that. How likely is that to happen, do you think?

FOROOHAR: It's very likely that there's going to be a downturn but that has nothing to do with the investigations into this president or anything that's happened in the last year. Historically, downturns tend to happen every eight to 11 years. We've been in a recovery cycle for over a decade now. It may not feel like that to a lot of us but that's the fact. A downturn is probably quite likely this year. And the president is, I think, really making a mistake by trying to tie this in people's mind to any kind of investigation and make it a bipartisan thing. The economy goes up and down, and we are due for a downturn.

KEILAR: So what should he be doing if he's not laying the ground work for a blame game?


KEILAR: Yes. What would the solution be?

FOROOHAR: Finding some common ground around things that would actually bolster the economy. Infrastructure, for such a long time, was something that could have been a bipartisan area of agreement. There are ways right now that the government could be helping to buffer what is probably going to be a slowdown in the next year or two, particularly at a time when the rest of the world is slowing down. Which, by the way, is not the time to be pulling the plug on multilateralism.

[13:55:08] KEILAR: Rana Foroohar, thank you so much. Always making all of this understandable.

FOROOHAR: Thank you.

KEILAR: A significant development. House Democrats revealing that their investigations will go beyond Russia and into the president's finances.

Plus, former Vice President Joe Biden dominating early 2020 polls, not only among Democrats but all voters. This, as one of his possible competitors gets ready to jump in the race.