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Beto O'Rourke Speaks and Takes Questions in Iowa After Launching 2020 Presidential Bid; O'Rourke: Any of the 2020 Democratic Candidates Would Be Far Better Than Trump. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 14, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:31] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow this morning in Washington.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto in New York. And Beto O'Rourke is in Iowa which is another way of saying that he is running for president, which the former Texas congressman and second place finisher in last year's Texas Senate race made official early this morning.


BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good to share with you that I'm running to serve you as the next president of the United States of America. This is a defining moment of truth for this country and every single one of us.


SCIUTTO: O'Rourke tells "Vanity Fair," quote, "I'm just born to be in it." And this is what he is in. A large and still growing pack of Democratic rivals, most of whom think they -- of course they were born for it, too.

HARLOW: Born for it. We'll see. Here in D.C. today the Republican- controlled Senate is set to deliver President Trump a major embarrassment, a resolution blocking his border wall emergency declaration that is almost certain to pass with Republican support.

And we're also watching once again the D.C. federal courthouse today where Roger Stone may soon learn that he's run afoul yet again of the gag order for the last time.

Much more on all of that in the hour ahead. But let's begin with the newest face in the crowd of presidential hopefuls. So let's go to our colleague Leyla Santiago. She is in Keokuk, Iowa, with what is happening there.

Good morning. Shocker. Beto O'Rourke is in.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Not much of a surprise, right? We are in Keokuk and I can tell you as we are waiting for him to arrive, which should be any minute now, already there are people gathered outside waiting to see him. And as I'm talking to people about that, they want to know more about his policies. They want to know specifically for here about education and how he plans to support rural America. Very appropriate for where we are right now in the southeastern part of Iowa.

I had a chance to talk to him yesterday about his announcement. And I asked him something that I think is very key. You know, many people said that he energized the young voters. He's certainly raised a lot of money. $80 million in his run against Ted Cruz. Ultimately losing by three points.

But it's what made him sort of this rising star in the Democratic Party. Does he plan to do on a national level what he did in Texas? And he said yes. He says he wants to kind of take that same grassroots approach to get the nomination and in the bid for presidency. You know, will that work? We will have to wait and see.

But already, folks here are excited to see him in Iowa. We expect for him to have a three-day visit here in which he will be talking to small groups, even plans to be in a 5K at some point for the first part of his campaign as, hopefully for him if he has his way, the Democratic nominee.

HARLOW: Nothing like getting in a little jog.

Leyla, thanks.

SCIUTTO: Well, CNN senior political writer and analyst Harry Enten with me now to test this whole candidacy out.

So Beto O'Rourke, you know, a big national profile. But he's polling 5 percent in Iowa, the first state. That's low.



ENTEN: And he's not polling particularly well nationally. He's only polling at 6 percent in an average of polls there. And he's down from where he was back in December, right? Just after he lost in Texas. He was polling in the double-digits both in Iowa and nationally.

SCIUTTO: Did he miss his moment?

ENTEN: He may have in fact missed his moment. I'm not quite sure about that. But look, we still have 11 months to go. So we'll see if he's able to turn it around.

SCIUTTO: In Texas, of course he made a good run for a Democrat in a deeply red state. But he lost in the end. And Democrats have been talking about taking Texas for a thousand years, right? And never get there. Was that actually a good result for him in terms of testing his national appeal?

ENTEN: I think it was in some ways and wasn't in others. I mean, obviously he did better than the average Democrat has done throughout the years but Texas is a state that's been moving more toward the center of the aisle. Recently Donald Trump's approval rating in the exit polls was hovering right around 50 percent. In fact O'Rourke perhaps, you know, underperformed a little bit. You might expect him to have done giving Donald Trump's popularity in that state. And he only outperformed the average House candidate in that state by around 3 percentage points. So yes, it was better than we might have expected, but not so much better.

SCIUTTO: OK. So let's talk about this -- the effect on Joe Biden who everybody is waiting for now. His close confidants say he's 95 percent there. But when you look at the field, and let's put the picture up again, the field of all these Democratic candidates. Certainly skewed to younger, a lot of women, people of color.

[09:05:04] What does that say for candidates and to put a fine point on it older white men as potential standard for the Democratic Party this time?

ENTEN: You know, it's so interesting to me because you look at the polls and you look at an NBC-"Wall Street Journal" news poll which said that voters -- Democratic voters do not want a candidate over the age of 75. They're not that enthusiastic or comfortable.

SCIUTTO: Seventy-five? Well, that's pretty --


ENTEN: But that's --

SCIUTTO: Not exactly, you know, a low bar.

ENTEN: That's not exactly a low bar but that's Bernie and that's Biden.


ENTEN: But at the same point they're combining for over 50 percent of the vote.


ENTEN: So it might be that their, quote-unquote, "ideal candidate" isn't actually matching up with who they want or could be the case that right now those polls may not actually be reflective of what it turns out to be the case.

SCIUTTO: As we're speaking these are lives pictures of Beto O'Rourke there in Keokuk , Iowa, again that first state to vote. Of course not accidental that this is his first stop on the day that he announces.

Talk about strengths for a moment of Beto O'Rourke beyond the national profile. He raised 80 million bucks in that Senate run. And we know how fundraising ability is a factor in the way the parties assess these guys.

ENTEN: Absolutely. I mean, he raised $80 million. The next closest person who raised anything close to that from individual contributors was Claire McCaskill who raised just a little bit over $30 million. He raised more than double the next closest person to him. And in a field that's going to be as large as this the ability to raise money would allow you to build infrastructure and may allow you to stay on your advertising much longer than your competitors.

SCIUTTO: So -- OK. Well, we're going to keep watching it again. Those are live pictures of Beto as he tests the waters in Iowa there where we said he's polling 5 percent today. We'll see if that changes as we get closer to the Iowa caucuses.

Harry Enten, always good to have you on.

ENTEN: Thank you, sir.

SCIUTTO: Poppy, back to you.

HARLOW: All right, Jim. Downright balmy there in Iowa. Not even a jacket for Beto O'Rourke. A nice day there as he makes this announcement.

Let's talk more about it with Jess McIntosh, our political commentator, also former communications director of outreach for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Good morning to you, Jess. Let me ask you.


HARLOW: Two questions that former President Obama according to this new "Vanity Fair" article asked Beto O'Rourke when the two of them sat down and had a little chat. The first, does he have a path to victory?

MCINTOSH: I mean, I think absolutely he does. We have seen that people get very enthusiastic when they are around him. I am sitting here in Austin, Texas, right now where I can tell you folks are very, very excited about his candidacy. I'm interested to see what he lays out. I thought it was an interesting choice not to have a big scene setting rally today.

I read the "Vanity Fair" piece. I'm excited by the emotional authenticity that he can bring, by the kind of vulnerability that he's able to show. By the way that he pulls back the curtain on what the wife of a candidate is and why one might want to do this. The only thing that I want to make sure as part of a conversation when we talk about Beto is that it would be near impossible for a woman to run that same kind of race, trying to imagine a woman saying I was born to do this is really pretty impossible.


MCINTOSH: Similarly trying to imagine that two of my kids say they're going to cry every day that I'm running but I'm going to do it anyway, would also be impossible. So as Beto is rightfully praised for the sort of outside national candidacy that he's putting forward, I want to make sure that that double standard is part of the conversation.


MCINTOSH: Because I think it could do us all a lot of good if we started treating everybody about the same.

HARLOW: Wouldn't that be a thing, huh?

MCINTOSH: Wouldn't it?

HARLOW: You make an interesting point. Nia-Malika Henderson wrote a great piece on exactly that a few months ago, the people should look up on The other question that President Obama asked him is, what do you uniquely offer the country?

What do you think? Is there something that he uniquely offers the country?

MCINTOSH: Well, this is where he has a little bit of ground to make up. We have the most exciting, diverse field of candidates out there right now. And I think he has rightfully acknowledged that there might be a little bit of a misstep with him being a white guy. And maybe that's not the face of the new Democratic Party. But he answers that question pretty well. So I think his youth is probably working in favor for him.


MCINTOSH: I think the fact that he's more or less a digital native is going to be super helpful. I would like -- I want to hear more. Like I'm excited that we're starting as early as we are because it gives them a chance to really differentiate.

HARLOW: I was struck by that answer in "Vanity Fair" to being a white man.


HARLOW: Something he can't change. He said, "You know, I get and respect people who won't vote for me because of that. But I would surround myself -- my team would be very diverse."


HARLOW: Finally what Democrat that's already in this race do you think his candidacy hurts most?

MCINTOSH: I mean, I think the Bernie Sanders issue is a little bit. We saw Bernie's folks starting to go after Beto months ago, well before he was sure whether he was going to do the Senate or the presidential run. So I think they certainly seem to understand that that's a possible threat right there.

[09:10:03] HARLOW: But that's interesting, Jess, because he's -- he is more -- yes, he has, you know, some progressive values and stances. But he's also much more centrist policy-wise than Sanders. So you think it would hurt Sanders more than Michael Klobuchar or Biden if he gets in?

MCINTOSH: Yes. Well, I mean, I think Sanders sort of had that -- he had that outsider base leftover from 2016. And I think that a lot of those folks were also energized by Beto's candidacy, more because it's not a traditional campaign tactic that he uses. So I think that may be more than a policy alignment --

HARLOW: All right, let me --


HARLOW: So sorry to interrupt, Jess. So watch this with me, OK? He's starting to make these remarks. This is live in Iowa.

O'ROURKE: Thank you all for being with us and welcoming me to your community. Keokuk is the first stop in our campaign to be president of the United States.


O'ROURKE: And it is a huge, huge honor to be with you. I just got a call from my wife Amy who's back in El Paso, Texas, where she is raising -- sometimes with my help -- Ulysses who's 12 years old, Molly who's 10, and their little brother Henry who is 8 years old. And she's getting them ready, feeding them and then taking them to school.

I, even though this is the first day, miss them terribly. But I'll tell you this. It's those kids and it's your kids and it's your grand kids and the generations that follow that push us out into the country to do this incredibly important work together.

The challenges before us, I hope you agree, have never been greater. They're the greatest of our lifetimes. If you look at the crises in our economy where the power has been concentrated into the hands of the privileged, the few, and the corporations. If you look at our democracy which may very well be a democracy soon enough in name only unless we get it back and make sure that it represents people and not special interests and corporations.

And if you look at the climate which if, in this 10-year window we do not do everything we possibly humanly can, the generations that follow us -- and I mean our kids, in our kids' lifetimes. By the time Ulysses is my age, and he's 12 years old right now, we may not be able to live in some of the cities that we call home today like El Paso, Texas. We may not be able to grow our own food and our own fiber feed and clothe ourselves in this country.

And if you think that a little more than 300,000 immigrants and asylum seekers apprehended on the southern border is a problem, and I don't necessarily think that it is, the kind of migration and refugee flows that we will see when entire bands of this world are no longer habitable will be a crisis of a different magnitude all together.

But these challenges I am absolutely convinced will bring out the absolute best in every single one of us. And we have something that almost no other country in the world has. We have the single greatest mechanism to call forth the genius of our fellow human beings. This democracy, more than 320 million people strong, can bring the ingenuity, the creativity, the resolve of an entire country.

And each one of these challenges can and will be met. But the foundational challenge to get all this done is to fix our democracy. Only when it works and only when each one of us can work within it will we be able to meet these threats. And so this setting right now, the very first event of our campaign for president is an example not only of the way that I wish to campaign across this country for every single American, and I could care less your party persuasion, your religion, anything other than the fact that right now we are all Americans and we are all human beings. And we do everything within our power for one another, for this great country, and for every generation that follows.


O'ROURKE: This is democracy. And in the spirit of that I want to make sure that I have a chance to listen to you. This is my first time to ever visit Iowa. This is my first time to ever visit Keokuk. This is my first time to meet most of you here in this room. And so I'm looking forward to the conversation, to hearing what's on your mind, to answering your questions and, even better, if you want to pose the solution to your question from your perspective, from where you live, from how you see things, I am all ears right now.

There is no sense in campaigning if you already know every single answer, if you're not willing to listen to those whom you wish to serve. And that's what brought me here along with hopefully a cup of coffee. So --



O'ROURKE: So with that, raise your hand, I'll call on you, and we'll take it from there.

Yes, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have three more questions. I know (INAUDIBLE) --


O'ROURKE: I will repeat the question.


O'ROURKE: And you said the price after insurance kicked in was 144?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Four-forty four --

O'ROURKE: Four-forty four. So really great question. Her daughter has insurance, so is covered, but after insurance kicks in, her prescription still costs her $444. In the spirit of the question is, there are a lot of proposed solutions to fixing our healthcare system. What, Beto, do you think we should do?

And I think we should begin with the end. What is it that we are hoping to achieve? In my opinion, it is guaranteed high quality healthcare. Why do I cite -- why do I say guaranteed and for everyone, universal? Why do I say guaranteed?

Guaranteed because in the instance that you just shared with me or the knowledge we have of a school teacher in Texas who a year before died of the flu because her copay on the flu medication was $119, it is not enough to be covered, it is not enough to be insured.

We absolutely must be guaranteed the ability to see a doctor, to take our child to that therapist, to afford the prescription that could literally save our lives, certainly improve our lives. So I think that has to be the goal that all of us share.

And some will challenge us and say that's an expensive proposition. And it is. And let's be honest about that. At the greatest level of the highest cost estimates, we see numbers like $30 trillion over the next ten years. Some of the lowest for a plan like Medicare for America.

It was introduced by Jan Schakowsky and Rosa DeLauro. You're still looking at $3 trillion. But whatever that expense, I guarantee you, it is a hell of a lot less than what we pay today to lose the people in our lives, to lose the productivity of Americans who are not well enough to go to work, children who are not well enough to learn.


So let's make sure that we spread those costs out far more equitably, and I guarantee you, the dividends that we receive on the investment that we make in the healthcare of one another will more than pay for the cost of the investment up front. Thank you for the question.


Oh, thank you so much, yes, sir? Since I took your chair --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's fine, here's your coffee.

O'ROURKE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the many candidates entering the field on the Democratic side, how do we keep this campaign from becoming the zoo that was represented by the Republican Party --

O'ROURKE: Right --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the last general election?

O'ROURKE: Great question. So many amazing candidates running for president right now. It's a great sign that in some important ways, this democracy still works. And it is incumbent upon every single one of us because in a democracy, all of us are the government, the government is all of us. That we hold each other accountable not just for what we promise and

what we enact or fail to enact, but how we conduct ourselves on the campaign trail. Critically important that we not denigrate or demean any other candidate. We won't talk about their personal lives --


Any single Democrat running today, and I may not be able to enumerate every single one of them right now --


Would be far better than the current occupant of the White House.


So let's keep this in mind and we can -- we can conduct ourselves in this way every single day for the next 11 months until voting begins here in Iowa. Let's remember that each one of us at the end of this, once we have a nominee will be on the same team. It doesn't matter whose team you are on today, it doesn't matter which prospective nominee that you back right now.

Ultimately, we all have to get on board with the same person because it is fundamental to our chances of success that we defeat Donald Trump in 2020.


And then that we have a movement of people defined not by their differences, but how they've been able to come together to allow the next president of the United States to the be successful on his extraordinarily large challenges that would be before him or her going forward into the next four years.

[09:20:00] So that's the way we'll conduct ourselves in this campaign. Thank you.


Other questions? Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was thinking, this is far -- I want to ask for your thoughts on the tariffs and how to get rid of it.

O'ROURKE: So the challenge that the president seeks to confront of China gaming the international trade system is a legitimate one. We want him to be successful in this. But as I was reminded by a fellow Iowan, when have we ever gone to a war including a trade war without allies?

When have we first alienated every single trading partner we have as this country has done under Trump's leadership before confronting one of the largest economies in the world today? One of the largest markets for soybeans, for corn, for what we produce in Iowa and Texas and around the country. I want us to be successful in holding China accountable. I want to

make sure that we are as competitive as possible for what we grow and what we produce in the United States of America. But in order to do that, let's bring to bear every single ally and partner that we have around the world to do that.

Because here's the consequences if we fail. And you can extrapolate from this anecdote what you're seeing here in Iowa. We were in West Texas, talking to a pecan grower. Now, that pecan grower used to have reciprocal tariffs levied on his pecans when he sold them around the world of 2 percent.

Now, thanks to this trade war, they are 27 percent. In other words, no one around the world is buying his pecans. He said, you know what, Beto, I know at some point his tariffs will come down, this trade war will end. But those buyers and those other countries and those other markets will find other producers, other countries from whom to buy.

And my kids who I so desperately want to take over this pecan-growing operation, they'll move somewhere else, we'll have to subdivide this land, we'll build tract housing here instead of being able to be tied to the land my parents and grandparents handed down to me.

So yes, let's make sure that we hold other countries of the world accountable, but let's not do it at the expense of our farmers, our growers, our producers, those who are fundamental to the success of the U.S. economy. Knowing full well that 30 percent of what you grow here in Iowa is bound for markets outside of the United States.

So I want to make sure that we are tough on trade, we hold other counties -- countries accountable, but we do it in an intelligent and effective way. Thank you for asking.


Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beto, would you speak to the education system? I see teachers in our district struggling every day. They have to take money out of their own pockets to buy supplies and are doing the best that they possibly can, but they need more funding to make the schools work.

O'ROURKE: Yes, it's a great question about public education, and specifically, the teachers who are the backbone of public education, yes.


And the retired teachers who made it possible for all of us to be here, right? So I want to hear from you about what it's like in Iowa? Let me share with you what I learned in Texas. Nearly half of public school teachers in Texas are working a second or a third job, not for kicks, not for extra spending cash, but just to make ends meet, to put food on the table, to buy that medication with the $444 copay, just to exist. And at the same time, and the gentleman said this in his question.

Out of their own pocket they are buying supplies for their classroom, supplies for the students in them, and we know firsthand that there are teachers who see a student come in on Monday in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, Tuesday, the same pair of jeans and T-shirt, Wednesday the same.

By Thursday, out of her pocket, that teacher has bought that child a new set of clothes knowing that it's important for that child's dignity, and therefore their ability to learn to be able to hold their head up high. And although, they don't have the extra cash to spend, they do it nonetheless.

Our ability to meet the economic challenges that I just described is only going to be possible if we support our teachers, pay them a true living wage so they focus on only one job, the most important --


O'ROURKE: Before them.


That they have a healthcare system that they can depend on and retired teachers are able to afford a life of dignity. And so somebody just pointed out nurses, when I say teachers, maybe I should be saying educators because that's nurses and librarians and therapists.


The custodial staff, the bus drivers, everyone who makes it possible. Now, this is another one of these investments where some will say, this sounds like pie in the sky, we cannot afford to do this. We cannot afford not to do this. We don't make that investment, by extent we are not making that investment in our kids.

[09:25:00] And then what should we expect for them to be able to achieve in their lifetimes. We do not want to be the generation unique in American history that sees our children do worse economically, do worse in terms of educational attainment than we did or than our parents did.

And that's very possible unless we get a hold of the situation now. And yes, it means investment. But it also means that we hold one another accountable, those school district trustees, the superintendents means that we invest in teachers not just in their pay, but in their education and their continuing education.

Every teacher I met wants to be absolutely the best at her profession, but she also wants us to make the investment in her and her fellow teachers. So thanks for asking the question. Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I have your thoughts on the new green deal?

O'ROURKE: Question is on the green new deal, and by extension, if you don't mind, I'll take the spirit of the question. We face catastrophe and crisis on this planet, even if we were to stop emitting carbon today right now at this moment.

We know that the storms that we saw in Texas, Harvey which dumped the landfall record amount of rain on the United States of America as long as we have been keeping records, that claimed the lives of too many of our fellow Americans flooded people literally out of their homes and businesses.

Storms like Harvey are only going to become more frequent and more severe and more devastating. And ultimately, they'll compromise the ability to live in a city like Houston, Texas. The droughts that we experienced in the panhandle of Texas, five years straight. And then we got a little bit of rain and then we went back into droughts again.

Those same scientists say those droughts will become more profound, more severe at a town hall like this. And I remember a young woman came in with her two children, she was skipping her son's basketball practice to be there. She was going to talk to a Democrat even though she was a life-long Republican.

Because she told me that what her grandparents planted on their farm, what their parents planted on their farm, that she is now trying to plant does not grow. She said climate change, Beto, is not something that we have to prepare for. It is something that is here.

Let us all be well aware that life is going to be a lot tougher for the generations that follow us, no matter what we do. It is only a matter of degrees. And along this current trajectory, there will be people who can no longer live in the cities that they call home today.

There is food growing in this country that will no longer prosper in these soils. There's going to be massive migration of tens or hundreds of millions of people from countries that are literally uninhabitable or under water that are above the sea right now.

This is our final chance. The scientists are absolutely unanimous on this. That we have no more than 12 years to take incredibly bold action on this crisis. My gratitude to them for the young people who helped stepped up to offer such a bold proposal to meet such a grave challenge.

They say that we should do nothing less than marshal every single resource in this country to meet that challenge, to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, to get to net zero emissions, which means not only must we emit less greenhouse gases, we must also plant those things that absorb greenhouse gases and carbon.

And we must also invest in the technology that will allow us to claim some of it that's in the air right now. Can we make it? I don't know. it's up to every single one of us. Do you want to make it?

CROWD: Yes --


O'ROURKE: Because your kids, my kids, you know, Ulysses who in 2050 is going to be just about my age. He's going to be looking back on this moment in 2019 in Keokuk, and every moment thereafter to judge what we did or what we failed to do.

Because his kids will be thinking about all of us. His kids' lives, whether they can even breathe is dependent on what we do right now. So some will criticize the green new deal for being too bold or being unmanageable. But I tell you what, I haven't seen anything better that addresses this singular crisis that we face, the crisis that could at its worst lead to extinction.

So that the green new deal does that. That it ties it to the economy and acknowledges that all of these things are inter-connected. That also recognizes that some communities have borne the brunt of pollution more than others. Right now, the asthma deaths that we have in the United States of America concentrated in some neighborhoods, some people more than others.

It wants to make sure that we do our part in making this more equitable, in helping those communities that already been hurt so badly. That we ensure that there are jobs available for those who are looking for work for purpose, for function in their lives, who do not have it right now and are succumbing to the diseases of despair.

And in so doing, make sure that the world's greatest super powers -- its greatest democracy, its greatest economy.