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O'Rourke Declares Candidacy, Meets with Iowa Voters; O'Rourke in Iowa; Whitaker Didn't Deny Talking about Cohen Case. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 14, 2019 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Right now. You know, succumbing to the diseases of despair and in so doing make sure that the world's greatest superpower, it's greatest democracy, it's greatest economy brings everything that we have to this unique challenge, literally. Not to be melodramatic, but literally the future of the world depends on us right now here where we are.

So, yes, let's find a way to do this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, I work in health care. You kind of answered the health care question.

But I have been to like all the hospitals in this area and I've watched the opioid crisis. I -- people get addicted to it. It's awful. People my age are committing suicide at alarming rates.

This is a way that I personally believe we can help since some of this is, how are we going to end prohibition on marijuana on a federal level because it's a matter of pain relief. It does wonders for many people with mental illness, including myself. So, what's your thoughts on that?

O'ROURKE: Great question.

I'm going to take my sweater off real quick. I'm a bit warm. And it's not because he asked about marijuana, OK. Let me make that clear.



O'ROURKE: So, we lost more than 150,000 of our fellow Americans, our fellow human beings, to drug overdose and to suicide last year. Now, we can either accept that, we can look at it as a force of nature or an act of God, or we can understand that there may be a human solution to some of these challenges and problems that our fellow Americans, our fellow human beings face.

First of all, we should make sure that drug use, drug abuse, drug addiction is treated not as a criminal justice problem that will have you locked up. That's really no help or hope to get right and back on your feet and have that purpose and function that is so fundamental to your success and freeing yourself from those dependencies. We need to make sure that we invest in the resources for mental health care in America in Texas.

Largest provider of mental health care services in our state is the county jail system. People with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, getting arrested on purpose, because it's the only way that they are guaranteed help. And then we, the taxpayer, pay for them to be fed, and clothed, and housed and medicated and seen temporarily by a social worker or a therapist before they are then again on the streets. And, guess what, the reason so many people on the streets use drugs is not that the drug use led them to the streets. They're on the streets without access to health care and it's the way for them to medicate the problems that they have.

So that investment in guaranteed, high-quality, universal healthcare. That investment specifically in mental health care. That understanding that we have to boldly change our criminal justice system to stop penalizing people for illnesses that they have. All of that is going to be the basis of getting this right, of reducing those numbers that I just shared with you, of getting people help who need help right now.

What can we do? The wealthiest country, the most medically advanced country the world has ever known, if not be there for each other right now, especially when we have the resources. So let's do that.

Then the last question. And, again, it's not the one that made me take my sweater off. We should, to this end, especially since more than half of the states in the union have already legalized marijuana in some form or other, they've medicalized it, they've legalized it for recreational use. We should end the federal prohibition on marijuana. And given the fact -- given the fact -- and, listen, I say this as a father of a middle school student, where middle schools are one of the fastest growing markets for marijuana sales today. In the black market, they do not I.D., they do not care, as long as they can make that sale.

In the same time that we've seen marijuana use grow by kids whose brains are still developing and it is not healthy for them. It's going to slow their progress. And it may not make them do as well as they would have otherwise in life. In those same 40 years, tobacco use has plummeted. We haven't outlawed it. We've treated it as a public health issue. We marketed against it. We made sure that it was not cool.

We can do the same thing when it comes to cannabis or when it comes to marijuana. We can free ourselves from the distinction of being the country that imprisons more of its fellow citizens than any other country on the face of the planet. And, guess what, by and large they do not look like this room. They are browner and blacker than most of America. Though people in this country use illegal drugs at the same rate, no matter where they are, only some face arrest, faced imprisonment. And when they get out, forced to check a box that says they have a conviction, which diminishes their opportunities in life to hold a job, to raise a family, to get a student loan and to be successful. For all those reasons, let's end the prohibition of marijuana. [09:35:03] Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right to your right.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was just curious, what are your thoughts on UBI?

O'ROURKE: This is a question about universal basic income. And this is a really good question and I appreciate you asking it, because it gets at the fact that even though we have record low unemployment in this country, too many of our fellow Americans right now in this community, in my hometown of El Paso, Texas, are struggling to get by. It's not just those school teachers working two and three jobs. Some of the people who might have worked at that hotel that I said good morning to when I woke up who are working another job at the end of the day, at the end of this shift. So I think that we need to address that problem, that is productivity has gone through the roof in this country. Workers' wages and incomes have not kept pace. And while some wealth in some parts of the country continues to hold or increase, in other parts of the country we're losing it and we're losing entire communities.

What are my steps to address this? I think when everyone's well enough to work those jobs or start a business or provide for their family, they are going to do better economically. So I think health care is foundational.

When you have child care for those little kids so that you can return to the workforce and be at your best, you're going to be able to earn more. You're not going to be as frazzled. You're going to be able to read to your child before she begins the first day of first grade. You're not going to be at your second or third job or riding the bus home from the supermarket.

A minimum wage that matches our real minimum needs that we have in our households, we need to get to $15 an hour within the next six years so that everyone can afford to have that one job, focus on themselves, their kids, their families, giving back to their communities.

When I asked the clerk behind the desk in the hotel we just stayed in, I said tell me about Keokuk. And she said, this is a community that has distinguished itself by service, by public service, our parks are cleaned by the community. It's not done at taxpayer expense. When there's a problem near the river, we all go in and get after it. I want people to have the luxury to be able to contribute to their community, to coach their kids' teams. Paying a living wage, I think, is part of that.

And then especially in rural communities, in rural America. The federal government, the rest of the country, needs to form partnerships. Partnerships that mean that each side is going to give a little to get something greater than either could achieve on their own. In Texas, we have a problem with broadband in rural communities. You may have that in Iowa as well, where farmers and ranchers and producers literally cannot get online, where people cannot start businesses in their hometown or finish their education after high school because they can't get online. They can't go to Tinder to find a date tonight to find that special person that's going to make the difference in their lives. I want to make sure every American has that opportunity.

And if we remind ourselves of our American history, there was a moment, more than a hundred years ago, where only some cities were connected to the electricity grid. We thought some places were more important than others. The companies, corporations and businesses saw a profit motive in some places and not in others. And so FDR and the help of members of Congress started the Rural Electrification Administration and partnered through co-ops with local communities to invest in themselves with federal backing and support. Let's build up these rural communities. Let's get behind our farmers and our producers. Let's end these trade wars and let's make rural America successful by listening to rural America.

OK, thank you for the question.



Cynthia's telling us this will be our last one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are your views on women's reproductive rights?

O'ROURKE: The question is on women's reproductive rights. Every woman should be able to make her own decisions about her own body.

Thank you.

I cannot tell you how much this means to me. I will remember this forever. Every single one of your faces and what you were wearing and what you had to drink.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let us remember it. Tell us that you're going to run. Announce it now for us.

O'ROURKE: I'm running to serve you as president of the United States of America.

Thank you.


Thank you all for having us out. Really, really grateful.

Thank you.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, a big morning in Keokuk, Iowa, for Beto O'Rourke, the three-term congressman from Texas who failed in his Senate bid but is now making a run for the White House, Jim. You know, we -- I think we saw there classic O'Rourke. He doesn't take

notes to prep for speeches. He does -- you know, kind of like President Trump in that respect, that he sort of goes off the cuff. And you felt the energy, right? It was palpable.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: No, right, definitely an energetic start.

I think the other thing is clear, as you hear Beto O'Rourke lay out what is essentially the Democratic platform --


[09:40:03] SCIUTTO: In the election here on teachers, on China trade, on the green new deal. He even said our democracy will be a democracy in name only unless we act on money in politics. But when you hear him lay that out, it is clear that voters in 2020, when you compare that to Trump, GOP priorities --


SCIUTTO: Will have an extremely consequential choice to make, right? A choice with enormous consequences. Because the -- those two party platforms are miles and miles apart.

HARLOW: Totally.

SCIUTTO: Miles apart.

HARLOW: Yes. But they have to get there first, right?


HARLOW: Through a very crowded field in the primary.

Let's bring back in Jess McIntosh, obviously Democratic strategist, a CNN political contributor and director for communications outreach for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Here's what -- a lot struck me, Jess, but here's one thing. I didn't hear direct answers. When the first question was about, what would you do with my kid whose prescription costs $444 a month even after insurance, I didn't hear a, well, here's how I'd deal with the big pharma companies or here's what I'd do on allowing, you know, the government Medicare to negotiate with them. I actually didn't hear an answer on UBI, on universal basic income. What that is, is that means that regardless of income, or your, you know, resources or your employment status, that every American would get a certain sum of money to get by each year. I didn't hear direct answers. Is that going to matter to voters?

JESS MCINTOSH, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: He did a lot off answering what he called the spirit of the question, which I think you can do on your first day. I think it's entirely fair to outline principles and to talk about values on day one. But Iowa voters don't actually appreciate if they ask a specific question --

HARLOW: Right.

MCINTOSH: And you instead answer the spirit of it for very long.


MCINTOSH: So I think pretty quickly he's going to have to come to specifics on things like that, especially since the rest of the field has been so policy-heavy.


MCINTOSH: And I'd like to point out that sometimes the conversations that happen in D.C. are just completely different than the conversations that are happening in America. Every single one of those questions was a, how does this policy affect me and my family and my life kind of bread and butter question. There wasn't any horse race in there. There wasn't any personality. There wasn't any character. It was just the policy. And I think this field so far has really been showing that they're willing to be out there and out front on policy.


MCINTOSH: You've seen Elizabeth Warren really make a lot of headlines with policy proposals.


MCINTOSH: Like that's -- that's exciting.


MCINTOSH: So -- so I don't think he's going to be able to stay in principles and values land for too long without getting specific.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and, listen, Iowa voters, they know policy well. They know the specifics. They ask hard, knowledgeable questions and they want hard, knowledgeable answers.

One thing -- one thing I will note, because it struck me that the first words out of O'Rourke's mouth there, and I'm curious if you agree, Jess, were about -- about his wife. She's at home taking care of the kids. Here is a candidate that is conscience that he will be asked about this. That a lot of the energy in the party right now is not for a white man, right? And that's something that he will have to answer to. And he had, as Poppy mentioned, he gave something of an answer to that in the first interviews to "Vanity Fair." But what are your thoughts as to how he and other candidates handle that?

MCINTOSH: Yes, I mean, I think it's not that the energy of the party is against having a white man. It's that for so long nobody has -- nobody has brought the lived experience of being a woman to a presidential race other than Hillary Clinton ever. So if we're going to entertain a white man for president, it has to be somebody who is going to recognize the reality of what it is to be a woman in America and the fact that that is not a monolithic thing. And women experience each of these issues that we're dealing with, each of these policy issues differently than men do.

So for him to immediately center his wife taking care of the family, I think was smart. It would be pretty difficult for a woman presidential candidate to leave three kids at home with her husband. I think there would be a lot of media questions around that. She would be forced to answer in a lot of places. Obviously that's not fair and I'm not saying that he should have to stay home with the children, too. But acknowledging that he can do what he do because -- what he does because he has a supportive spouse I think is smart and probably speaks to women who are frankly waiting to make sure that these candidates are going to be in it for them, too.

HARLOW: Really interesting. Jess, thanks for sticking around for all of that.


HARLOW: Quite a morning so far. We appreciate it.

Ahead for us, this is going to sting. Republicans set to rebuke the president over his national emergency declaration. We're following all the details on The Hill.


[09:45:48:49] SCIUTTO: Just a few hours from now, the Senate is set to rebuke President Trump over his national emergency declaration for a wall at the southern border. This morning, the president says that he is prepared to veto if necessary.

HARLOW: Right now, five Republican senators have announced they will vote with Democrats on this measure. You see them right there. The vice president, for his part, Mike Pence, making his last-minute plea to the party. Listen.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Vote down the resolution of disapproval. Stand with the president and stand for border security. That's what the American people want.


HARLOW: We're on top of all of the developments there. We'll keep you posted.


SCIUTTO: And we're hearing that more senators may join that list as well. It would mean an even stronger rebuke.


SCIUTTO: Just moments ago, President Trump's longtime political adviser Roger Stone arrived at U.S. district court. A federal judge will decide today if Stone violated a strict gag order imposed just a short time ago not to speak at all about his case. Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the same judge who just yesterday handed Paul Manafort a second prison sentence, will now decide if Stone and his attorneys crossed the line by not telling her during Stone's last hearing, just a few days ago, about the release of his paperback book criticizing Robert Mueller's investigation.

[09:50:01] HARLOW: If Judge Jackson decides Stone violated the gag order, she could put him in jail until his trial begins. Stone is charged with obstruction, lying to Congress, and witness tampering related to the special counsel's Russia probe.

SCIUTTO: Also today, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler says that former Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, quote, did not deny it when asked if President Trump called him about the Michael Cohen case.

A lot to get to in these ongoing investigations. Let's bring in Jim -- James Schultz, former Trump White House lawyer, and Carl Bernstein, legendary Watergate journalist.

Carl, if I could begin with you, because you have this investigation about whether the president called his acting attorney general to talk about ongoing investigations, possibility of pardons, et cetera. And then, in the Manafort case yesterday, Manafort's lawyer comes outside and says something that's really not true, said that the judge made some sort of collusion -- conclusion on the possibility of collusion when, in fact, that did not relate to the case at all.

Can that be read as possible signaling to the White House there, that audience of one that we often talk about?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Could be. There's been an awful lot of messaging of that sort that has gone over the transom. This may or may not be indicative of the same.

The big question about everything we've been watching for months and months and months with the president is, why doesn't he open up and tell the truth about all things having to do with Russia, the Russian investigation, those of his aides, family members and others who have become involved in the investigation? Why can't he say to the American people, I want all these people to testify in public, to tell everything they know about the matters at hand and I too would welcome the opportunity to talk to the special prosecutor, to answer reporters' questions in great length about what happened at the convention, about all things having to do with sanctions and how they may or may not be related to perhaps my business interests. People have said that I have wanted the sanctions against Russia and Russians removed because of my business interests. Why doesn't he go before the American people and open himself up to the kind of questioning that, meanwhile, we have very little to go on except to conclude from his actions and statements that he is part of and running some kind of cover-up. Whether it's a conspiracy to obstruct justice, we'll have to wait and see the Mueller report and other things. But there's no question, there is a cover-up going on.

HARLOW: Carl Bernstein, just a quick note to you, great speech last night on the importance of the First Amendment here in Washington. BERNSTEIN: Well, thank you so much.

HARLOW: It was great to be there and call you a colleague.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Jim Schultz, to you.

Let me read you what the judge, Amy Berman Jackson, who Stone is before right now, what she said yesterday in her remarks about Manafort's sentence on the no collusion issue, right? Quote, the no collusion refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is unrelated to matters at hand. The no collusion mantra is simply a non- sequitur. The no collusion mantra is not accurate because the investigation is still ongoing.

It's very different from what we heard from Judge Ellis in a week before sentencing Manafort. What does it tell you?

JIM SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't think it -- I don't think it's as much. I mean, look, Roger Stone's going to go before the judge in this gag order today and she's been very thoughtful about that. And she's been -- and it appears that she's going to -- she asked for a lot of information, took a look at what went into the book and she's going to make a judgment over though they violated that gag order. And I would be very worried if I was Roger Stone today about what decisions she's going to make.

I don't make much of what the judge has said about collusion and otherwise.


SCIUTTO: Carl, before we go, of course the other issue with this pardon question relates to Michael Cohen and Michael Cohen has now providing e-mails to Congress, including an e-mail which I'm going to quote from here. Sleep well tonight. You have friends in high places. And I spoke with Rudy. Very, very positive. You are loved.

This is an attorney who said he was speaking with President Donald Trump's own lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. I mean you watched obstruction of justice by a president during Watergate. Some of it more explicit than this. But as you look at each of these out -- examples of outreach, et cetera, do you see an attempt to tamper with witnesses, to dangle pardons to therefore influence the investigation, obstruct the investigation?

BERNSTEIN: What you read sounds a little bit like -- like a little bit of Shakespeare and a lot of Mario Puzo combined. Do I -- do I see this pattern? Of course the pattern is there. The suggestion of pardons for many people involved in the Russia investigation is out there. There's no question about it. There's some ambiguity in the language. But any reasonable person, I think, would conclude that the president wants these people to be under the impression that he may pardon them so that they won't talk. It is a horrible thing to watch the president of the United States act like this. Nixon didn't talk like this in public. It's extraordinary.

[09:55:09] I'll go back to the Mario Puzo "Godfather" books to try and show a benchmark of what we're listening here to by the president of the United States. Whether it constitutes impeachable offense, whether it is actually, in fact, a criminal act or the taking together they are criminal acts, we're going to have to wait and see. But I go back to what I said at the beginning of this segment. There is a matrix of a cover-up in front of our very eyes. And I'd like to ask Jim Schultz, is that not a reasonable inference for lay people, especially, to draw given on what we've seen so far.

SCHULTZ: So, as it relates to this -- and do we have time for me to respond?

HARLOW: Yes, please.

SCHULTZ: As it relates to this particular issue, right. So you have a lawyer who was --

BERNSTEIN: The whole big picture.

SCHULTZ: Yes, the lawyer who was looking to represent Cohen making some outreach to Rudy Giuliani, if you believe this is how the whole thing occurred. And this lawyer is reaching out to Giuliani. Giuliani -- let's remember, Giuliani doesn't have any authority whatsoever to speak for the White House office as it relates to pardons. That's the president of the United States. That's the White House Counsel. It's Department of Justice that's involved in that process. It is not Rudy Giuliani.

So to the extent that I don't know what the lawyer was communicating to his, you know, the person that he was seeking to represent as a client, but I'm not sure that he was actually representing him, but it may have been that he was just trying to pick up a client. I'm not sure. It's very unclear as to the communications between the two and what role everyone was playing.

And the fact that, you know, he -- that we're going on what Rudy Giuliani may have said and in a communication with a client I think is so speculative at this point. It's really tough to nail that down. I don't see it as much, especially coming from someone that, quite frankly, that I've said time and time again misrepresents things on TV, gets the facts wrong from time to time. And I'm talking about Rudy Giuliani.

SCIUTTO: Well --

HARLOW: Who the president has chosen --

BERNSTEIN: But that's why I asked the bigger question, if I can just ask Jim that one point.

HARLOW: So -- I really --

BERNSTEIN: The bigger question of the matrix.

HARLOW: I've got to let you guys ask it in the commercial break. I'm sorry. I'm up against the clock here.

But keep talking. Keep talking and you know you'll both be back really soon.

SCIUTTO: And we'll have you back. And we will have you back.


James Schultz, Carl Bernstein, thank you both.

Moments from now, this is what we're watching, federal court in Washington, D.C. Roger Stone about to face Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who seems to be losing patience with this long-time Trump adviser.