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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Crisis in Venezuela; Democratic Message for 2020?. Aired 4:30- 5p ET

Aired February 18, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:32:27]

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to this special edition of THE LEAD.

We are just hours away now from the CNN town hall with Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. She just wrapped up the first campaign trip of her 2020 presidential run focusing on the Midwest, where she vowed to bridge the rural-urban divide.

Klobuchar is by no means a centrist, but she's starting to look like one in this race because of a massive push by a more and more progressive field of candidates.

As CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports, it's highlighting the divide within the Democratic Party.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That sound you hear on the campaign trail is Democratic presidential candidates moving sharply to the left, from Medicare for all.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Health care is a fundamental rights, and we will deliver that right with Medicare for all.

ZELENY: To a Green New Deal

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And creating a green economy should be the moon shot of this generation.

ZELENY: To a new wealth tax.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is time to put a modest tax on the giant fortunes in this country.

ZELENY: The winds of the Democratic primary are blowing fiercely from the left, with liberal ideas creating early litmus tests and potentially setting up long term-political land mines.

It's hardly a new divide inside the Democratic Party.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: That revolution, our revolution, continues.

ZELENY: But it's taking on greater significance, given the party's progressive shift. And President Trump is already trying to seize on that shift and brand Democrats as extreme.

TRUMP: We renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.

ZELENY: While most Democrats resist that label, there's little doubt the energy of the party is coming from the left, whether it's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declaring victory after Amazon pulled its new headquarters out of New York.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: We can ask for more because we deserve more.

ZELENY: Or Democrats calling for the elimination of ICE.

The dawn of the 2020 Democratic primary is raising a question about the balance between pragmatism and purity. The divisions are also playing out on the Senate floor, like last week's vote to avoid a government shutdown.

Amy Klobuchar, Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders supported the spending bill, while Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren opposed it. Klobuchar is selling herself as a pragmatic progressive.

(on camera): Do you feel pressure to sign on to the latest liberal or progressive idea?

[16:35:00]

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I voted for it because I thought, well, that's what I would do whether I was running for president or not. Everyone makes their own decision, but you have got to be able to be yourself, and not just try to be someone different than you have been.

ZELENY (voice-over): There is an appetite for moderation. A Pew poll shows 53 percent of Democrats and independents who lean that way prefer a more moderate direction for the party, while 40 percent favor a more liberal one.

Phyllis Weeks is one Democratic voter hoping the party takes the pragmatic route.

(on camera): So you're not looking for perfection. You're looking for someone who can beat President Trump.

PHYLLIS WEEKS, IOWA DEMOCRAT: Yes, and I don't like this idea of purity on the left. I never have, that the candidates have to be so pure.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZELENY: Now, that sentiment comes up again and again in Iowa and here in New Hampshire, where Senator Klobuchar right now is holding her first campaign event here in New Hampshire.

And, of course, this evening, she will be on the stage behind me here with our own Don Lemon taking questions from New Hampshire voters.

But, Pamela, that is a central question going through this Democratic primary right now. Are they looking for someone who checks every box? Or are they looking for someone who can defeat the president? Of course, this is a process that happens every four years.

But what often sounds good in a primary campaign can be problematic in a general election -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right, Jeff Zeleny laid it out perfectly for our discussion. Thanks so much, Jeff.

Let's first focus on Amy Klobuchar. Made her first campaign trip to Wisconsin over the weekend. And here's what she said about the importance of that state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KLOBUCHAR: I came here because I am the senator next door, and I will be traveling to every single state in the Midwest.

No one ever thought that the Democrats were going to be able to defeat Governor Walker, but we did. And we did it in a smart Wisconsin way with a grassroots campaign, with Tammy Baldwin at the top of the ticket. And we can do it in the presidential as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So what do you think? Can she build a blue wall again in the Midwest?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I don't know. I mean, that's what everyone's waiting to see.

There's all these different people that are running that all have great experience. She's a very respected legislator. And I think that she's incredibly smart and definitely had a kind of breakout moment during the Kavanaugh hearings, and so I think connected with the base on that.

And she's going to occupy a more kind of middle-of-the-road-type lane, which isn't exactly where the base is right now. So that's going to be the question.

And I think to what you were just saying in the intro about, are they looking for somebody who can win or looking -- checking all the boxes, it seems like if you look at the polls most Democrats are saying they just want somebody who can win.

And so it'll be interesting to see when push comes to shove what decision prevails.

BROWN: You wonder how much some of the House members, some of the freshman House members are influencing the candidates for 2020, right, I mean, how much they're pushing them to the left.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm sure they're trying to, but I think what Klobuchar said is right, which is you can't -- if you're running for president, you cannot be swayed by everything that comes out of Washington and sort of what's the next legislation.

I mean, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has her own agenda. And if you're running for president, you have got to show that you have got your vision on what you would do on health care and what you would do on criminal justice reform.

I think the challenge, though, that Klobuchar has is, I firmly believe that the way to win, for Democrats to win in 2020, whether it's left, right, center, is really about putting together a diverse coalition of voters. We have the most diverse electorate we have had in the history of our country, obviously also the most diverse field of Democratic candidates.

And I think it's going to be a version of the Obama strategy. You can't do that if you're not also talking to African-Americans and Latinos outside of the Midwest. You have got to go to the West and you have got to go to the south.

BROWN: OK, so to your point, Cory Booker weighed in on what he thinks it's going to take for Democrats to win. Here was his take.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The test of this election won't be, as Democrats, our ability to beat Republicans. The test of this next election is our ability to unite Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: OK, so let's look at the polls. He has that to say, but the polls show 49 percent of Democratic-leaning voters said it was extremely important the Democratic nominee had a good chance to beat Trump, 39 percent said it was very important.

Do you think Booker had it wrong here, Scott? What do you think?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's on brand for Booker.

I think there's two kinds of Democrats. As a Republican looking in on this, it strikes me that some of them are running on sort of trying to be more optimistic, and some of them are running on more of the anger, the populism, where the energy is in the Democratic Party.

Booker's trying to go down that optimistic route, the route of the uniter. Ultimately, I'm waiting to see how all of those messages and those postures are going to play out on a debate stage, because it's two very distinct kinds of communication styles.

Now, both have been popular in recent American political history. Trump's style was different than Obama's, which was different than George W. Bush's. So it's not like one style is necessarily better than the other, but which of these candidates can make that style work for the time?

My view is, it's the Cortez model. She is the heart and the energy of the Democratic Party. She's going to drag them to the left. That wing of the party is going to drag these candidates.

[16:40:03]

I don't believe most activists are looking for middle of the road. I believe they're looking for that energy, that heart, and that is most embodied by Cortez and some of the other freshman Democrats.

BROWN: OK.

ALFONSO AGUILAR, FORMER CHIEF, U.S. OFFICE OF CITIZENSHIP: I agree with that 100 percent.

I don't think -- I think Democrats are underestimating the problem they have on their hands. Republicans had a similar problem in 2009 with the rise of the Tea Party, with the Freedom Caucus.

You have extreme left activists that are -- and members of Congress that are extremely influential in the policy positions that presidential candidates are taking. So far, the top presidential candidates in the Democratic Party are people who are taking very extreme positions.

I don't know if they can win with that type of message, supporting a radical Green New Deal, doing away with private health care insurance, abolishing ICE. Those are pretty extreme ideas that I don't think the majority of the public are going to respond very well to.

BROWN: I can't wrap up this panel before we listen to Joe Biden and his exchange with the Armenian president, because it's pretty remarkable.

See if you can tell what he says. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARMEN SARKISSIAN, PRESIDENT OF ARMENIA: How are you?

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good. How are you doing?

SARKISSIAN: Are you going to run?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: What did he say?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: First of all, he must love this, that we're all sitting around guessing, but that is the big question, right?

FINNEY: Of course.

And I think heard our own David Chalian say earlier today that the expectation is -- or the message the Biden people are putting out is that they have time.

And so I think they're kind of biding their time to see when he needs to get in. They're trying to I think give him the most runway possible in terms of whether it's a month or two months, whether it's the spring that he just makes this final decision.

But, yes, I'm sure he's enjoying the fact that we're having this conversation right now and wondering.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: I love that you just said he's biding his time. That was a good one.

JENNINGS: Ooh, very good.

BROWN: Very good.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: All right, thanks, guys.

Well, this is being called -- this is horrible -- this manmade crisis of epic proportions. That is what it's being called, the lengths people are being forced to go to just to get basic medical care in Venezuela.

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Turning to the "WORLD LEAD" now. A power struggle in Venezuela coming to a head as the Trump administration warns that nation's president to step aside. A defiant Nicolas Maduro has military officials blocking waves of humanitarian aid sent by the U.S. He's calling it unnecessary and part of a coup to overthrow him.

Well, those shipments are now held up right across the border and Colombia and that's where we find CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He is there and joins me live. So what's the latest there Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are in the next hour supposed to hear from President Trump and the speech he will give in Miami is supposed to tighten the screws potentially on the Venezuelan military that remains loyal to President Nicolas Maduro, the vast majority of it frankly.

But he's essentially threatening the money of the military leadership hit backing Maduro up and saying that they know where that money is hidden suggesting perhaps that if at some point in the days ahead humanitarian aid is not allowed by the military through the border behind me. You can see the human traffic hit every single day coming into Colombia to get simple foodstuffs. But if that humanitarian aid is not allowed in, the military could potentially experience further sanctions.

Now, all this was brought to a head the previous weekend when USAID flew planes of aid into here. I've got to give you a reality check. It's not enough to radically change the situation inside Venezuela but what it is doing is building up a head of steam ahead of this coming weekend when the opposition has said that using whatever frankly means it needs to, it will get that humanitarian in through the border.

Now, it isn't clear how that will happen. John Bolton, the National Security Advisor of the United States says there's no military option on the table for making that happen. They want Venezuelans to do it. But I think really as we gather steam towards this coming weekend here as the rhetoric grows more intense is the pressure from the White House against the Venezuelan military increases too.

Many are concerned here we could have a tense possibly volatile possibly even violent confrontation on the border points here. People are desperately hungry inside an aid gathering here. The question is will the Venezuelan military let it in. Pamela?

BROWN: All right, Nick, thank you very much. Nick Paton Walsh reporting there for us laying out the situation the Trump administration faces. President Trump has said all options are on the table to get rid of Maduro. John Bolton says that there's not going to be military force as of now to get that aid into Venezuela. So what should the Trump administration do quickly starting with you.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, starting with me?

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: OK, OK. I mean I know I don't know exactly what they should do but I do have to say that I think that they are on the right side on this issue. I mean there's no question this is a humanitarian crisis and I think that this isn't a partisan issue. This is something where people are suffering terribly. And this is you know a dictator and this is somebody that I think you know that we need to do something to help.

Now, how exactly we help. I don't -- I don't have the plan for that but I do think that's -- that they're you know, on the right track at least by taking this seriously.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think the president is doing the right thing by leading a global coalition. Since he's come out so strongly on this, nearly 40 countries have joined in tightening the screws on this terrible regime. I think humanitarian aid is right. I think we ought to consider any military intervention that's necessary to get these people, these suffering people, the humanitarian aid that they deserve.

America is a force for good in this hemisphere and in this world. This is a prime example of that and I want the President to continue to see this through because we can't let this guy stand.

[16:50:03] ALFONSO AGUILAR, FORMER CHIEF U.S. OFFICE OF CITIZENSHIP: Well, ideally, we don't want troops to go in Venezuela. We want to put the pressure so the dictator leaves. I think you're absolutely right that it's very important to recognize and continue supporting the government of acting president Guaido. He's been able -- the president has led in building a coalition from the European Union.

The Organization of American States for Latin America governments recognizing Guaido. That's very important to show that there's a transition government that if Maduro leaves can move the country to democracy. Finally, and that's another important p0art of this message is to encourage generals in the high command of the military to distance themselves from Maduro. That way the dictator will see that he doesn't have the support the military and will be able to leave.

BROWN: And that's really the trick. OK, let's listen of what Marco Rubio had to say, Karen. I want to get your reaction on the other end. He's addressing that the fact that the U.S. aid can't get into Venezuela because Maduro is blocking it and they actually spent the weekend in that border city in Colombia. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: There are certain lines and Maduro knows what they are. And if they are crossed, there will -- I am confident based on everything I've heard from this administration and everything I know about this administration that the consequences will be sever and they'll be swift.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the most important thing right now is that the aid that is there certainly supports Guaido and it shows that he has the support of the United States and he has the support of this coalition which I have to believe is a very bolstering effect so that between diplomatic efforts and -- to continue perhaps we can avoid sending troops but to again send that signal to the military that he has the support of the United States.

And I also hope that this sends a message, frankly, to President Trump that this is what America does when we are a force for good, when we do stand up for democracy, when we are able to -- when we're strong in the world, this is when we're able to be our most powerful as a force for good and we're able to bring people together and hopefully topple a dictator. And so I hope you'll do more of it actually.

BROWN: OK.

JENNINGS: I totally agree. That is -- that is --- you're exactly right.

AGUILAR: That's right but there is a political angle to this sadly and they're not enough Democrats calling out recognizing Guaido. The only two presidential candidates that mentioned Venezuela Tulsi Gabbard, Bernie Sanders, criticize President Trump for recognizing Guaido. That's incredible.

BROWN: OK. Much more to discuss. Up next, new calls to investigate allegations of corruption at the highest levels as another nation spirals into chaos.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] BROWN: We are back with our "WORLD LEAD." Haiti's government in crisis mode with five Americans now wrapped up in chaos arrested on conspiracy charges. To weeks now, protesters have been in the streets there accusing those in power of corruption and demanding they leave as the price of everyday living soars. Gasoline is too expensive. In some spots food and water are hard to come by. All of this what's already the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

CNN's Sam Kiley has more from Haiti's capital Port-Au-Prince.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fallen by violence and riots for almost a week, opposition supporters rampage and demand the resignation of the President and his government. No official figures exist for the death toll, but one family is certain that Roberto Felusma died here. He was 14 and shot dead they claim during the riots by Haitian police. Unable to protect him in life, she defends him in death. He was shot packing up her cookie stool outside the hospital.

Roberto's death provoke condemnation at the highest level.

JEAN-HENRY CEANT, PRIME MINISTER, HAITI (through translator): I sent a special message to the mother of a young boy Roberto Badio Thelusma who'd died in front of the State Hospital. Today, I am the Prime Minister who knows what Roberto could have become in this country.

KILEY: But in the mural slum where Roberto lived, his words carry no weight.

It's sadly often the case that the poorest of the poor suffer most in these sorts of conflagrations. But in this case, the victims are being further threatened.

DIMITRI JOURNAL, BROTHER OF ROBERTO BADIO THELUSMA (through translator): Since my little brother died, we've been threatened. We are not safe here. We want the Prime Minister to be more responsible and keep us safe. My other little brother receives calls from blocked numbers, text saying that if we don't close the case, there will be consequences.

KILEY: Brazil says she saw a riot policemen gunned him down.

PRICIL JOURNAL, MOTHER OF ROBERTO BADIO THELUSMA (through translator): When he was done killing my son, he swapped his gun with another nearby cop and then he went into the hospital to hide.

KILEY: She is now afraid to leave her home.

JOURNAL: The people that are making those threats I'm guessing are the ones who killed my son.

KILEY: These slums are no-go areas for police and Roberto's death has driven home the belief among many people here that the state is their enemy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KILEY: Now, Pamela, the Haitian police have said that no case has been lodged with them so there is no investigation into this death. But one thing that they are investigating is the detention of five Americans, a Russian and a Serb. Both of them are resident the United States which has been confirmed by the State Department who's saying that these Americans allegedly found with six automatic weapons, rifles, a six handguns, radio, satellite phones, and drones are going to get consular visits.

BROWN: OK, Sam Kiley in Port-Au-Prince, thank you for your reporting there on the ground in Haiti, Sam. And be sure to tune in to CNN tonight for a special Town Hall with Democratic presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar. CNN's Don Lemon moderates the live event at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.