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CNN NEWSROOM

Kamala Harris Takes on Questions About Her "Blackness"; Trump Mocks "Trail of Tears" Genocide, Which Killed Thousands; Average Tax Refund Down 8 Percent So Far This Season. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 11, 2019 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Because right now frankly, I'm focused on, for example, an initiative that I have, it's called "The Lift Up". It is about lifting folks out of poverty, and I'm proud of being black and I was born black, I will die black. And I'm proud of being black. And I'm not going to make any excuses for anybody because they don't understand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: CNN national political reporter, Maeve Reston, as it is Tiffany Cross, cofounder and managing editor of "The Beat DC". And so ladies, let's talk about these conversations that folks are having. Tiffany, you know, voters are questioning the Senator's blackness and you just heard in the clip in The Breakfast Club, it was reminiscent and she reminded him of, you know, the questions swirling around Barack Obama. The black vote is so crucial to any election so this whole question of are you black enough, how relevant is this.

TIFFANY CROSS, COFOUNDER AND MANAGING EDITOR, THE BEAT DC: Listen, I think the real question is not how black are you, but how black are your policies. And I think people should be less concerned if Senator Harris can get an in invite to the cookout and not as concerned as are her policies such that we can afford to have the cookout. And that's not to say she doesn't have work to do with black voters. I mean Luther Campbell, who's a rapper of Two Live Crew, recently penned an op-ed questioning some of the policies that she supported when she was in office in California. I think he's well within her right to do that and the candidate has to appeal to these voters and have these conversations.

That's not to say that we should hold her to some sort of unattainable standard. I went to an HBCU. Black people are not a homogenous group of people. They are all types of black people who come in all types of hues. If she's walking down the street next to a white person, believe me, the world will see her as a black woman. And I think she is well within her rights to identify as such.

BALDWIN: But to your point on policy, Maeve, the Senator Harris being accused of disproportionately incarcerating minorities as a prosecutor. How is she handling that criticism? Because that's going to keep coming up.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes and that came up, Brooke, in this interview this morning with The Breakfast Club. Obviously, that's sort of the central criticism of her campaign is, was she right to take on this role as a prosecutor in a system that disproportionately incarcerate men of color. And she has really answered those questions head on. Saying that she wanted to be part of this changing the system from within.

But these questions about her heritage she just -- as you saw this morning -- kind of thinks they are -- that it's a silly discussion and that her mother raised her and her sister to be strong black women. That was so much a part of her heritage growing up. And you see all these conversations happening on Twitter. And that's what she was asked about this morning. And it's just kind of like a vile channel of you know hate speak and misogyny and racism many times. And so, I think she was just kind of pushing away some of that today. Saying, you know what, I'm not going to waste my time talking about it.

BALDWIN: But it is stunning. I mean, it's almost like welcome to running for President. Welcome to all these you know criticisms including the man you choose to marry. You know, Senator Harris' case, he is a white man and here she was this morning addressing that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, THE BREAKFAST CLUB: I see this online all the time. I don't think it's fair. Like I don't even think your personal life should matter, but they do mention your husband a lot. They say how is she so black but she married white.

HARRIS: Look, I love my husband. And he happened to be the one that I chose to marry because I love him and that was that moment in time and that's it. That's it. That's it. And he loves me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: At what point will people in this country stop asking these questions or Tiffany, will they not?

CROSS: Well, I think she answered the question beautifully. I love my husband and he loves me. And I think we have to acknowledge, Brooke, that a lot of this is going to be disinformation spread on the Twitter spear of people claiming to be a part of this faction of society questioning her blackness, questioning who she married. We saw how this information sullied the campaign of 2016. We can anticipate this time. I've seen my own timeline of people who I suspect to be Russian bots questioning her blackness. And I think, you know, they tap into and even smaller sects of society who unfortunately echoes these falsehoods.

But like I said, Brooke, she has to do a better job of appealing to voters who question her previous political standpoints. She addressed some of these things on "The Breakfast Club" this morning. She talked about the Lift Act where she says she wants to lift 60 percent of black families out of poverty. She talked about black women in their treatment at hospitals. Hello, somebody with the black face pictures and Ralph Northam's med school book, these are future doctors, so we know this is an issue. Those are more important topics to talk about other than who she chose to marry.

BALDWIN: I know, and we did talk about that a minute ago.

[15:35:00] And who knows if all three of those guys in Virginia stay in office? But with Senator Harris -- here's my last question, because this piece of the interview got all kind of buzz. Maeve, she was asked if she's ever smoked pot. Not only said she did, she said she inhaled. She said she enjoyed it and we all remember when Bill Clinton said he didn't inhale and the whole country at the time was like what? And you know today, today, it just feels like a big old who cares.

RESTON: Yes. I mean, I think it is. You know, it's obviously that Bill Clinton's answer taught a lot of people how to not answer a question politically. But you know she was very authentic and honest this morning about it. And went on to say that she supports -- while she supports the legalization of marijuana, that she does want to see more research into issues like impairment when driving and you know how it affects the brain. So it obviously immediately sort of turned into a policy discussion what about needs to happen here as opposed to being like a, oh, gosh. This is a scary thing about a candidate. Nobody really cares anymore.

Brooke, can I just weigh in really quickly?

BALDWIN: Yes, Yes.

CROSS: What voters' value most of all is authenticity. And I think she showed up as her authentic self today and for marijuana legislation. I mean, a lot of people still kind of brush it to the side and look at it as a joke, but this is a revenue generator for a lot of municipalities across the country. And when we look at criminal justice reform and how disproportionate black and brown people were locked up for marijuana use, this is a serious policy discussion that we should be having.

BALDWIN: Tiffany and Maeve, ladies, thank you very much.

RESTON: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming back to our breaking news now. A freshman House Democrat is apologizing after being called out by party leaders including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after a quote, unquote, deeply offensive tweet involving Israel. And did the President mock a genocide that killed thousands with an apparent tweet about the Trail of Tears? We're back in a moment.

[15:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: President Trump receiving all kinds of backlash over his tweet which appeared to mock the genocide which killed thousands of Native Americans. It came after Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren officially entered the presidential race just over this weekend. And so, President Trump tweeted this regarding Senator Warren and her claims of her American Indian heritage.

Quote, today Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to by me as Pocahontas, joined the race for President. Will she run as our first Native American Presidential candidate or has she decided after 32 year, this is not playing so well anymore? See you on the campaign trail, Liz.

Take note of the word, trail, all in capital letters. And a lot of people are taking that to be a reference to the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears, it was a forced relocation in the 1830s of reported 17,000 Native Americans that led to the deaths of thousands.

Donald Trump Jr. Then posted his father's "trail" tweet on Instagram adding the quote savage, love my President. CNN presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley, is a history professor at Rice University. So Doug, Trail of Tears, extraordinarily dark period of history in this country. So first of all, just how stinging must this have been, must this be for so many Native Americans to see this tweet?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Incredibly disturbing in the Native American community. Donald Trump continues to mock Native people, to belittle their history. The Trail of Tears was nothing short of a genocide of the forced relocation of Creek and Chickasaw, Choctaw Seminole tribes from Alabama, Georgia. They had to do a forced march to Oklahoma. They died of dysentery and forest bite, inhumane conditions. I don't use the word genocide often, but one could say the Trail of Tears was that and such a loaded word. And here Donald Trump and his son are making fun of it as it's a big joke.

But unfortunately, our culture seems not to be -- you know, we're dealing with black face issues in Virginia yet where Trump is in Washington, D.C., you have the Washington Redskins. How does an NFL team keep a name like that in 2019? So our whole country could use education history primer course on Native history and particularly, how ugly and grim the Trail of Tears was.

BALDWIN: Just even to add to it, the President then, Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States of America, his role in the Trail of Tears. I mean, this is a man whose portrait hangs prominently in the oval office. And a man the President says he admires.

BRINKLEY: You know, and Andrew Jackson used to be ranked as one of the top presidents. He's slipping in polls because of the Trail of Tears. Andrew Jackson ran for the presidency on a policy of Indian removal, much like Donald Trump's build the wall. The it was a chant of the era. Gold had been found in Georgia. White Americans wanted the gold. They worked to remove Indians from their ancestral lands. There have been a lot of court cases and the like with it. Thankfully, we have the National Parks Service which has now has a

Trail of Tears heritage site, so Americans can go visit and actually do a trip like you could along the Lewis and Clark trail out West, to really understand how awful the Trail of Tears was.

[15:45:00] And to try to encourage the teaching of Native American history in our public schools more. We're all guilty of kind of overlooking our original Americans, our first peoples.

BALDWIN: It's wonderful that that now exists. I do want to point out one other piece of this or another side of this. This is a sentiment out there from a lot of conservatives, just casting doubt that the President was specifically talking about the Trail of Tears.

This is what Brett Hume tweeted. Quote, yes, because Trump is noted for his knowledge of the 19th century American history vis-a-vis the native population. Jeez.

I mean, when you saw Trump's tweet, do you think the President thought of the Trail of Tears when he sent that out?

BRINKLEY: I can't be in his mind but it was deeply insensitive and when you have the word savage quote right away from his son, it certainly leads to that impression. His demonizing Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas constantly. We had Navajo code breakers in the White House. That he was doing the whole Pocahontas trope racist stereotyping of Native people. If he didn't mean that, then he should immediately put a tweet and say, my gosh, I shouldn't have done that.

I think it's fair game, incidentally, for President Trump to mock Elizabeth Warren's, you know, kind of phony Native American heritage claim and he might make a joke, could she be the first Native American President. I think that's within the bounds of decency. But when you start belittling -- earlier, he belittled the big battle of Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee, Trump, and now Trail of Tears. It's a President that knows nothing about Native American history and is just trying get barroom laughs using his -- using Twitter.

BALDWIN: Twitter account. Twitter account. Douglas Brinkley, Thank you very much.

BRINKLEY: Thank you.

BRINKLEY: Coming up next, tax return season. Many Americans are going to get quite the shock here. Refunds smaller than years past despite the President promising that his tax cut would help the middle class.

[15:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: So many early tax filers are getting and unwelcomed surprise this year. As they are stunned to discover their refunds are quite a bit less than expected. According to the IRS the average refund is down about 8 percent from last year. So refunds are averaging about $1,865. It's compared to just over $2,000 for the 2017 tax year. This tax season is being closely watch to gauge the real impact of the Republican led tax overhaul. Sweeping changes lowered most individual rates and nearly doubled the standard deduction, while 80 percent of filers get a tax cut at 5 percent can expect to pay more. Jim Tankersley is a tax and economic reporter "The New York Times". And Jim, I went to my new CPA the other day and I was like, wait. What are you telling me? I can't deduct x, y and z anymore? I mean, why will people's refunds be so much smaller? JIM TANKERSLEY, TAX AND ECONOMICS REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well,

your refund -- let's just be really clear, Brooke, your refund is not necessarily an indication of how much of a tax cut you got. It's an indication of how much money you gave the government during the year compare today how much you actually owe. So, if your refund is smaller, it might just mean that you just had better withholding this year, more accurate withholding. What happened was when they changed the tax law -- which included all of those things that you mentioned -- they also changed how much money gets withheld in paychecks. And it looks like for some people -- at least in the early returns so far -- that's meant there getting less back. Which in some ways is good. It means you're not giving the government a loan during the year on money that's actually yours. In other ways it's very bad if you're counting on that money and, oh, surprise, it's not there.

BALDWIN: But wasn't this whole -- the whole tax overhaul was supposed to be the Republican Party and the President's signature accomplishment. And how will the, you know, lower refunds impact what they wanted?

TANKERSLEY: Well, so there's a couple of ways to look at it. One is, people might be really angry because they have lower refunds than they were expecting or they have an unexpected tax bill which is something that at least anecdotally we are hearing that it's happening to some people. On the other hand, their hope had been that people were seeing fatter paychecks throughout the year because they had less money withheld. But you know, for their polling purposes that didn't really help the law. The law still sort of broadly a little bit more unpopular than it is popular in most polls. And so, if it's not a strong refund season that's sort of one more chance missed for Republicans for the popularity of the law no matter what the economics of it are.

BALDWIN: And just lastly, quickly, 30 seconds. In the smaller amount of refund people do get may actually be late because of the government shutdown, do you think?

TANKERSLEY: Right. Yes, the IRS had a lot of workers who were out during the shutdown. And so now they have come back to a backlog. It looks like their processing your returns compared to this point last are. And so, that's a concern is that if you file for refund and you're owed it you might not get it on time.

BALDWIN: Jim Tankersley, on all thing's taxes. Jim, thank you very much. Just a good heads up for everyone if you're doing this winter and spring. A good heads up for everyone.

Just into CNN, what two bipartisan senators are planning to do to hold the Trump administration's feet to the fire over Saudi Arabia and the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We have those details next.

[15:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Just into CNN, Democratic Senator, Bob Menendez and his Republican colleague, Lindsay Graham, want to push the Trump administration into a decision about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. So they are drafting this bipartisan bill to amplify pressure on President Trump to take a stand on the killing of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Friday was the deadline for the administration to say whether it believes MBS played a role in Khashoggi's killing. Senator Menendez tells CNN, the bill may call for holding up nominations or funding for arms sales if Trump doesn't answer Congress.

The bill is expected to be introduced next week and senior administration official told CNN, quote, the President maintains his discretion to decline to act on Congressional committee requests when appropriate. So will see if the President addresses this on Twitter.

I'm Brooke Baldwin, thank you so much for being with me here on this Monday afternoon. Let's send it to Washington. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.